Wednesday, November 4, 2009

United comeback seals progress

Manchester United 3-3 PFC CSKA Moskva

Goals in the final six minutes from Paul Scholes and Antonio Valencia took Manchester United FC into the UEFA Champions League first knockout round and denied PFC CSKA Moskva a famous win at Old Trafford.

United have not lost at home in the competition since February 2005 but that record looked set to fall when Alan Dzagoev, Miloš Krasić and Vasili Berezutski gave the visitors a 3-1 advantage. Yet after Paul Scholes had headed a goal back with six minutes remaining, Antonio Valencia rescued a point when his long-range shot deflected off Georgi Schennikov. It was tough on visiting goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, who had made a string of fine saves, and CSKA then lost Deividas Šemberas to a red card but the ten men at least held on for a well-earned point on a remarkable competition debut for new coach Leonid Slutski. United are through while CSKA need to beat VfL Wolfsburg in Moscow on 25 November to close the three-point gap to second in Group B and keep their hopes alive.

The portents hardly favoured a CSKA side with just one win from 13 previous UEFA Champions League away games and whose new coach Slutski had lost to Irish minnows Saint Patrick's Athletic FC on his last trip to the British Isles with former club PFC Krylya Sovetov Samara in July. Yet, urged by captain Akinfeev to emulate compatriots FC Rubin Kazan's shock win at FC Barcelona, they almost caught United cold inside the opening minutes. A three-on-two break ended with Dzagoev shooting over and Šemberas was equally wayward after riding a couple of tackles minutes later.

Acute angle

A long list of missing regulars subdued United but still they had chances. Owen missed his kick when teed up by Valencia, then Darren Fletcher and Federico Macheda – the former back from injury, the latter appearing for the first time in the competition – sent shots centimetres wide. With 25 minutes played CSKA broke the deadlock. Tomáš Necid laid the ball off wth his chest to Dzagoev 30 metres from goal and the 19-year-old headed for the United area. Pulling clear of Jonny Evans, he looked to have carried the ball too far wide only to lash past Edwin van der Sar from an acute angle.

United stunned

Owen appeared to have restored the natural order when he struck from close range after Nani had flicked on Valencia's cross, his first goal in the competition since October 2004. Yet within two minutes CSKA were back in front, Necid flicking on for Krasić to beat the offside trap and round Van der Sar to score. Although Macheda and Scholes both tested Akinfeev's reflexes, CSKA stunned United with a third goal two minutes after half-time as Berezutski profited from slack marking at the far post to head in Dzagoev's free-kick.

Rooney on
On came new father Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra but United could find no way past Akinfeev who repelled Scholes's free-kick and then produced a fabulous double save to keep out Owen's header and Rooney's follow-up. United were now laying siege to the CSKA goal and after Macheda's header hit the post, Akinfeev denied Rooney again, yet the goalkeeper was powerless in the dramatic conclusion to an absorbing contest.

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