By Jonathan Caswell at Old Trafford
In his pre-match programme notes Sir Alex Ferguson confessed to still having an emotional link to Rangers FC, a team he used to play for. However, his Manchester United FC side had no time for sentiment tonight at Old Trafford as they swept the Scottish champions aside 3-0 to stay firmly on course to reach the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.
United flew out of the blocks as the game started in the predicted frenetic fashion with a packed crowd generating an enormous amount of noise. This energy was dramatically transformed into brilliant football in the sixth minute as returning United captain Roy Keane fed Ryan Giggs who whipped in a cross which was beautfully met on the volley, via Craig Moore's head, by Diego Forlán. His stunning drive from 12 metres made it 1-0 to United and took the Uruguayan's personal tally to four goals in as many games.
There was to be no let-up for the visitors as United went to kill off the tie quickly. Five minutes later a cross from another returning player, Cristiano Ronaldo, reached Ruud van Nistelrooij, without a goal for nearly ten hours, but the Dutchman's header flew just over the bar.
Rangers had to wait until the 17th minute to give their fans something to cheer about. Forward Michael Mols should have done better after a lovely pass from defender Michael Ball found him in a dangerous position. The Dutchman's first touch let him down, though, and the ball found touch instead of the net.
The move seemed to give the visitors some heart and they gradually saw more of the ball. However, the United manager had called on his players ahead of the game to defend more aggressively and the instructions were carried out to the letter with Rangers' attacks failing to trouble the United defence, reducing Alex McLeish's side to a series of shots from distance.
Giggs almost doubled United's lead on 25 minutes when slicing through the Rangers defence. Although his tame effort beat Stefan Klos in goal the ball was scrambled away by Moore. Twenty minutes later it was Ronaldo's turn to show his skills. He skipped down the wing, crossed and the ball was pulled back for Forlán to volley. His shot hit the bar and ricocheted off Van Nistelrooij's knees and into the net, bringing his goal drought to a somewhat fortuitous end.
At the start of the second half Rangers tried to convince the packed crowd they were still in the game. Full-back Ball unleashed a fierce 20-metre shot which Tim Howard in the United goal was unable to hold, yet Mikaël Silvestre swiftly cleared for a corner.
United turn the screw
Moments later another Ball drive from a free-kick sailed over the bar. Then, on the hour mark, United turned the screw and the game was effectively over as a contest, with Giggs again acting as provider. A powerful free-kick from 18 metres by the Welshman eluded Klos and seemed goalbound but Van Nistelrooij made sure anyway to register his second strike of the night.
Khizanishvili goes close
Three minutes later Van Nistelrooij went close to completing a hat-trick. Ronaldo played a perfectly weighted pass into his stride but his long shot was turned away for a corner. Rangers, to their credit, kept plugging away, and almost pulled a goal back through Zurab Khizanishvili whose shot was deflected over Howard but sneaked past the post. It was that sort of night for the Scottish champions.