It was a case of so near yet so far for CFR 1907 Cluj as they became the first Romanian side to win at Old Trafford but still fell short in their quest to claim a place in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.
Paulo Sérgio's men began a chilly night needing to better Galatasaray AŞ's result at SC Braga and with Luís Alberto's spectacular 56th-minute goal and some fine goalkeeping from Mário Felgueiras, they had their target in sight. Then came Galatasaray's late clincher in Portugal, the Turkish club edging CFR out courtesy of their superior head-to-head record with the teams tied on ten points.
With United already guaranteed top spot and fielding a youthful lineup with one eye on Sunday's Manchester derby, this was all about CFR's attempt to become Romania's first UEFA Champions League group stage survivors. Instead they can look forward to UEFA Europa League football in February – the first time they have prolonged their European campaign beyond Christmas.
The early exchanges showed why Sir Alex Ferguson has been critical of his side's defensive efforts this term. Chris Smalling sliced a clearance straight to Rafael Bastos, but his deflected effort was kept out by the feet of David de Gea. Scott Wootton erred next, giving the ball to Gabriel Mureşan. Some neat interplay involving Mureşan, Rafael Bastos and Modou Sougou put the Senegal striker in the clear on the right of United's area but Wootton made amends with a fine block.
Making his first UEFA Champions League start, the 21-year-old Wootton was one of nine players aged 24 or younger in United's first XI, the only exceptions being Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs, the latter making his first appearance since turning 39 last week.
Old Trafford was subdued but United had their chances. Danny Welbeck robbed Ionuţ Rada and Tom Cleverley ran through only for Felgueiras to save at his feet. Felgueiras foiled Javier Hernández next before getting a hand to Welbeck's glanced header. It was United's best spell and ended with Smalling putting a free header wide.
At half-time CFR were above Galatasaray in the standings and their hopes rose even higher with Luís Alberto's stunning strike. The Brazilian had never scored a goal in UEFA competition yet broke his duck in fine style. Following substitute Paul Scholes's wayward pass, he surged forward and swerved a shot in off the right post from 25 metres. A memorable goal but, sadly for CFR and their small but noisy cluster of fans, not quite enough.
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