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Benfica bring United to their knees

Published: Thursday 8 December 2005, 18.05CET
Luisão and Anderson were the defensive rocks that helped SL Benfica to overcome the burden of history against Manchester United FC in Lisbon last night.
by Paul Saffer
from Lisbon features

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Published: Thursday 8 December 2005, 18.05CET

Benfica bring United to their knees

Luisão and Anderson were the defensive rocks that helped SL Benfica to overcome the burden of history against Manchester United FC in Lisbon last night.
The historic burden for SL Benfica's encounter with Manchester United FC could not have been more onerous. Few games have ever lived up to the only previous occasion these teams met in Lisbon, United's 5-1 victory 29 years ago, which resonated even more strongly following the death of that night's hero, George Best.

Run ends
So for Benfica to recover from conceding an early Paul Scholes goal to lead by the 34th minute through Geovanni's diving header and Beto's long-range effort - deflected off Scholes - and then hold on to reach the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds for the first time since 1994/95, meant the pre-match hype was justified, especially as this result ends United's incredible nine-year run of continuous progress from the group stage.

Assured defending
Yet, even in the fervent atmosphere of the Luz, the clue to Benfica's win came not from the record books but the coach on the sidelines, for the Portuguese champions defended with the assurance of Ronald Koeman in his pomp. The Brazilian centre-back partnership of Luisão and Anderson were totemic in the second half, and calm with it.

Superbly-timed tackle
Luisão took on the task of subduing Wayne Rooney, who was eventually moved back into midfield not long after a superbly-timed tackle cut short a run on goal. He also dominated in the air, while Anderson made sure Ruud van Nistelrooij did not take his tally of UEFA Champions League goals even closer to 50.

Collective achievement
Anderson described the victory as a collective achievement. He said: "Van Nistelrooij is a great player, very quick. I was able to do it because all the defensive line were amazing. Benfica played above themselves tonight and this victory gives us great confidence."

'Humbling victory'
Luisão added: "It was a humbling victory. Benfica are becoming a better team with every game and played with great authority. It is true we had many important players out, but we played as a team and the lads who came in for the big names played great."

Fans' support
Of the absentees, the biggest was captain Simão, but the mercurial Geovanni came in on the left and chose last night to perform to the peak of his talents. However, it was a mutual effort, especially in the second half, and both central defenders identified a further factor. "The atmosphere was fantastic," Luisão said. Anderson agreed: "The fans were crucial for us, their support galvanised us."

Queiroz praise
At long last, those fans were able to celebrate a team back among Europe's top 16. United's Portuguese assistant manager Carlos Queiroz was generous in praise for his compatriots, saying: "We started the game by causing them great difficulties, Benfica overcame them and they deserve to go through."

Admirable achievement
Koeman's side may still have much to do if they are to enter the hall of fame with Benfica's 1960s vintages, but in eliminating Manchester United they have at least one achievement to their name that even Eusébio and co could not muster.

Last updated: 08/12/05 15.50CET

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