United 2 Aalborg BK 2
Wayne Rooney spared United’s blushes with a second-half equaliser against Danish minnows Aalborg, with a point enough to seal the Reds’ position as Group E winners.
An early goal from Carlos Tevez and Rooney’s strike sandwiched a shock double from the visiting Danes, but United’s spot in the last 16 of the Champions League was already assured by a draw at Villarreal on Matchday Five. Indeed, the objective of topping the group was achieved almost irrespective of what happened at Old Trafford, thanks to Celtic’s comfortable win over second-placed Villarreal at Celtic Park.
The game’s status as a near-dead rubber was reflected in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team selection, with the likes of Edwin van der Sar, Nemanja Vidic, Darren Fletcher and Dimitar Berbatov all rested, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Michael Carrick were left out with minor injuries.
Despite wholesale changes in personnel, United were ahead inside three minutes, through a delightfully worked goal by Tevez. Ryan Giggs played an extravagant one-two with Wayne Rooney and lobbed a delicate pass through for the Argentine, who steered a shot calmly past Karim Zaza in the visitors’ goal.
Two minutes later, Tevez should have had a second. Lax defending from the visitors allowed Anderson to feed Rooney on the edge of the Aalborg area, and his pull-back was placed wastefully wide by his strike partner.
Making chances at a rate of knots, and having strolled to a 3-0 victory when the two sides met earlier this season, it seemed United were set to dish out another Danish pasting. Not so, unfortunately.
The first warning sign that the visitors were settling came after 11 minutes when John O’Shea was a touch fortunate to avoid conceding a penalty for a trip on Thomas Augustinussen.
Not that United were being run ragged, far from it. The visitors seemed carried little attacking threat, but had stopped making defensive errors, restricting United to half chances.
Tevez headed comfortably wide from a Rooney cross, while Nani stabbed into the side netting after another fine interchange with the impressive Giggs. The second chance would be particularly rued just two minutes later, when Aalborg shocked Old Trafford by drawing level.
There seemed little danger when Martin Pedersen sent in an in-swinging cross from the right flank, halfway inside the United half. Opposite full-back Michael Jakobsen flicked a clever back-header towards goal, however, which evaded the sprawling Tomasz Kuszczak and crept inside the post.
Aalborg’s vociferous support, who had soundtracked proceedings with bilingual witty ditties and a migraine-inducing drummer, went ballistic. And it was they who had much more to cheer during the remainder of the half.
]Jeppe Kurth’s shot straight at Kuszczak, while the Pole had to alertly push away a free-kick from Anders Due, but United’s goalkeeper – in for the rested Edwin van der Sar – could do little when those two combined in first half injury time.
Due was given far too much time to advance down the left, allowing him to clip a fine cross to the back post, where the onrushing Kurth superbly arced a header into the far corner.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s grim expression as he strode towards the dressing room suggested discontent, and it was little surprise that he opted to ring the changes at the interval.
Paul Scholes and Ji-sung Park were introduced, at the expense of Giggs and Darron Gibson, as United upped the tempo from the off. Tevez headed wide from Nani’s superb right-wing cross, but Rooney hauled his side level within six minutes of the restart.
Anderson slid an incisive ball through the centre of the visitors’ defence, and Rooney drilled a low, first-time shot in-between Zaza’s legs for his second goal in as many appearances against Aalborg, having found the net in September’s win in Denmark.
A knee injury sustained in that match had ruled Scholes out of action until last week’s Carling Cup win over Blackburn, and the veteran midfielder seemed out for revenge with a goal this time around. First his looping header was palmed over by Zaza, then a superbly-timed challenge from defender Steve Olfers denied him a free shot, 12 yards from goal.
United’s pressure was incessant, and only a brilliant close-range save from Zaza denied Gary Neville a rare goal, the club captain having latched onto a superb chipped pass from Rooney. Moments later, the visiting goalkeeper was at it again, this time tipping Olfers’ misguided header onto his own bar.
The goalkeeper was finally beaten again with six minutes remaining, but Tevez was only able to fire high into the side netting after latching onto another fine through-ball from Rooney.
Nani also shot narrowly over as the clock ticked into injury time, but time eventually ran out for the Reds to find a winner. Aalborg – quite deservedly – reacted as if they had won the competition outright at the final whistle, but it’s the defending champions who have quietly progressed undefeated as group winners.
Rafael rips up the rule book
Having breezed into United's first-team setup within just a few months of arriving in England, Rafael has been the sensation of the Reds' season so far.
The 18-year-old Brazilian defender has made 11 appearances in the first half of the season, looking utterly unflustered by his fast-track rise to prominence.
For Sir Alex Ferguson, who has fielded the youngster in pressure-cooker games like the Manchester derby, Rafael's performances have been a revelation.
"When we first watched him in training, we thought he and (twin brother) Fabio were outstanding talents," said the United manager. "But of course there’s always a cautious note to that, because you haven’t seen them in actual games.
