Manchester United FC again found Lisbon a happy hunting ground as they got their UEFA Champions League campaign off to a perfect start with a 1-0 win at Sporting Clube de Portugal, thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's diving header against his former club.
The winger scored the only goal two minutes past the hour after United had withstood early pressure to give his side a welcome away victory in Group F, following on from last year's success in the Portuguese capital against SL Benfica. United will seek to build on this result when AS Roma visit Old Trafford on 2 October, when Sporting travel to FC Dynamo Kyiv.
Sporting had overcome FC Internazionale Milano on Matchday 1 last season and again started with confidence against high-quality opponents, with the home midfield especially prominent in the early stages. Leandro Romagnoli's shot was deflected over and the industrious Italian was involved again when setting up João Moutinho for a 25-metre attempt straight at Edwin van der Sar. United's first sight of goal was also from outside the area, but Ronaldo's aim with a free-kick was wayward.
Ronaldo, making his first appearance against the side he had left in 2003, forced the first save from Vladimir Stojković in the 24th minute – the Sporting goalkeeper pushing his low effort out for a corner after the United winger had cut in from the right. Anderson Polga then got in on the action, trying his luck from distance by sending a shot whistling past Van der Sar's left-hand upright.
The Dutchman then had to fly to his left to tip Liedson's strike from the edge of the box around the post after it had flicked off the toe of Wes Brown. It was past the half-hour before the other former Sporting star in United's ranks, Nani, made his first major contribution – although he promptly came close to scoring against the team he left in June, his well-struck shot deflecting narrowly wide.
United were determined to improve on last term's away form in this competition, when they lost four out of six games on their travels, and they began the second half strongly. Wayne Rooney just failed to connect with Patrice Evra's cross. Sporting coach Paulo Bento hoped to give his side better attacking options with the introduction of Simon Vukčević but it was United captain Ryan Giggs who was unable to take advantage of the clearest opening of the night yet, nodding Ronaldo's cross over when unmarked.
On 62 minutes the visitors did finally take the lead, Ronaldo meeting Brown's inviting right-wing centre with an excellent diving header. The Portuguese international declined to celebrate and the home crowd sportingly applauded when the goalscorer's name was announced. The hosts continued to search for a way through, Van der Sar producing a superb stop to keep out Tonel's header, but when Yannick Djaló blazed the rebound over Sporting's last chance had gone.