Three goals in the space of six second-half minutes gave Manchester United FC victory at FC Basel in a pulsating match that so nearly saw the 1999 UEFA Champions League winners humbled.
Basel led for over an hour of the match after a dramatic start, but United's experience in the competition told to give them the perfect second group stage opening. The first Swiss side to reach this stage, Basel made just one change from their final first phase game that accounted for Liverpool FC, bringing in Scott Chipperfield for suspended Antonio Esposito.
United, on the other hand, were without David Beckham, Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville, Laurent Blanc and Rio Ferdinand, and seemed to miss that latter defensive trio as they found themselves behind on 31 seconds.
From the kick-off, Basel immediately broke down their left and won a corner. The cross was headed on target by Julio Hernán Rossi, and although Quinton Fortune cleared off the line, Chipperfield sent the ball back towards goal and it was turned in by Christian Giménez for the sixth fastest goal in Champions League history.
Rossi so close
On eight minutes it was so nearly 2-0, Rossi chipping the ball just over after combining with Giménez. Mikaël Silvestre headed a Ryan Giggs corner wide soon after, but in the 18th minute Fabien Barthez did well to tip over a Murat Yakin free-kick.
Play continued at this frantic pace, with United seemingly dominant, but Basel creating as many, if not more, chances. Wes Brown shot wide on 36 minutes, but just before the break Chipperfield went similarly close. The excitement continued into the second half. Giménez and Ivan Ergic both forced Barthez to save, and Hakan Yakin had a shot deflected behind by Silvestre.
Indeed, Basel seemed to have things under control, but suddenly their lead became a deficit. On 62 minutes United levelled when Ole Gunnar Solskjær, filling in for Beckham on the right, sent a perfect cross on to the head of Van Nistelrooij, who made no mistake from ten metres.
Van Nistelrooij again
Moments later it was 2-1 as Van Nistelrooij, the leading scorer in last season's Champions League, won the ball on the left, cut in to the by-line, and shot in off the far post from a tight angle.
Suddenly at their imperious best, United increased their lead in the 68th minute when Van Nistelrooij returned the favour to Solskjær, his provider for the first goal, sending the Norwegian clear to place the ball into the net through Basel goalkeeper Pascal Zuberbühler's legs.
The goal did not deflate Basel, but United were now in total control, condemning the Swiss champions to their first home defeat of the season. Considering the number of players missing for United, this was another performance that confirms their status among the tournament favourites.