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Football

United through on Ferguson's night


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Neville is congratulated after sending United on the way

MANCHESTER, England -- Manchester United qualified for the Champions League knockout phase with a 2-1 Group D victory over French champions Olympique Lyon on Tuesday.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy's 53rd-minute header proved to be the winner after keeper Roy Carroll gifted Lyon a first-half equalizer when he let Mahamadou Diarra's long-range strike under his body.

Appropriately in manager Alex Ferguson's 1,000th game in charge it was long-serving Gary Neville who gave United the lead after a goalmouth melee in the 19th minute.

Lyon, who had already qualified for the knockout round, were previously unbeaten in the Champions League and Ligue 1 this season.

"I am ecstatic about the second-half performance and that man (van Nistelrooy) scored again! He's incredible," said the 62-year-old Ferguson.

Ferguson also heaped praise on England central defender Rio Ferdinand for his part in creating the goal for the Dutch master.

"I couldn't believe the big man getting down the byline and crossing it like that. I am absolutely delighted.

"Lyon were undefeated this season and it takes a lot to beat a side like that.

"We didn't feel under pressure but we were hoping everything would fall alright for us. It's been a great night. The rhythm is coming, everything is."

United, who now top the group with 11 points to Lyon's 10, started aggressively and their best early chance came when Wayne Rooney hit the post with little more than five minutes gone.

After 19 minutes England defender Neville's pass to the flank found Alan Smith, who put a perfect ball across the box which Lyon's Anthony Reveillere had to intercept to prevent Van Nistelrooy scoring.

Reveillere had another go at clearing his lines but succeeded in pushing the ball out to Neville who lashed it into the net. It was only Neville's seventh goal in a long career at his only club and his second in the Champions League.

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Ferguson applauds after United mark his big night with a win

United kept going forward but Lyon had probably the better chances through Pierre-Alain Frau and Essien before Carroll's howler got them back into the match after 40 minutes.

Diarra's shot was on target and Carroll had plenty of time to deal with it. Somehow the Irishman let it squirm under his body and into the net.

Neville, laid low by a virus, was substituted at halftime and his replacement Wes Brown nearly gave United the lead seconds after the restart but his shot flashed wide.

Eight minutes into the half United were back in front, however. A run and chipped cross from close in by England defender Rio Ferdinand reached the far post where Van Nistelrooy headed home his 45th goal in the Champions League.

Fenerbahce consolation

Radoslav Kovac's own goal in the 20th minute gave Turkish champions Fenerbahce a rare away win against Sparta Prague in the other Group D tie to guarantee them a consolation place in the UEFA Cup.

Since their surprise victory over Manchester United in the 1996-97 season at Old Trafford, Fenerbahce have played 14 European away games without a single victory.

Their Brazilian trio of Alex de Souza, Marco Aurelio and Marcio Nobre turned up the heat on a cold night at Sparta stadium, creating several chances in the first half.

However the only goal came when Sparta keeper Jaromir Blazek tried to punch away Kemal Aslan's cross, only to see the ball glance off Kovac's head and back behind the startled keeper into the open goal.

"I didn't see him (Kovac) at all. It's too bad. What can you say?" said Blazek who made several spectacular saves to keep his team in the match.

Sparta tried to fight back in the second half, but once again showed their lack of polished finishing as several chances went begging.


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