Giggs and Rooney get the goals as United canter to victory
Like chain-ganged criminals Manchester United have toiled hard on the road this season – except in the Champions League, where defensively they've been tighter than Sir Alex Ferguson's lips in front of a BBC camera. The German unterhunds will sure seek to test their solidity tonight, as they're a charming gung-ho bunch who retain enough naivete to engage opponents in naked attacking duels. As their name suggests, they play with null fear. And that's what we all like to see, isn't it?
Ferguson has sprung no surprises with his line-up, the inclusion of Park ahead of Nani not being worth raising an eyebrow over given the manager's lubency to use the Korean in big games. Fabio ahead of his brother Rafael is not especially unexpected either, given the former has been performing well in recent weeks. Darron Gibson does not even make the bench, giving him time, perhaps, to pursue his research into a device for filtering rabid idiots out of cyberspace.
As for Schalke, everyone knows about the threat of canny Raul, and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has earned a reputation as one of the world's best. There has been much fanfare too about Jefferson Farfan and, of course, their Charles Dickens-reading coach, Ralf Rangnick, is said to be a lot like a man who has been hit over the head with a bag-full of tiny echolocating mammals - totally shrewd. Though perhaps we should not have such Great Expectations of him. Hard Times could be ahead for him and his team.
In other news, this stadium, the Veltins Arena, was the site of one of the most famous fouls in English football history: yes, it is the place where, in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final, Ricardo Carvahlo attacked Wayne Rooney's hallowed foot with his testicles, suckering the ref into showing the wronged Englishman a red card.
Schalke 04: Neuer; Uchida, Matip, Metzelder, Sarpei; Farfan, Papadopoulous*, Jurado*, Baumjohann; Raul*, Edu
Subs: Schober, Escudero, Plestan, Kluge, Charisteas, Karimi, Draxler
* = on booking
United: Van der Sar; Fabio, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Park; Rooney, Hernandez
Subs: Kuszczak, Anderson, Smalling, Nani, Scholes, Rafael, Evans
Ref: C Carballo (Spain)
7:41pm: Into a superb din stomp the players, United clad in red jerseys and black shorts and the home team's in blue and white, which, coincidentally, is the colour that seemingly every one of their fans has chosen to wear.
7:43pm: The microphone being worn by the ref tonight seems to be unusually powerful, as we can clearly hear him tell the captains to "enjoy the game, good luck". Wayne Rooney needs to be careful ...
1 min: United set the game in motion, and within six seconds lose possession.
00:29 secs: True to Schalke's attacking philosophy, Baumjohann unleashes a shot before even a minute has elapsed. His 25-yard drive is comfortably held by Van der Sar.
3 min: Fine effort by Rooney! He received the ball wide on the left, cut inside and aimed an excellent curler towards the top corner. Backpeddaling frantically, Neuer manages to tip it behind for a corner.
4 min: It's a fast-paced, open game so far. Van der Sar has just had to skedaddle off his line to intercept a decent Sarpei cross after a swift attack by Schalke.
6 min: Another decent save by Neuer, this time from Park, who shimmied daintily between two defenders before firing low and hard at goal from 18 yards.
6 min: Superb low cross by Valencia into the path of Hernandez, who elects to take it first time and brings yet another good stop from the keeper. If this match ends scoreless I'll eat my hat - and I'm wearing a Viking helmet.
8 min: Papadopoulous (isn't he Big Bird's best mate?) feeds Farfan, who turns sharply past Evra and lets fly from the edge of the area. Three yards wide.
10 min: Uchida romps forward down the right, then slips a ball into Farfan, whose shot is diverted behind for a corner.
12 min: The fullbacks on both sides are racing forward constantly. Fabio has just dashed all the into the Schalke box, only for his cross to be deflected into Neuer's grateful arms.
14 min: Schalke are furious with the linesman for not calling offside after Park's threaded a ball through to Hernandez. Buyt the official was right because Sarpei was lagged behind the rest of his team-mates, keeping the Mexican onside. Luckily for him, Neuer saved yet again, pouncing smartly at Hernandez's feet.
16 min: Neuer, the busiest German on the pitch so far, leaps to pluck a Rooney cross from the sky.
18 min: For all their initial effervescence, Schalke are now being subdued by United. Though Park did so illegally just now and was lucky to escape a booking for a late lunge. The freekick is boomed into the box and easily cleared by Carrick.
19 min: Another teasing cross by United, this time from Park, but Matip anticipates it well and nuts it out for a throw-in.
21 min: United are hogging the ball. Schalke's frustration is palpable.
21 min: Sarpei and Metzelder converge on Hernandez at the edge of the box but can't prevent him from cracking off a shot, which hurtles narrowly wide.
