A first-half goal from Milenko Ačimovič helped LOSC Lille Métropole secure a fine 1-0 victory over Manchester United FC on Wednesday, a result which brings the French side right into contention in UEFA Champions League Group D.
Level on points
The Slovenian's goal, which was Lille's first in the competition, came six minutes before the break in a tight, keenly-contested game at the Stade de France. Lille's first win of the campaign puts them level on five points with United, but ahead in second place with a better head-to-head record. Villarreal CF top the pool with six points after defeating SL Benfica, on four.
Lille lined up with a more attacking team than the one that gained a goalless draw at Old Trafford, as they looked to open their Champions League goal account in their fourth outing. Geoffrey Dernis replaced defender Milivoje Vitakić to provide width on the left, while Ačimovič played as a second forward just behind Matt Moussilou.
Claude Puel's selection almost bore fruit in the opening minutes, as Dernis broke goal-side of John O'Shea and delivered a low cross just too far in front of Mathieu Debuchy. Ačimovič then flicked a pass cleverly to Moussilou who snatched at his shot and fired over. It was a confident start from Lille but the visitors, who conceded four against Middlesbrough FC at the weekend, held firm at the back.
Perhaps with the intention of offering added protection to his defence, Sir Alex Ferguson brought Kieran Richardson into a three-man central midfield in the absence of the suspended Paul Scholes. Wayne Rooney was back from his ban, however, and he helped create United's first chance for Cristiano Ronaldo, who scuffed a shot straight at Tony Sylva.
With much of the game being played in the central third, both sides struggled to find space. Lille did not hesitate to try their luck from distance but Mathieu Bodmer, Moussilou and Dernis all failed to keep their strikes down. Meanwhile, Ruud van Nistelrooij, United's captain for the evening, cut an isolated figure in attack.
The moment the Lille fans had been craving since the start of their team's European adventure arrived seven minutes before the interval. Captain Grégory Tafforeau was the inspiration, bursting out of defence and playing a low pass into the area from the left side. Ačimovič ghosted between United's central defenders and side-footed a crisp shot past Edwin van der Sar.
Their spirits visibly lifted by the goal, Lille started the second half in determined fashion and soon threatened to score again. After Alan Smith had brought Ačimovič down on the edge of the box, Tafforeau fired a curling free-kick that was brilliantly tipped over by Van der Sar. Moments later, Wes Brown cut out Dernis's visionary pass at full stretch to deny Moussilou a clear opening.
Just as Lille were starting to dominate their more illustrious opponents, United came within a whisker of equalising. Rooney's left-wing corner was diverted on to the underside of the bar by a combination of Ronaldo and Van Nistelrooij before Dernis chested the ball off the line.
Lille were content to soak up pressure and look to counterattack, a ploy which almost paid dividends on 71 minutes when Bodmer surged through midfield and found Debuchy whose cross was headed over by Moussilou. United had one golden opportunity to claim a valuable point towards the end, but substitute Ji-Sung Park drove wide after a rare lapse in the heart of the Lille defence.