| Zinedine Zidane and Partizan Belgrade’s Branimir Bajic fight for the ball during Real Madrid’s Champions League, Group F match in Belgrade on Tuesday. (AP)
Paris: English powerhouses Manchester United and Chelsea saw their multi-national collection of superstars fire them closer to the Champions League knock-out stages with impressive wins on Tuesday.
Former double European champions United had a double from Dutch hitman Ruud Van Nistelrooy and another strike from Uruguayan Diego Forlan to thank for their 3-0 win over Rangers at Old Trafford.
In Rome, meanwhile, Chelsea destroyed Lazio 4-0 in a match marred by the sending-off of veteran Serbian defender Sinisa Mihajlovic who was also accused of spitting at Chelsea’s Romanian striker Adrian Mutu.
Hernan Crespo, playing against his former club, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Damien Duff and Frank Lampard grabbed the goals which sent Chelsea to the top of Group G.
United are top of Group E with nine points just ahead of Stuttgart, who beat Panathinaikos 3-1, on goal difference.
While the English pretenders were taking strides closer to the next stage, nine-time winners Real Madrid booked their place in the knock-out round despite a 0-0 draw against Partizan Belgrade.
At Old Trafford, Forlan's stunning early volley — the Uruguayan’s fourth goal in four games — and a dou ble from Van Nistelrooy were enough for victory which followed their 1-0 win in Glasgow two weeks ago.
Van Nistelrooy, thus, closed in on Denis Law’s European scoring record for Manchester United with his display of goal-poaching. The double against Rangers on Tuesday took his tally for the club to 27, one less than Law’s tally.
The defeat leaves Rangers needing to win in Stuttgart in three weeks time to have any hope of progressing from Group E.
“Rangers did some good things. For ten minutes after half time they had us on the back foot but our third goal was a real blow,” said United boss Alex Ferguson.
Lazio’s hopes of securing a place in the last 16 were dealt a massive blow after they crashed to Chelsea in Rome. Lazio, who lost 1-2 in the away leg at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago, were still very much in the tie until seven minutes after half-time when Mihajlovic was sent off for his second bookable offence.
The Serbian international may find himself in even deeper trouble if he is pulled up by Uefa for spitting in Mutu’s face in the first-half. Rome-born Chelsea coach Claudio Ranieri played down the importance of the scoreline which he thought flattered his side.
Chelsea’s impressive win leaves them in command of the group on nine points, while Lazio, five points adrift of the Londoners, have an uphill task to qualify for the knock-out phase. Besiktas deposed Lazio from second place in the group when Ronaldo Guiaro gave the Turks a 1-0 win at home to Sparta Prague.
In Belgrade, Real Madrid drew 0-0 with Partizan Belgrade but the point was enough to put them into the next round after Porto defeated Marseille 1-0 in the night's other Group F fixture.
Real, though, lost their 100 percent record in their group. Brazilian Ronaldo wasted numerous opportunities for a below-par Real, while their defence was run ragged at times by a Serbian side who almost snatched a famous victory when skipper Sasa Ilic shot wide from point blank range.
In Belgium, a late goal from AC Milan’s newly-signed Brazilian midfielder Kaka gave the European champions a 1-0 revenge win over FC Brugge in Group H.
The result puts AC Milan top of the table on seven points, ahead of former leader’s Ajax who went down 2-3 at Celta Vigo, with Brugge bottom on four points after three games, and needing to win their next two games to stay in the chase.
AC Milan did it the hard way, however, losing Paolo Maldini through injury and Alessandro Nesta who was sent-off.