Date: 7th December 2006 at 10:32am
Written by:

I don’t hesitate to admit that I’m pathetic but I cannot help to be delighted about our fitting revenge over Benfica who knocked United out of last season’s competition.

It was no repeat of that terrible disappointment this time. After falling behind, United showed impressive resolve and determination to steamroller their opponents with three brilliant headers.

However, let’s face it: the first 25 minutes of the game were not wonderful entertainment. United were way too cautious whilst Benfica seemed to play the waiting game, apparently thinking that taking the lead in the second half would take them through.

It’s rare we’re lucky to concede but I think on this occasion that was the case. Nelson’s stunning strike served as an alarm clock and it brought the players out of their reverie. Had Nelson not scored the goal of his career, the worst could have happened. United would have continued to wait for the final whistle without ever really creating chances and it could have easily ended 0-1 with a late goal – a depressingly familiar script as we’ve lost our last two Champions League games in this manner.

Fortunately, they scored very early and the boss seemed to have worked out that the patient game did not suit his team. We battered Benfica in the last 15 minutes. First, Saha headed the ball against the post from close range and it required a blatant handball from Nelson to clear – Fandel, the German referee waved play on. Then Rooney’s fine pass found the Frenchman in the box but he steered his shot well wide. Half-chances were aplenty but we needed a gloriously struck freekickby Ryan Giggs to get back on level terms: the Welsh Wizard found Vidic in the box who headed the ball forcefully into the net in stoppage time.

I was worried United would go out and play the waiting game but that was not the case as confidence seemed to had been drained out from the Portuguese players. The Reds took control of the game, dealt fairly easily with their opponents’ counters and had the final passes not let them down, they could have taken the lead earlier than the 61st minute when the excellent Ronaldo had a great run on the right flank, crossed the ball into the are where a totally unmarked Giggs rose to head it into the far corner, with defender’s in no man’s land.

This goal killed off Benfica and only one team was really on the park afterwards. The Reds were absolutely in control and they have scored again from a corner despite Giggs coming off – his replacement, Darren Fletcher found Saha who powered the ball past the helpless Quim, silencing the Benfica fans. The home supporters were thoroughly enjoying themselves now but further goals did not arrive even though Rooney had a powerful shot parried by Quim who beat away Gary Neville’s effort seconds earlier. When 90 minutes had passed, Fandel has blown his whistle to end what was an action-packed, lively, high-tempo game – a real European night at Old Trafford. You may remember the Fiorentina match from 2000: the Reds have fallen behind thanks to a stunning strike but responded impressively to win 3-1. This time the performance was not as majestic as the one 6 years ago but now Benfica know what it feels like being knocked despite taking the lead away from home.

United fully deserved to go through and it’s fantastic to know we’ll be there for the draw that will take place on December 15.

Player Ratings

Van der Sar 6
He wasnt’t at fault with the goal – it was an incredible shot. Otherwise, he was rarely troubled.

Neville 7
A captain’s performance. He was linking well with Ronaldo and provided a real attacking threat down the right flank.

Ferdinand 7
A good night’s work for Rio.

Vidic 8
Commanding and impressive in defence, scored the crucial equaliser with a perfectly timed, extremely powerful header. Fergie’s best signing since Wayne Rooney.

Evra 7
He was partially at fault with the goal but his threatening runs down the left caused serious discomfort to the Benfica defenders who were out of their feet in the second half.

Ronaldo 8
Simao (or was it Petit?) had fouled him before the equaliser, his cross to Giggs was just about perfect and he was dazzling defenders throughout the game. He rose to the occasion magnificently.

Carrick 7
Quietly effective again. Good tackles, good passes, a great amount of work. A highly useful team player.

Scholes 6
I think he was a bit quiet tonight, he was forced out to the flanks way too often. Of course, he very rarely surrendered possession.

Giggs 8
His rating is a bit higher than it should be as he didn’t exactly light up the stage for most of the game. Still, he played a great part in turning the game around with providing an assist and scoring a fine goal.

Rooney 6
He always wanted the ball and did not hide from the responsibility but he committed an awful lot of mistakes. He’s a bit desperate do to well on the European stage, having failed to score there since his debut. However, his workrate contributed to the visible tiring of Benfica defenders.

Saha 7
Missed some chances and created some as usual. We had always known he’s a great header of the ball and he’s proved it again.

Fletcher 7
Deserves his rating for that well-taken corner.
Little impact but great to see him back.