The victory at home at Old Trafford allowed United coach Sir Alex Ferguson to avenge one of the most painful defeats of his managerial career as his team advanced to the tournament’s quarterfinals.
Headers from Nemanja Vidic and Cristiano Ronaldo sent the defending champions through exactly five years and two days after Inter coach Jose Mourinho had performed his famous sprint down the Old Trafford touchline in celebration of the last-minute equalizer that had seen United eliminated at the hands of FC Porto, the club he was to lead to glory in that season’s competition.
Inter had their moments in an evenly balanced first half and in the immediate aftermath of United’s second goal.
But United’s victory was ultimately comfortable enough to have the home fans singing “you’re not special anymore” for Mourinho’s benefit, long before the final whistle.
The loss was a bitter disappointment for Ibrahimovic, who has yet to deliver success to his team on the European level as he has in Italy’s Serie A.
“I’m extremely disappointed. It was my only goal to win the Champions League this year. I’ve won a few league titles, several times in Italy,” he told Viasat Football.
“I do all that I can to win the damn Champions…but things don’t go my way.”
The 90 minutes of frustration the defending champions had been forced to endure in the first leg had largely been due to the efforts of Julio Cesar.
Here, Inter’s Brazilian goalkeeper found himself picking the ball out of the net inside four minutes. Ronaldo won a corner on the right, Giggs chipped it to the back post and Vidic took advantage of Patrick Vieira’s slip to head powerfully past Cesar’s right hand.
Half-chances for Dimitar Berbatov and Ronaldo quickly followed as Inter reeled.
But United’s early tempo soon subsided, passes started to go astray and Inter began to pose a threat, notably through Maicon’s forays down the right.
One cross resulted in Vidic slicing an attempted clearance over his own bar and it was the right-back who created Inter’s best chance of the opening period.
A dipping delivery from a deep freekick was misjudged by Rio Ferdinand, leaving Ibrahimovic with a free header that the Swede powered into the turf in textbook fashion, only to watch in dismay as it rebounded up and on to the top of the bar.
A long range strike from Dejan Stankovic soon afterwards was sufficiently close for Edwin van der Sar to throw himself full length to his left and it was clear United were in for a far more testing evening than the opening exchanges had suggested.
John O’Shea, played into the box by Rooney’s flick seven minutes into the break, was denied by Cesar’s dive at his feet, but Inter could boast of equally good chances as the interval approached, most notably for Stankovic, who got goalside of Patrice Evra only to lift Ibrahimovic’s clever cross over the bar from the edge of the six-yard box.
Ibrahimovic himself was only inches away with a drive across van der Sar and the Dutchman had to get down smartly to smother Maicon’s strike.
Inter were in the ascendant but their momentum was punctured by the sloppy defending that contributed to United’s second, three minutes into the second half.
Giggs was at the origin of it, weaving his way in from wide on the right. Scholes helped the ball on to Rooney on the left of the box and the England forward’s chip was nodded in by Ronaldo with Inter’s flat-footed back four pleading in vain that Berbatov, at the back post, was offside.
Even at 2-0 down, Inter knew a goal would put them right back in the tie with a 2-2 draw sufficient for victory on the away goals rule, and Mourinho’s men will curse the bad luck that contributed to Adriano’s flying volley coming back off the inside of the post rather than spinning into the net.
The chances continued to come at the end however with Cesar denying Ronaldo, at point blank range, and then Rooney, from 25 yards, in quick succession.