United frustrated by Benfica
Group C to go down to the wire after Old Trafford draw
Last Updated: 22/11/11 10:07pm
Manchester United have left themselves a job to do in their final UEFA Champions League group game after being pegged to a 2-2 draw at home to Benfica on Tuesday night.
Sir Alex Ferguson's men could have sealed a spot in the last 16 of the competition with three points against the Portuguese side but instead dropped into second place in Group C after the visitors came from behind for a share of the spoils.
The point was enough for Benfica to book a place in the knockout rounds and their focus will now be on sealing the top spot.
The home side made a disastrous start at Old Trafford when Phil Jones scored an own-goal in just the fourth minute, but Dimitar Berbatov nodded home a Nani cross to even things up before the break and mark his first Champions League goal in three years.
United took the lead through Darren Fletcher not long after the restart but Pablo Aimar replied for the visitors just a minute later to hand them a crucial point.
The Red Devils must now avoid defeat from their trip to Basel next month if they are to avoid being dumped out of the competition at the group stage.
After five successive clean sheets, it came as a hammer blow for United to concede after only four minutes.
That the ball should be turned into the net by one of their own just made the pain more acute.
Benfica had already made a bright start when Nicolas Gaitan found himself enough space to whizz over a low cross that flicked off Patrice Evra.
Jones was well placed to clear, only to stick out a foot and turn the ball past stranded goalkeeper David De Gea.
Seven days after being likened to Franco Baresi by England manager Fabio Capello, this was the other side of the footballing coin for the 19-year-old, who looked somewhat shell-shocked as the visitors celebrated their good fortune.
With Wayne Rooney missing with the hip problem that kept him out of training yesterday and free-scoring Mexican Javier Hernandez on the bench, it was suddenly a major test of mettle for those Sir Alex Ferguson had called upon.
Initially it looked as though they would not rise to the challenge.
With Bruno Cesar, who went close with a 20-yard drive, and Gaitan pulling the strings, a second for Benfica looked a distinct possibility.
It was a Nani free-kick and Ashley Young's snap-shot that gave United the impetus to launch their fightback.
Leading the attack, Berbatov had not scored in Europe since his brace against Celtic in October 2008. If ever the £30.75million Bulgarian was going to prove his worth, this needed to be it.
And when Nani curled over an excellent cross on the half-hour, Berbatov finally delivered, touching his header into the far corner.
United should have been ahead a minute later when Berbatov sent Young through, only for the England man to drill a shot against Artur's legs.
Axel Witsel gave the hosts a scare moments later, although United were starting to gain control and it took an excellent tackle from Ezequiel Garay to deny Berbatov a second.
The momentum was maintained after the restart but for some reason, after jinking his way to within touching distance of the Benfica goal, Berbatov attempted to find Young with a cutback rather than squeeze out a shot himself and the chance was lost.
Fabio was denied by Artur after a forceful run from Jones before Evra delivered the brilliant cross that Fletcher met after making a perfectly-timed run.
Artur denied the Scot's first effort but from the rebound Fletcher had a tap-in.
Old Trafford breathed a collective sigh of relief.
But those who felt the hard work had been done were in for a nasty shock as De Gea's weak clearance allowed Cesar to charge into the United box.
Though his cross was blocked by Rio Ferdinand, Aimar gobbled up the rebound.
Young rightly argued he had not been offside before giving Berbatov the easiest of finishes. Unfortunately, Antonio Valencia had been and up went the flag.
Having dug his team out of one hole, Berbatov should have done it again 12 minutes from time when Fabio floated a cross into the box.
The striker beat the offside trap but, leaning back, sent his first-time volley over from 12 yards.Hernandez's introduction for Valencia was a fairly obvious move after that but though United pressed, the elusive winner would not come.
|Manchester United||Team Statistics||Benfica|
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|7||Shots on Target||4|
|3||Shots off Target||5|
UEFA Champions League
Tue 22nd Nov - Group B
CSKA Mosc0 - 2Lille
Trabzonspor1 - 1Inter
Tue 22nd Nov - Group A
Napoli2 - 1Man City
Bay Munich3 - 1Villarreal
Tue 22nd Nov - Group C
Otelul Galati2 - 3Basel
Man Utd2 - 2Benfica
Tue 22nd Nov - Group D
R Madrid6 - 2Din Zagreb
Lyon0 - 0Ajax
UEFA Champions League Group A
UEFA Champions League Group B
UEFA Champions League Group C
|3||Zenit St. Petersburg||5||7|
UEFA Champions League Group D
UEFA Champions League Group E
UEFA Champions League Group F
|1||Paris St Germain||5||13|
UEFA Champions League Group G
UEFA Champions League Group H