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Friday, December 09, 2005 

SL Benfica 2 - 1 Manchester United (CL)

Goals from Geovanni and Beto stunned Manchester United FC and enabled SL Benfica to reach the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds for the first time since 1994/95.

No consolation
It meant United, who threw away an early lead achieved through Paul Scholes, failed to advance from the group stage for the first time in ten years, and by finishing bottom of Group D have not even a UEFA Cup place for consolation.

Neville role
In Simão's continued absence, one of a number of Benfica injuries, Ronald Koeman deployed Geovanni in the left-sided attacking role. In direct opposition was the man appointed United captain in Roy Keane's stead, Gary Neville. Keane's departure has also led Sir Alex Ferguson to give the 4-4-2 formation primacy, though from the start it was clear that local prodigy, and target for the Benfica fans' ire, Cristiano Ronaldo, had freedom to roam.

Scholes scores
Barely six minutes had elapsed when Neville performed wing duties to perfection. He darted free on the right following a clever Ryan Giggs ball and the skipper's cross was forced in by Scholes virtually on the line. It was a blow that stunned the home supporters, who had been in lusty voice long before kick-off, though Beto did immediately force Edwin van der Sar to save.

All square
Attack remained the watchword for both teams, and soon it was Benfica's turn to celebrate. Nélson swung in a centre from the right and, spotting a gap, Geovanni produced a far-post diving header of geometric precision. Even these sides could not keep up the pace of that breathless start, and it was some 13 minutes before the next real opportunity, a looping Scholes effort tipped over by Quim. The resulting Giggs corner also caused Benfica momentary concern, but the overriding emotion was joy not long after.

Benfica ahead
A home attack was looking tentative when Beto opted to let fly from outside the area. The deflection off Scholes meant Van der Sar did not stand a chance, and the Luz stands shook with delight. Bottom of the provisional standings, United now required another goal, but it was Benfica who dominated until the break, revelling in their swift turnaround and counterattacking at speed.

Historic resonance
Half-time brought a presentation reuniting the stars of these clubs' famous 1960s meetings, including Eusébio and Sir Bobby Charlton, and the event was given poignancy by George Best's recent death. The 5-1 United victory on their visit here in that era may have been on Benfica's minds when they emerged from the break; they began the second period determined not to allow their visitors to make the Luz their own again.

Ronaldo miss
Luisão in particular was a rock in defence, making a crucial saving tackle on Wayne Rooney and looking commanding in the air. Even when United did find an opening just before the hour thanks to a four-man passing move, Ronaldo slid the ball just past the far post. The introduction of Louis Saha and then Ji-Sung Park showed United's need to find new sources of attack, though a Rooney free-kick went close.

Swift counter
A crossed Rooney set-piece then troubled Benfica, before Koeman introduced João Pereira, whose first act was to turn a Nuno Gomes pass wide. Geovanni then made Van der Sar save in another swift counter, but of more importance was that Benfica repelled all a frustrated United had to offer and made it through on a night which started so unpromisingly for them.

Goals: 6´ Scholes (0-1); 16´ Geovanni (1-1); 34´ Beto (2-1)

Source: uefa.com

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