Manchester United FC came from behind to win a pulsating UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg thanks to a last-minute goal from Wayne Rooney.
Trailing 2-1 at the break, Rooney fired United level on 59 minutes then completed a late counterattack by flashing a low shot past Dida to give the English side real hope of a place in the final in Athens. It appeared that Carlo Ancelotti's visitors would return home holding the upper hand when Kaká overturned an early Cristiano Ronaldo header with two goals before half-time. Though weakened defensively by injuries, United's vibrant attacking instincts were intact, however, and Rooney's double leaves Milan needing victory in next Wednesday's return at the San Siro.
United went into this match missing three of their first-choice defenders in Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić. Yet for any team of Sir Alex Ferguson's, offence will always be the best form of defence and so it proved here as they seized an early lead. After Alessandro Nesta had diverted behind a Rooney effort, the ensuing corner brought the breakthrough. From Ryan Giggs's delivery, Ronaldo nodded goalwards and Dida was unable to keep the ball out despite two attempts at a save.
Sir Alex had described his side's quarter-final rout of AS Roma as "once-in-a lifetime" stuff but United started here in similarly electrifying fashion. As the Stretford End chorused "Attack, attack", Ronaldo directed a header at Dida, then, on the quarter-hour, the Milan goalkeeper stretched out his left arm to turn behind a volley from Michael Carrick. The Rossoneri were struggling to find their range, illustrated by Kaká's fluffing of a free header. Yet the Brazilian quickly made amends. With 22 minutes on the clock, Clarence Seedorf collected a pass from Gennaro Gattuso and fed Kaká who, surging into the box ahead of Carrick, struck a low shot through the legs of Gabriel Heinze, beyond the dive of Edwin van der Sar and into the far corner.
United sought to reclaim the initiative, Giggs flicking a header over before rifling in a low cross which Rooney just failed to reach. Yet although Dida nearly fumbled a swerving drive from Ronaldo, United were undone at the other end on 37 minutes as Kaká capitalised on some uncertain defending. From Dida's long kick, the Brazilian shouldered aside Darren Fletcher, then headed for goal. He carried the ball past Heinze and as the Argentinian and Patrice Evra collided, tucked it coolly past Van der Sar.
The second period opened with a glaring Carrick miss after Giggs's corner had fallen to him at the far post. Yet Milan soon had United on the back foot again, Kaká threatening a hat-trick with a rising shot over the crossbar after a lovely combination with Seedorf. Reprieved, the home side restored parity through Rooney on 59 minutes. It was a wonderfully-worked goal, the ball moving from Fletcher to Carrick to Scholes who then lifted it over the Milan back line - by now shorn of the injured Gattuso and Paolo Maldini - and into the path of Rooney. Dida got a hand to the England striker's shot but could not stop its course to the far corner.
Faith restored, United chased a third. Dida kept out Fletcher and Ronaldo, but just when it seemed Milan would hang on, Giggs drove forward from inside his own half and supplied Rooney, who did the rest. Sir Alex's team, who will be without Evra through suspension as they look to defend their advantage in Milan, famously came from behind to beat Ancelotti's Juventus 3-2 in the 1999 semi-final and this victory will have them believing they can go all the way once more.
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