Game in a sentence
A bizarre affair in Portugal includes a blackout, two goals from the spot and ten minutes of dominance from Manchester United, enough to put them through to the knockout stage.
- Much was on the line for both teams at Estadio Municipal this afternoon. For United a draw would see the red devils lock up a place in the knockout round. Braga, one point behind Cluj for second place in Group H, would need at least a point to have a realistic shot at getting out of the group.
- United’s starting lineup displayed a level of depth that didn’t exist a year ago, as both Robin van Persie and Rio Ferdinand began the game on the bench. To start, Ferguson employed a 4-3-3 with Wayne Rooney playing centrally in the midfield and Welbeck, Chicharito and Nani up front. Though the formation was promising, United were unable to create quality scoring chances in the first half.
- Conversely, it was Braga with the best opportunities on goal. Jose Peseiro’s game plan was designed to exploit Antonio Valencia, who was playing out of position at right back. Ruben Micael was especially disruptive in the early going, causing Valencia all sorts of problems.
- Eder, playing up top in a 4-5-1 nearly opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, connecting on an excellent ball from Elderson only to be foiled by de Gea’s post. The Portuguese forward was a nuisance for Smalling and Evans all day. Alan – the two-goal man at Old Trafford – was conspicuously absent in the first half.
- The score stood at zeroes as both sides headed for the tunnel. United’s attack neglected Rooney far too often for my liking, choosing to go through Valencia and Nani with little success. No matter, a draw would be fine for the visitors.
- Just two minutes after the break the game got its first goal, one accompanied by some controversy. Custodio’s probing run was cut short after he crashed into Jonny Evans, who was standing just inside the area. The referee awarded Braga a penalty and Alan put the home side ahead. In my view the penalty was a product of Custodio’s pace rather than malicious intent on Evans part. Slightly unfair decision from the referee, but that is an incredibly difficult call to make.
- Braga didn’t sit back, and continued to press United’s fullbacks into defensive positions. And just when things were starting to get good the power went out at Estadio Municipal. Memories of that horrible night in Panama immediately hit me. Still not over that one, clearly.
- Eventually – by my count about 12.5232 minutes – the lights came back on. So did Ferdinand, emerging from the darkness to replace Evans.
- Braga nearly added to their lead thanks to poor sportsmanship/bad acting from Micael. de Gea did well to stop Coelho’s ensuing free kick.
- RVP came on for Welbeck, but the change only increased United’s susceptibility to the counter attack. Because of this, Alan became a much bigger factor in the second half. Though they had several chances, Braga was unable to add to a perilous lead.
- They would pay for it. RVP’s equalizer in the 80th minute was made possible by an awful piece of goalkeeping from Beto. Like really, really awful. Something out of nothing might as well be the title of the inevitable RVP biopic.
- For Braga the wheels had officially come off. After Chicharito nearly put United ahead, Rooney was taken down in the penalty area. While the whistle came quite late it was certainly a penalty. Rooney atoned for his miss on Saturday, and United were on their way to the knockout stage in style. This is what the great teams do.
- Chicharito’s goal in injury time – pretty it was not – capped a wild final ten minutes that saw Manchester United capture Group H and effectively kill Braga’s dreams of progressing to the knockout stage.
3. Ruben Micael