Manchester United FC cruised to victory in front of a full house at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium, beating SK Sturm Graz 1-0 in this UEFA Champions League Second Group Stage match in Austria. Goals from Paul Scholes and substitute Ryan Giggs were enough to earn United a valuable three points, in a game that saw the visitors totally dominate proceedings in front of a partisan Graz crowd.
As the rain beat down, the English Premiership champions soaked up Graz’s early exuberance and hit them with regular penetrating counter attacks. Forward Dwight Yorke had United's first effort on goal, after good work by Mikaël Silvestre, but Graz keeper Kazimierz Sidorczuk gathered at the second attempt. Yorke then broke into the hosts’ penalty area, but drove a powerful effort wide of the target, after gliding past Günther Neukirchner. The pressure finally told after 18 minutes, when Teddy Sheringham fed Scholes with a delightful flick, and the United man chipped over the onrushing Sidorczuk to give United a well-deserved lead.
United continued to look comfortable during the remainder of the first half, pushing Graz back towards their own goal and retaining possession in the midfield. The Swedish referee waved away penalty claims as half time approached, following Mehrdad Minavand’s clumsy challenge on the lively David Beckham, and it was testament to some stout Graz defending that it was only 1-0 at the break.
Denied by crossbar
Graz came out fighting for the second half, creating several chances in the early moments as they tried desperately to grab an equalising goal, and a way back into the tie.
Captain Ivica Vastic appeared to pose the greatest threat to Fabien Barthez’s goal, bossing the midfield and pushing forward to support Tomislav Kocijan. It was his pass that fed Kocijan, as he blasted a 25 metre effort towards goal, and was unlucky to see the ball rebound off the face of the crossbar and behind for a goal kick. The referee then turned down Graz penalty appeals, deeming Gary Neville’s sliding challenge on the ever-busy Vastic to be a fair one.
Graz coach Ivica Osim threw on two forward players at the expense of two defenders, as Hannes Reinmayr and Gerald Strafner replaced Günther Neukirchner and György Korsos. Reinmayr looked the more lively, but the closest the hosts came to equalising was through a United player. Roy Keane headed Vastic’s swerving cross towards his own goal, and Barthez had to be at his athletic best to beat the ball clear.
With time running out for the home side, United launched a killer counter attack and grabbed the deciding goal. Ryan Giggs broke into the Graz box and drove a powerful effort under the sprawling body of Sidorczuk, to make it 2-0 and secure the points for his side. Manchester United showed glimpses of their very best and dominated every aspect of the game, thoroughly deserving the victory. Graz now have until February to lick their wounds and bounce back with a much improved performance.