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Manchester United defeats Braga after amazing comeback

posted 23 Oct 2012, 15:38 by Meriposa World   [ updated 23 Oct 2012, 15:38 ]

Old Trafford, England 

Only once before had Manchester United won when two goals behind in the Champions League: the famous night in Turin when Roy Keane dragged them to a 3-2 victory over Juventus that led the way to the 1999 final. On 75 minutes of an evening that again did nothing to ease the heart rates of the home support Javier Hernández was the man who changed this statistic, the Mexican's head connecting with a sweeping Tom Cleverley cross from the right to give United the lead.

There were further scares for them. An 80th-minute corner from Alan, who scored both Braga's goals, skimmed over the area before the ball found a route safely into the hands of David de Gea, as United ended proceedings as they began: living dangerously.

The first half continued the thrills and spills in attack and the defensive mishaps that have been the Manchester United movie this season.

Even by their sluggish standards the start was dire. The clock showed 80 seconds as they fell behind to an Alan header after Michael Carrick – who would later be hoodwinked for the visiting captain's second – conceded a corner in the second minute. This was defended well but, when play continued and the ball broke to Hugo Viana, a swinging delivery from the left found the head of Alan, who got ahead of Alexander Büttner to give his side the lead.

This was the eighth time in 12 outings Sir Alex Ferguson's men have trailed during this campaign. Worse was to follow as a stunned United saw their deficit doubled. This time Carrick, playing as an auxiliary central defender, was the patsy in a Cruyff turn smoothly executed by Eder down the left. The striker cruised towards De Gea's goal, then rolled the ball into Alan whose finish was expert.

For each of these goals the space United allowed when turned was the issue, a problem that continued until half-time.

For the home congregation normal service was partially resumed after 25 minutes. Robin van Persie's tricky footwork moved him inside from the left. He was chopped down by Leandro Salino, the visiting right-back but the referee, Milorad Mazic, played advantage as the ball found Shinji Kagawa. After a look up he floated a cross on to Hernández's head and, though Beto parried the ball, it followed him over the line.

Van Persie followed this with a neat chest-down and swivel-then-shot, though it went wide. There were other moments when United might have drawn level: Wayne Rooney's probing down the right with Rafael da Silva went unrewarded and Büttner's mazy run into the Braga area might have won a penalty as he fell.

Hernández might have had a second when Van Persie again hurt the visitors down their right – this time his tipped attempt was saved by Beto. But a jittery rearguard that has plagued the Reds this season was again evident when a regulation clearing header from Da Silva was instead spooned behind to give Braga a corner.

With all six of the available points so far gathered Sir Alex Ferguson had been content before the visit of the Portuguese. "Given our defensive injuries we are in a stronger position in Europe than I might have expected," he told United Review. "The main aim tonight is to make sure we don't waste our advantage and get the points which almost see us through. A win would take us to nine points, just one point from my target of 10 with three games left."

While the holy grail of 10 points does not always guarantee passage in the competition as Manchester City learned last season, Rio Ferdinand, whose role in the proposed breakaway black players' union is yet to be clarified, was on the bench, with no place at all for Scott Wootton, who might have been give a full Champions League debut alongside Jonny Evans but was not included in the 18-man squad.

Ferguson had lined his side up in a diamond shape for the second time running in this group stage, with Rooney at the tip behind Van Persie and Hernández. This dynamic changed when Nani replaced Kagawa for the start of the second half, possibly due to the knock he had taken during the opening period, and Rooney moved to the left.

With Nani on the right, Ferguson's men were now operating in a more orthodox 4-4-1-1, flat across midfield. After Da Silva won a free-kick down the right for which Elderson was booked, Van Persie stung Beto's fingers with a curving attempt from the angle.

Rooney was next up, first pinging in an attempted through-ball into Van Persie's run that was blocked, then offering the collectors' item of a cross with his left foot that did find the Dutchman, though again danger was cleared.

But Braga failed to do so for Evans's equaliser. A Van Persie corner was flicked off Carrick's back and, when the Irishman's air-shot missed the ball, it rebounded off Alan and this time Evans scrambled it home.

By Jamie Jackson, The Guardian, October 24, 2012