Ole Gunnar Solskjær was the hero as Manchester United FC opened their UEFA Champions League campaign with a pulsating 3-2 victory over Scottish champions and Group F rivals Celtic FC.
There were fears not so long ago that Solskjær, United's match-winner in the 1999 final against FC Bayern München, would never play again. After returning from an absence of almost two years, however, he reprised his super-sub routine here, showing his old sharpness with a close-range, and deserved, winner in the 47th minute. Solskjær's strike settled a captivating contest which saw these two British heavyweights trade the lead, Celtic going ahead through Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, Louis Saha then netting twice for the hosts before Shunsuke Nakamura made it 2-2.
This Anglo-Scottish contest was never going to be a cagey affair and Wayne Rooney set the tone by twice charging down attempted clearances in the opening minutes. United carried the greater early menace, Saha looping a header wide from a Gary Neville cross. The Frenchman went close again on 17 minutes, flashing a volley just over the crossbar after seizing on Gary Caldwell's header.
At that stage, Celtic's sole threat had come when Vennegoor of Hesselink – operating as a lone striker - stole the ball off Rio Ferdinand but failed to punish the defender with a shot on target. Ferdinand enjoyed no such let-off in the 23rd minute, however, when from an Artur Boruc goal-kick, the Dutch forward beat him to the dropping ball, turned towards goal and let fire. Edwin van der Sar got a hand to the ball but failed to disturb its course to the bottom corner.
As the noise levels rose around the stadium, United went looking for an equaliser. Scholes blazed wide then saw his next effort blocked by three Celtic defenders. It was Saha, the man charged with replacing Ruud van Nistelrooij, who restored parity on the half-hour. Ryan Giggs went down under a challenge from Boruc, referee Ľuboš Micheľ pointed to the spot and Saha did the rest.
Ten minutes later and after Vennegoor of Hesselink had directed a free header straight at Van der Sar, Saha struck again. Scholes supplied the low pass and the No9 sent the ball low past the outcoming Boruc. United's advantage lasted just three minutes, though. Wes Brown upended Jiří Jarošík on the edge of the United box and Nakamura left Van der Sar for dead with a sublime free-kick.
Two minutes into the second half, United were back in front. Boruc saved from Saha but Solskjær, a first-half substitute for the injured Giggs, was on hand to sweep the loose ball high into the net. After his long fight for fitness, it was the Norwegian's first UEFA Champions League goal since 16 September 2003 and how Old Trafford celebrated. True to their tradition, United kept pushing forward. Saha, on a hat-trick, curled an effort just past the far post and saw his header smothered by Boruc. With the clock showing 68 minutes, Rooney poked Ferdinand's centre wide of an open goal.
Moments later he danced through the Celtic defence but could not beat Boruc. At the other end, substitute Kenny Miller crossed invitingly to Vennegoor of Hesselink but Ferdinand got there first. Van der Sar then kept out a low Gravesen drive but it was United who finished the stronger.