Kiev fail to disturb United's simple arithmetic

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The Independent Online

The reasoning behind the creation of the Champions' League was neatly summed up by Silvio Berlusconi in his role as president of Milan. "I cannot afford to draw Barcelona in the first round," he said and the old knockout European Cup, a competition of beautiful simplicity competed for by the real champions of Europe, was done away with.

The reasoning behind the creation of the Champions' League was neatly summed up by Silvio Berlusconi in his role as president of Milan. "I cannot afford to draw Barcelona in the first round," he said and the old knockout European Cup, a competition of beautiful simplicity competed for by the real champions of Europe, was done away with.

It was ironic, therefore, that while Milan were safely through, Barcelona, Juventus and Manchester United, three essential components of Berlusconi's long-dreamed-of European League, were fighting for their lives last night.

United came through, as they have done so many times before. Barcelona and Juventus, incredibly, did not. In a way, their demise vindicated the Champions' League, which this year Internazionale failed even to qualify for. The simplicity of the arithmetic, win or face elimination, meant United's match mattered in a way their home games against Anderlecht and PSV Eindhoven simply did not.

You could see it in the banners draped behind Fabien Barthez's goal in the first half. "February 6 1958 - The Flowers of Manchester", "One Love, The Stretford End". "Surrey Reds" were less in evidence.

United came through, although there was little of the drama that surrounded the victories over Juventus, Internazionale and, finally, Bayern Munich, that won them the European Cup last year.

Unlike their last "must-win" fixture in Europe, the 3-2 defeat by Real Madrid, they did not fall into the trap of over-attacking. Against the tired dark horses of Group G, they did not have to. Kiev may have earned themselves £26m from selling Sergei Rebrov and Andrei Shevchenko, plus the vast annual income of almost automatic qualification for the Champions' League, but much of that seems to have vanished into the mafia-filled murk that is politics in Kiev. They had never won in England and once Teddy Sheringham scored his 12th goal of a remarkable season, they were unlikely to break that sequence.

Sheringham's form may earn him a recall today to the England squad to face Italy next week but it earned United far more. The cost of not qualifying for the second stage was set at £6m - a sixth of Glasgow Rangers' income - but which United, a club which offered Christmas shoppers at the Trafford Centre 30 different videos, would have been able to absorb.

But the effect of elimination on contract negotiations with Ryan Giggs and David Beckham might not have been so easy to dismiss. Kiev may have been on £30,000 a man to win, but if they were financially motivated it did not show. The money, as always, went to Manchester.

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