By Pete Sanderson at Old Trafford
Sir Alex Ferguson celebrated his 1,000th match in charge of Manchester United FC with victory over the French champions Olympique Lyonnais which sealed his team's place in the knockout stages for the eighth consecutive year.
Van Nistelrooij joy
Lyon had threatened to ruin the party when Mahamadou Diarra's long-range effort cancelled out Gary Neville's opener. But Ruud Van Nistelrooij's 36th UEFA Champions League goal on his 37th appearance ensured United joined their opponents in the next stage of the competition.
United welcomed back Gabriel Heinze, Gary Neville and Cristiano Ronaldo to the side after the trio missed the weekend victory over Charlton Athletic FC. Lyon too could call upon the services of a key member of personnel as Brazilian playmaker Juninho, so often the scourge of Europe's finest, returned to the starting lineup at the heart of their midfield.
However there was no doubting who was the main protagonist in the Theatre of Dreams on this momentous occasion, as Ferguson walked on to the pitch to a chorus of cheers and a standing ovation from both sets of fans. If Ferguson thought the visitors, who had already sealed their place in the last 16, were here to make up the numbers then Paul Le Guen's side had not read the script.
The game was only three minutes old when the energetic Michael Essien's shot took a deflection off Rio Ferdinand, and Roy Carroll could only watch as the ball bobbled wide. United soon got into their stride. First Alan Smith tried his luck from long range, then Paul Scholes caused Lyon's hearts to flutter as his shot from the left flew over Nicolas Puydebois's crossbar.
Cris then blocked Ronaldo's shot, while it took the upright to deny Wayne Rooney on 13 minutes. It seemed only a matter of time before Ferguson's men would break the French champions' resistance, but when they did the goal came from an unlikely source.
Neville began the move, exchanging passes with Smith whose pinpoint ball from the right was thumped goalwards by Van Nistelrooij. Lyon cleared but only as far as Neville, who thundered the ball home from close range. United could then have moved further ahead when Ronaldo danced around three challenges before unleashing a fizzing shot which dipped just too late.
Lyon, however, who had been restricted to long-range efforts for most of the first half, were more than happy to rain on Ferguson's parade when Diarra unleashed a speculative effort from distance which squirmed out of Carroll's grasp, and the ball rolled into the net.
United were forced to bring off Neville at half-time with a suspected virus, but his withdrawal only spurred on Ferguson's men and Wes Brown had an instant impact, skipping past two challenges before feeding Rooney whose shot was palmed wide. Ferdinand picked up a loose ball from the corner and his cross from the right found Van Nistelrooij, who rose beyond two defenders before clinically dispatching the ball.
Suddenly the party was back on as the home crowd roared their men forward. Van Nistelrooij was centimetres away from a second moments later as Rooney's exquisite ball found him free in the area, but the Dutchman's measured chip dropped just over the bar.
United were reacquainted with an old foe on 60 minutes as the largely ineffective Sidney Govou made way for former Arsenal FC forward Sylvain Wiltord. But for all their hard work and at times delightfully flowing football, United failed to add to the scoreline but it was clear from the football on show that both sides deserved their place in the last 16.