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Manchester United FC 2-2 Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Bayer 04 Leverkusen twice fought back from behind to earn a 2-2 draw at Manchester United FC in their UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg at Old Trafford. Michael Ballack and Oliver Neuville struck the second-half goals that cancelled out efforts first from Ole Gunnar Solskjær, a deflected shot on the half-hour, and then a Ruud van Nistelrooij penalty midway through the second period.
In truth it was no less than the 1. Bundesliga side deserved for a performance which was a perfect illustration of coach Klaus Toppmöller's passion for attacking football. Beaten on their two previous visits to England this season - against Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC - they started the game with just one striker, Bulgarian international Dimitar Berbatov, but showed no fear and no lack of willingness to push forward.
With United slightly off colour, the visitors were quick to take control of possession and will have felt slightly hard done by to go in 1-0 down at half-time. That said, Van Nistelrooij, Paul Scholes and Solskjær all had good chances to open the scoring, but all shot wide of Hans-Jörg Butt's left-hand post before the deadlock was broken after 29 minutes.
There was more than an element of fortune as Solskjær gathered Van Nistelrooij's pass in the area and drove the ball into Boris Zivkovic. The ball ricocheted off the unfortunate defender, wrong-footed the goalkeeper and bounced into the bottom right-hand corner of his goal. Perhaps United deserved a little luck after watching defender Gary Neville limp off the field after just 18 minutes with what turned out to be a broken metatarsal bone - a similar injury to that suffered by David Beckham in the last round.
More fortune came their way when the unmarked Berbatov headed wide of Barthez's left-hand post from close range after 34 minutes, and Yildiray Bastürk perhaps deserved more when he beat three United defenders only to shoot wide after 42 minutes. Bastürk had two more efforts just after the interval, the first was deflected behind for a corner and the second was woefully off target from distance.
Yet Leverkusen did not have to wait too long to equalise. After 62 minutes, Zé Roberto's cross from the left eluded everyone, including the well-placed Bastürk, but Bernd Schneider gathered the ball on the right, teed it up to Ballack on the penalty spot and roared with approval as his midfield partner hammered the ball past Barthez.
The lead was to last just five minutes when Zé Roberto felled Van Nistelrooij in the area. The Dutch striker picked himself up and calmly blasted the ball low past Butt for his tenth Champions League goal of the campaign. Van Nistelrooij's scoring achievement was a record for a United player in a single European season and matches the best performance by any player in the ten seasons of the Champions League.
Leverkusen show mettle
On another day it might have been the winning goal, but Leverkusen proved once more that their character is second to none in the Champions League as another excellent spell of pressure produced a second equaliser. With 75 minutes gone, the United defence were in disarray as they failed to clear a shot and though Bastürk's subsequent effort was deflected off target the ball bounced to substitute Neuville who needed no second chance to stab the ball past Barthez from close range.
United did their best to recover their lead, bringing on the talismanic Roy Keane and giving Denis Irwin his club-record 70th appearance in European competition but the Leverkusen defence held firm in a frantic closing phase. The near silence that greeted the final whistle at Old Trafford was a sign that, with two away goals against them, United's fans know exactly how hard their team's task at the BayArena promises to be.
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