Champions League – United come away from Milan with draw
Manchester United extended their unbeaten run in Europe by holding Internazionale to a goalless draw in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie in Milan.
United, who set a record in the competition by going 20 consecutive games without defeat, enjoyed the better of the first half and had chances to break the deadlock before Inter came back into the game in the second period.
But despite some late chances at both ends, there was nothing to separate the two teams over 90 minutes meaning there is still all to play for in a fortnight’s time when the two teams reconvene at Old Trafford.
That said, United will possibly be the unhappier of the two sides, Alex Ferguson having seen his team pass up the opportunity to grab a precious away goal by wasting a number of chances in the first half.
Few teams go to the Giuseppe Meazza and dominate proceedings as United did during the opening period.
Ferguson’s team selection – with Wayne Rooney left on the bench and just Dimitar Berbatov playing up front on his own – might have suggested a defence-minded performance was on the cards, but it soon became apparent that the United boss had had no such intentions.
United flew out of the blocks and took the game to their hosts from the opening whistle with a performance full of adventure and panache. The only thing missing from the opening period was a goal.
But it was not for the want of trying as United first silenced and then frustrated the home crowd by dominating possession and carving out a host of chances to take the lead.
Ryan Giggs went closest to breaking the deadlock, the United skipper neatly turning Nelson Rivas before zeroing in on goal only to see his effort well saved by Julio Cesar.
Cristiano Ronaldo was also in the mood, and posed a constant threat to the Inter backline – missing the experienced Marco Materazzi and Walter Samuel through injury – with his direct running, ability in the air and potent free-kicks.
The Ballon d’Or winner forced a save from Julio Cesar with a bullet header on five minutes before a brace of devilish free-kicks gave the Inter keeper food for thought. But his best chance came on 29 minutes, when he rose virtually unchallenged to thump a trademark header just wide of the mark. Such are his high standards, he should have done better.
Mourinho opted to haul off the shaky Nelson Rivas and replace him with the more experienced Ivan Cordoba at the break and Inter emerged for the second half in far more determined mood.
Adriano – barely noticeable during the opening period came more into the game and was involved in two incidents early in the second half that nearly resulted in a breakthrough for the hosts.
First, he scuffed a shot from close range that Edwin Van der Sar gratefully watched bounce wide before the Brazilian claimed a penalty following an alleged tug on his shirt by Rio Ferdinand.
Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo, not for the first time during the evening, decided not to give in to the pressure exerted by the home crowd.
And neither was it the last time the official infuriated Inter’s fans – on 81 minutes he waved away another penalty appeal after Patrice Evra had clearly handled in the box.
In between Giggs carved out a chance for United on the break, teasing his marker before cutting inside and letting fly with a shot that would have hit the target had it not been for Cordoba.
As time ran out, Inter pressed for a late winner, Ibrahimovic planting a header across the face of goal and Esteban Cambiasso somehow failing to prod the ball over the line from close in following a flicked-on corner, but the final chance of the game fell Ronaldo’s way, with a free-kick from 25 yards out.
But the United forward’s swerving effort was parried away to safety by Julio Cesar; it proved to be the final kick of the game which, despite the absence of a goal, did much to whet the appetite for the return leg in two weeks.