Dignitaries from the worlds of football and politics came together in fine style.
Dignitaries from the worlds of football and politics came together tonight to celebrate both Manchester United FC's 50 years in Europe and 50 years of Europe since the Treaty of Rome – but it was a fairly hefty footnote that Sir Alex Ferguson's United team defeated a Europe XI by a 4-3 scoreline.
Goals, goals, goals
Goals from Wayne Rooney (2), Wes Brown and Cristiano Ronaldo undid Marcello Lippi's squad, which comprised players from eleven nationalities. If the object of the game was to raise money for the Manchester United Foundation, there was little charity shown to the visitors, who struck back through Florent Malouda and El-Hadji Diouf (2).
The 74,343 in attendance at Old Trafford were able to sit back and enjoy an evening of Hollywood football – including a half-time cameo from a spectating David Beckham. It was the kind of luxury occasion that regular UEFA Champions League participation has afforded the red side of Manchester – and how they lapped it up. Nor were the 'olés' reserved solely for Ole Gunnar Solksjær, United's hero of the 1999 European Champion Clubs' Cup triumph, who received rapturous applause pre match, when Sir Matt Busby's son Sandy also addressed the crowd about the club's European coronation of 1968.
United opened the scoring after seven minutes when Paul Scholes's pass unlocked the central defensive pairing of Roberto Ayala and Marco Materazzi, allowing Rooney to stroll unopposed towards the penalty area and roll the ball past Santiago Cañizares. The crowd were back on their feet by the tenth minute as Ryan Giggs's trickery won him time and space to deliver low across the box where the sliding Brown administered the final touch.
Past and present
As much as it was a celebration of United's European history, this was also an opportunity to witness a team who are on course to win the club's first English championship since 2003. Giggs - one of five veterans of the 1999 campaign on display along with Brown, Scholes, Gary Neville and Andrew Cole (borrowed from Portsmouth FC) - struck a post while this stadium's twin darlings of Rooney and Ronaldo provided much of the artistry for what was a football exhibition.
The Treaty of Rome had laid the foundations for the modern-day Europe, and José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, was a guest of honour alongside Sir Bobby Charlton and new UEFA President Michel Platini. The foundations of Lippi's ensemble were rather less solid as United's greater cohesion took effect.
Yet on 22 minutes, Olympique Lyonnais winger Florent Malouda stole some limelight, picking up possession 20 metres from goal and unleashing a drive beyond Tomasz Kuszczak. The swift reply came via arguably the continent's foremost practitioner of wing play, Ronaldo lashing a free-kick from distance past Cañizares. For Lippi's side, Zlatan Ibrahimović won then wasted a penalty, his strike rattling the crossbar ten minutes before the interval. The crowd had hoped Europe captain and United loan star Henrik Larsson, making his last appearance at this ground before returning to Sweden, would do the honours. Instead Rooney completed the first-half scoring by tapping in a Ji-Sung Park cross.
Both lineups were vastly changed for the second period, with the Europe XI benefiting from an injection of Premiership talent including Liverpool FC's Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher (local hostilities did not entirely cease for the evening) and Diouf. The Bolton Wanderers FC forward was on target after 52 minutes when his centre was nodded back across goal by Dejan Stefanović and Diouf was there to head in. Gerrard and Larsson threatened, Carragher was denied by substitute keeper Tom Heaton, while Kieran Richardson's shot was fumbled on to the post by Grégory Coupet. The Mexican waves came and went, but the quality of play persisted and in a late United charge, Park, Cole and Richardson all came close to scoring. In the event, the last word went to Diouf, whose cheeky chipped penalty followed a handball by Gabriel Heinze.