Sporting Fans Will Love Ronaldo
Despite producing a mediocre performance, United maintained their perfect Champions League record and ensured they would top the group.
It's Ronaldo again. How fitting. The man whom we bought from Sporting for Ł12.25m have now scored two winners against his former club. The first one, at Lisbon, was a beautifully built attack, the second, yesterday night, was a stunning free-kick.
However, a goal of such quality looked unlikely to come as the teams huffed and puffed their way throughout the first half. Sporting had the edge, they were marginally better in that dreadful 45 minutes of errors and sloppiness.
Their goal produced a very accurate and succinct summary of the first half: our players failed to close down a Sporting player (on this case it was Abel) who therefore had plenty of time to decide what to do. Despite this he seemed to be unable to make that decision so he just kicked the ball in the general direction of our penalty box from the right.
It looked to have taken a deflection off Nani but I'm yet to see a convincing replay about that so I don't know. The fact is that it beat Kuszczak and sneaked in at the left-hand post.
Minutes later they could have doubled their lead had the assistant not spotted that Liedson was marginally offside. A sigh of relief as from two down there would have been no way back for this United team that, in the first half, turned giving the ball away into a form of art. The best chance of the half fell to Saha but, the game still at 0-0, he fired wide after Carrick played him in at the right side of the box.
Fergie looked quite angry as the teams headed for the tunnel after the whistle and therefore it was unsurprising to see Giggs and Tevez emerging from the bench where they started the game, replacing the very poor Fletcher and Nani.
It was Tevez who sparked United into life and his introduction gave new impetus to Ronaldo who faded after a promising start in the first half. For a while we were still sloppy in possession and unimaginative going forward but at least harassed and closed down Sporting effectively to reduce them time and space and therefore we could spend much of the second 45 minutes in their half of the field.
Chances were still not aplenty as United continued to frustrate the crowd with horribly misjudged passes, obvious lack of understanding and general lack of killer instinct in front of goal. However, the equaliser duly arrived after an hour of football: Evra raced away on the left, crossed the ball for Saha who passed it back to Ronaldo. His weak, mis-hit shot would have gone horribly wide but a defender's leg intervened: the ball got a deflection from it and hit Tevez - and this second deflection sent it into the net with Patricio rooted to the spot.
And from that moment, there was only one winner though Miguel Veloso's long shot flew only inches above the bar. But it was all United apart from that: Ronaldo missed a very good chance by firing straight at Patricio from 18 yards, Vidic headed narrowly wide after a corner, Ronaldo could have scored with a beautiful chip that missed the far corner by inches.
Fergie, making a surprising decision, sent in Owen Hargreaves instead of Louis Saha, and the England midfielder could have justified his introduction within moments as he got the end of a great over-the-top ball played in behind the defenders but scuffed his shot at Patricio. So chances came and went and with Roma stuffing Kiev in the other game, it seemed that our last group match would decide about top spot of the group.
Ronaldo, however, had other ideas and though he did not celebrate his goal at Lisbon, I doubt that Sporting fans remember him fondly now. As he lined up the free-kick from about 35 yards out I prayed that he cross it, not to fire at the wall or into the Stretford End. However, his extremely powerful, swerving, spinning effort found the far corner of the net and ensured a dramatic finale to a forgettable game.