Cristiano Ronaldo proved his credentials to wear the famed Manchester United
number seven shirt with a dazzling FA Cup-winning display against an outplayed
Millwall side in Cardiff.
Ronaldo's predecessors read like a who's who of United greats, with David
Beckham, Eric Cantona, Bryan Robson and George Best among them.
However, the teenager signed to replace Beckham last summer for the princely
sum of £12.24million is proving week by week that he is more than capable of
rising to the task.
Still just 19, he may occasionally still dive and may even over-elaborate with
an exaggeration of step-overs.
However, in a one-sided cup final, Ronaldo not only lit up the game with his
array of tricks, but provided the end product in scoring the 43rd-minute header
which put United en route to victory.
With Ruud van Nistelrooy also converting a 64th-minute penalty, there was no
way back for their First Division opponents and the Dutchman also struck another
amid more than a hint of offside.
Player-boss Dennis Wise may have dreamed of recreating his part in Wimbledon's
upset of 1988, but this was instead Chelsea's 1994 mauling by United all over
However hard Millwall ran and battled, United were simply a class apart and
while the FA Cup is by no means Sir Alex Ferguson's top priority, it has at
least allowed him a climax to the season.
For while the FA Cup will never replace the Premiership and Champions League,
trophyless seasons are rather unthinkable at Old Trafford.
With Wise adopting an extremely low-key approach before kick-off, Ferguson had
led the teams out alone in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.
More strangely, the Millwall boss was just as inconspicuous in the opening
exchanges, preferring to sit deep and try to mark Paul Scholes out of the game.
Then again, Millwall's entire policy was one of containment, with a five-man
midfield and Neil Harris virtually isolated up front on his own as he gamely
chased lost causes.
United initially let them off the hook as van Nistelrooy placed an early
header wide and Roy Keane's volley was superbly tipped over the bar by Andy
It was still rather a half-baked affair, with even a streaker keeping his
clothes on, and Millwall were restricted to rare counter-attacks, mainly through
the lively Paul Ifill.
United first looked to have made the breakthrough just before half-time, only
for Darren Ward to hack the ball off the line after Ronaldo's shot had squirmed
under Marshall's body.
However, it was only a couple of minutes before they did get the goal which
they deserved for their patient siege of the Millwall goal.
When Keane spotted Gary Neville on the overlap, he spread the ball out wide
and, having taken one touch, the England full-back crossed invitingly for
Ronaldo to stoop and head past Marshall.
The Portuguese winger's finish was matched by the superb block tackle by two
stewards on the spectator who charged from the Millwall end to confront the
Then again, the club's player-manager was also reacting irresponsibly, with
Wise pulling Scholes to the ground and then pushing away Neville as he lost his
cool in the fiery moments before half-time.
If Ronaldo is tipped for stardom, then Darren Fletcher is also highly rated by
Ferguson and his dazzling run just after the restart deserved a better finish.
Marshall also produced a smart save to deny Scholes, while Wise, who had
finally been booked for leaving his boot in on Ryan Giggs, but did manage to
clear Mikael Silvestre's header off the line.
However, the match was effectively over with 24 minutes left when former
Arsenal trainee David Livermore brought down Giggs in full flight inside the
Van Nistelrooy may have missed three of his previous five spot-kicks,
including rattling the bar against Arsenal at Old Trafford, but this time he
made no mistake.
With the game petering out as a contest, Giggs was able to canter through the
Millwall defence to cross for van Nistelrooy - seemingly offside - to finish
from close range.
Millwall substitute Curtis Weston became the youngest player to play in the FA
Cup final at just 17 years 129 days, while the club are already guaranteed a
place in the UEFA Cup next season.
However, United were a class apart, even if van Nistelrooy was strangely voted
the official man of the match.
Ferguson nevertheless knew exactly who had proved the difference as Ronaldo
was given a warm hug and round of applause from the United boss as he was
substituted late on.
Not bad for a supposed one-trick show pony.