Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Benfica draws 2-2 at Man United to seal its place in last 16 of Champions League

A finalist in three of the last four years, Manchester United is struggling to even get out of its group in this season’s Champions League.
Manchester Unite v Benfica
Barcelona, Real Madrid and AC Milan were joined on Tuesday by two more of Europe’s footballing elite, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, in the knockout stage of the game’s biggest club competition.

There is still one glaring omission from this list of the world’s biggest clubs however — the English champions.

United was held to a 2-2 home draw by Benfica on Tuesday, leaving its hopes of qualifying from arguably the easiest of the competition’s eight groups hanging in the balance.

“The chips are down,” said United manager Alex Ferguson, “but I have every confidence in the team.”

At least a draw is needed at Swiss champion Basel next month if United is to avoid becoming the biggest casualty of the group stage.

Benfica’s point at Old Trafford ensured the Portuguese side, two-time European champion in the 1960s, also qualified for the competition’s last 16, increasing the misery for United at Old Trafford.

It was a bad night, too, for United’s archrival Manchester City.

Blazing a trail at the top of the Premier League, the destiny of Roberto Mancini’s side is out of its hands in its first season in the Champions League after losing 2-1 at Napoli.

A brace of goals by Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani left Napoli a point ahead of City in Group A, knowing a victory at eliminated Villarreal will ensure the Italian side finishes second behind Bayern.

The German team, which will host the final at its Allianz Arena stadium next May, beat Villarreal 3-1 to guarantee top spot in the group. France winger Franck Ribery scored two of the goals.

Inter, the 2010 champion, qualified before a ball was kicked in its match at Trabzonspor, courtesy of Lille’s earlier 2-0 win at CSKA Moscow in Group B. The Italians secured first place, however, by drawing 1-1 in Turkey.

Real Madrid, meanwhile, thrashed Dinamo Zagreb 6-2 to keep its perfect record in Group D, where Ajax drew 0-0 at Lyon to virtually guarantee the Dutch team’s progress.

United, which was without England striker Wayne Rooney (hip), had only itself to blame for the goals conceded against Benfica.

England defender Phil Jones turned the ball into his own net to gift the visitors a third-minute lead and goalkeeper David de Gea failed to clear his lines properly in the 60th, allowing Pablo Aimar to make it 2-2 barely 60 seconds after Darren Fletcher had put United ahead for the first time.

Dimitar Berbatov — with his first goal in Europe in three years — had equallized in the 30th.

“The goals were a bit freakish — an own goal and then bad kick out by David de Gea,” Ferguson said. “It’s a cruel game at times.

“It will be a hard game in Basel.”

Cavani scored goals either side of Italy striker Mario Balotelli’s equallizer to extend Napoli’s unbeaten run at home to 11 matches since returning to continental competition in 2008 after 13 years out.

“Let’s enjoy this beautiful moment. We knew we could do it from the very first day,” said Cavani.

City now has to beat Bayern in two weeks’ time and hope for the best.

Mario Gomez scored the other goal for four-time winner Bayern, which maintained its unbeaten record in the group.

“We are proud that we made sure of winning this tough group before the last round,” Gomez said.

Halil Altintop’s equallizer for Trabzonspor denied Inter a fourth straight victory and kept alive the Turkish side’s hopes of reaching the last 16 of a competition it only joined after Fenerbahce was removed because it was under suspicion for match-fixing.

Ricardo Alvarez opened the scoring for Inter, which belied its poor form in Serie A by qualifying in the Champions League with a match to spare.

In Madrid, Karim Benzema and Jose Callejon both scored twice while Mesut Ozil and Gonzalo Higuain scored the others as Jose Mourinho’s side clinched its 12th straight win in all competitions.

However, goals by Fatos Beqiraj and substitute Ivan Tomecak meant Dinamo stopped Madrid from becoming the first club to finish group play without conceding.

Ajax’s draw in France leaves it three points ahead of Lyon and with a vastly superior goal difference.

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