22 min: Most unusual from Hernandez! After winning the ball in midfield and knocking it on to Rooney, the striker took the return pass and, when one-on-one with the keeper, decided to pass rather than shoot, allowing a Metzelder to intervene. Hernandez normally shoots on sight, that was a most uncharacteristic attack of Arsenalitis.
25 min: Evra challenges clumsily for a breaking ball, clobbering Uchida in the process. Freekick to Schalke deep in their own half. It's been a while since they were in the United one ...
26 min: More unusual behaviour from Hernandez! After running on to a through-ball and holding off Matip, he fails to find the target from eight yards. "Just wanted to say that tonight's a history for Asian football - a Japanese faces a South Korean in Champions League finals," hollers Mario Rustan.
28 min: After a United corner is half-cleared, Rooney wins the ball back and clips it to the far side of the box. Vidic flights a well-aimed cross to Giggs in the centre, and Neuer repells his header from eight yards.
30 min: At this point Schalke's best plan is porbably to invoke the spirit of Leverkusen, who were similarly outplayed by United in the semi-final a few years back but somehow scrambled into the final.
31 min: A rare incursion by Schalke into United territory ends when Baumjohann is crowded out before he can infiltrate the box. "If Valencia uses his left foot I'll eat your hat," barfs Danny Clayton.
33 min: Giggs tries to find Rooney with a well-intended pass over the top. But it's just too far ahead of the striker.
34 min: Disgusting foul by Metzelder on half-way. Rooney reacted quicker to everyone else to seize upon a loose ball and was about to launch a two-on-one counter-attack when the shameless defender simply tugged him to the ground. He gets a yellow card but if I had my way that would be a penalty, too.
36 min: Incessant United pressure! First Valencia declined to shoot (because it was on his left), then Neuer parried a fierce Hernandez shot, then Uchida hurled himself in front of Park's drive and, finally, Giggs gave the home side a chance to catch a breath by shanking wide from 14 yards.
38 min: Valencia floats across in from the right. It eventually comes to Fabio at the edge of the area and he attempts a photogenic volley, which flies miles over. "Totally agree with Danny Clayton [31 min]," totally agrees Michael Meagher. "I've long thought that Manchester United should send Valencia out in training and say: look we pay you tens of thousands of pounds a week. You're not allowed off the training ground until you can kick the ball with your left foot. It's completely absurd how one footed it is and it's makes me very, very angry. He makes Ryan Giggs look like a two-footed wonder."
39 min: Desperate appeals for a penalty from the locals after Valencia legitimately shoulders Jurado off the ball in the United area. You can't punish a man for being more of a man than his opponent.
42 min: A slight lull, as Schalke manage to press United enough to make them slow down a tad.
44 min: United pour forward again, Giggs eventually spooning one towards the far post, forcing Papadopulous to head behind for a corner. "Do you think all left footed players are more one sided than right footers?" mulls Sean Welcch. "Or is it just we notice their sinister wrongness more readily." That's sinister wrongness right there.
45 min: The Manuel Neuer show goes on! Giggs was through one-on-one, and the keeper didn't buy his feint and foiled his dink.
Half-time: Easter has passed but the miracles continue, thanks mainly to Neuer, who is the principal reason that United's dominance has not yet yielded a goal. Hernandez must bear some of the blame too, though: his movement and interplay have been typically excellent but his finishing has been unusually awry.
(Junk?)Food for thought: "re: Valencia's left foot: If people are particularly gifted at one thing, why do people harp on about what they can't do? If they spent more time working on something else, maybe they wouldn't be as good at what they're really good at. I listened to Adele's CD the other day, and my enjoyment would have been diminished if I'd spent the whole team grumping about why she doesn't play the cello." - Ted Lee, M.B.A.
"Re: that 'disgusting foul' by Metzelder. One German commentator restricted himself to "it had to be done", while the infamously inept Marcel Reif (of whom Beckenbauer once said he should be banned from TV) declared it to be 'excellent blocking.'" - Francis Lee.
"I don't see why he should be two-footed. True, it makes him a more complete player, but as long as he's effective with one foot, why is it a problem? One of the all time great players, Rivaldo was so one-footed, he barely used his right leg for standing on...but what a left foot, it was." - Mo Nassar. (And so was Diego Maradonna)
46 min: As with the first period, Schalke threaten within the opening seconds, Farfan charging down the right and banging in a cross that Ferdinand just about got to before Raul.
47 min: Giggs freekick from the left is met by Evra's head and - guess what? - Neuer tips it over.
48 min: Oh la la! Another woeful miss by Giggs. After controlling a Valencia corss, he wrongfooted two defenders with a subtle feint and then, with the goal at his mercy, blazed way wide from 10 yards! If Giggs is as profligate in his everyday life as he is on the pitch tonight I expect to see him on skid row any day now ...
