'Keane is the best player I have ever had here'

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The Independent Football

Nobody would dare suggest it within earshot of Sir Alex Ferguson, whose pride in all things Scottish seems to increase with the length of time he has spent away from his homeland, but Manchester United versus Rangers was never likely to be much of a battle.

This one-sided contest is probably terminal for Scottish hopes of making an impact on a wider stage. Rangers are a solid European side but when faced with clubs from the first rank, they are always found wanting. Since the Champions' League was formed, Rangers have played 16 matches against previous European Cup finalists and have yet to win once.

The passion of the Rangers fans, keenly anticipated by Ferguson, was everywhere in evidence on a mild, still Manchester evening. Not since Margaret Thatcher's "Spirit of the South Atlantic" speech at the 1982 Conservative Party conference have so many Union flags been waved in such a confined space, but on the pitch their team was lacking. "We were well beaten," their manager, Alex McLeish, reflected. "We failed to take our chances at Ibrox and they took theirs here. We only had fleeting glimpses of the goal."

Ferguson, who is no longer the last Scottish manager to lead his team to defeat in England - at Anfield 23 years ago today - denied this proved there was a gulf between English and Scottish football. United put four past Real Madrid here; did it prove the Spanish game was weak? This surely was diplomacy.

Last night United were swept to victory by Roy Keane's dominance in midfield, which could have been predicted, and Diego Forlan's sharpness in front of goal, which until recently could not. Now the Uruguayan has four goals in as many games and Ferguson said he would play against Liverpool on Sunday.

Keane, he said, "was everywhere on the pitch, bullying, encouraging and cajoling. He is everything you would expect from a skipper ... He's the best player I've ever had here; it's not just his play, it's his everything."

Forlan's wonderful turn and drive on to the bar gave Ruud van Nistelrooy his first goal in open play for over a month, a ricochet off the Dutchman's knee. "I expect a striker to score from a rebound," Ferguson said. "Denis Law lived off them for 10 years, I scored a few myself."

It spurred Van Nistelrooy into a marvellous second-half display in front of his international manager, Dick Advocaat, who seems determined to leave him out when the Netherlands come to Glasgow for the Euro 2004 play-off. Asked if he thought this performance would change Advocaat's mind, Van Nistelrooy replied, bluntly, that it would not. For that Scotland should be grateful.

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