Cristiano Ronaldo News

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Report: United 3 Benfica 1

06/12/2006 21:38, Report by Ben Hibbs

United’s dominant and commanding second half performance saw the Reds top Group F with an impressive 3-1 victory over Benfica.

Headed goals from Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Giggs and Louis Saha gave United the win, while Celtic lost 3-1 to Copenhagen in Denmark, which sees the Reds leapfrog the Scottish side, who also go through as runners-up.

However, it wasn’t always straight-forward. “Historically, we put our poor supporters through the mill,” said Sir Alex before the match, referring to United’s propensity to leave it late and get into the situations where comebacks are desperately needed. The comments certainly proved prophetic. This was a match to shred the nerves of the calmest fan.

Ronaldo had received so much attention before the game, Sir Alex Ferguson had staunchly defended the Reds winger against allegations that he dived to earn the penalty against Middlesbrough. He seemed unfazed by the attention in the pre-match press conference, and he was the quickest player out of the blocks on Wednesday night.

Inside two minutes he was racing down the line taking on Nelson and Luisao before curling in an inch perfect cross into the penalty area. Unfortunately, no United player could keep up with him and the ball drifted out to safety. The 21-year-old winger was undoubtedly United’s liveliest player in the opening ten minutes, sending two shots wide of the post and hitting several dangerous crosses.

On eleven minutes United were camped in the Benfica half. Rio Ferdinand forced a good save from Quim after the ball broke free from a Ryan Giggs corner.

Ronald Koeman was manager last season when the Reds were defeated by Benfica at Estadio da Luz, but the new boss Fernando Santos was not about to change the team’s gameplan, which was clearly evident midway through the first half. Rarely was their passing penetrative. Instead, they were content to retain possession between midfield and defence, dampening the Old Trafford atmosphere and stifling United’s penchant for speedy attacks.

It worked. The pace slowed in United’s play and with 17 minutes of the half remaining Benfica worked their way to the edge of the Reds’ box and right-back Nelson struck a near unstoppable right-footed shot into the top corner. If nothing else it was the awakening the Reds needed.

Shouts of “United, United” descended from the Stretford End and in the minutes that followed, Ronaldo forced a superb save from Quim from a powerful free-kick, Louis Saha had a header cleared off the line and then put a shot wide after a good move down the right involving Giggs and Gary Neville.

With clock running down on half time United fans were defiant, so were the team. A Giggs free kick following a foul on Ronaldo by Simao, was perfectly placed. Nemanja Vidic rose above everyone and slammed his header into the back of the net. Old Trafford erupted like the lid had been taken off a pressure cooker. The timing couldn’t have been better, the half-time whistle went seconds later.

The Reds were brimming with energy after the break and the pace to United’s play was crucial in keeping the fans in full voice. With 57 minutes on the clock the breakthrough that United’s positive play deserved finally came. Ronaldo toyed with Benfica left-back Leo before planting an inch-perfect cross into space. Giggs lost his marker and nodded the ball past Quim.

United’s dominance in the first half had seen the Reds have 14 shots on goal compared to Benfica’s three. Sir Alex’s side’s seemed more relaxed after the break and dictated the match with Paul Scholes instrumental.

A third headed goal arrived with nearly fifteen minutes remaining to virtually kill off the tie. Darren Fletcher, on as a substitute for Ryan Giggs, swung in a right-footed centre and Saha grabbed his fourth goal in five Champions League games this season with a well-placed header.

The second half was a one-sided affair and after the third goal United were simply seeng this game out. With Celtic losing in Denmark, Sir Alex’s side had Group F’s top spot tied up, a task the Reds probably should have completed long before tonight. But, would United have it any other way?

Team Line-ups

United: Van der Sar; Neville (c), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra (Heinze, 67); Ronaldo, Carrick, Scholes (Solskjaer, 78), Giggs (Fletcher, 73); Saha, Rooney.
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Brown, O’Shea, Silvestre.

Benfica: Quim (c); Nelson, Luisao, Ricardo Rocha, Leo, Katsouranis, Petit, Simao, Nuno Assis (Karagounis, 73); Nuno Gomes, Miccoli (Paulo Jorge, 64).
Subs not used: Moretto (GK), Anderson, Mantorras, Miguelito, Beto.

Attendance: 74,955


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