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Dutchman enters United legend

Both coaches hailed Ruud van Nistelrooij after he inspired Manchester United FC's win against VfB Stuttgart.

By Jonathan Caswell in Manchester

English champions Manchester United FC may have won this intriguing encounter with German Bundesliga leaders VfB Stuttgart to pip their opponents to first place in Group E, but the night belonged to a Dutchman.

Club legend
Ruud van Nistelrooij's 45th-minute header from a Ryan Giggs cross confirmed his place as an Old Trafford legend. It brought the magic mark of 28 goals in 30 European games for United, equalling the tally of Denis Law. The former European Footballer of the Year amassed his total in 33 games - three more than Van Nistelrooij.

'Complete player'
Not for the first time his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, paid tribute to his lethal striker who scored a record 12 Champions League goals last season, and who for good measure set up Giggs to score early in the second half, sealing the game. Sir Alex said: "It is a phenomenal record and he is a phenomenal player. It was not an easy chance. He just caught the goalkeeper on the wrong foot. He has matured. You see a more complete player than last year."

Victory 'important'
The result means United go into the knockout stages as a seeded club, knowing for sure they cannot draw old rivals Real Madrid CF and holders AC Milan on Friday. Sir Alex said: "It might get us an easier draw, but the second-placed teams are also formidable."

Good timing
The Scot was particularly pleased at the way his team had broken down a defence that had before tonight only conceded three Bundesliga goals all season, while his own side kept their sixth clean sheet in their last nine Champions League games. "The most important thing regarding Stuttgart was to get in front of them - to score first," he said. "We were very lucky to get a goal before half-time."

Hard work
Sir Alex added. "One of the things we decided to do was to get back to our box when we lost possession. I think that helped us. There was not a lot of space Stuttgart could play into in attack. I think they are a good team but its says a lot for Manchester United to score against them given their record this season."

Second best
Stuttgart coach Felix Magath had already guided his team into the last 16 before tonight's game in their tournament debut, and admitted that, unlike when United lost 2-1 in Germany, the English champions had not underestimated them tonight. He said: "Manchester United dictated the game and we could only make chances on the counterattack.

'Road to defeat'
"In the first half there were not that many chances up until the goal which came at a most unfavourable time. The goal just before half-time meant that the lads came into the changing rooms with their heads drooping. In the second half we could not really get our game together, then the second goal was scored and we were on the road to defeat."

'Fantastic player'
Inevitably, Magath joined the tributes to Van Nistelrooij. "He is a fantastic player complete with everything," Magath said. "We have not quite got that quality in our team and you can see Manchester United getting all the way through to the end of the Champions League."