Manchester United FC took a huge stride towards the last four of the UEFA Champions League after goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney secured a 2-0 win over AS Roma in the first leg of their quarter-final at the Stadio Olimpico.
Semis in sight
Ronaldo headed the English champions in front after 39 minutes and, after United's defence had resisted a determined rally from the home side, Rooney doubled the lead in the 66th minute. Roma must hate the sight of Sir Alex Ferguson's men who eliminated them at this stage last year and who survived the loss of Nemanja Vidić to a first-half knee injury to claim a first victory on Italian soil since 2003. Given that they have already beaten the Giallorossi twice at Old Trafford in the last 12 months, few would bet against United sealing a semi-final berth when the teams meet again next Wednesday.
Roma had gone into the match missing their injured captain Francesco Totti but there was reason for early optimism with his replacement Mirko Vučinić working hard to fill the gap. In the opening minute he robbed Rio Ferdinand out on the left but, fortunately for the United skipper, fired his shot well wide. More good work from Vučinić yielded the game's first corner on the quarter-hour when Christian Panucci's header was not far off target. Although United were getting men behind the ball and offering Roma little space in which to play, the big No9 continued to ask questions of the visiting defence, dipping a shot just over on 28 minutes and then – following Vidić's withdrawal after falling awkwardly – jinking towards goal only to shoot wastefully across it.
Rooney the catalyst
Unfortunately for Roma, in between those efforts, Ronaldo had put United ahead with his seventh UEFA Champions League goal of the campaign and his 36th overall. Rooney was the catalyst. Collecting the ball with his back to goal, the England striker span away from Philippe Mexes and played in Paul Scholes on the right of the penalty area. The veteran midfielder looked up, spotted Ronaldo's run and crossed for the No7 to head emphatically inside the far post. Questions have been asked about Ronaldo's ability to decide the really big games – notably in the wake of his disappointing display in last season's semi-final loss at AC Milan – but here, leading the line with Ji-Sung Park and Rooney on either side of him, he provided the best possible answer.
Roma upped the tempo after half-time, spurning three openings almost immediately. Max Tonetto drove a shot the wrong side of the near post after breaking into the box, then forced Edwin van der Sar into a fingertip save with a goal-bound cross. Panucci missed an even better chance, volleying over after Mancini had flicked on Vučinić's long throw. United survived again shortly after the hour when Van der Sar kept out a Vučinić header from David Pizarro's corner and the impressive Ferdinand got to the rebound just ahead of Mexes. Instead of drawing level, Roma fell further behind. Wes Brown sent over a deep cross from the right, Park nodded it back across goal and Rooney stole in between Doni and Panucci to turn the ball over the line. It could have been worse for Luciano Spalletti's dispirited team as Ronaldo rifled a low strike against the post and Michael Carrick shot centimetres wide.