Ruud rides to rescue again
By Mark Buckingham. Last Updated: 27/09/05 9:35pm
Manchester United triumphantly marched off Old Trafford to a chorus of cheers after snatching a 2-1 victory over Benfica in the UEFA Champions League.
A typically predatory finish from Ruud van Nistelrooy five minutes from time secured United a much-needed fillip, and first win, in Group D.
Ryan Giggs' deflected free kick gave the hosts a first half advantage before a delightful set piece from Simao Sabrosa levelled the game just before the hour.
Following the withering reaction to Saturday's Premiership defeat at home to Blackburn Rovers, United were immediately on the offensive against Benfica, with Paul Scholes swivelling sharply before volleying over inside the opening 60 seconds.
But, like Blackburn before them, Benfica were not content to sit back and soak up the pressure and they more than matched the hosts' attacking endeavours in the first half.
Fabrizio Miccoli clipped a shot wide of the target before Nuno Gomes induced a mistake from John O'Shea on eight minutes.
O'Shea failed to cut out Gomes' pass, with his error enabling Miccoli to drive in a low shot which Edwin van der Sar turned wide of the post.
From the resultant corner, van der Sar was again pressed into decisive action as the Dutchman produced a sprawling save from Ricardo Rocha's header, after the defender had beaten O'Shea to the ball.
Van Nistelrooy was scenting more goals after a fine start to the campaign and he was only denied by the crossbar on 14 minutes when he brilliantly controlled Phillip Bardsley's cross before unleashing a thumping volley which hit the frame of the goal.
Benfica were inventive in possession and a quick one-two saw Simao shoot at van der Sar, while Miccoli could only find the United keeper with his low effort.
The breakthrough for United arrived on 39 minutes after a penetrating run from Cristiano Ronaldo teased a foul out of the visiting backline. Giggs sized up the opportunity from 25 yards but was indebted to a heavy deflection, which left Benfica keeper Jose Moreira with no chance of preventing the ball curling into the far corner.
United's crossing was causing issues in the Benfica rearguard, with one sumptuous delivery from the right not receiving the finish it merited.
Inexperience in the home defence contributed to another chance for Benfica early in the second period after Kieran Richardson allowed the ball to run on but Beto struck a woeful shot.
The Premiership giants responded with a Giggs cross from the left flank, which saw Moreira grasp at thin air, but the unaware van Nistelrooy was unable to capitalise on the clanger.
Alan Smith's impetuosity in the holding midfield role presented Benfica with the opportunity for their equaliser on 59 minutes. Smith was coaxed into bringing down Miccoli and Simao stepped up to curl a delicious free kick over the wall, with the aid of a deflection not needed to beat van der Sar.
The Red Devils responded in a positive fashion and a stinging volley, from a tight angle, by Ronaldo brushed the fingertips of Moreira before crashing off the upright.
United failed to heed the warning about Simao's ability from range and he was afforded far too much time to set his sights from 25 yards before caressing a shot which saw van der Sar scramble across his goal to stop.
Bardsley was enjoying his first European start at right back and his deflected cross just eluded the outstretched boot of Scholes with the goal at his mercy, as Benfica steadily resorted to desperate defending.
But just when Sir Alex Ferguson was cursing his misfortune, his seemingly eternal saviour - van Nistelrooy - displayed his poacher's instinct with five minutes remaining.
The industrious Bardsley earned United a corner, which was delivered by Giggs and flicked on by Rio Ferdinand, via a deflection, to the back post, where van Nistelrooy lurked with his usual menace to turn home from all of two yards to lift the gloom which threatened to engulf Old Trafford for the second time in less than a week.
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|Manchester United||Team Statistics||Benfica|
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|4||Shots on Target||3|
|9||Shots off Target||10|
UEFA Champions League
Tue 27th Sep - Group C
Panathinaikos2 - 1W Bremen
Barcelona4 - 1Udinese
Tue 27th Sep - Group D
Man Utd2 - 1Benfica
Lille0 - 0Villarreal
Tue 27th Sep - Group B
Ajax1 - 2Arsenal
FC Thun1 - 0Sp Prague
Tue 27th Sep - Group A
Bay Munich1 - 0Club Brugge
Juventus3 - 0Rapid Vienna
UEFA Champions League Group A
UEFA Champions League Group B
UEFA Champions League Group C
|3||Zenit St. Petersburg||3||4|
UEFA Champions League Group D
UEFA Champions League Group E
UEFA Champions League Group F
|1||Paris St Germain||3||7|
UEFA Champions League Group G
UEFA Champions League Group H