Henrik Larsson found the perfect way to say goodbye to Old Trafford, the on-loan striker scoring the goal that confirmed Manchester United FC's passage to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2003.
The Swede returns to Helsingborgs IF next week at the end of his three-month stay in English football but his 72nd-minute header was enough to settle United nerves and secure a 2-0 aggregate success over LOSC Lille Métropole.
The 35-year-old Larsson knows a thing or two about timing – witness his match-turning substitute cameo for FC Barcelona in last season's final - and with United struggling to break down Lille's stubborn resistance, he provided the killer touch, leaping high to head Cristiano Ronaldo's cross past Tony Sylva. If a fitting way for Larsson to mark probably his last UEFA Champions League game, United can now look forward to the quarter-finals although they will want to improve on this display, where they seemed uncertain whether to sit back on their first-leg lead or go forward in search of more goals.
Sense of adventure
Sir Alex Ferguson had predicted a more adventurous approach from Lille than on their previous two visits here – a 1-0 loss in 2001 and 0-0 draw last term. Yet despite their deficit, the Ligue 1 side started cautiously and it was United who asked the early questions. After Larsson's uncustomary carelessness stopped him capitalising on Paul Scholes's ball over the Lille defence, the Swede helped manufacture the first opening of note.
His clever flick sent Scholes clear down the left and he lofted a cross over to Wayne Rooney whose volleyed attempt was blocked by Matthieu Chalmé. From the ensuing corner John O'Shea, bolstering the midfield alongside Scholes and Michael Carrick, headed against the crossbar. Although Scholes threatened again, trading passes with Gary Neville before driving a shot at Tony Sylva, Lille gradually began to grow in confidence. After 23 minutes Ludovic Obraniak swung a free-kick over to Jean II Makoun but he could only direct a free header into the arms of Edwin van der Sar.
Lille were now finding space inside United territory, pinning the hosts back as Obraniak tested the home defence with a series of set-pieces into the box. With the crowd growing restless – "Attack, attack" was the cry - Ronaldo gave Lille a scare as he went down under a Chalmé challenge in the area, but referee Luis Medina Cantalejo booked the Portuguese winger for simulation. As half-time beckoned, Chalmé then went upfield and delivered a tantalising ball which Odemwingie just failed to connect with.
Kader Keita sounded another warning to United when he broke forward in the opening moments of the second period and shot low at Van der Sar. Claude Puel's team went closer still when Odemwingie, at full stretch, nodded against the far post following a ball across goal. United looked to respond but, short on their usual fluency, set-pieces offered their best route to goal, Nemanja Vidić twice threatening with headers from free-kicks. So it was left to that man Larsson to break the deadlock, finishing his short United career just as he had started it - with a goal.