Ten years ago today (16 September), United’s Champions League campaign began with a 5-0 dismantling of Greek outfit Panathinaikos.
The two clubs had faced each other in the second group phase of the same competition three seasons earlier, with the Reds’ 3-1 win at home featuring a Paul Scholes goal at the end of a 32-pass move that Sir Alex Ferguson rated as one of his favourite goals of all.
Hailing from Athens, Panathinaikos boasted some pedigree in Europe’s elite club competition, having finished as runners-up to a vintage Ajax side in 1971, as well as reaching the semi-finals in 1985 and 1996.
However, the 2003 version proved to be no match for United, who went into the break 4-0 up after one of the easier 45 minutes of European football they would play.
Things were so bad for the visitors that they substituted their goalkeeper, Nikopolidis, at half-time. The hapless stopper had allowed a shot from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to squeeze out of his arms and into the net to put United three up after 33 minutes.
His replacement, Chalkias, fared a little better and only conceded once, to Eric Djemba-Djemba, who grabbed the first of his two career goals for United.
United went on to qualify for the knock-out phase, but their interest in that season’s Champions League ended in the last 16 with their first encounter with Jose Mourinho, then in charge of eventual winners Porto.
United: Howard, G Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O’Shea (Fletcher); P Neville, Butt (Djemba-Djemba), Fortune, Solskjaer (Bellion); Giggs, Van Nistelrooy.