In Manuel Neuer, a really quite magnificent goalkeeper and someone Ferguson should most certainly try to sign this summer, they met some serious resistance.
From the rest of them, however, came little that demonstrated how they reached this late stage of the Champions League; how Schalke somehow managed to put seven goals past Inter Milan in the previous round. They are 10th in the German league and looked it.
Is this the way to Wembley? Wayne Rooney celebrates after scoring Manchester United's second goal
Take nothing away from United. They were superb, dominating in a manner normally associated with Barcelona. Last night the leaders of the Barclays Premier League completed 657 passes to Schalke's 341, prompting Ferguson to compare it to the club's finest performances on the Continent.
He even mentioned that night in Turinin 1999 and while the quality of the opposition was rather more impressive 12 years ago, this United side have achieved something that even proved beyond Ferguson's Treble winners. They have completed an entire Champions League campaign without conceding a goal away from home. A first in the history of the competition.
Ferguson's defenders obviously deserve a great deal of credit for that but it was the contribution from Wayne Rooney that felt far more significant.
Breakthrough: Ryan Giggs opens the scoring for Manchester United
His return to the form he enjoyed prior to suffering that injury against Bayern Munich last season could not be better timed, and it will give Ferguson the belief that the clubcan rule Europe once more. That no matter who they face at Wembley, be it Barcelona or Real Madrid, they will have more than a fighting chance. Especially with the superb Javier Hernandez now alongside Rooney.
Had it not been for Neuer, this wouldhave been an annihilation. It still was in every respect except the scoreline. But from Neuer came a towering, colossal performance. A contribution, until Ryan Giggs finally struck in the 67th minute and Rooney then followed with a second two minutes later, that must have convinced Ferguson that this is the guy who should be replacing Edwin van der Sar. He was so commanding, so mentally strong. A one-man symbolof defiance deployed behind a defence as abject as he was extraordinary.
Doubling up: Wayne Rooney scores Manchester United's second goal
Some poor finishing aside, there was little you could fault in United's performance. They were comfortable in defence, rendering Raul a virtual irrelevance, while in midfield theywere confident, composed and completely in control. If Michael Carrickendured something of a nightmare on United's most recent visit to Wembley, he should soon be able to take some pleasure in playing an important role in getting them to the Champions League final there next month.
He was outstanding in the two legs ofthat quarter-final against Chelsea and he excelled again in this match,delivering 112 passes with an 83 per cent success rate alongside the equally impressive Giggs. On the flanks too, Antonio Valencia and Park Ji-sung dominated. And in attack Rooney combined brilliantly with Hernandez.
They do, of course, have to finish the job of winning this semi-final first and Schalke will surely give a better account of themselves at Old Trafford next week. But even then itlooks like an impossible task for the Germans.
Knocking on the door: Manchester United's Javier Hernandez gets in a shot against Schalke
Here they were under pressure from the start, Neuer having to produce two excellent saves in the opening couple of minutes to first deny Rooney and then Park.
A super pass from Valencia then invited Hernandez to score, but again Neuer was there.
A shot from Jefferson Farfan aside, Ralf Rangnick's side offered little in response at the opposite end of the field. And it was not long before Neuer was again called upon to rescue his vastly inferior colleagues, spreading himself athletically to block an effort from Hernandez after the Mexican had been sent clearby Rooney.
Last ditch: Atsuto Uchida challenges Nemanja Vidic inside the area
Attacking from deep again, the England striker created another opportunity for Hernandez only to then see his partner try to pass back to him when he really should have shot.The pass went instead to Joel Matip.
An astonishing one-handed save then somehow diverted a header from Giggs to safety, while it first took the brilliance of Neuer and then a courageous block from Atsuto Uchida to first deny Hernandez and then Park.
The last moment of any significance before the interval was the sight of Neuer then winning a duel with Giggs. It was almost as if the Germany goalkeeper had won the mental battle before the Welshman had unleashed his shot.
Posted missing: Raul (left) struggled to make an impact as Schalke were outplayed by Manchester United
But it is on nights like this that Ferguson earns his money. That he tells his players not to be disheartened. That the breakthrough will eventually come.
When the start of another half brought more of the same, United's players must have been started to wonder if this really was not going to be their night. If they were about to emerge from the most one-sided goalless draw in history both frustrated and in the slightly precarious position of being vulnerable to an away goal next Wednesday.
Carrick clearly thought he had scoredwhen he met a free-kick from Giggs with a close-range header until, that is, Neuer tipped the ball over his crossbar. Hernandez finally beat him only to see the flag had been raised, quite rightly, for offside.
Denied: Schalke's Manuel Neuer saves Javier Hernandez's shot
But not even Neuer could deny Giggs when Rooney exposed the frailties of this Schalke defence with another brilliant pass. Neuer advanced rapidly but the 37-year-old became the oldest player to score in the Champions League when he slotted the ball through Neuer's legs to spark wild celebrations on a relieved United bench.
The second would then quickly follow,with Hernandez this time the provider and Rooney the executitoner. Again Neuer's defenders had failed him, allowing Rooney to score comfortably.
The game was over and the semi-finalwould appear to be too, leaving United within touching distance of a third Champions League final in four years. An astonishing achievement in itself and proof, not that it were needed, that Ferguson is right about these players. Their quality goes way beyond simple skill and athleticism.
Where's the ball?: Schalke's Hans Sarpei,(left) and Manchester United's Antonio Valencia go up for a challenge
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