If signing a hero of the Revie Stand to perform in front of the Stretford End was a risk by Sir Alex Ferguson, then comparing him to Eric Cantona could only have increased the pressure on Alan Smith.
Cantona, famously, seldom shone on the European stage, something Smith had achieved with Leeds in Rome and La Coruña before he had reached 21. Dinamo Bucharest at Old Trafford is admittedly no kind of test on which to judge his Champions' League credentials, although his two goals dragged the night out of mediocrity and guaranteed United would qualify for the competition proper with rather more style than Liverpool managed at Anfield on Tuesday night.
Leading 2-1 from the first leg of this Champions' League qualifier, Ferguson felt he could afford to experiment, especially with an insurance policy of Giggs, Scholes and Saha on the bench. With places for Chris Eagles, Jonathan Spector and Darren Fletcher, this was Manchester United Lite and sometimes a near capacity Old Trafford would have yearned for the full-strength version. Often, until Smith scored two minutes into the second half, there was little to feed off, bar Cristiano Ronaldo's step-overs.
For Ferguson, deprived of Ruud van Nistelrooy, this was further confirmation of Smith's excellence. Both his goals came from crosses immediately after the restart, one delivered by Kleberson, the other from Gary Neville. In the Mia Lucescu Stadium a fortnight ago, there had been two own goals and Dinamo would surely have put Kleberson's centre through their own goal had Smith not turned it past Cristi Munteanu.
The second was more straightforward, as again Dinamo failed to deal with a cross which Smith thundered home. Ferguson had always argued that given the service Manchester United could offer him, Smith would shine in a manner he could not as Elland Road turned into a financial ruin. This was his fourth goal of the season, half the total he scored at Leeds in the whole of last season.
Roy Keane, nursing two broken ribs and staring down fixedly from the directors' box, would have approved of the way Smith sometimes literally threw himself into the contest, typified by his flying header to meet Kleberson's cross five minutes before the interval. It deserved a goal more than those he did score, although Munteanu, stretching and leaping, somehow managed to palm it over the bar.
For a side which had to score twice to give themselves a victory that their manager, Ioan Andone, thought would eclipse anything in their history, Dinamo showed few signs of tossing aside inhibitions and when Smith struck victory went beyond even the realm of fantasy.
Nevertheless, without two players who were left in Romania because of a contractual dispute and with the rest of the squad threatening strike action because they claim to have been given just eight days off since securing the double, Dinamo did not surrender as meekly as might have been expected.
Their chief tactic of threading through a pass to split Mikaël Silvestre and John O'Shea was continually stifled, sometimes because of inaccuracy but chiefly because of the Irishman's excellence. Only once in the first half did it work and that only because Eric Djemba-Djemba left himself disastrously exposed.
This was nothing compared to the way Adrian Iordache failed to pick up David Bellion's run on to a long punt upfield that he drove past Munteanu with a certainty that suggested the Frenchman might finally fulfil his promise.
Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Howard; G Neville (P Neville, 55), O'Shea, Silvestre, Spector; Fletcher, Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson, Ronaldo (Richardson, 64); Eagles; Smith (Bellion, 64). Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk), Saha, Giggs, Scholes.
Dinamo Bucharest (4-4-2): Munteanu; Irimia, Galamaz, Iordache, Semeghin; Petre (Balan, 67), Naidin, Margaritescu, Grigorie (Pacurar, h-t); Niculescu (Serban, 81), Danciulescu. Substitutes not used: Haybu (gk), Ciobotariu, Baltoi, Goian.
Referee: M Merk (Germany).Reuse content