Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Valencia seals dramatic United fightback in Champions League

Antonio Valencia struck a dramatic stoppage time equaliser as Manchester United fought back from 3-1 deficit to secure a point that takes them through to the last 16 of the Champions League.

United’s 22-match unbeaten home record in the competition looked to be coming to an end after Vasili Berezutski made it 3-1 to the visitors shortly after half time.

But in a thrilling encounter, Sir Alex Ferguson’s battling side roared back with late goals from Paul Scholes and Valencia.

Despite the comeback, Ferguson will be livid with his defenders for allowing CSKA to score three times. They were gifted the lead when the impressive Alan Dzagoev pounced after 25 minutes following an error by Jonny Evans. Although Michael Owen levelled, Milos Krasic made it 2-1 after United’s makeshift defence was easily carved open.

United were denied a clear penalty when Darren Fletcher was tripped by Aleksei Berezutski before they were saved by Scholes and Valencia.

It was all change for United, last season’s runners-up showing six changes to the side that started the 2-0 Premier League victory over Blackburn last Saturday.

With new dad Wayne Rooney only making the bench after missing training on the eve of the game to be at the birth of his first child, Federico Macheda was given a rare chance to shine.

And the 19-year-old Italian teenager, making his first appearance on the Champions League stage, looked more comfortable than his more experienced strike partner at times.

Owen wasted two golden chances before finally getting his name on the scoresheet. Having been teed-up by Antonio Valencia in the 10th minute, the out-of-favour England man mis-kicked horribly in front of goal.

Then he spurned another opportunity in the 18th minute when he shot straight at the keeper when he should have done much better.

Macheda’s youth and enthusiasm almost earned United the breakthrough they were seeking when he burst into the box after a clever turn before firing narrowly wide in the 25th minute.

Yet two pieces of awful defending before half time left United staring at a surprise home defeat.

Dzagoev pounced after Jonny Evans, deputising alongside Wes Brown in the absence of first-choice centre-backs Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, failed to close down the Russian teenager following good play by Tomas Necid.

But the Russians’ lead lasted just four minutes, Owen smiling for the first time after marking his sixth start with his first Champions League goal for United after Nani had flicked Valencia’s cross into his path.

Yet two minutes later more woeful defending gifted CSKA the lead for the second time, Krasic being allowed to restore the visitors’ advantage after the home defence stood like statues.

United then found themselves 3-1 behind less than two minutes into the second half, the unmarked Vasili Berezutski allowed to bury the ball past van der Sar following Dzagoev’s inswinging free kick.

The few hundred supporters who had travelled from Moscow could not believe what they were seeing. Neither could 73,000 United fans.

Their mood darkened further in the 49th minute when United were denied a clear penalty.

Fletcher, who had gone close to scoring when the scores were goalless, was tripped by Berezutski. But instead of pointing to the penalty spot, Portuguese referee Olegario Benquerenca booked midfielder Fletcher for diving.

With his side staring defeat in the face, Ferguson sent on Rooney.

Fletcher had a free-kick well saved by Igor Akinfeev, Rooney was also denied by the Russian keeper while Macheda hit the woodwork.

Then Scholes reduced the deficit by heading home from the edge of the six yard area before Equador international Valenica saved his side in dramatic circumstances.

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