Giggs finds the punch to hoist ring-rusty United off the ropes

Dinamo Bucharest 1 Manchester United 2
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The Independent Online

"Even Mike Tyson can be beaten," said Dinamo Bucharest's winger, Florentin Petre, before this fixture but unlike Danny Williams in Kentucky, the Romanians missed the opportunity of a lifetime.

"Even Mike Tyson can be beaten," said Dinamo Bucharest's winger, Florentin Petre, before this fixture but unlike Danny Williams in Kentucky, the Romanians missed the opportunity of a lifetime.

There was a period, midway through the first half, when it seemed that against a Manchester United lacking fitness and ringcraft this might have been Dinamo's night of nights.

But as so often happens in Europe and the Premiership, minor sides who miss their chances against Manchester United are punished. As were Dinamo Bucharest ­ once Ryan Giggs claimed a wonderfully-timed equaliser, United's reserves of skill and stamina swept them to the brink of qualification for the Champions' League for the ninth successive season.

For United not to make the competition would require a knock-out blow of George Foreman proportions. Even Dinamo's manager, Ioan Andone, described their chances in Manchester as "small".

United suffered a fright but in the event it turned out to be no more than the bomb scare that had the Bucharest police searching the players' rooms yesterday morning. They were carried through by cool, old heads; men like Giggs, Paul Scholes and after a fragile beginning at centre-half, Roy Keane.

Conditions were stamina-sappingly humid, the pitch pitted and United were depleted and debilitated by an intense pre-season schedule designed more to make money than to prepare them for the forthcoming campaign. Ferguson's insecurities were evident as United lined up; he employed Keane in the heart of defence because he carried more physical presence than John O'Shea, who in the event performed surprisingly well in midfield.

Nevertheless, it took fewer than 10 minutes for Dinamo to expose all of United's frailties; time for Claudiu Niculescu to tear down a right flank patrolled by a plainly rusty Gary Neville, and deliver a low cross that Ionel Danciulescu dribbled over the line, via Quinton Fortune's boot.

In Romania's days of megalomania, Nicolae Ceausescu used the Lia Manoliu Stadium to deliver his May Day speeches because the acoustics seemed to double the applause. The old dictator would have heard nothing like the reaction that greeted this goal; it was overwhelming and utterly spontaneous. However, Andone pointed out that Dinamo did not know how to capitalise on their advantage.

Had Leviu Ciobotariu been born a centre-forward rather than a centre-half, Dinamo might then have been two up. Ciobotariu, who was forced off after half an hour following an abysmally-timed tackle from Alan Smith, was the first to react to Niculescu's spiteful free-kick that Tim Howard could only palm away. His reflexes were just a fraction too slow.

Scholes' were not. As Dinamo plunged forward, he snatched the ball from Angelo Alistar, who was fated to score the second own-goal of the night, just beyond the halfway line and pushed a first-time pass to Giggs. It was a perfect ball to exactly the right player. Giggs' pace sent him streaking past his marker, he rounded the goalkeeper and drove the ball squarely into the net below the decrepit, non-functioning scoreboard.

The goal soothed Manchester United's nerves and afterwards they displayed the short, sharp passing Ferguson had asked for. They settled the match and to all intents the tie in the 70th minute as Alistar clipped a cross from Liam Miller, making his competitive debut, past his own goalkeeper.

United might actually have sealed the game earlier as their discipline and professionalism came pouring back. First Scholes drove impressively from the edge of the area, although the shot flew inches wide. Smith's was even closer, his drive cannoning off the outside of the post and squirting across Vladimir Gaev's six-yard box. Ferguson had spoken of Smith as a kind of Cantona, not just because he was signed from Leeds, but because as a striker he has the ability to drift off his marker. He shares something else with Cantona; an inability to tackle that earned him one yellow card and which on another night might have given him another.

Dinamo, nevertheless, still maintained the ability to menace on the break. Ionut Balan's outrageous cross/shot delivered from the extreme edge of the pitch flew over Howard's outstretched gloves and, fortunately for Manchester United, past the post. It was similar to the goal Luis Figo scored at the Bernabeu against United in the European Cup quarter-final last year.

Dinamo Bucharest, who played yesterday in all white, are no Real Madrid but at times, especially in the first half, they were allowed to look like them. As Manchester United flew back in the "lucky plane" Gérard Houllier had used during Liverpool's treble season, this was a worrying omen for Ferguson to ponder.

Dinamo Bucharest (3-4-1-2) : Gaev; Ciobotariu (Galamaz, 30), Alistar, Iordache; Balan (Baltoi, 80), Tames, Margaritescu (Goian, 54), Semeghin; Petre; Niculescu, Danciulescu. Subsitutes not used: Matache (gk), Irimia, Pacurar, Munteanu.

Manchester United (4-4-1-1) : Howard; G Neville, Keane, Silvestre, Fortune; Fletcher (Miller, 67), Djemba-Djemba, O'Shea, Giggs (P Neville, 81); Scholes (Forlan, 90); Smith. Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk), Eagles, Richardson, Spector.

Referee: P Costa (Portugal).