"We’ve had to sit and wait until we’ve seen the real thing – playing in games. Rafa started against Peterborough in a friendly game, and he immediately took our breath away. He was absolutely magnificent and we knew then he had a real chance."
A foreign teenager making his debut season in English football is always going to be afforded the odd mistake, but Rafael's displays - in big games in particular - have convinced the United manager that he has a real star in the making on his hands.
"I think there’ve maybe been a couple of defining moments for us," he said. "We were playing the cautious game ourselves – maybe play him in one game, then leave him out – but then he came on against Arsenal and changed the complexion of the game on that side of the field.
"I thought he came on with an urgency to win the match for us. Every time the ball was on that side of the pitch, he was like a rat up a drainpipe. Everything seemed to happen at electric speed, and his tackling and urgency to get forward and play quickly… he was absolutely outstanding.
"It was marvellous to see a young kid come on in a big game like that and he took it by the scruff of the neck really. Then his performance against Manchester City at Eastlands, it goes a long way to convince you that the boy’s ready for it all.
"He’s coping with everything, his defensive work is improving all the time, he’s got a fantastic spring, and he’s just getting better all the time. Our gut feeling has been justified, really."
Rafael's sensational form, allied to a continuation of Gary Neville's niggling injuries of the last 18 months, has meant less first-team outings for the club captain, who had previously made the right-back spot his own with over a decade of unerring service.
"What we’re doing with Gary is not rushing him in every game," said the manager. "He’s 34 in February, he’s been out for a year and a half, so measuring his comeback, as we are doing, is definitely benefiting him. Last week (against Blackburn), he was outstanding.
"Gary was a young player here also, and he knows exactly what happens when a player like Rafa breaks into the club. When they’ve got outstanding form and ability like that, there’s not a lot you can do about it.
"It’s a great aspect of the game that a young boy can turn the corner and take someone’s place, and at the moment the performances of Rafa have been keeping Gary out, for the simple reason the boy’s been outstanding."
Hoops do Reds a favour
United's surprise draw against Aalborg was rendered irrelevant in the race to top Group E, thanks to Celtic's comfortable victory over second-placed Villarreal.
Although the Hoops' dismal away form has cost them European football for the remainder of the season, their fine home form continued with a win over the Spaniards, courtesy of goals from Shaun Maloney and Aiden McGeady.
Arsenal, England's other representatives in action on Wednesday, were embroiled in their own battle for top spot. A weakened Gunners side travelled to Porto, vying for top spot of Group G, and came out second best after a 2-0 defeat.
The game of the evening came in Group F, where Bayern Munich roared into a 3-0 lead at Lyon, but were left nervously clinging onto a 3-2 victory.
Real Madrid, in their first match under Juande Ramos, strolled to a 3-0 victory over Zenit St Petersburg, but could only finish runners-up in Group H after table-topping Juventus drew with FC BATE.
In Tuesday's action, Chelsea overcame Cluj to advance as Group A runners-up behind Roma, while Liverpool's win at PSV Eindhoven ensured their status as Group D winners ahead of Atletico Madrid.
Internazionale were already assured of progress from Group B but, after a defeat at Werder Bremen, had to settle for a runners-up spot behind Panathinaikos, who overcame Anorthosis.
The shock result of the final round of fixtures came at Camp Nou, where Barcelona - already guaranteed Group C winners - were overcome 3-2 by Shakhtar Donetsk. Runners- up Sporting Lisbon, meanwhile, won at rock-bottom Basle.
Boss: We must take our chances
Sir Alex Ferguson says United cannot afford to keep missing chances after seeing his side held to a 2-2 draw with Aalborg on Wednesday.
The Reds got off to the perfect start when Carlos Tevez fired home after just three minutes. Michael Jakobsen drew the visitors level on 31 minutes, before Jeppe Curth headed the Danes in front on the stroke of half-time. Wayne Rooney made it 2-2 seven minutes after the restart, slotting home Anderson's threaded through ball.
Although delighted to be through to the Champions League knock-out stages as group winners, Sir Alex remains concerned over his team's missed opportunities.
"As we've experienced recently and again against Aalborg we're missing too many chances," the boss told MUTV. "It is a concern and we hope it doesn't last too long because it could cost us.
"We had three great chances in the first 15 minutes and should have been three up.
"Football can kick you in the teeth sometimes and we lost a really scrappy first goal. They got another right on half-time because too many of our players were up the pitch - it was a bad time to lose a second.
"We had more control in the second half and made some good chances. But we didn't take them, which as I've already said is a concern.
"We keep saying someone will suffer, but we need to concentrate more in the last third of the field and turn the good bits of football we're playing into good goals."
Wayne wanted more
Wayne Rooney had mixed emotions after scoring in the Reds' 2-2 draw against Danish minnows Aalborg on Wednesday night.
After taking the lead in the third minute, United conceded twice before half-time before Rooney equalised for the Reds on 52 minutes.
“We try and win every home game so it’s disappointing to draw, especially after taking the lead so early,” Rooney told Sky Sports.
