Benfica put United hopes on hold with draw at Old Trafford

Manchester United 2 Benfica 2

Manchester United 2 Benfica 2

Manchester United’s hopes of qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League will go down to the final round of Group C games after they were held to a 2-2 draw by Benfica at Old Trafford.

United fell behind early lead on through Phil Jones’ own goal but equalised on the half-hour when Dimitar Berbatov – in the team in place of Wayne Rooney, who was nursing a hip problem from the win at Swansea on Saturday – headed in Nani’s centre, the first time he had netted in the competition in three years.

Darren Fletcher put the hosts in front 14 minutes after the break, only for Pablo Aimar to draw things level again seconds later, leaving Alex Ferguson’s men needing a point from their trip to Basle next month to make it through – with their chances of winning the group looking slim.

The Portuguese visitors took a shock lead in the fourth minute when Nicolas Gaitan fired the ball across the box and Phil Jones diverted it past David de Gea into his own net.

Moments later Benfica won a corner and it came to Bruno Cesar, who rifled a shot narrowly wide.

United attempted to find some rhythm and having been brought down by Ezequiel Garay – who earned a yellow card for the challenge – just after the quarter-hour mark, Nani took a free-kick which he could only send straight into the arms of goalkeeper Artur.

Young then drew a save out of Artur after being teed up by Patrice Evra.

Although their attacking was still a little stop-start, the hosts were beginning to settle down and in the 30th minute they pulled level.

Nani delivered a cross from the left and it came to Berbatov, who glanced it into the far corner.

Within seconds, Young almost found himself through on goal but Artur managed to save with his legs.

The action swiftly transferred to the other end, where De Gea pushed away an effort from Axel Witsel.

Berbatov controlled a pass on the edge of the box but saw his shot loop up off a sliding tackle and Pablo Aimar then tried his luck with a strike that De Gea collected comfortably.

Shortly after the restart, Gaitan produced a shot from outside the area which De Gea had little trouble dealing with, and United were firmly on the offensive from there.

One move ended with Young tumbling over Artur as the goalkeeper dived on the ball, but the referee waved for play to continue.

Another spell of pressure led to a free-kick which Nani hit into the wall, and a surging run by Jones saw the ball break to Fabio, who could only fire it straight at Artur.

It seemed only a matter of time before the hosts made a breakthrough, and it came in the 59th minute as Evra’s cross found Fletcher, the Scotland international finishing at the second attempt after his initial shot had squirmed under Artur’s body.

The lead lasted only a minute, though, as De Gea’s poor clearance came to Cesar, whose cross bounced off Rio Ferdinand and was converted from close range by Aimar.

Berbatov thought he had restored United’s advantage as he tapped in Young’s delivery, but the referee’s assistant had his flag raised for offside.

Aimar blazed off target and Fletcher skewed wide, while Michael Carrick received a yellow card which means he will be suspended for the final group game.

Berbatov then spurned a great opportunity, volleying Fabio’s cross over the bar.

Ferguson responded by bringing on Hernandez for Valencia, as well as Chris Smalling for Fabio, but it was Benfica who nearly won it late on, with Rodrigo shooting just wide.

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