United through, but at a price

 

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE/Man Utd 3 Deportivo 2 (Manchester United win 5-2 on aggregate): Manchester United's progress to the semi-finals of the Champions League was seldom in doubt here last night. Inspired by the vision of Juan Sebastian Veron and the finishing of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who came off the bench to score twice, they roundly defeated Deportivo La Coruna.

Again, however, their joy was diluted by the loss of David Beckham to a reckless tackle. The 26-year-old was scythed down by Deportivo's Pedro Duscher during the first-half and X-rays confirmed the initial fears that he had broken a bone in his foot and could be out for up to eight weeks which with the World Cup starting on May 30th puts him in a race against time.

"He has broken a bone in his foot as feared and will be out for up to eight weeks," a Manchester spokesman said.

It was the second time in the two legs that Beckham had had to go off after a foul by a Coruna player - Diego Tristan having caught his ankle last week.

Red cards following second yellows for Lionel Scaloni and Duscher saw Deportivo reduced to nine men before the end.

Last night, instead of completing an English pairing in the last four, United were required to ensure the presence in the semi-finals of at least one Premiership representative. At least, when compared to Liverpool in Leverkusen 24 hours earlier, their position was relatively sanguine.

Manchester United, though, were missing the injured Roy Keane and the suspended Paul Scholes, in essence their hammer and sickle. Much depended, then, on Nicky Butt, doubtful beforehand with a migraine, and Veron, who had been nursing a sore achilles tendon, not being bowled head over heels in midfield.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy gave United a glimpse of a goal in the sixth minute when Francisco Molina failed to hold the Dutchman's cross-shot, leaving Lionel Scaloni to clear the loose ball. Three minutes later, after a slick build-up by Beckham and Giggs, Quinton Fortune chested the ball down before seeing his shot deflected wide.

Yet had it not been for Fabien Barthez, Deportivo would have pulled a goal back on 12 minutes. Djalminha's pass beat the offside trap and Tristan was through only for Barthez to dash off his line and smother.

Another minute and a well-timed interception by Hector was needed to deny Van Nistelrooy the fruits of a lob from Veron. At both ends, then, the match thrived on a combination of skill and vision in attack and sound defending.

Beckham, however, was not part of it for long; just past the quarter-hour he was sent flying by Pedro Duscher's ugly two-footed tackle. While it might not have carried the full malice of Tristan's assault in La Coruna it still saw the England captain replaced by Solskjaer four minutes later. Beckham was immediately taken to hospital by ambulance.

Solskjaer being Solskjaer he needed just two minutes to increase United's overall lead. As Veron's free-kick from the left swung towards the far post the Norwegian, timing his run to perfection, met it with a smart volley past Molina.

United's progress seemed beyond doubt but that was a dangerous assumption. A minute before half-time Solskjaer was caught out by an exchange of passes between Enrique Romero and Djalminha which sent the lanky Romero to the left-hand byline.

Barthez, guarding his near post, would surely have dealt with Romero's attempt to drive the ball low and hard across goal had Laurent Blanc not got there first to deflect it into his own net. Not surprisingly Deportivo's step found an extra spring for the second half, though not for long.

Within 10 minutes the combination of Veron and Solskjaer had restored United's lead on the night and their three-goal advantage. A searching pass from the Argentinian found Solskjaer sprinting through on the left to slip a shot under Molina's body.

Their comeback still-born, Deportivo lost their rag a little. Two minutes before the hour they also lost Scaloni, whose earlier caution for dissent in the wake of the foul on Beckham did not stop him carrying on somewhat after Duscher was booked for fouling Van Nistelrooy. Whatever lingering hope of salvation Deportivo might have cherished went with him, and there was no doubt about it when Giggs settled it in the 68th minute, Veron again provider.

He released the Welshman to cut inside Romero from the right, drag the ball on to his left foot and score inside the near post. Two minutes later a fierce header from Van Nistelrooy bounced down and out off the bar and with 17 remaining Duscher followed Scaloni off when his trip on Butt brought a second booking and a red card.

Deportivo had the last word, though, when Djalminha's free-kick was deflected past Barthez.

Now just the Germans of Bayer Leverkusen stand between Ferguson and a dream final at Hampden Park next month.

And there is every reason to believe United will prove a more mature red force than the somewhat fragile vintage provided by Liverpool on Tuesday night.

MANCHESTER UNITED: Barthez, Gary Neville, Blanc, Johnsen (Brown 37), Silvestre, Beckham (Solskjaer 21), Butt, Veron (Phil Neville 74), Fortune, Giggs, van Nistelrooy. Subs Not Used: Carroll, Irwin, Forlan, Stewart. Goals: Solskjaer 23, 56, Giggs 69.

DEPORTIVO LA CORUNA: Molina, Scaloni, Naybet, Hector, Romero, Victor (Makaay 51), Duscher, Djalminha, Fran (Capdevila 63), Valeron, Tristan (Pandiani 72). Subs Not Used: Nuno, Amavisca, Emerson, Sergio. Sent Off: Scaloni (60), Duscher (75). Booked: Scaloni, Hector, Duscher. Goals: Blanc 44 og, Djalminha 90.

Referee: M Merk (Kaiserslautern).