| Manchester United players Quinton Fortune (second from left) and Gary Neville fight for the ball in the match against Olympiakos at Old Trafford Tuesday. (Reuters)
Paris: Manchester United and AC Milan had plenty to celebrate on Tuesday as the footballing giants moved to within a hair’s breadth of the second phase of the Champions League.
Manchester United performed a stylish 4-0 demolition job on Greek champions Olympiakos with two goals from Ryan Giggs and one each from Juan Sebastian Veron and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, while four-time champions Milan brought home the spoils after a 2-1 win at Bayern Munich.
But for every winner there is a loser and Bayern, the 2001 champions, could be the big name left on the outside looking in when Phase II starts at the end of November. This was the German team’s second home loss in a row.
Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side, that has made the last eight or better for five straight seasons, is in crisis after taking just one point from a possible nine.
And after their opening-day conquerors Deportivo la Coruna came from behind to beat Lens 3-1 and limit the damage from last week’s 0-4 reverse at home to Milan, the Germans now find themselves five points adrift of their Spanish group G rivals.
Hitzfeld, who had beforehand stressed to his players that only a win would do, was furious after a gloriously in-form Filippo Inzaghi destroyed his men with two goals to nullify a consolation from Claudio Pizarro.
“We made far too many mistakes at the back — we weren’t aggressive enough and after the unnecessary goals against us we just lost it,” Hitzfeld raged.
Bayern’s influential president Franz Beckenbauer observed dryly that “one single point from three matches is clearly not enough. We need a miracle”.
As the pride of Germany prepared to fall by the wayside, Milan’s result showed Italy mean business this season — six years after the trophy last went to an Italian side in the shape of Juventus.
Inzaghi’s two goals took his personal tally to seven in three Champions League games.
Juventus thanked two super strikes from Alessandro del Piero to glide past hapless English Premiership side Newcastle 2-0 at the Stadio Delle Alpi as Newcastle manager Bobby Robson again lost at the venue where his England side slumped on penalties in the 1990 World Cup semi-final.
Juventus now lead group E with seven points — two clear of Holland’s Feyenoord, who drew 0-0 with Dynamo Kiev.
Back in group F, it is Manchester United who are the dominant force with 11 goals scored in their three matches for full points to date.
Group opponents Maccabi Haifa, Olympiakos and Bayer Leverkusen all have three points, but which of the trio finishes runners-up is of no interest at all to a rampant United, without the unfit Ruud van Nistelrooy but for whom Veron had probably his best game.
The Greeks were down to 10 men for the second period after Jose Moedin Ze Elias was dismissed just before the break.
United coach Alex Ferguson was pleased with his men’s showing. “It can be difficult playing against 10 men, but I was impressed with the way we played. We kept our discipline, did nothing silly and kept good possession. Now we go to Olympiakos and if we can get a result there I think we’re through.”
Group G is where Milan hold sway and the Italians can kill Bayern off in three weeks time if they win the San Siro return, probably to Deportivo’s advantage.
While Milan and Juventus are cranking up their campaigns to wrest superiority back to Italy from Spain, Barcelona served notice that they are also to be feared — though possibly not quite as much as holders Real Madrid — after they continued to bulldoze their way through group H.
Barcelona’s 3-1 success over Lokomotiv in Moscow effectively means game over for the Russians — but Bruges are also unlikely to play catch-up after their goalless draw at Galatasaray left them seven points adrift of the Catalan giants.
Dutch international marksman Patrick Kluivert and Argentine striker Javier Saviola, with a brace, saw off Lokomotiv, whose Nigerian striker James Obiorah scored their consolation.