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The BBC's Mike Ingham
"In the end United won at a canter"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 21:54 GMT
Man Utd qualify with ease
Batistuta
Batistuta opened the scoring with a sublime strike
Man Utd 3-1 Fiorentina

Manchester United took another step towards defending their Champions League title with a confident victory over Fiorentina at Old Trafford.

Gabriel Batistuta had put the Italians ahead with a blistering strike after just 16 minutes, but United, who looked purposeful from the off, replied immediately, thanks to a fine effort from Andy Cole.

Captain Roy Keane added the second before the break, after a brave header by Henning Berg.


floodlight
Floodlight problems delayed the start of the clash
And Dwight Yorke wrapped up proceedings, after Fiorentina had been reduced to 10-men, midway through the second period.

Floodlight problems delayed the start of the match for 20 minutes. But when it finally kicked-off, it was certainly one worth waiting for as both sides excelled in a free-flowing game.

In a frantic opening, United won two early free-kicks. Instead, however, it was Fioretina who came close to finding the net, thanks to a curling 20-yard shot from Batistuta.

It was the first of a number of scares for United and a fine close save from goalkeeper Mark Bosnich was all that prevented the visitors taking the lead, after the Australian blocked a Manuel Rui Costa shot.

United were clearly not willing to let the Italians have it all their own way. Cole connected with a fine Giggs cross to send a shot towards Toldo.


giggs
Ryan Giggs proved to be a handful for the Italians
And although Yorke was ready to pounce, the striker somehow managed to miss the target.

With Ryan Giggs at his sublime best, United looked supremely dangerous. Until, that is, Bastituta silenced Old Trafford with a magical 25-yard strike.

Seconds after Giggs had ripped through the Italian midfield, the Argentinian striker stepped past Jaap Stam and hit a swerving shot to give Bosnich no chance.

It was a goal of the highest quality, but United reacted instantly. Just four minutes later, Cole played down a Gary Neville cross on the edge of the area, turned and beat Toldo in-one at the far post to equalise.

High quality

If Batistuta had taken the breath away, then Cole, whose strike equalled Dennis Law's record of 14 goals in a European competition, responded in kind.



That's the best performance of the season so far. I think the players can lift themselves when they need to.

Man Utd manager Sir Alex Ferguson
Minutes later he almost added a second after improvising a beautiful chip that Toldo could only push over the crossbar.

United were clearly building up an impressive head of steam and they did not have to wait long for the second.

Henning Berg headed a long Beckham corner onto the bar from the edge of the area and Keane made no mistake to hammer the ball home from eight yards.

Beckham received a yellow card just before the break and will now miss the clash against Valencia next week.

The Italian side came out with purpose after the interval, but still United controlled possession well.


Keane
Roy Keane added the all-important second
Giggs failed to hit the target after another blistering break through midfield, before heading a Beckham cross wide of the near post.

In the 61st minute, Fiorentina's task grew considerably, when Fabio Rossito was red carded for a dismal challenge on Yorke.

United looked to capitalise immediately and eight minutes later came the all-important third.

Giggs and Keane combined well, before the Welshman sent a pinpoint cross to Yorke, who headed home at the far post.

United were dominating with ease. In contrast, Fiorentina looked desperate for the final whistle.

When it came, it gave the Old Trafford faithful a chance to savour a splendid victory. United must now concentrate on securing top place in Group B, though anything less now looks an unlikely prospect indeed.

Teams

Man Utd: Bosnich, G. Neville, Berg, Stam, Irwin, Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Yorke, Cole. Subs: Van Der Gouw, Butt, Sheringham, P. Neville, Solskjaer, Fortune, Silvestre.

Fiorentina: Toldo, Repka, Adani, Pierlini, Torricelli, Di Livio, Rossitto, Rui Costa, Heinrich, Batistuta, Mijatovic. Subs: Taglialatela, Fircano, Okon, Chiesa, Bressan, Amoroso, Tarozzi.

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See also:

12 Mar 00 | Football
Beckham pledges future to Man Utd
01 Mar 00 | Champions League
Giggs inspires Man Utd victory
02 Mar 00 | Champions League
Fergie loses faith with Bosnich
28 Feb 00 | Champions League
Champions League fixtures and results
08 Dec 99 | Champions League
Champions League group tables
15 Mar 00 | Football
Adams fit for Uefa clash
15 Mar 00 | Champions League
Barca ensure easy quarter-final ride
14 Mar 00 | Champions League
Chelsea seal quarter-final spot
Links to other Champions League stories are at the foot of the page.