Sir Alex Ferguson last night paid tribute to one of his side's best performances in Europe as Manchester United stormed past Schalke to all but secure a third Champions League final place in the space of four years.
In one of the most one-sided Champions League semi-finals of all time, the Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer single-handedly resisted waves of United pressure before two second-half goals in as many minutes sealed the 2-0 win.
Though Ferguson listed this game alongside United's 1999 comeback against Juventus among his greatest, Schalke's defence was pitiful and the midfield was overrun, with 37-year-old Ryan Giggs – whom Wayne Rooney sent in for United's first goal – making another huge contribution.
"I wish I could find a way of keeping Giggs going for another 10 years," the United manager reflected last night. He was also intrigued by the suggestion, in his post-match press conference, that Giggs was better than ever now. "That's a good one that," said Ferguson, who will rest Giggs for Sunday's visit to Arsenal in readiness for next Wednesday's second leg with Schalke at home. "It's a strange thing because his peak seems to have lasted so long now," he said of Giggs. "When you get a player of 37, you think he will be showing signs of waning but I see no evidence of that. We rest him and when we show that freshness it doesn't show any signs of receding at all. He's an incredible man."
Ferguson was also quick to praise goalkeeper Neuer. Although United accepted months ago that the 25-year-old does not want to leave Germany and won't join them as Edwin van der Sar's replacement. "I think we know [he's going to Bayern]," Ferguson said. The Germany international said: "There was never an offer from Man United." But Ferguson's description of the goalkeeper's "incredible" display, including seven first-half saves, offered a strong hint that he would covet his services.
"I think that in my time at United it's the finest display of goalkeeping against us," Ferguson said. "I'm sure there have been other feats but tonight I saw a good one." Despite seeming to hint before the game that he might be persuaded to stay another season at Old Trafford, Van der Sar confirmed late last night that he will retire in June.
United are the first team to have kept six away clean sheets in the Champions League, and Ferguson reflected, not unreasonably, that United "seem to be better away from home in Europe than anyone else". He began reassembling his side for matches on the Continent, making them less open, after a sequence of disappointing results in the 2000/01 campaign. "I think the concentration issue is important away from home in Europe. Over the past few years they've got a way of playing away from home," he reflected. "Confidence and possession of the ball is important." United have lost only one of 23 away matches in Europe.
Javier Hernandez sent in Antonio Valencia's cross for Rooney to complete a win which will surely be enough to see United progress to a Wembley final against Barcelona or Real Madrid on 28 May.
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