Manchester United booked their place in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 after a thrilling 5-3 victory over Gamba Osaka at the International Stadium in Yokohama. Incredibly, six of the goals came in the final 16 minutes as both sides produced a feast of attacking football.
Osaka, full of energy and enthusiasm, started the game on the front foot and they they set the tone for an entertaining first half in the fourth minute when Tomokazu Myojin fired in low shot from 25 yards which forced Edwin van der Sar into a smart save. However, the capacity crowd roared louder when Cristiano Ronaldo hit a shot straight at Yosuke Fujigaya two minutes later.
A sign that the Asian champions would be no pushovers came in the 13th minute when Ryuji Bando broke clear and found himself with just van der Sar to beat. However, the veteran Dutchman spread himself well to keep the scores level. Osaka too were given a let-off when Carlos Tevez failed to square the ball to the unmarked Ryan Giggs or Nani, who were bearing down on goal.
The frantic pace of the opening minutes eventually died down, which suited United who were able to keep possession and pick their passes to greater effect. As the pressure increased, Tevez's cross-field pass found Cristiano Ronaldo on the right and he fired a goalbound effort which took a deflection off Osaka skipper Satoshi Yamaguchi, giving the European champions a corner.
Ryan Giggs delivered an inch-perfect ball from the right and Serbian international Nemanja Vidic rose highest to head home, provoking thousands of cameras to flash around the stadium as the Red Devils celebrated.
Anderson had a great opportunity to make it 2-0 five minutes later, but headed Cristiano Ronaldo's centre wide from close range. This prompted a period of dominance from the European champions, but Akira Nishino's side were not going to give up without a fight. Lucas fired over from 25 yards and then Bando latched on to a loose pass from Rio Ferdinand, but rushed his shot which failed to trouble van der Sar.
With half-time approaching, Tevez turned quickly in the box and had a shot deflected wide. Another Giggs corner from the right produced the same result - a United goal. This time it was Cristiano Ronaldo who met the cross to the delight of the fans who had been cheering his every move in the game so far.
Buoyed by the two goal lead, the English champions started the second half well and could have taken the lead when a determined run from Nani almost created a golden opportunity for Giggs, but his cross was cleared. Minutes later, Paul Scholes saw a shot blocked with no signs of United resting on their advantage.
Tevez had the ball in the net in the 50th minute after a delightful through ball from Evra, but he was adjudged to be in an offside position. Osaka then had a great opportunity when Endo's free-kick was superbly palmed away by van der Sar and Bando blazed the loose ball over.
Four goals in five minutes is an unusual occurrence at a FIFA tournament, but that is what happened between the 74th and 79th minutes. First Masato Yamazaki got on the end of a good move from Osaka and curled the ball past Van der Sar and into the net from 20 yards.
United replied instantly when substitutes Rooney and Darren Fletcher combined to good effect. Fletcher threaded a defence-splitting pass which the striker latched on to, before clipping the ball home. Then Van der Sar spilled an Endo shot which almost fell into the path of Hideo Hashimoto, before Gary Neville made a desperate clearance.
The fourth came when Evra put in a fine cross for Fletcher to head home and another United goal followed a minute later when Rooney produced a wonderful finish.
Osaka grabbed two consolations in the final minutes. The first came when Endo converted a penalty following Neville's handball in the box and in injury time Hashimoto scored arguably the goal of the night when he fired a thunderbolt past Van der Sar from the right hand side of the box.
Sir Alex Ferguson must now prepare his side for a final showdown with Liga de Quito on Sunday, while Osaka will now meet Pachuca in the match for third place.