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Road To Munich Starts With A Point: Benfica 1 United 1

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A stunning goal by Ryan Giggs helped earn Manchester United a point in their Champions League opener against a good Benfica side in Portugal. There was a great atmosphere in the Estadio da Luz and there’s no doubt both sets of fans went home happy knowing they had seen a good game.

Sir Alex Ferguson made eight changes to United’s line-up from the weekend which included Anders Lindegaard, Darren Fletcher and Antonio Valenica making their first starts of the season. Wayne Rooney surprisingly started on his own up top with Dimitar Berbatov again resigned to a place on the substitute’s bench.

Whilst the game got off to a quick pace, neither goalkeeper was tested inside the opening 20 minutes. Oscar Cardozo though was looking a real threat for Benfica and he forced Lindegaard into a low save as the hosts confidence begun to grow. Three minutes later Portugal’s most historic club went into the lead.

Ironically a poor clearance by Benfica’s keeper Artur led to the ball being played to Nicolas Gaitan on the right who edged past Fletcher before playing a long ball over the United defence. Cardozo skilfully saw of Jonny Evans before powerfully blasting the ball past Lindegaard and into the bottom corner of the net. It was a classy finish by the big Paraguayan and although United’s Danish keeper did get his hands to the ball, there was no way he could be blamed for letting the goal in.

Rooney up top was having a quiet night and was strangely booked by Slovenian referee Damir Skomina for a challenge on Artur. United’s striker barley touched the Brazilian goalkeeper and maybe the referee made his decision as a result of pressure from Benfica’s manager Jorge Jesus who was remonstrating down by the touch-line. Rooney was far from happy and almost got a chance to get revenge on Artur but headed a tough chance from a Fabio cross go over the bar

Pablo Aimar in midfield was trying to work his magic on the game. He was lucky not to have been sent off before half time and should have been booked on two occasions either side of United’s  equaliser which came on 41 minutes. A good run by Valencia down his flank created an opening in the home defence. The Ecuadorian played a simple ball through to Giggs running towards the edge of the box who took one touch before rifling the ball into the top corner of the net.

It was some goal by Giggs, who in scoring became the oldest player ever to score in the competition. The goal also was the 16th time in 17 Champions League campaigns which the Welsh wizard had scored in and the 22nd consecutive season of his career that he’d found the net in. Not bad for a lad who ‘supposedly’ never had a right foot.

Despite United keeping the ball better after half-time, it was to be the hosts who would have the lions-share of the chances in the second half. Aimar saw a blistering shot from around 30 yards go wide before Giggs down the other end almost grabbed his second of the night but saw a low shot saved well Artur with his feet.

Lindegaard was impressing down the other end and made a fantastic save from Benfica substitute Nolito inside the area before tipping a Gaitan effort past the post. Noltio then had a great chance to win the game but after a mazy run shot wide of the near post after a neat one-two with Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel before Cardozo saw a cheeky effort from the half-way line go over the bar.

United: Lindegaard, Evra, Evans, Smalling, Fabio (Jones), Giggs, Park, Carrick, Fletcher (Hernandez), Valencia (Nani), Rooney

Star Man

Despite Giggs of course getting the attention for his goal (and rightly so), probably United’s best player on the night was Anders Lindegaard. There would have been alot of pressure on his shoulders making his European debut in a big-match atmosphere like the one in Lisbon last night. However he looked calm throughout and looks a good and reliable back-up for David De Gea. As good as the saves were that he made last night, just like United’s new Spanish keeper, Lindegaard showed great distribution skills and never looked flustered even in the slightest.

By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87