Manchester United FC cruised to a place in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals as Group A runners-up with a 3-0 victory over SK Sturm Graz at Old Trafford. This crucial clash was settled by goals from Nicky Butt, Teddy Sheringham and Roy Keane, as United controlled the match from the outset.
Graz hardly troubled Fabien Barthez in the hosts' goal and the Austrian champions are now eliminated from the competition, leaving United and Valencia CF as the two qualifiers from this tight group.
Needing to avoid defeat by more than two goals, United began the match at a blistering pace, with Butt and 20-year-old Luke Chadwick impressing during the opening exchanges. The visitors also looked keen, but before they could really settle in the game, United were in front. In only the second minute Graz 'keeper Kazimierz Sidorczuk made a wonderful point-blank save from Ole Gunnar Solksjśr's header, before the Norwegian forward combined with Chadwick to set up Butt for the opening goal three minutes later.
Gunther Neukirchner could only half-clear, after the duo had worked their way into the penalty area and the ball eventually found its way out to Butt. His powerful 20-metre drive gave Sidorczuk no chance and set the tone for the remainder of an open and entertaining first half.
Paul Scholes looked lively on the left of midfield for the hosts and was unlucky to see his shot deflected into the hands of the grateful Sidorczuk, before Sheringham headed wide from a driven Denis Irwin cross. United would have reached the break with a comfortable three or four-goal lead had it not been for the the brilliance of Sidorczuk. The Polish international made fantastic saves from Jaap Stam, Scholes and twice from Ole Gunnar Solksjśr as he proved his class between the sticks but was unable to do anything about United's second goal.
Hungarian defender Gyorgy Korsůs gave the ball away in the right-back berth, before Solksjśr cut inside his marker to feed Sheringham, who finished with a stylish side-foot from 12 metres. The goal sparked further United chances and their dominanace of the opening half showed why many are tipping them as strong contenders to lift the UEFA Champions League trophy.
Graz re-organised at half time, bringing on Peter Hlinka and Imre Szabics for Roman Mšhlich and Mehrdad Minavand, but this did little to help their cause. Mario Haas tried his luck from a tight angle, before Korsůs and Hlinka had efforts on target, but United stood firm and regained their authority in the closing stages.
Three points secured
Solksjśr was denied by the sprawling Sidorczuk as he raced onto Gary Neville's long ball, but Roy Keane made no mistake with four minutes to go. He secured the three points, rounding off a superb three-man move with a simple finish. Chadwick burst down the left wing before Solksjśr played a delightful back-heal into his path, and the United captain finished with aplomb from eight metres.
Having drawn their last two Champions League matches, United head coach Sir Alex Ferguson will be delighted that his side have finally qualified, but the runners-up spot could mean a much tougher draw when the quarter-final draw is made. Graz must return to Austria, but can be proud of their acheivements during the competition.