Magnificent Seven

Majestic Manchester United thrash AS Roma 7-1
By Mitch Phillips

MANCHESTER, England April 10 (Reuters)

Manchester United produced one of the finest performances in 50 years of European competition to destroy AS Roma 7-1 on Tuesday and reach the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 2002.

United, trailing 2-1 from the first meeting in Rome, had never previously overturned a first leg deficit in five attempts in the competition but did so in astonishing style to win the tie 8-3 on aggregate.

It was the biggest victory in a quarter-final match in either the European Cup or Champions League since Real Madrid beat Sevilla 8-0 in 1957-58, clocking up a 10-2 aggregate victory.

It was also the biggest winning margin in a Champions League knockout round game, Roma's heaviest defeat in Europe and United's biggest win in Europe since a 7-1 victory over Waterford of Ireland in the first round of the European Cup in 1968-69 when they were the defending champions.

Three goals in a scintillating eight-minute burst early in the first half by Michael Carrick, Alan Smith and Wayne Rooney had United in command and Roma, second in Serie A, shell-shocked.

Cristiano Ronaldo then scored either side of the break, Carrick netted a spectacular second and, after Daniele De Rossi pulled one back, Patrice Evra capped a night to remember with the seventh.

The remarkable result, coming three days after defeat at Portsmouth in the league, took United into a last-four meeting with either Bayern Munich or AC Milan and sustained their hopes of repeating their 1999 European and domestic treble -- clinched when they beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in Barcelona.

Manager Alex Ferguson described the result as the best of his 21 years at Old Trafford.

"It was absolutely superb," he told ITV. "It was a fantastic performance. We showed great confidence after two defeats in the last week. All great teams get over these mishaps and we did that tonight."

Ferguson sprung a tactical surprise by playing Rooney, Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs as a three-man attacking midfield unit to support Smith, recalled for only his fourth start of the season, as the lone striker.

The idea worked like a dream as the trio ran Roma ragged in a blistering opening quarter that settled the tie.

QUICKFIRE SHOT

Carrick got things moving in the 11th minute when his quickfire shot from outside the box left goalkeeper Doni rooted as the ball flew past him.

That alone would have been enough to send United through on the away goals rule but they were in no mood to settle.

In the 17th minute Rooney combined with Giggs to send Smith through and the striker seemed to put every moment of suffering from a year of injury hell into his unstoppable finish.

Less than two minutes later Old Trafford was in raptures as Giggs was given time and space to cross low from the right for Rooney to touch in the third.

The Italians' usually parsimonious defence was being run ragged and their only worthwhile attacking effort was a well-struck free kick by Francesco Totti that Edwin van der Sar saved well.

RONALDO'S 20th

It United who again finished on the offensive as Ronaldo was offered the channel he loves down the right and duly accepted before driving in the fourth.

It had been an incredible half and it took only two minutes of the second period for United to extend their lead.

Again Giggs was the provider as his perfectly-measured low cross was turned in by Ronaldo for the Portuguese winger's 20th goal of a sparkling season.

Carrick then drove home a superlative sixth from 25 metres on the hour as joy turned to disbelief in the near-75,000 crowd.

Roma got on the scoresheet with a lovely volley on the turn by De Rossi but United restored their stunning six-goal margin when substitute defender Evra scored again with a low shot from the edge of the box nine minutes from time.

"This points the way ahead," said Ferguson. "Two years ago against AC Milan (in the same competition) Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were young boys but they showed they've grown up tonight."




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