MANCHESTER: David Beckham put the controversy over his cut eye behind him by creating both goals as Manchester United beat a badly depleted Juventus 2-1 at Old Trafford on Wednesday to all but clinch their place in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Beckham's quickly-taken corner allowed defender Wes Brown to head his first ever goal for United after only four minutes and the England captain then laid on Ruud van Nistelrooy's clincher five minutes from time to help United make it three wins out of three in Group D.
United lead the way with nine points and need only a draw in Turin next Tuesday to secure a place in the last eight.
Czech international Pavel Nedved scored a stoppage time goal for unlucky Juventus, who were left disconsolate with four points from three games despite a plucky display from a team shorn of 10 senior players by illness and injury.
Basel are third in the group on three points after a 1-0 home win over Deportivo Coruna, leaving the Spaniards bottom on one.
It was an excellent result after a difficult few days for United manager Alex Ferguson, who was forced to explain away the bizarre dressing-room incident after Saturday's FA Cup defeat by Arsenal when he kicked a football boot which struck Beckham, cutting him above the left eye.
Coach Marcello Lippi had his own problems and had tried to get the game postponed after a flu outbreak struck down six players, but UEFA rejected their request earlier on Wednesday.
The Italians' nightmare build-up got even worse when experienced captain Antonio Conte pulled a muscle in the warm-up just before kick-off.
Juve were already without three other key players, including strikers Alessandro Del Piero and Marco Di Vaio, due to injury, meaning Lippi was missing almost an entire side.
After such terrible preparation it was perhaps no surprise when they fell a goal behind so early.
United's instigator was Beckham, showing no ill effects from his slight calf injury – or his cut eye.
The England captain curled over a trademark corner and England centre back Brown, untroubled by the Juve defence, headed firmly down into the corner of the net past stand-in goalkeeper Antonio Chimenti for his first-ever senior goal.
But after that Juventus created, and wasted, nearly all the first-half chances as Edgar Davids asserted his midfield authority over United captain Roy Keane.
Nedved, with a fierce drive, and impressive striker Marcelo Zalayeta, with a header, went close as Juventus's second-string more than matched their hosts.
United, though, should have doubled their lead on the hour. Dutch striker van Nistelrooy, quiet until then, burst on to a mis-placed Paolo Montero backpass and was felled by Chimenti.
The ball ran to Paul Scholes, with Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen apparently playing advantage, but the England midfielder's effort from an angle hit the post.
Midfielder Alessio Tacchinardi and Zalayeta, again with his head, threatened to equalise for Juventus but their hopes of saving a point disappeared after 85 minutes.
Beckham flighted a beautiful pass into the path of van Nistelrooy, who cleverly caught the ball on the volley to equal the Champions League record he set last season of scoring in six successive games.
There was still time for the impressive Nedved to pull one back with a deflected, long-range effort but the luckless Serie A leaders finished empty-handed.
“It was a good result for us because it was an important night,” Ferguson told ITV.
“We played much better in the second half and you won't see a better game in Europe tonight.” – Reuters