Might Manchester United be on the threshold of adding a May evening in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium next year to those they passed so memorably in London, in 1968, and Barcelona, 32 years later? Sir Alex Ferguson certainly thinks so and if the vigour and occasional swagger with which they qualified for the second round is any indication, then he might just be right.
United swept away Dynamo Kiev with such ease that Cristiano Ronaldo, the arch-creator, even found time for some mock touchline trickery in the second half in response to a United faithful who had affectionately teased him for messing up one of his step-overs at the end of the first.
Wayne Rooney, whose brilliant exchange with Carlos Tevez which fashioned the second goal was one of many great moments of creativity from him, was indignant that the Ukrainians had shown "no enthusiasm to play the game" and made it "like a training session". But United unwittingly added to that impression. They won at a breeze and Sporting Lisbon's failure to beat Roma in Portugal sends them through. It is five years since United started the tournament with four straight wins.
Rooney did his best to inject some fire befitting a match which his manager had pepped up by warning the players in his programme notes that they risked becoming "nearly men" if they failed to collect silverware. Indignant about the absence of a penalty after Vladyslav Vaschuk put an elbow into his face, which floored him in the area in the first half, he hacked at Artem Milevskiy in retaliation and was booked. There was something of the old, less composed Rooney in that – and he dispensed a bit more of the same in the second half.
But that, with the exception of two good second-half chances for substitute Diogo Rincon and Tiberiu Ghioane, was about as competitive as it got. There were echoes of the Besiktas defence which had capitulated at Anfield 24 hours earlier in the way Kiev marked and Rooney will rarely find himself in as much as space as when Nani crossed for him to net on 76 minutes, with Pape Diakhate, who had a torrid night, unable to track him.
By then, United were operating with a swagger and the only complaint was that they sometimes used one piece of trickery too many. After Rooney squared for Tevez early in the second half, the Argentine tried to sell a dummy and take three touches when one might have done.
Ferguson was confident enough to make five changes from Saturday's team and gave a first start to right-back Danny Simpson. Kiev's gloomy manager Oleg Luzhny – here only because Jozsef Szabo has suffered heart problems since his side's last capitulation to United – was not up for a challenge, packing five men across the back to soak up United's pressure.
Ronaldo's dinked shot from a Tevez corner flew over the bar within four minutes and there were immediate glimpses of the expressive football which has so delighted Old Trafford in recent weeks. A Ronaldo back-heel sent Tevez through but no one arrived to meet his cross and a strong Rooney run then released Ronaldo, whose shot was blocked.
But there was good fortune when United finally went ahead just after the half-hour. Ronaldo's free-kick thumped, via Michael Carrick's head, into the back of the head of Tevez – who was offside – and the ball rebounded into the path of Gerard Pique, who climbed above Diakhate to head home. Diakhate claimed Pique had clambered on him to score and was booked for his complaints. But there could be no sense of grievance about United's second, a product of that growing synchronicty between Tevez and Rooney. The Argentine dispossessed Carlos Correa, ran 20 yards, exchanged passes with Rooney and blasted in from close range. United were forming an orderly queue by the time Ronaldo's solo effort wrapped things up.
Ferguson, who agreed with Rooney that Kiev's defensive tactics had been "quite tedious", called on his side to beat Lisbon in three weeks' time to win the group. The United manager says that his side have the maturity they lacked in last season's Champions League semi-final and that it is this, allied to their artistry, which can send them all the way to Moscow to find true greatness. Only time – and tougher competition – will tell, but on this display it is tempting to conclude that he might be right.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar (Kuszczak, h-t); Simpson, Vidic, Pique (Evans, 73), Evra; Ronaldo, Carrick, Nani, Fletcher; Tevez (Saha, 68), Rooney. Substitutes not used: Brown, Anderson, O'Shea, Eagles.
Dynamo Kiev (5-4-1): Shovokovskiy; El Kaddouri, Federov, Diakhate, Markovic, Milevskiy (Bangoura, 76); Ghioane, Rotan (Rebrov, h-t), Correa, Gusev (Rincon, h-t); Vaschuk. Substitutes not used: Rybka (gk), Gavrancic, Ninkovic, Dopilka.
Referee: J W Wegereef (Netherlands).
Champions League Group F
Results: Roma 2 Dynamo Kiev 0; Sporting Lisbon 0 Manchester Utd 1; Dynamo Kiev 1 Sporting Lisbon 2; Manchester Utd 1 Roma 0; Dynamo Kiev 2 Manchester Utd 4; Roma 2 Sporting Lisbon 1; Manchester Utd 4 Dynamo Kiev 0; Sporting Lisbon 2 Roma 2.
Remaining fixtures: 27 Nov: Dynamo Kiev v Roma; Manchester Utd v Sporting Lisbon. 12 Dec: Roma v Manchester Utd; Sporting Lisbon v Dynamo Kiev.