Manchester United and Barcelona both took major strides
towards the last four of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday
evening. While the English giants were putting AS Roma to the sword
at the Stadio Olimpico with a 2-0 win, the Spaniards defeated
Schalke 04 on their own patch 1-0. Perhaps putting the accent on
tactical efficiency rather than out-and-out flair, the two former
European champions were nevertheless worthy winners of their
AS Roma 0-2 Manchester United
Goals: Cristiano Ronaldo 39, Wayne Rooney 66.
With the Italians shorn of the backbone of their side, with Juan, Simone Perrotta and Francesco Totti all absent, Sir Alex Ferguson's men took a leaf out of their hosts' book and played a patient waiting game before Cristiano Ronaldo rounded off a polished move as the interval approached. After weathering another storm at the start of the second half, the Red Devils killed off the match, and most probably the tie, when Ji-Sung Park teed up Wayne Rooney for the second.
Cristiano Ronaldo gave yet another demonstration of his remarkable scoring prowess and all-round talents, finishing a textbook move with a superbly timed downward header. Starting the game in the centre-forward position, the Portuguese wizard proved a constant thorn for the Roman defence with his tireless link-up play. Now the leading scorer in the competition with seven goals, Ronaldo's tally for the season as a whole stands at 36, just ten shy Denis Law's long-standing record. As the unstoppable forward continues to sweep all before him, his recently stated ambition to become the best player in the world comes ever closer to fruition.
The turning point
This typically tight affair took a decisive turn on 39 minutes. Sitting deep in their own half, the Italians allowed the visitors to recycle possession patiently before the advancing Wayne Rooney surged past his marker and slipped the ball to Paul Scholes out on the right. With the entire Roma defence tracking Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo stole into the penalty box unnoticed to plant a powerful header past Doni. Forced to chase the game from then on, Luciano Spalletti's charges left themselves exposed to United's rapier-like counter-attacks.
Schalke 04 0-1 FC Barcelona
Goal: Bojan Krkic 12
Having played 178 games in the competition to Schalke's 28, Barcelona brought their vast experience and superior technical skills to bear in Gelsenkirchen to win a game they simply could not afford to lose. Making light of missing Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and Deco and the team's recent indifferent form, the Catalans largely dominated the game, but did endure some nervous moments when the Germans pressed after the break.
With so much star quality around, it can be tough to get noticed at Barcelona. Bojan Krkic showed he deserves equal billing to his illustrious team-mates, however, when he notched his first Champions League at the age of just 17. The teenage prodigy was also at the heart of Barca's most dangerous moves, serving notice yet again of his spark and vitality, not to mention awe-inspiring mastery of the ball. "What Bojan does is special because although he's very young, he almost always makes the right decisions. He's got the intelligence of an older player," commented Frank Rijkaard recently, an ardent admirer of his young striker.
The turning point
The hero of Schalke's last-16 win over Porto after pulling off a string of miraculous stops, 22-year-old Manuel Neuer experienced the other side of the coin after 12 minutes of Tuesday evening's tie. Having been cleverly played in by Andres Iniesta, Thierry Henry saw Neuer fumble his first-time shot, allowing the Frenchman to square the ball to the far post, where the unmarked Krkic sidefooted the ball into the roof of the net.