Bayer 04 Leverkusen 1-2 Manchester United FC
Manchester United FC came away from Bayer 04 Leverkusen with a priceless win in their UEFA Champions League Group F game, but have the goalpost to thank for their three points.
Two goals from Ruud van Nistelrooij had sent United on the way to victory in the first half, but after substitute Dimitar Berbatov pulled a goal back early in the second, it was only the thickness of the post which denied Berbatov a second goal and a point for his side four minutes from time.
Leverkusen played some excellent positive football in the opening period, showing the fluent passing that served them so well in last season's competition only to be repeatedly hit by quick breaks from United.
David Beckham twice had good chances to open the scoring. After 16 minutes, Ryan Giggs played a tempting ball in from the left but the on-rushing United captain miscued his shot off target from the edge of the area.
Over the bar
He came even closer two minutes later as Van Nistelrooij eluded two defenders before rolling the ball across to him, but his clipped shot cleared Frank Juric's crossbar from just inside the penalty area.
When the chance came his way, Van Nistelrooij did not make the same mistake. As United broke quickly again after 31 minutes, a lofted Juan Sebastián Veron ball from the left was misjudged by a Leverkusen defender allowing the Dutch striker to drive through Juric's legs at the far post.
Straight at Barthez
The home side continued to press, and a minute after the first goal, Thomas Brdaric tested Fabien Barthez with a fierce angled drive. But the nearest they came to a goal was when Lucio's 39th-minute free-kick was driven straight into the welcoming arms of Barthez. Five minutes later, they were two goals behind.
Van Nistelrooij again
This time it was a delightful flowing move that undid Leverkusen. Giggs played the ball into the area for Nicky Butt and with defenders swarming around him, he squared for Van Nistelrooij to beat Juric again from barely five metres.
Berbatov on target
Undeterred by the two-goal deficit, Leverkusen emerged fighting after the break, and with the crowd roaring them on, they were back in contention after 52 minutes as an incisive passing move ended with Yildiray Bastürk feeding the ball to Berbatov, allowing him to drive the ball across Barthez and inside the goalkeeper's left-hand post. United looked less menacing up front especially after seeing Diego Forlán replace hamstring victim Van Nistelrooij after the interval.
For the remainder of the game it looked like United would be buried under an avalanche of Leverkusen attacks, but with Rio Ferdinand and Laurent Blanc playing a masterful game in the centre of defence, the home side were somehow denied the goal that their passionate football perhaps deserved.
Agony for Leverkusen
As time ticked down, Bernd Schneider's superb cross from the right finally found a chink in the United armour, but although Berbatov stole between two defenders and beat Barthez with a header, he could not beat the United goalkeeper's right-hand post. With two defeats in succession in Group F, and their next opponents Maccabi Haifa winning 3-0 against Olympiakos Piraeus FC, the future now looks decidedly bleak for Leverkusen.