Manchester United 5 - 0 Panathinaikos

Wednesday 17th September
Old Trafford, Manchester

Manchester United made a promising tart to the 2003/2004 Champions' League. Four goals in the first half effectively killed the tie, with a fifth being added in the second half.

The Reds started brightly, with some slick passing and some rhythmic football. It wasn't vintage football, but it was better than in previous weeks.

It was Phil Neville who won a corner, with 'keeper Nikopolidis deciding to push the ball round the post when many felt he should have simply caught the ball. From the resulting corner, the Reds made a breakthrough. The ball was whipped in by Giggs, played into a melee in the penalty box. With the defenders standing still, Silvestre managed to get two touches, and the ball was in the back of the net, albeit luckily.

It was another piece of lucky football that won the match for United. The ball was played down to van Nistelrooy on the right-hand side. He held up the ball and laid it off to the feet of Solskjaer, who pinged the ball into the box, and to the waiting Giggs. Giggs' miscontrol sent the ball into Quinton Fortune's path, and it was lashed home from just inside the box by an unlikely goal scorer.

Van Nistelrooy was industrious upfront, and his partnership with Giggs was working well, with the defence being torn to shreds in no time at all. At the other end, there was very little work to do for Tim Howard, although he was ready when he was called upon, palming a shot from the Greeks over the bar.

The Greek National team goalie, however, was having a torrid time. Not only had he given away the corner, but he'd also failed to claim the ball from it. Whilst he was blameless for the second goal, the third was mainly his doing.

Good interplay between Keane and Butt played in Solskjaer, who had a speculative shot. The 'keeper should have saved it, but instead let it slip through his grasp and it rolled slowly into the net.

Butt headed a fourth just before half-time from a John O'Shea cross, and that finished off the 'keeper's game, with substitute Chalkias taking over after the break.

With the Reds cruising three was a rare chance to give some youngsters some Champions' league experience. Both Fletcher and Bellion came on and turned in solid performances.

A strong defence and midfield ensured that the Greeks got little look-in at goal, whilst the composed back-line were happy to see out the game passing the ball around.

The fifth goal came eventually, with most amazed that van Nistelrooy had failed to get on the score-sheet, especially with the team having scored so many. It was Djemba-Djemba who side-footed the ball into the net after some nifty footwork and a clever cross by Neville.

Man Utd: Howard, Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea (Fletcher 57); Solskjaer (Bellion 45), Butt (Djemba-Djemba 57), Phil Neville, Fortune; Giggs, van Nistelrooy.

Subs Not Used: Carroll, Ronaldo, Keane, Forlan.

Panathinaikos: Nikopolidis (Chalkias 45), Seitaridis, Henriksen, Kyrgiakos, Fyssas, Zutautas, Goumas (Epalle 45), Papadopoulos (Olisadebe 62), Sanmartean, Maric, Konstantinou.

Subs Not Used: Maurice, Munch, Konstantinidis, Michaelsen.

Attendance: 66,520.

Referee: Alain Sars (France).