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On the face of it, Boavista FC could not have caught the 1999 European champions at a more vulnerable moment than after last Saturday’s stunning home reverse to Chelsea FC.
High calibre players
Manchester United FC are lurching from one poor result to another yet any team that can boast players of the calibre of Juan Sebastián Veron, Ruud van Nistelrooij and Roy Keane are surely nobody's pushover.
Unlucky in Munich
Furthermore, however badly things may be going domestically - and the defeat to Chelsea was the English champions' fifth of the season already - they come into this game in good form from a European point of view. No one would dispute that they were a little unlucky not to beat the current UEFA Champions League holders in Munich a fortnight ago, when FC Bayern München equalised with three minutes of normal time remaining.
It does not take a tactical genius to work out United's weakness at the moment: since the surprise departure of Jaap Stam, United have looked desperately insecure in central defence which, in turn, has led to defensive blunders, most notably by goalkeeper Fabien Barthez. On Saturday Sir Alex Ferguson came up with his tenth centre-back pairing of the season - Roy Keane and Laurent Blanc - in an attempt to shore things up, only for United’s lack of pace at the back to again be cruelly exposed by Chelsea’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen.
It would be only natural if Boavista were excitedly anticipating an historic first victory away from home in the Champions League to consolidate their opening victory in the second group stage at home to FC Nantes Atlantique. The tactic for this game will be the same as for all the others: hit the opposition early and hold on, which they very nearly succeeded in doing on their first visit to England earlier this season when drawing 1-1 with Liverpool FC.
The draw away to Bayern apart, United have not played well in Europe for some time and indeed have won only four of their last 13 games. What is more, they have kept clean sheets in only four of their last 12 games at home in the UEFA Champions League. After the 3-0 defeat at the weekend, which immediately followed a 3-1 defeat at Arsenal FC, Ferguson conceded the championship, though probably only in a last desperate attempt to gee-up his troops.
"I think there was some nervousness in our play," he said. "That’s understandable when the expectations at this club are great and the players are aware of those expectations. Every team makes errors, but we are making too much of a habit of it."
Boavista have not exactly been at their best domestically either, taking just one point from their last two games and conceding the leadership of the Portuguese league to FC Porto. They lost 2-0 away in a bruising encounter with Sporting Clube de Portugal, which saw both a Boavista player - Elpídeo Silva - and the coach - Jaime Pacheco - sent off. And then in last weekend’s game, away to SC Salgueiros, they drew 1-1 after Márcio Dos Santos missed two easy chances.
In just their second Champions League campaign Boavista have succeeded in reaching the second group stage. Their first campaign was in 1999/00 where they went out in the first stage, finishing bottom of Group C, which included Rosenborg BK, Feyenoord and BV Borussia Dortmund.
The Portuguese side's overall record in the competition has seen them win four of their 13 games, losing five and drawing four times. Boavista have never played United, indeed they have only faced English opposition on two occasions - this season's two 1-1 draws with Liverpool FC in the first group stage. However several other historical factors favour United, who have averaged 4.55 goals a game in nine meetings with Portuguese teams and have won all four home games, the most recent against FC Porto five seasons ago.
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