Manchester United beat Schalke to put one foot in Champions League final
Schalke 0 Manchester United 2: Barring an unlikely Schalke victory at Old Trafford next week, Manchester United will contest the Champions League final at Wembley on May 28 after a one-sided encounter in Germany tonight.
Ryan Giggs and the outstanding Wayne Rooney scored United's goals in a three-minute second-half spell in the semi-final first leg at the Vetlins-Arena.
Prior to that, though, Sir Alex Ferguson's men had wasted an astonishing 13 chances to score - 11 of them coming before the break.
It left Schalke needing a three-goal triumph to progress to a meeting with either Real Madrid or Barcelona. On this evidence, United have absolutely nothing to worry about.
And for Rooney in particular, a fifth European Cup final for the Red Devils - on the ground where they won their first in 1968 - means personal redemption, having returned to the Gelsenkirchen arena where he was sent off on his last visit for England, to produce a wondrous performance that confirmed his renaissance beyond any doubt.
As United trudged in at half-time, they cannot have known whether to laugh or cry.
Their pace, power and precision was simply too much for Schalke, who were opened up with a regularity barely credible at this level of the game.
Incredibly though, the score remained goalless.
Starting with a Rooney effort that flicked off Atsuto Uchida and forced Manuel Neuer into the first of a series of magnificent saves, and ending with a last-minute opportunity when Giggs raced onto a Rooney through-ball and failed to beat the Germany number one, United created 11 clear chances.
Had they done that over the duration of both legs, Ferguson would probably have been quite pleased.
To do so in a single half, and not to take any of them, defied belief.
Rooney could only have wished he was on the end of some.
Instead, Park Ji-sung had two opportunities charged down, Giggs was denied by Neuer twice and Fabio flashed a half-volley over the bar.
By far the worst culprit was Javier Hernandez.
Lauded to the skies in recent weeks after a series of timely interventions which have sent United surging towards a record 19th league title, the Mexican was too much for Schalke's beleaguered defence.
For once, though, the 22-year-old had left his shooting boots at home.
Whether he was being set up by Antonio Valencia, outstanding on the right wing, Rooney or Park, Hernandez just could not find the target.
Partly it was his fault as shots flew wide of the Schalke goal, while on other occasions Neuer was in the way.
It appears the Germany keeper is on his way to Bayern Munich this summer, which for United is a pity, because on this evidence he would be a worthy successor to Edwin van der Sar, who is retiring at the end of the season.
On a record-equalling 13th semi-final appearance, Van der Sar was a virtual bystander once he had made a couple of early stops to deny Jefferson Farfan.
Worryingly for Ferguson, the profligacy just continued after the restart.
Neuer denied Michael Carrick with a brilliant fingertip save but, when the Schalke defence opened up for Giggs shortly afterwards, the Welshman's effort with his weaker right foot was woeful.
There must have been a huge fear in the United camp that Schalke would soon start to show the form that got them to this stage of the competition and put five goals past Inter Milan at the San Siro in the quarter-final.
Thankfully for Ferguson and his team, they did some damage first.
Rooney was the architect of the opener, threading a fine ball through to Giggs who, with his left foot, calmly slotted home.
Within three minutes, United had another chance as Hernandez set up Rooney. From 10 yards and in a similar position to Giggs, he was never likely to miss as he bagged his 14th goal of the season.
In the knowledge that a three-goal triumph for Schalke at Old Trafford in eight days' time is impossible to imagine, Ferguson's introduction of Anderson and Paul Scholes was designed purely to shore up the midfield.
It worked, too, allowing United to stroll home and let their minds wander towards Sunday's Barclays Premier League trip to Arsenal.