Wayne Rooney spared United’s blushes with a second-half equaliser against Danish minnows Aalborg, with a point enough to seal the Reds’ position as Group E winners.
An early goal from Carlos Tevez and Rooney’s strike sandwiched a shock double from the visiting Danes, but United’s spot in the last 16 of the Champions League was already assured by a draw at Villarreal on Matchday Five. Indeed, the objective of topping the group was achieved almost irrespective of what happened at Old Trafford, thanks to Celtic’s comfortable win over second-placed Villarreal at Celtic Park.
The game’s status as a near-dead rubber was reflected in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team selection, with the likes of Edwin van der Sar, Nemanja Vidic, Darren Fletcher and Dimitar Berbatov all rested, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Michael Carrick were left out with minor injuries.
Despite wholesale changes in personnel, United were ahead inside three minutes, through a delightfully worked goal by Tevez. Ryan Giggs played an extravagant one-two with Wayne Rooney and lobbed a delicate pass through for the Argentine, who steered a shot calmly past Karim Zaza in the visitors’ goal.
Two minutes later, Tevez should have had a second. Lax defending from the visitors allowed Anderson to feed Rooney on the edge of the Aalborg area, and his pull-back was placed wastefully wide by his strike partner.
Making chances at a rate of knots, and having strolled to a 3-0 victory when the two sides met earlier this season, it seemed United were set to dish out another Danish pasting. Not so, unfortunately.