Eagles soar as United slump
By Alex Dunn
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Defeat in Benfica saw Manchester United knocked out of European competition.Manchester United have been dumped out of the UEFA Champions League after a 2-1 defeat to Benfica that exposed all the frailties of a side and club in transition and very much no longer one of Europe's super-powers.
Sir Alex Ferguson spent stoppage time with nothing but misery etched on his face after a performance that began with such promise, when Paul Scholes gave them the lead just five minutes in, but then drained into a display that never rose above the mundane.
The result in Villarreal meant United only needed a draw to qualify but Beto's goal, his first for Benfica, ensured they will not even qualify for a Uefa Cup place, finishing bottom of what is a very mediocre Group D.
Prior to kick-off and there was an air of expectancy inside the Estadio Da Luz as a symbolic release of an eagle was made and 60,000 of Benfica's faithful rose as one to salute their emblem.
Within six minutes and they were seated. The Eagle may have soared but Benfica slumped as Ryan Giggs' precision pass found Gary Neville in the right hand channel of their box.
United's new captain found Scholes six yards from goal with a trademark delivery and with arguably the scruffiest finish of his career, the midfielder bundled the ball off one leg and onto another beyond Quim in Benfica's goal.
Ferguson looked a man relieved on the touchline and all looked well in Lisbon, before United preceded to deliver a lacklustre display that has become all too familiar in the past few seasons on European excursions.
Beto fired in a warning with a strike from distance gathered by Edwin van der Sar but with the home side's passing crisp and inventive, a leveller always looked likely as United's midfield was too easily bypassed.
Alan Smith was aggressive but precious little else as Nuno Assis began to tick things over in the centre of the park and Nelson began to cause problems for John O'Shea down Benfica's right.
On 15 minutes and from Nelson's delivery, pinged through the legs of O'Shea, Benfica drew level. The Irishman's laxness was matched only by Rio Ferdinand, who allowed Geovanni to ghost in behind him and plant his diving header past an ill-protected van der Saar.
United's response in going behind was tepid, as passes went astray and tackles were lost at a rate that will have enraged Ferguson.
Still it was United that garnered the next opportunity of note as Scholes, now with a taste for goal, forced Quim in to a decent stop in tipping over his looping volley from 25 yards.
With United's chances of progression looking bleak, their woes were compounded twelve minutes before the interval when Beto struck a vital blow.
Smith's header failed to clear United's box with conviction and when the ball was returned with venom from Beto, the slightest nick from Scholes took his strike beyond van der Saar.
Predictably, the second period was very much a case of United pressure and Benfica counter, as the home side sat back willing to soak and break.
For all their possession chances proved at a premium for United with Ronaldo's final contribution being a dragged effort wide of Quim's far post, after Ruud van Nistelrooy's angled pass had played him in.
Ronaldo's chance came just shy of the hour mark and within minutes he was sacrificed for Park ji-Sung, with Giggs having earlier made way for Louis Saha.
Rooney saw a rampaging run down the left thwarted only by a desperate block in Benfica's area, before moments later he delayed with a ball desperate to be lashed at goal when just eight yards out and the chance, and United's, had passed.
With United stretched at the back Benfica substitute Joao Pereira should have put the game beyond their visitors when he screwed wide before the lively Geovanni hammered into the throat of van der Saar, who did well to parry.
Having started the day at the bottom of Group D, Benfica ended the evening through to the knockout stages of the Champions League, as United's inability to either defend resolutely or create chances was woefully exposed.
Ferguson will feel the flak on a miserable evening in Lisbon, but on Thursday, it is the players that will have to take responsibility on the morning after the most wretched of nights before.
Click here for Benfica v Manchester United player ratings
|Benfica||Team Statistics||Manchester United|
|2||1st Half Goals||1|
|4||Shots on Target||3|
|4||Shots off Target||3|