“We’re really disappointed we didn’t get the three points, but we came out in the second half, got the equaliser and could have gone on and won the game. That didn’t happen but thankfully we still topped the group.”
When United met Aalborg back in September the Reds outclassed the Danes in every department. At Old Trafford on Wednesday night, however, it was a different story.
“We know we can play a lot better but Aalborg were definitely an improved side. They’d gone 10 games unbeaten before they came here. That said, with the quality we have, we should be beating them.
“In the first half the tempo of our play wasn’t quick enough. We were caught on the counter-attack far too many times.”
In the end, it was left to Rooney to rescue a point for the Reds. He slotted home coolly after latching onto a precise ball from Brazilian midfielder Anderson.
“It was a great ball from Anderson,” Rooney said. “We know he’s capable of things like that and if he can do that more often then he’ll be a truly world-class player.”
Bring 'em on
United could face one of Europe’s big guns in the first knockout phase of this season’s Champions League.
The Reds’ 2-2 draw against Aalborg BK on Wednesday night cemented top spot in Group E and ensured United’s opponents in the last 16 would be a side that finished second in their group.
This season, however, those possibilities include Internazionale, Sporting Lisbon, Atletico Madrid, Olympique Lyonnais and Real Madrid. United can’t face another English side (Chelsea or Arsenal) or the second-placed side from Group E (Villarreal).
The draw will take place at 11:00 GMT on Friday 19 December in Nyon, France.
“There aren’t any easy ones. Maybe it would have been better to have finished second!” Sir Alex joked.
“The positive is that our second leg will be at home so we hope we’ll have a real chance and come back to Old Trafford to play in front of a big crowd and a good atmosphere. In that situation we want to take on anyone.
“But you look at all the possibilities and they could all be difficult. The important thing is that we’re in the next round, we’ve got the track record, we’ve got the players. Let’s go and have a go.”
Tevez talks ongoing
Alamak till now still talking abt the deal i tot seal long ago!Negotiations to make Carlos Tevez a permanent addition to United's squad are ongoing, but Sir Alex Ferguson is far from frustrated.
The Argentine is in the second half of a two-year loan deal at Old Trafford, Although both parties are openly keen to make the deal a bonafide transfer, the slow progress has stirred press suggestions of discontent from the media.
However, Sir Alex says: "It’s not as if we’re short on negotiations – there have been negotiations. We all know that sometimes that can take a long time, and this one is just going along. David [Gill] has been talking to his agent and it’s best left to David, he’s good at that. I’m used to this over the years, well used to it. You just have to be patient."
The media consensus is that Tevez has had to be patient in a playing capacity this season, playing the role of disgruntled subsitute behind first-choice partnership of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov. Statistics paint a different picture, however. The Argentine has 12 starts this term, two less than Berbatov and five less than Rooney, and Sir Alex admits such squad rotation is a necessary evil.
"It’s not difficult," he said. "When you have a squad of players, everyone gets a share of games. The important thing is that Carlos is making a great contribution. He’s started a few games. We’re only halfway through the season, and by the end of the season you’ll see, when it’s all down in print, how many games he’s actually participated in.
"There’s not one player who’s played all the games. They’ve all had minutes on the clock and they’ve all had some time on the bench. Some haven’t been involved at all in some games, and that’s exactly what happens nowadays in the modern use of your squad rotation."
Last edited by melvin; 11th December 2008 at 04:41 PM.
Think its hard to convince Tevez to stay at the moment as he is not playing regularly.
Last edited by afbug; 12th December 2008 at 12:43 AM.
Who are... Adelaide Utd?
Adelaide are up and running at the FIFA Club World Cup after beating Waitakere 2-1 in Thursday's tournament opener. If they also defeat Gamba Osaka, they'll play United in the semi-finals. But what's their story?
The Australian A-League’s second-oldest club were founded in 2003 and finished top of the revamped league during their inaugural season in the competition in 2005/06. The fledgling side have come a huge distance in such a short spell, even enticing Brazilian legend Romario to play four games for them in 2006/07.
How did they get to Japan?
Australia’s A-League winners beat Uzbekistan champions Bunyodkor 3-1 to become the first Aussie side to play in the Asian Champions League final – where they came a cropper over two legs to Gamba Osaka. However, they qualified for a play-off spot as the highest-placed non-Japanese side in the Asian Champions League.
The boss: Aurelio Vidmar
Vidmar, a Socceroos favourite who won 53 caps, took over in 2007. “I’m sure I’ll make some mistakes along the way, but I’ll learn from them.”
“We’re hoping for success over Gamba, and then on to United,” said Dodd, before Adelaide beat Waitakere!
Tomorrow 1.25am Live on TV.
Tottenham vs Man Utd
13 December 2008
13:45 Al-Ahly vs Pachuca
Winners of this tie will meet LDU Quito. (South Amercian Champs)
14 December 2008
19:30 Adelaide United Vs Gamba Osaka
Winners of this tie will meet Man Utd. (Euro Champs)
If both Man Utd and LDU win their matches, they will contest the finals.