Giggs's finally got the opener, after 67 minutes, United's dominance deserved
By Jonathan Stevenson
Manchester United took a giant step towards the Champions League final as they outplayed Schalke in Germany.
United could have been well ahead in the semi-final first leg by half-time, denied only by a series of incredible saves from Germany keeper Manuel Neuer.
They broke the deadlock when Wayne Rooney slipped in Ryan Giggs to slot home and Rooney doubled the advantage by firing in a Javier Hernandez pass.
Edwin van der Sar saved from Sergio Escudero, but Schalke were awful.
United will welcome Schalke to Old Trafford on Wednesday 4 May for the second leg and they now know, barring a complete catastrophe, that they will once again represent English football in the showpiece of the European game.
Sir Alex Ferguson had warned his side not to underestimate Schalke prior to the match, with United the hot favourites to progress to the Wembley final on 28 May and face either Real Madrid or Barcelona.
Until they got as far as Neuer, that is. The 25-year-old Schalke captain and Germany number one, who announced last week he would be leaving his hometown club in the summer after a 20-year association, produced a goalkeeping performance of the very highest order for more than an hour.
Neuer pulled off a succession of stunning saves for Schalke
He was a one-man barrier who prevented United wrapping up the tie in the first 45 minutes, thwarting the visitors as they carved the Schalke defence open almost at will.
After Alexander Baumjohann sent a first-minute shot into the arms of Van der Sar as Schalke produced the first attempt of any note, it was all United, as they produced a display of fluent, attacking football their opponents could not live with.
Rooney's deflected shot was wonderfully clawed away by Neuer, who then denied Park Ji-Sung low down to his right and Hernandez too - and that was all inside the opening 10 minutes.
Schalke were without key defender Benedikt Hoewedes because of injury and the gaping holes at the back suggested they badly missed him.
Neuer continued to deny United, superbly sticking out a hand to deny Hernandez again, with the Mexican wasting two more golden openings shortly after.
It seemed a matter of time before United would score but Neuer made another breathtaking one-handed save from Giggs' downward header, denied Hernandez once more from the right-hand side of the box and then stood his ground to thwart Giggs from a cute Rooney pass.
Although it defied belief that the score was 0-0 at the break, in the second half United picked up where they had left off as Patrice Evra's glancing header forced Neuer to tip over his crossbar.
After Giggs shot wide, Schalke had a five-minute period in which they at least competed. A dangerous Raul cross to the far post was headed away by Rio Ferdinand and Edu forced Van der Sar to save low down to his left.
But United were gearing themselves up for another wave of attacks and they eventually scored the goal their extraordinary dominance deserved.
Schalke's generosity meant Rooney could have driven a bus through their defence, but he settled for slipping in Giggs, the Welsh veteran keeping his cool to slot between Neuer's legs and send the travelling support into ecstasy.
In the process, at 37 years and 148 days old, Giggs became the oldest goalscorer in Champions League history, overtaking AC Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi when he scored against Real Madrid in November.
It got even better for the United fans two minutes later as Hernandez was given what seemed an eternity to run on to a loose ball and find Rooney in the area, his strike partner giving Neuer no chance by dispatching the ball into the bottom corner.
Schalke, bereft of ideas and the ability to hit back at United, were restricted to pot shots from distance and substitute Escudero brought a good save from Van der Sar, but they were never likely to get back into it.
A jubilant United, also six points clear at the top of the Premier League, will now pay close attention to the first leg of
the Real Madrid v Barcelona
semi-final at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.
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