Manchester United FC finally brought to an end the jinx that had seen them fail to beat German opposition at Old Trafford in 36 years, defeating Bayer 04 Leverkusen 2-0 in their UEFA Champions League Group F encounter, thanks to goals from Juan Sebastián Verón and Ruud van Nistelrooij. The result also confirmed United as section winners, and they will now be among the top seeds for Friday's second group stage draw.
Both sides were already guaranteed to qualify before kick-off, but United manager Sir Alex Ferguson opted to field a strong side after the disappointment of losing 3-1 to Manchester City FC in the Premiership last weekend. He recalled captain David Beckham after domestic suspension, also granting winger Quinton Fortune and goalkeeper Ricardo López rare starts. Leverkusen coach Klaus Toppmöller was more experimental, and handed the suspended Yildiray Bastürk's playmaking reins to Czech youngster Jan Šimák.
Van Nistelrooij chances
The first half was certainly an open encounter with both sides looking to get forward at every opportunity. Van Nistelrooij could have had a hat-trick in the first ten minutes, but he spurned chance after chance with Leverkusen's defence struggling to adjust.
Despite this early flurry from the hosts, it was Leverkusen who really found their tempo, aggressively breaking down United's forays forward before attacking in waves. This tactic was rewarded on 16 minutes when Thomas Brdaric was put clean through on goal, only to be hauled down by Ricardo López in the box. Penalty duties were handed to Šimák, but he blasted his effort over the bar.
Yet United recovered their composure and, through Beckham's crosses, looked the more likely scorers as half-time approached. On three occasions he had Hans-Jörg Butt flustered, but the finishes did not match the delivery. The 1999 winners did take the lead before the break, however. Van Nistelrooij held the ball up well on the edge of the box, before teeing up Verón. The midfield player chipped the ball up before volleying accurately into the far side of the net.
United make it two
The second half continued as the first had ended, with United continuing to apply increasing pressure. However, it was not until 69 minutes that they got any reward; and some reward it was. Verón's pass was dummied by Scholes, and Van Nistelrooij latched on to it to score through Butt's legs.
That excellent goal was almost bettered by a move on 79 minutes as Paul Scholes found space on the right. His excellent cross floated to Verón, but his diving header was well saved by Butt. The one sour note for United was the late injury to Rio Ferdinand. The England defender seemed to pull a muscle in his right leg and limped off with six minutes remaining.