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Dzeko in Europe's top 10; Rooney next for drop

UEFA Nations League

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By ESPN Staff

Manchester United 4-3 Europe XI: Ronaldo class

There was no Beckham - not playing at least - no Ronaldinho, no Maldini and the original Ronaldo was missing too.

But the thousands of schoolchildren present on an evening when Manchester United celebrated the 50th anniversary of their own entry into Europe - along with the somewhat more significant Treaty of Rome - and raised £1.25million for charity into the bargain, were still given a thrill to remember for the rest of their lives.

Over the past month, notable Manchester United figures from past and present have queued up to confirm Cristiano Ronaldo's importance to the Red Devils' cause.

And here, freed from the pressures and restrictions of competitive combat, the brilliant 22-year-old showed off the full range of his mesmerising skill.

Showed off is the appropriate phrase too, given Ronaldo played to the gallery at every opportunity.

  • Ferguson delighted after tribute match
  • The dancing feet, never-ending stepovers, strong running, flicked passes. A true performer in every sense of the word.

    In the end, Marco Materazzi - the man Zinedine Zidane ended his career by headbutting in last summer's World Cup - lived out his own childhood dream, reverting to the tactics of the playground by hacking Ronaldo down by the touchline.

    The tackle was taken in good grace, and with a half smile, although Ronaldo had plenty to smile about by that stage, having rasped home a free-kick good enough to grace any of the great European nights the Theatre of Dreams has played host to down the years.

    Ronaldo's effort, teed up with Jonny Wilkinson-like precision, bent so many ways before rasping into the top corner that Valencia's Santiago Canizares, widely acknowledged as one of the best keepers in Europe, began by moving with it, then just gave up and watched it fly past him like the rest of the awe-struck 74,343 crowd - a record for a friendly game at the stadium.

    Even Beckham, sat in the directors' box alongside wife Victoria, devastated at not being able to play a more active part in his 'homecoming' must have appreciated it.

    To the type of reception normally associated with the Beatles, Beckham addressed the United fans at half-time, declaring Sir Alex Ferguson to be the 'best manager in the world' and his days at Old Trafford 'the best of my career'.

    Time moves on, though. Four years have passed since the former England skipper and lifelong United supporter graced this stadium on club duty.

    His contribution to the Red Devils' success will never be forgotten or underestimated but the club has new heroes now in Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.

    Without a Champions League goal since September 2004, Rooney proved he can cut it against high-ranking opposition, albeit ones who do not tackle, by taking just five minutes to get his name on the scoresheet, a little shimmy taking Canizares out of the game as he tapped Paul Scholes' through ball into an empty net.

    A bit of trickery from old master Ryan Giggs provided Wes Brown with a second for United before Lyon's Florent Malouda pulled one back with what would have been the goal of the night had it not been for Ronaldo's stunner.

    Zlatan Ibrahimovic had missed a penalty by the time Rooney finished off Park Ji-Sung's cross for a United fourth.

    The numerous changes for both sides at half-time included the exit of Ronaldo and Rooney and the arrival of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher for Marcello Lippi's makeshift European side.

    With El-Hadji Diouf - who pulled a goal back with a close-range header - on as well, the home fans had three players with Liverpool connections to abuse.

    However, none received as negative a reaction as Robbie Fowler, one half of probably the most unpopular substitute Old Trafford has ever seen as Henrik Larsson departed for the final time to a hero's welcome.

    All that was left was a near-perfect Mexican wave, which was rolling round the ground as China international Dong Fangzhou was given his first taste of the Old Trafford atmosphere, and a late Diouf penalty after Gabriel Heinze had handled.

    But as they headed for home, there was only one name on the lips of those kids for whom a real-life glimpse of United is a rare event indeed. For them there really is only one Ronaldo.

  • Ferguson delighted after tribute match
  • Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson hailed Tuesday night's UEFA celebration game as a fitting tribute to the club's 50 years in European competition.

    United beat a Europe XI 4-3 thanks to two goals from Wayne Rooney and one apiece from Wes Brown and Cristiano Ronaldo - the latter a sublime 30-yard free-kick of which the watching David Beckham would have been proud.

    Marcello Lippi's hastily-assembled Europe XI were 4-1 down at half-time - Florent Malouda their scorer - but won the second half thanks to a double from substitute El-Hadji Diouf.

    The Old Trafford encounter also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome and was played in a fitting spirit of camaraderie.

    Ferguson said: 'It was a fantastic night of players relaxing. It's amazing when you can play without pressure that they can enjoy themselves this much.

    'For everyone coming, it was a really good night.'

    He added: 'It was good that there were so many young people here. Ticket prices were good for young people to get here tonight and it was good to see some fantastic football also.'

    Being a celebration game, the were the inevitable pre-match niceties. It was also announced that Beckham would address the crowd at half-time, much to the delight of the 73,000 in attendance.

    Ferguson missed the emotional speech - as he was in the dressing room - but was not surprised Beckham received such a warm welcome in his first appearance in front of United fans for almost four years.

    'I'd expect he'd get a great reception,' Ferguson said.

    'Even teams, when their managers have played for our club, always get a fantastic reception, quite rightly too.'

    In his address, Beckham called Ferguson the greatest manager in the world.

    His former boss - who once accidentally kicked a boot in the then England captain's face - later reciprocated.

    'He had great years here. He came as a boy and all his formative years were spent here,' Ferguson said.

    'It was a great foundation here before he went on to Real Madrid. He was a great player.'

    Europe XI boss Lippi echoed Ferguson's sentiments about the occasion but admitted he was disappointed so many high-profile players were forced to pull out through injury.

    'It was meant to be a celebration and it was - the two jubilees that we celebrated,' he said.

    'In terms of players, of course the aim was to get really the best players in the world and some of them unfortunately got held up or injured over the weekend.

    'There were some changes, as you all know, but what I saw on the pitch was a good performance and a good show for the 73,000.

    'I thank all those players that came because some came at the last minute and were quite keen to play in this celebration match.'

    Lippi's side inevitably struggled to gel and he said: 'It takes years to build a team and we tried to build one in an afternoon - there are some limitations with that.'

    United also had their injury problems going into the game, and Ferguson admitted afterwards that goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar would not be available until after the forthcoming international break.

    He is also expecting to be without strikers Louis Saha and Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer for the same period of time.

    But Ferguson did calm any fears about first-choice central defensive partnership Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, who should both be available for Saturday's game with Bolton.

    Ferguson said: 'Nemanja had a small break in the cartilage in his nose and he went to hospital this morning to get some of the blood drained away, just a little clot. He's fine.

    'Rio Ferdinand went for a scan on his ribs but he's okay.'