Date:Thursday December 8 2005
BENFICA: Quim, Alcides, Luisao, Anderson, Leo (Ricardo Rocha 90), Nuno Assis (Joao Pereira 73), Petit, Beto, Nelson, Nuno Gomes, Geovanni (Mantorras 80).
Subs Not Used: Nereu, Bruno Aguiar, Dos Santos, Roque.
MAN UTD: Van der Sar, Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea (Richardson 87), Ronaldo (Park 67), Smith, Scholes, Giggs (Saha 60), Rooney, van Nistelrooy.
Subs Not Used: Howard, Brown, Fletcher, Bardsley.
Roy Keane walked out insisting Sir Alex was not replacing 'class with class', and even named the players who were not worthy of wearing the famous red shirt. I'm sure many agreed, while others gave Alex the benefit of doubt. But last night in Portugal showed many that we could be seeing the end of the road, and perhaps a new manager is needed.
Personally I would NEVER doubt Fergie ... and I will stand by him 'til the end. But it seems my sort are suddenly the minority.
So what went wrong? Paul Scholes gave us the perfect start ... then it went downhill from there onward.
Questions were asked during and after the game, and trust me, those very same questions are certain to come again.
Sadly, Villarreal's defeat of Lille meant only a draw was required, but Geovanni and Beto turned the screw and some amazing efforts at time wasting gave Benfica their precious win.
After seeing Scholes break his 22-game scoring duck against Portsmouth at the weekend, his scrambled finish looked to have kicked the stuffing out of a side that was thread-bare to start with.
But, after Cristiano Ronaldo in particular wasted possession on his return to Portugal, United were undone in unexpected fashion when Nelson found space on the right and drove a low cross to the edge of the six-yard box.
There appeared little danger until Neville was caught on his heels, failing to track Geovanni, who launched himself at the ball and sent a firm diving header flying into the net.
It took a while for United to clear their heads and Ronaldo, having already been booked, risked becoming the third Red Devil to be sent off in the Champions League by continually questioning the decisions of referee Kyros Vassaras, who thankfully proved to be a patient man.
Scholes had a long-range effort tipped over by Quim and Wayne Rooney failed to connect with Ronaldo's low, near-post cross before the visitors, whose confidence appeared so high in the build-up, were sent spinning to the floor by Beto.
The Brazilian wasted no time in unleashing a fierce 25-yard drive when Alan Smith's clearing header landed perfectly at his feet. Edwin van der Sar might have had the shot covered but a flick off Scholes on its way through a packed penalty area gave the Dutch goalkeeper no chance of clawing the ball out.
United responded in typically belligerent fashion, knowing they were vulnerable on the counter attack.
The pattern continued after the restart and Ronaldo's unhappy night did not get any better when Scholes and the ineffective Ruud van Nistelrooy combined to set up a glorious shooting chance which the winger dribbled harmlessly wide of the far post.
It was no surprise when Louis Saha was called off the bench after an hour but in switching Rooney to the left wing berth as Giggs went off, Ferguson was providing more ammunition to the critics who have waited so long to shoot him down.
No matter where he was supposed to be stationed, Rooney was determined to drag United out of their crisis but when he floated a free-kick wide just after the hour mark, he must have feared the worst.
If word had filtered through to the United bench of Villarreal taking the lead in Spain, meaning Ferguson's side only needed a draw to go through, it could only have increased the desperation in the visiting ranks.
Yet, in going for broke they left themselves open at the back. Joao Pereira blasted into the side-netting, Geovanni drove straight at Van der Sar.
Ferguson implored his team to push forward and the four minutes of injury time brought more hope. But the days of those marvellous United fightbacks appear to be finished.
Date:Thursday December 8 2005
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