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Wednesday, October 27, 1999 Published at 20:36 GMT 21:36 UK

Man Utd keep Euro dream alive

United's players swarm towards David Beckham after his stunning opener

Croatia Zagreb 1-2 Man Utd

Manchester United kickstarted their Champions League campaign with an excellent win in the Balkans to secure their place in the second group stage.

The BBC's Simon Brotherton: "The better team won an average game"
The reigning champions had faced the prospect of a premature exit from the competition after losing to Marseille last week.

But the golden right boot of David Beckham, plus some typical pragmatism from captain Roy Keane, wrapped up an impressive victory.

Veteran Croatian international Robert Prosinecki caused some late flutters for Alex Ferguson's side with an injury-time reply, but the visitors held on.

Zagreb had managed a 0-0 draw in the first Group D match at Old Trafford.

But this time Ossie Ardiles' talented side had no answer to the English giants.

Beckham led the way with a moment of dead-ball magic in the first half, and Keane then grounded any hopes of a home revival with a fortunate second just after the break.

But it was a fine all-round team display from United, who rediscovered the form that led them to glory last season.

Croatian charge

Zagreb, their own hopes of qualification resting solely on victory, started brightly enough and Mark Bosnich was forced to save from Daniel Saric and Edin Mujcin.

[ image: Mario Cvitanovic hacks the ball clear of United's Dwight Yorke]
Mario Cvitanovic hacks the ball clear of United's Dwight Yorke
But United produced the perfect continental display, with a patient build-up based around a well-balanced midfield quartet of Beckham, Keane, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.

And Beckham it was who broke the deadlock with a trademark set-piece after 32 minutes.

When Zagreb conceded a free-kick close to the right-hand corner of their penalty area, they must have believed there was little immediate danger.

But Beckham emphasised yet again that he is the master in such situations, as he whipped a fizzing shot around the wall which beat stand-in keeper Tomislav Butina at the far post for his first goal of the season.

Mario Cvitanovic came close to levelling matters right at the start of the second half, but his rasping long-range effort faded just wide of Mark Bosnich's right-hand post after Robert Prozinecki had fooled the United defence with a cheeky back-heeled free-kick.

Captain marvel

It proved a timely escape for United, as within a minute they had doubled their advantage.

[ image: Sir Alex can sense a good future in this season's Champions League campagn]
Sir Alex can sense a good future in this season's Champions League campagn
After Giggs and Phil Neville linked well together, Keane picked the ball up in midfield and launched a speculative shot which looked like causing no problems for Butina.

But it took a wicked deflection off a defender and before the keeper could react, the ball was nestling in the back of the net.

With a two-goal lead, United were content to play out the remainder of the second half.

Zagreb had their moments, with Tomas and substitute Simic both coming close, but United, with Jaap Stam outstanding, always looked secure at the back.

With time ticking away, the stylish Prosinecki side-footed home to give the passionate home crowd some late hope.

But there was no way back for Ardiles' men and while the result takes United through, it ends Zagreb's Champions League chances and means a Uefa Cup spot is now the extent of their ambitions.


Croatia Zagreb: Butina, Tokic, Sedloski, Juric, Mujcin, Rukavina, Mikic, Saric, Cvitanovic, Tomas, Sokota. Subs: Vasilj, Krznar, Pavlovic, Prosinecki, Simic, Kozniku, Mumlek.

Man Utd: Bosnich, Irwin, Stam, Berg, P Neville, Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Cole, Yorke. Subs: Van Der Gouw, May, Cruyff, Solskjaer, Clegg, Higginbottom, Greening.

Referee: D Jol (Holland)

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