51 min: Farfan rollicks down the right, evading a crude Evra barge in the process, and delivers a decent cross. Vidic deflects it up into the air and Jurado lets fly on the volley from 16 yards. But he fails to hit the target. "People always claim that they'll eat their socks, viking helmets etc if they are wrong, but they never do," grumbles Kevin O'Connor. "Werner Herzog, however, did once eat his shoe after making such a statement. Now that's a man of principle. Any chance you'll eat your viking helmet if this remains scoreless? It would be quite a statement ... and very entertaining." Of course I will.
53 min: Schalke change: Baumjohann off, Kluge on
55 min: Suddenly it's as if United are trying to outdo Neuer in terms of finding ways to keep United out: following bad misses by Hernandez and Giggs, Valencia blems a fine cross to Vidic at the near post and the big galoot tries to beat the keeper with a foxy reverse flick, but succeeds only in getting himself in a tangle.
58 min: Fabio cops a deserved booking after chopping down Jurado in retaliation for being bamboozled by a lolipop. The freekick gives Schlake a chance to cross into the danger zone. They do so, but Vidic promptly heads it back out and United resume attacking.
60 min: Has anyone checked Rio Ferdinand's Twitter account? He's had so little to do tonight that he may be updating it in the course of this game. Assuming the sad maniacs who bullied Darron Gibson into isolation haven't yet found a way to destroy all social networking sites.
62 min: It's been a few minutes since United have created a chance. Indeed, their intensity has dropped a tad. It's as if they're been lulled into complacency by the extent of their superiority.
64 min: Ferdinand does something! And it's a good thing for United that he did, because after a Kluge long-range shot was deflected into the path of Raul, the Spaniard's floated a wonderful chip to the back post and Edu would have got to it if the centreback had not intervened.
65 min: Reasonable long-range swirler from Edu is well held by Van der Sar. "When asked why his son was only left footed, Puskas's dad answered 'what does it matter if that left foot was the best in the world?'" recalls Keith Buck.
GOAL! Schalke 0-1 United (Giggs 67') At last! This time Giggs finishes expertly, slotting the ball under Neuer from eight yards after he ran cleverly from deep to receive Rooney's excellent through-ball. United fans, book your final tickets now.
GOAL! Schalke 0-2 United (Rooney 69') Easy for United, embarrasing for Schalke. Hernandez ran at the defence and slipped a cute ball through to Rooney, who outfoxed Neuer with a smart low finish from 10 yardas.
71 min: Schalke are well and truly beaten. They can't even get the ball, let alone a goal. ""Antonio Valencia grew up dirt poor in the Ecuadorian jungle and without the benefits of a formalized early football education," parps Matthew Carpenter-Arevalo. "He now plays at the highest level of football; can't we simply congratulate him for him? Also notice that Rooney's scoring touch returned at the same time that Valencia came into the side. Clearly he doesn't mind that Valencia's crosses all come off his right foot."
72 min: Pointless Schalke substitution: Sarpei off, Escudero on, for all the good it'll do.
73 min: United changes: Hernandez and Park off to rest ahead of the trip to Arsenal, Anderson and Scholes on.
74 min: My dinner will be Viking helmet-free.
76 min: Freekick to Schalke, about 27 yards out. Farfan fancies his chances. Farfan was misguided. Goal kick to United.
78 min: Tremendous tenacity by Rooney to win the ball back mid-way inside the opposing half. He then flights it wide to Valencia, who offers a return cross. Metzelder does just about enough to prevent Rooney from connecting with that.
80 min: Nani is preparing to come on for United, apparently for Rooney. Schalke are also about to make a substitute: if the manager were to ask, I reckon all of their players would liek to come off at this point. They can barely summon the will to go through the motions at this stage.
82 min: Here comes Schalke's sub - Drazler, which sounds like the name of Bond villain. And Nani replaces Rooney, too. "Less than 10 minutes to go for Van der Sar to attain another record: 50th Champions League clean sheet, out of 96 matches: more than half!" trumpets Peter van Balen, presumably a Dutch clever clogs.
85 min: Anyone like to predict the score in the second leg? Reckon Obertan, Gibson, Owen and Bebe could all feature and United will still win by four or five.
87 min: Uefa show the stats: United have had 66% possession, which must be a record away from home in a Champions League semi-final, and most of it has probably been in the opposing half.
88 min: Evra ventures forward, swaps passes with Nani and then sends a daisy-cutter fractionally wide from the corner of the box.
90 min: There will be three more minutes of pain for Schalke.
90+2 min: United sweep forward through Valencia and then Carrick, but eventually Nani runs into trouble and Schalke regain possession.
Full-time: Viking helmets will be scoffed all across the world if United contrive to miss out on the final now. They were at least one class abover their hosts tonight and won at a canter despite the heroics of Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. The German underdogs have excelled to get this far but their journey will surely end at Old Trafford. United are on their way to Wembley. Thanks for following this one-sided battering at guardian.co.uk, and feel free to come back tomorrow for the other semi-final. Bye.