Bruges (Belgium) :Wayne Rooney ended a 10-game scoring drought in style with a hat-trick as Manchester United overpowered Club Brugge 4-0 to qualify for the Champions League group phase.
Rooney had symbolised his side’s recent goal-scoring problems, which have seen them score only twice in three Premier League games, but he produced three assured finishes and Ander Herrera added another to return United to the tournament after a first season of absence in 19 years.
Louis van Gaal’s side won the play-off 7-1 on aggregate on Wednesday, following last week’s 3-1 victory in Manchester, and will discover the identities of their three group-stage opponents in Thursday’s draw in Monaco.
“I am very happy because it was our aim last year to participate in the Champions League and we did it tonight,” said Van Gaal, who also saw substitute Javier Hernandez miss a late penalty.
“Wayne has a very strong mentality and with his level, he always shall come back.”
It was Rooney’s first hat-trick since a treble against Bolton Wanderers in September 2011 and his first in Europe since his dazzling debut hat-trick for United against Fenerbahce as an 18-year-old in September 2004.
“To be honest, if I didn’t have a strong character, that (the criticism) might have affected me,” Rooney told BT Sport.
“I wasn’t worried. It is early days and when the chances came, I took them.”
Van Gaal had warned his players to expect a hostile reception and there were baffled faces before kick-off at Jan Breydel Stadium when the visiting fans were subjected to a blast of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, the anthem that Club Brugge happen to share with United’s bitter rivals Liverpool.
Van Gaal made two changes to his starting XI, bringing in Herrera and Michael Carrick, and the former looked less than comfortable in a midfield holding role, playing several careless passes and receiving a booking for an impetuous foul on Victor Vazquez.
The hosts created the first chance, Luke Shaw blocking Tom De Sutter’s volley, but it was United who drew first blood as Memphis Depay reprised his role of tormentor from the first leg, when he had scored twice and created an injury-time goal for Marouane Fellaini.
It was his first goal in a United shirt since April 4.
The game already looked up for Club Brugge’s injury-ravaged squad and in the moments before half-time they squandered a sequence of increasingly presentable chances.
De Sutter saw a shot parried by Sergio Romero, Davy De fauw hooked a volley across goal and wide from a Vazquez corner and Abdoulay Diaby was then sent clean through, only for Romero to save at his feet.
Bastian Schweinsteiger replaced Adnan Januzaj at half-time, enabling Herrera to move further forward, and within four minutes the Spaniard had set up Rooney’s second goal, running onto Depay’s through ball and squaring intelligently for the United captain to tap home.
Rooney completed his treble with a cool finish from Juan Mata’s pass in the 57th minute and after Bolat had denied the England captain a fourth goal, Schweinsteiger’s fine sweeping pass freed Herrera to make it 4-0.
It had been a thankless tie for Club Brugge from the moment Depay cancelled out Carrick’s own goal in the first leg, but substitute Hans Vanaken almost gave their fans something to cheer when he slammed a volley against the bar.
The only United player not to enjoy the night was Hernandez, who slipped as he took a late penalty, sending the ball wide, and then skied Ashley Young’s cross over an open goal from close range.
“We had three good possibilities in the first half and we didn’t score,” said Club Brugge coach Michel Preud’homme.
“You saw the difference in quality between the two teams.”