Amsterdam - Ashley Young and Javier Hernandez scored second-half goals as Manchester United beat Ajax 2-0 in the first leg of their Europa League round of 32 clash on Thursday.
After a lacklustre first half from both teams, Young profited when he latched onto a cross from Nani, cut inside right back Vurnon Anita and fired a low shot under goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer in the 59th minute.
Hernandez set up a comfortable second leg for United when he played a one-two with Wayne Rooney and fired home five minutes from full-time.
Ajax and United have been crowned European champions seven times between them, but are playing in the continent's second-tier competition after being eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage.
United were without captain Patrice Evra, who was rested by manager Alex Ferguson to give him time to recover from an "emotional" week following his spat with Luis Suarez. Evra was snubbed by Suarez in the pre-match handshake before United's match with Liverpool on Saturday, their first meeting since the former Ajax striker was banned for eight matches for racially abusing Evra during a game.
Plagued by injuries this season, Ajax were playing with a patched-up defence, midfield and attack but still had the best of the first-half chances.
United looked nonchalant before the break and Nani squandered the team's only clear-cut chance when he blasted a shot high and wide of the goal from the right of the penalty area with an unmarked Rooney calling for a cross in the middle.
Midfielder Siem de Jong came closest for Ajax before the break with a powerful shot that forced a good save from David de Gea diving to his left in the 32nd minute. Two minutes later, De Jong was again threatening when he rounded off a spell of Ajax pressure by heading a cross over the bar.
Ajax had an appeal for a penalty turned down on the stroke of half-time when Rio Ferdinand appeared to bring down Miralem Sulejmani on the edge of the box.
United began the second half far more aggressively and Nani almost immediately hit a stinging shot that Vermeer tipped over the bar.
As United turned up the pressure on the makeshift Ajax defence, Fernandez turned away from Anita in the 50th minute but Vermeer dived at his feet to deny the Mexico striker.
United's second-half dominance paid off in the 59th minute with Young's goal, but United then sat back and allowed Ajax into the game.
Aras Ozbiliz nearly hit back immediately for the home side, but sent his dipping left-foot shot just over the bar after dispossessing Fabio, and midfielder Christian Eriksen had a good scoring chance in the 73rd minute but shot straight at De Gea after a strong solo run.
But as Ajax pushed for the equaliser, Hernandez and Rooney combined on the break to make it 2-0.
Europa League round of 32 first-leg results on Thursday:
Lokomotiv Moscow (RUS) 2 (Glushakov 61-pen, Caicedo 71) Athletic Bilbao (ESP) 1 (Muniain 36)
Ajax (NED) 0 Manchester United (ENG) 2 (Young 59, Hernandez 85)
Salzburg (AUT) 0 Metalist Kharkiv (UKR) 4 (Taison 1, Cristaldo 37, 41, Devic 90+1)
Alkmaar, the Netherlands
AZ Alkmaar (NED) 1 (Maher 35) Anderlecht (BEL) 0
Lazio (ITA) 1 (Klose 19) Atletico Madrid (ESP) 3 (Adrian Lopez 25, Falcao 37, 63)
Plzen, Czech Republic
Viktoria Plzen (CZE) 1 (Darida 22) Schalke 04 (GER) 1 (Huntelaar 75)
Legia Warsaw (POL) 2 (Wawrzyniak 37, Gol 79) Sporting Lisbon (POR) 2 (Daniel Carrico 60, Andre Santos 88)
Steaua Bucharest (ROM) v FC Twente (NED)
Trabzonspor (TUR) v PSV Eindhoven (NED)
Porto (POR) v Manchester City (ENG)
Stoke City (ENG) v Valencia (ESP)
Wisla Krakow (POL) v Standard Liege (BEL)
Udinese (ITA) v PAOK Salonika (GRE)
Hanover (GER) v Bruges (BEL)
Played on Tuesday:
Sporting Braga (POR) 0 Besiktas (TUR) 2 (Sivok 37, Simao 58)
Rubin Kazan (RUS) 0 Olympiakos (GRE) 1 (Fuster 71)
Second legs to be played on February 22 and 23.