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Wednesday, November 3, 1999 Published at 11:27 GMT


Man Utd win place among Euro seeds

The defending champions did not look in top form - but they didn't have to be

Manchester United 2-1 Sturm Graz

Manchester United made certain of their passage into the safer half of the Champions League second phase with a 2-1 victory over Sturm Graz.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and skipper Roy Keane scored with two superb second-half strikes to seal the title-holders' place among the seeds in the final 16 teams of the Champions League.

Keane buried a 69th minute volley and Solskjaer scored with an even finer 56th minute shot to make sure of Man United's place atop Group D.

Sturm caused a bried fluttering of Old Trafford nerves when Ivica Vastic netted a penalty three minutes from time but although Alex Ferguson's men looked a trifle uninspired, the victory was never in doubt.

But, already assured of second place in the group, United's complacency nearly cost them in a misfiring opening half in which they squandered a string of chances.

Many of them were created by the hapless goalkeeping of Sturm Graz's Josef Schicklgruber, who was consistenly exposed by anything resembling a high ball into his box.

Andy Cole looked set to penalise his indecision in the 20th minute when Schicklgruber presented him with an open goal after failing to claim a high ball. But Cole's weak shot was cleared off the line.

Cole set up another chance five minutes later with a tantalising cross but Solskjaer's floated header sailed agonisingly over the bar.

Cole had another presentable opportunity to score himself on 27 minutes and although he turned the Sturm defence well to work the opening, his near-post shot presented no danger. Even for Schicklgruber.

Although United created openings, they flattered the visitors with some lazy defending.

May-day

The side was also unbalanced by a number of changes - Paul Scholes and David Beckham were suspended and only four players remained from the side which beat Aston Villa on Saturday.

David May made his first appearance of the season following his knee injury and Gary Neville returned after two months out injured, while Mark Wilson and Jonathan Greening were also given run-outs.

The lack of understanding showed and Sturm had several early chances to score, fewer more clear-cut than in the 23rd minute when Vastic scooped a rebound over the bar from inside the six yard box.

Ferguson was cleary unhappy with his side's lack of appetite.

And within 11 minutes of the interval, the defending champions finally found the cutting edge to convert their pressure.

Sturm looked to have cleared a cross but the header out fell to Solksjaer, whose sweet left-foot volley flew inside Schicklgruber's post.

Thirteen minutes later Keane doubled the tally in a similar move. David May's powerful header smacked against the bar but Keane reacted quickest to latch onto the rebound and steer a thumping volley into the opposite corner to Solksjaer's unstoppable strike.

Ryan Giggs, who was in unimpressive form all night, ensured a nervy end when he conceded a clumsy 87th minute penalty by bringing down Vastic.

The Sturm striker buried his spot-kick and in the end United needed a fine save from keeper Mark Bosnich to prevent Reinmayer's wicked long-range shot from levelling the scores.

Teams:

Man Utd:
Bosnich, G. Neville, Berg, May, Irwin, Greening, Keane, Wilson, Giggs, Solskjaer, Cole.
Subs: Van Der Gouw, Stam, P. Neville, Cruyff, Yorke, Clegg, Higginbottom.
SK Sturm Graz: Schicklgruber, Strafner, Neukirchner, Prilasnig, Schopp, Mahlich, Angibeaud, Minavand, Martens, Vastic, Kocijan.
Subs: Sidorczuk, Bochtler, Reinmayer, Bardel, Szabics, Grobl. Referee: Rune Pederson (Norway)





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