SIR ALEX FERGUSON heaped praise on striker Wayne Rooney after his two-goal show ensured Manchester United drew first blood in a thrilling Champions League last-16 clash at the San Siro.
Rooney stole the limelight from England team-mate David Beckham by heading home twice in the space of eight second half minutes as United came from behind to take a precious away advantage into next week’s second leg at Old Trafford.
Beckham was playing against his former club for the first time since leaving United in 2003 and took just two minutes to make his mark – his free-kick finding Ronaldinho, who lashed the ball home.
But after Paul Scholes had netted a somewhat fortunate equaliser, it was Rooney who took centre stage, putting United 3-1 up with his brace of headers before Clarence Seedorf pulled one back five minutes from time.
“I felt he had the beating of them and he was fantastic tonight,” a delighted Ferguson said of star man Rooney. “I thought we were coasting at 3-1 then it was a carnival end to the game. It’s made it a game when it shouldn’t have been a game.
“We’ve got to do a job at Old Trafford now. Let’s go out and win it.”
United’s last trip to the San Siro ended in a crunching 3-0 defeat in the 2007 semi-finals and Ferguson must have feared a repeat display when Beckham’s delivery into the box brought a poor attempted clearance from Patrice Evra and Ronaldinho fired home via a deflection off Michael Carrick.
Indeed, things could have got much worse for United – Ronaldinho twice bringing good saves from Edwin van der Sar, while Klaas Jan Huntelaar shot wide following a mistake from Jonny Evans.
But slowly United got into the game and on 36 minutes they were handed a lifeline. Darren Fletcher worked his way into the box and crossed from the left and Scholes somehow ricocheted the ball into the corner off his standing leg.
But with Rooney becoming more and more prominent, United looked the bigger threat and it was no surprise when the England man put the visitors 2-1 up on 66 minutes – rising high to expertly head home Antonio Valencia’s cross.
Then, eight minutes later, Fletcher found Rooney unmarked with a clever pass for him to make it 3-1.
Seedorf’s cheeky backheeled effort set up a tense finale which clearly got too much for Carrick, who was sent off for a second booking after kicking the ball away.
But United deservedly hung on for a vital first-leg victory to extend their unbeaten away run in Europe to 16 matches. Rooney added: “It was a disappointing start but after that we did well to get back into it. The second half we stepped it up and we fully deserved to win, we were always the better side.
“When we went 3-1 up I thought it was only us that looked like scoring. The goal keeps Milan in the tie but 3-2 in the San Siro is a great result.”
l In the other tie of the night, a stunning 48th minute strike by Jean Makoun helped Lyon to a 1-0 first-leg victory over Real Madrid.