The theater of dreams (for the 3rd straight match) has turned into the Theater of Nightmares for Manchester United. Two weeks ago Liverpool went into Old Trafford and trounced United 4-1. Just Sunday they came back late to overshadow an off-form Aston Villa in the waning moments.
And tonight United were frankly embarassed. FC Porto came out and showed the initiative- starting in the 3rd minute. In that 3rd minute, Lisandro Lopez stung the palms of Edwin van der Sar by forcing him into a scrambling save. A minute later Ronaldo gave the ball away and Johnny Evans cleared the ball straight to Cristian Rodriguez who cut to his left foot and scored a brilliant goal.
The pressure did not subside however. Porto under the likes of Hulk, Lucho Gonzalez, and especially Rodriguez continued to come at United like they were in just another Portuguese league match.
United soon got wide and sent a great cross into the head of Cristiano Ronaldo who hit a hard, skipping header toward goal. But the much-maligned Porto keeper Helton was up to the task. Then United received a gift of sorts from Bruno Alves (who, in my opinion was the only Porto player to play a bad match). After a United errant pass, Porto passed the ball to the central defender who non-chalantaly passed the ball to a waiting, calculating Wayne Rooney who easily finished the move. This came in the 15th minute and everyone (including myself) thought that it was over for Porto. But United continued to stutter. Things got a little better through the five minutes after the goal but United looked suspect against the counter-attack.
In the 28th minute Porto cut back a ball brilliantly and the midfield general Raul Meireles gave van der Sar some more work to do. His strike was dipping down and van der Sar made a wonderful save on a ball that had to have been going 70+ MPH. The save showed that Porto weren't done and they continued to take the match to the European champions. Then on the ensuing corner no one else but good 'ol Rodriguez got his head on a ball and nearly got it to go. But once again the Dutch goalkeeper was able to keep the ball out of the back of the net.
Shortly after, Porto continued to push with Hulk, who put in a Hulk-like performance on this day. His shot took an unnoticed deflection and the ref wrongly gave a corner. But it was still a sign of intent from Porto. In the 37th minute United made a very nice move and looked to have the match under control. Their close-length passing was very good but the last ball wasn't and Porto escaped. For the rest of the half United were able to put passes together and Porto continued to counter, and counter well. Half-time came and United were lucky to be even at 1-1.
The second half started well for United. They put passes together and desperately were looking for another goal. Ronaldo soon got a low cross in but Helton hold on and got a quick counter going that eventually saw Lopez have a shot saved by the Dutchman again. In the 59th minute Porto realized that they were going to be in for it in the last 30 minutes. Rooney got in a masterful chip but Helton somehow scrambled to make a sprawling save that the Brazilian will tell his grandkids about one day. Then the corner was swung in to Nemanja Vidic who hit a snap header toward goal. But once again Helton came to the rescue.
Porto then realized that they would have to be calculating toward their attacks. 5 minutes later came one of these attacks. Hulk cut in with the left foot and tried to beat van der Sar near post but just hooked it wide. But Porto would continue to come forward. In the 68th, Porto made a move again with Hulk passing the ball to Lopez who once again made United's Dutch goalkeeper save a good shot. The corner came and Rooney cleared it as far as the left back Aly Cissokho's left foot. His shot was hard-hit and it was another doozy of a save from van der Sar.
In the 72nd, Tevez and Neville came on for Scholes and Evans. In the 73rd Fernando once again made a wonderful tackle to take the ball off of Ronaldo, who unsuprisingly pitched a fit about it. Then in the 78th Neville hit the best ball of the match to Rooney who somehow managed to miss the ball all together and that chance was avoided by Porto. Porto then subbed on Tomas Costa and Mariano Gonzalez for Raul Meireles and Cristian Rodriguez.
In the 86th United finally finished their own move. Gary Neville's throw-in was somehow flicked on by Rooney and then Tevez slid it in well. United had the winner and Porto would go to the Dragao down right? Nope. In the 87th minute Porto gained possession and put together 10 consecutive passes followed by a Mariano Gonzalez goal in the 88th minute. No further goals were scored and Porto came away with two wonderful away goals and most importantly they know that they can play with United and that makes them dangerous.
Overall, it was a very entertaining match. It wasn't like a normal European match- it was very open and fun to watch. United didn't look their best but they also didn't look their worst. Porto are a good side and now all they have to do is keep the game at 0-0 or maybe 1-1 and then they will miraculously come out with a second aggregate win in 5 years over the world's greatest club.
Keeper's Man of the Match: Fernando (FC Porto)
Hardest Worker: Hulk (FC Porto)
United's Man of the Match: Edwin van der Sar (Man. U)
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