Two-goal United eye final after Schalke triumph

Manchester United produced a devastating attacking performance to record a 2-0 win over Schalke 04 in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday.

Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, a reported United target, kept the three-time champions at bay almost single-handedly before quick-fire second-half goals from Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney brought United a deserved victory.

The result puts Sir Alex Ferguson’s side firmly in the driving seat ahead of next week’s return leg at Old Trafford, when they will seek to book their place in the Champions League final for the third time in four seasons.

Schalke upset defending champions Inter Milan in the previous round but the visitors’ onslaught meant they were unable to cause Edwin van der Sar any real problems as the United goalkeeper kept his 50th clean sheet in the competition.

Neuer has been the subject of intense speculation since he announced he was not going to extend his contract but the Schalke captain demonstrated why he is so highly sought after with a string of world-class stops in the first half.

The first, on three minutes, saw him brilliantly palm away a Rooney curler, before he plunged to his right to keep out a low Park Ji-Sung drive two minutes later.

United’s best early chance fell to Javier Hernandez but, having beaten the offside trap from Park’s pass, the Mexican international found his route to goal blocked by the imposing frame of the Germany number one.

Hernandez ruffled the side netting and flashed a shot across the face of goal before a stunning one-handed stop from Neuer prevented Giggs heading United in front.

Tremendous block
It seemed only a matter of time before semi-final debutants Schalke buckled and Atsuto Uchida had to produce a tremendous block to deny Park after Neuer’s save from Hernandez left the Korean with an open goal.

Neuer was at it again seconds from half-time, boldly racing from his line to deny Giggs, after Schalke had seen a penalty appeal rejected when Antonio Valencia nudged Alexander Baumjohann in the back beneath a high ball.

A Rooney header from a Giggs free-kick prompted more acrobatics from Neuer early in the second half, while Giggs should have done better than blaze wide moments later after flummoxing three defenders with a cunning feint.

A rare sight of goal at the other end saw Jose Manuel Jurado slice a volley wide, before the breakthrough that United’s first-half dominance merited finally materialised in the 67th minute.

Rooney bought himself space on the edge of the box by shaping to shoot and as the Schalke defence advanced to close him down, he slipped a pass through for Giggs to roll the ball between Neuer’s legs.

The deadlock finally broken, United required just three minutes to stretch their lead.

Hernandez drove infield from the right flank before stabbing the ball to Rooney, who beat the exposed Neuer with a first-time shot into the bottom-left corner.

Victory could even have been more handsome, had Patrice Evra’s low shot two minutes from time not whistled narrowly wide of the right-hand upright. — Sapa-AP

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