United eased to three points, and top spot in Group E, with a 3-0 win over Aalborg in Denmark, thanks to a first-half strike from Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov’s second-half double.
Sir Alex Ferguson was delighted to see his £30million summer signing finally get off the mark for the Reds with two well-taken goals. United’s overall performance showed signs of the team and some key players hitting form – Rooney, Berbatov and Ronaldo in particular.
Unfortunately, however, the victory may have come at a cost. Injuries forced off Rooney and Paul Scholes, the latter suffering knee ligament damage which could keep him out for eight weeks.
The Reds had travelled without skipper Gary Neville, who picked up a knock against Bolton, and Owen Hargreaves due to a recurrence of the tendinitis problem in his knee. Sir Alex promised to put out his strongest available side and, with the exception of a Champions League debut for 18-year-old Brazilian right-back Rafael, he did so.
United immediately laid siege on Aalborg's goal and could have been 2-0 up inside eight minutes. Berbatov had a glorious opportunity to put the Reds in front on six minutes. Cristiano Ronaldo’s tackle on Aalborg goalkeeper Zaza sent the ball spinning up in the air. Berbatov met it on the volley but fired wide from eight yards. Two minutes later Rio Ferdinand saw his far-post volley stopped by Zaza.
The match had started at an intense tempo, with the Reds clearly seeking to break the spirit of a determined Aalborg team, whose players and fans were fired up for this game
as if it were a cup final.
Scholes’ injury on 15 minutes disrupted the flow. He didn’t appear to be in too much discomfort, but Sir Alex’s prognosis post-match didn’t sound positive. Scholes was replaced by Ryan Giggs, who joined John O’Shea in the centre of midfield. The Welshman made an almost immediate impact. It was his simple pass on 22 minutes that led to United’s opener. Cutting through Aalborg’s defence, Giggs’ through-ball enabled Rooney to make his first-time shot look equally effortless, neatly finding the corner of the net.
Aalborg weren’t afraid to get forward when they could and even forced a few scares at the back for the Reds. But when Rooney, who covered every blade of grass in his hour on the field, and Ronaldo had the ball the home side looked scared stiff. United’s attacking play, with Rooney at the reins, looked slick and fluid, even if Sir Alex would have liked to reach half time with a more commanding lead.
In the second half the Reds manager was out on the touchline looking slightly concerned that his side's dominance in possession was not being converted into goals. But he didn’t have to wait long for the goal everyone at the club has been waiting for. It came courtesy of a gift from the Aalborg defence. Berbatov pounced on a dreadful mistake from Augustinussen and punished the Danes ruthlessly by lashing the ball past Zaza. The Bulgarian’s muted celebration suggested it perhaps wasn’t the style in which this elegant front man imagined he would open his Reds account. Regardless of the circumstances, all that matters is that he is off the mark.
The goal knocked the life out of Aalborg, their energy and enthusiasm had been the sole components of any previous forays into United’s half.
Carlos Tevez’s introduction on the hour, replacing Rooney after he took a knock to his ankle, was exactly what Bruce Rioch’s men didn’t want. The Argentinian wasn’t settling for a 2-0 scoreline and he did have the ball in the net, but was penalised for unintentionally using his arm. Tevez perhaps should have been more selfish on 72 minutes when a neat move saw him break into the Aalborg penalty area. Instead of shooting he squared the ball to Ronaldo, whose shot was blocked. Then five minutes later he sent a 25-yard shot whizzing just past the bar.
United's third and final goal eventually arrived on 79 minutes. Ronaldo skipped past his marker to make it to the byline on the right of the Aalborg area. His clipped cross was met with an acrobatic volley from Berbatov to make it 3-0. Job done.
Aalborg BK: Zaza; Pedersen, Beauchamp (Caca 38), Olfers, Bogelund; Risgard, Johansson, Augustinussen, Enevoldsen; Curth, Saganowski.
Subs not used: Stenild, Due, Braemer, Sorensen, Kristensen, Schwartz.
Booked: Johansson, Zaza
Manchester United: Van der Sar; Rafael (Brown 66), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Ronaldo, Scholes (Giggs 16), O'Shea, Nani; Rooney (Tevez 59), Berbatov.
Subs not used: Amos, Anderson, Park, Evans.