A superb Michael Owen hat-trick helped Manchester United FC clinch top spot in Group B with a 3-1 win at VfL Wolfsburg which denied the hosts a place in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages.
The German champions knew they had to at least match PFC CSKA Moskva's result against Beşiktaş JK to join United in the first knockout round. However, despite Edin Džeko's 56th-minute header cancelling out Owen's first-half opener, the English international struck twice in the closing stages to extend United's remarkable unbeaten run to 15 away games in the UEFA Champions League and leave Wolfsburg contemplating a place in the UEFA Europa League.
The initial enthusiasm of the home fans was matched by their team as Wolfsburg made a high-tempo start. Back after a two-match suspension, Grafite brought an early save from Tomasz Kuszczak before Michael Carrick, one of three midfielders in the United defence, stepped across smartly to halt a penetrating Makoto Hasebe run.
Given the makeshift nature of the visitors' defence it was no surprise that gaps appeared. Andrea Barzagli was left unmarked at a corner, but the Italian defender could not keep his header down, and there was an identical outcome when Sascha Riether's deep cross found Zvjezdan Misimović similarly unattended in the box. The groans of disappointment that accompanied the ball as it sailed over the bar were adequate testament to a second gilt-edged opportunity that had gone begging.
United's response was piecemeal. Darron Gibson flashed a well-struck shot wide, and when Daniel Welbeck stroked the ball into the net after Anderson had threaded through a delightful pass, the offside flag meant parity was preserved. An acrobatic Kuszczak tip-over from Hasebe's drive kept United's goal intact before opportunism of the highest order gave the visitors the lead just before the break. Nani cut inside to deliver an inswinging cross from the left, and Owen's anticipation did the rest, the England striker getting in front of Marcel Schäfer to head past Diego Benaglio for his second goal in this season's competition.
With CSKA leading at half-time in Istanbul, Wolfsburg knew greater efforts were required, and coach Armin Veh was provided with the response he had no doubt asked for during the interval. A sharp one-two with Christian Gentner gave Schäfer room to cross, and the full-back's pinpoint centre was met by Džeko, whose powerful header left Kuszczak helpless. The goal buoyed the crowd and the home side as they were both infused with renewed hope, which another fine save from the goalkeeper, turning aside Grafite's well-hit shot, failed to diminish.
Ricardo Costa then headed over before Carrick's last-ditch lunge denied substitute Ashkan Dejagah a clean strike on goal. It was United, though, who would find the net again to end the contest and Wolfsburg's ambitions. Owen first slotted in from close range after excellent work by Gabriel Obertan and – just seconds after Riether had narrowly failed to connect with a cross – Owen then capped a lightning counterattack with a cool chip over Benaglio to complete his hat-trick.
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