United, Barca move towards semifinal clash

Manchester United beat Roma 2-0 away and Barcelona won 1-0 at Schalke in their Champions League quarterfinal, first-leg matches on Tuesday to take big steps towards a semifinal showdown.

Goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney either side of half-time gave United victory at the Stadio Olimpico as the English champions continued to torment Roma.

Alex Ferguson’s side have beaten their Italian rivals in three of their last four matches and appear set to send them packing from Europe’s premier club competition again after an 8-3 aggregate drubbing at the same stage last season.

United won the second leg of that contest 7-1 and only an unlikely slip-up in the second leg at Old Trafford will prevent them from reaching their second successive semifinal.

If they do meet Barcelona it would renew an old rivalry for United, who beat the Catalan side 2-1 in the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup final and fought out two enthralling 3-3 draws in the group stage of their 1999 Champions League triumph.

Ronaldo headed United into a 39th-minute lead with his 36th goal of the season in all competitions and Rooney sealed the win midway through the second half when he scrambled home a loose ball from close range.

United weathered an early second-half onslaught but could have won by a bigger margin after Ronaldo shaved the post and Michael Carrick came close with a curling low drive.

Ferguson, though, said the victory was far from comfortable.

”It’s a very good team we played against, of course. We had to defend really well at times,” he said.

Ronaldo added: ”It’s a very good performance. Everyone knows it’s a tough game. Roma played very well but we created a few chances. I think we deserved this win.”

Second-youngest scorer

Barca striker Bojan Krkic scored his first Champions League goal and became the second-youngest scorer in the competition at the age of 17 years and just over seven months to put the Catalans in the driving seat of their tie against Schalke.

He diverted the ball into the roof of the net after Thierry Henry’s initial shot was blocked at the near post and kept his composure to square it back for the teenager to pounce.

Barcelona were more comfortable in possession throughout and held off Schalke’s attempts at a comeback with some ease despite missing injured trio Deco, Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho.

Having reached the last eight of the European Cup for the first time since the 1958/59 season, the German side never looked capable of upsetting the 2006 winners, whose victory took some of the pressure off coach Frank Rijkaard.

Rijkaard, under fire after Barca’s 3-2 Spanish league defeat to Real Betis at the weekend, praised his team for holding on in the closing stages when Schalke produced a flurry of shots.

”It’s a good result and you have to congratulate the team for their hard work,” Rijkaard said. ”In the second half we just got sucked into their aerial game a bit.”

On Wednesday, Arsenal are at home to last year’s finalists, Liverpool, in an all-English clash while Turkish champions Fenerbahce entertain Chelsea in the other quarterfinal. — Reuters

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