Trailing 2-1 from the first leg a week earlier in Rome, Wayne Rooney’s away goal gave the Red Devils hope that they could go out and finish the Italian outfit off on their own patch. Unfortunately, after the away match was marred by crowd trouble, the ever-intimidating presence of the Italian side’s Ultras saw a fierce stand-off between both sets of supporters before the match and set the tone the rest of the evening: revenge- on the pitch, not off it- the right way.
Ahead of kick-off, the major surprise in Sir Alex’s team selection was his decision to partner Alan Smith up front with Wayne Rooney. Many were expecting the usual 4-5-1 formation, that is so often preferred in Europe, especially considering that Smith had only just returned from a long injury lay-off. The rest of the line-up was as expected with the exception of John O’Shea who was preferred to Patrice Evra at left back.
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Nonetheless, there was an undeniable air of tension surrounding Old Trafford on that warm, spring night (April 10th 2007). Previous failings in Europe, such as the calamitous group stage exit the season before, remained fresh in supporter’s minds, making it essential that United set the tone early on and got at Roma from the off.
After a nervous start, Francesco Totti crafted the first chance of the game for Roma with his powerful shot falling narrowly wide of the mark. Moments later, Ronaldo picked out an un-marked Michael Carrick who unleashed a swerving drive from range, past a helpless Doni, and give United the lead on eleven minutes. Old Trafford erupted. Suddenly it was advantage United and they had the perfect start that was so essential.
United continued to attack, with the Roma defence looking vulnerable, and Heinze and Giggs combined on the wing before the Welshaman delivered a wonderfully flighted pass into the path of Alan Smith. Smith, with only the keeper to beat, produced a clinical finish. Two minutes later, it was three, with Rooney meeting Giggs’ low cross to give United a three-goal lead on the night. The vocipherous crowd continued to urge the team on, encouraging the merciless attacking play. Desperately the visitors searched for a response but, in doing so, left themselves exposed to the Red Devil’s fluid counter-attacking football and as the first half began to wind down, Ronaldo took possession of the ball, invited the shot and paid the price.
After a magnificent first half performance, United were 4-0 up on the night, with a 5-2 aggregate lead. Qualification was all but secured yet United refused to relent in the second half. Ronaldo added a fifth, four minutes after the restart as he turned in another Giggs cross and still, United were far from finished. Carrick got his second and United’s sixth with a screamer which left Doni with no chance. De Rossi did pull a goal back for Roma in the 69th minute but the game was up for the Italian side. A glorious United performance was capped ten minutes from time, as substitute Patrice Evra galloped forward and sent a low shot into the corner of the goal- the first of his two goals in 203 United appearances.
As the full-time whistle was blown, supporters reflected on arguably United’s most dominant performance ever in a European competition. On the night, everything clicked; the team refused to sit back and punished a shell-shocked Roma. Although United would ultimately fall to AC Milan in the Semi-Finals, the result was a demonstration of what this team was capable of in Europe and set the tone for the European Cup victory that would follow in 2008.