Inter Milan survived a Manchester United onslaught to hold the holders to a 0-0 draw at San Siro in the UEFA Champions League last 16 first-leg match. It was a result that will probably have pleased neither manager, although Sir Alex Ferguson will have been most miffed at how his team failed to score though they did come away with the Champions League record for games without defeat as they reached 20.
Ferguson, though, was delighted overall with the result. "I hope not scoring a goal doesn't come back to bite us," said the Scot. "However, I think we deserved to win. We played very well. They gave us 15-20 minutes of pressure as we expected in the second-half. But we showed good composure and maturity. The players enjoyed playing in that kind of atmosphere."
Jose Mourinho had said before the game that his team had no fear and that United would not try to win the game but it took only five minutes to demonstrate that that was not the case. United took control from the kick off and dominated so totally in the opening 45 minutes that Ferguson must have been more than just disappointed in turning around goaless at the break. What had seemed like a cautious team selection with Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez on the bench proved anything but with Ryan Giggs excellent in the hole behind Dimitar Berbatov.
And the veteran Welshman created the first chance from a corner that Cristiano Ronaldo met with a firm header on five minutes only for Brazilian Julio Cesar to pull off the first of a series of brilliant saves. Ronaldo had two early efforts from free-kicks but struck the first straight at Julio Cesar and the second narrowly wide.
Berbatov was dominating Inter centre-backs Cristian Chivu and Nelson Rivas in the air and he twice rose highest to meet crosses but headed off target from Patrice Evra on 23 minutes and Park Ji-sung four minutes from the break. On 26 minutes United had their best chance of the half as Rivas mis-read Michael Carrick's pass to Ryan Giggs. But the Welsh wizard lost his wand and opted to shoot from a tight angle instead of squaring to Park or Berbatov, allowing Julio Cesar to spread himself well to block.
The Brazilian stopper threw himself to his left two minutes later to pull off his best save yet from another Ronaldo free-kick. Mourinho, who switched the unfortunate Rivas for Ivan Cordoba, must have said something to his team at half-time because on 48 minutes they created their best chance of the game as Zlatan Ibrahimovic stepped over Esteban Cambiasso's cross and Adriano clipped a shot just past the corner of post and bar.
That was followed by a long scrappy period until United opened up Inter on 67 minutes but no one could tap home Ronaldo's teasing cross into the six yard box. United's finishing was clearly below par and they missed yet another great chance on 76 minutes as Giggs cut in from the right, opened up space but saw his shot charged down by Cordoba before Carrick thrashed the follow-up high over the bar.
Moments later Cordoba fell and Berbatov took the ball into the box before shooting into the side-netting. Inter almost scored a shock goal on 82 minutes as substitute Mario Balotelli's corner found Cambiasso at the back post but his prodded effort went straight into Edwin van der Sar's hands.
A minute from time Berbatov almost set substitute Rooney free but Julio Cesar came out to clear in the nick of time. United had one last chance with the final kick of the match from another stinging Ronaldo free-kick but Julio Cesar again was well-placed to parry the shot. That left Mourinho to breathe a sigh of relief at the final whistle.