The champions of England, Europe and the world remain on course for an unprecendented quintuple of trophies this term after surviving an uncomfortable encounter with the Serie A leaders, who could easily have scored at least one goal. Inter’s coach José Mourinho arrived here with a reputation for getting results against United – most famously with FC Porto five years ago – but while he left with a chorus of “You’re not special any more” ringing in his ears, his side certainly ensured a nervy night for their hosts.
Rather than energise United, Vidić’s fourth-minute goal seemed to send Sir Alex Ferguson’s men into their shells in a stuttering first-half display. Vidić had rewarded an urgent start when he got clear of Patrick Vieira and met Ryan Giggs’s corner with a powerful header which flew inside an unguarded far post. Yet United, apparently unsure whether to defend their advantage or push on, did neither.
Inter’s attempts to find a way back into the tie initially foundered on Zlatan Ibrahimović’s isolated status up front, but United’s uncharacteristic carelessness soon encouraged the five-man Nerazzurri midfield to venture forward in support, and chances came. After Giggs had surrendered possession – not the first United player to do so – Inter won a free-kick 35 metres from goal and from Maicon’s delivery, Ibrahimović directed a header down into the ground and up on to the crossbar.
Stanković then tried his luck with a long-range strike that Edwin van der Sar touched wide and the Serbian missed a better opening soon after when Ibrahimović’s superb curling pass left him clear at the far post. As the ball bounced in front of him, however, he failed to keep his effort down and it flew over. Although Giggs and Wayne Rooney combined to put John O’Shea clear, Júlio César saving at his feet, the half ended with Inter on the offensive as Ibrahimović broke on to Mario Balotelli’s through ball and drove a low shot past the far post.
Sulley Muntari, scorer of an FA Cup winner here for Portsmouth FC, replaced Vieira at the break but more telling was Sir Alex’s decision to switch Giggs to a central attacking role with Rooney moving out left. The dividend was immediate, Rooney crossing for Ronaldo to head his first UEFA Champions League goal since last year’s final in Moscow. Dimitar Berbatov then brought a close-range stop from Júlio César but Inter had one last throw of the dice.
Adriano came on in the 58th minute and within 60 seconds the Brazilian had volleyed an Esteban Cambiasso cross against the inside of the far post, the ball running back across the line with Van der Sar beaten. Inter’s chance of a fightback was gone and their quest for a first European crown since 1965 is over for another year. No such worries for Sir Alex as his winning machine rolls on to the last eight – and a tenth UEFA Champions League quarter-final in 13 seasons.