Blast from evergreen Giggs puts United back on track in Lisbon

Benfica 1 (Cardozo 24) Manchester United 1 (Giggs 42)

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The Independent Online


The absorbing aspect of Manchester United's new journey revolves around those players who are young and new. But on a balmy evening when the start of Sir Alex Ferguson's 18th European quest was going badly wrong against a Benfica side of individual excellence, Ryan Giggs, 38 in November, quietly took down a ball and thumped in another goal which redeemed United.

Giggs thus moved past Denis Law in United's pantheon of goalscoring greats and his 29th strike in continental football for Ferguson leaves only Ruud van Nistelrooy ahead of him. He also became the oldest Champions League goalscorer at the age of 37 years and 289, leaving Raul in his wake.

Ferguson will happily take a draw from a match likely to be United's most taxing in Group C, and the performance of goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard will give him most pleasure as he contemplates easier matches to come.

The Dane, making his Champions League debut at the age of 27, offered general composure and the night's finest save in the second half – low and athletic from the dangerous Spanish substitute Nolito – suggesting that the manager has a selection consideration ahead of Chelsea's visit on Sunday.

From the start the heat was on United after a scorching Lisbon day, thanks to the Argentine Nicolas Gaitan. The 23-year-old had shredded Fabio da Silva on Benfica's left within the first half-hour. Chris Smalling, a tower in United's defence, had effectively taken over the Brazilian right-back's role for him, with critical interventions preventing first Gaitan, then Pablo Aimar running through on goal. On 24 minutes that weakness became a crisis.

The Portuguese went ahead through one of the most sublime pieces of football of the week. Gaitan took down a ball on the left and rapidly struck it 20 yards for Oscar Cardozo to chest down, unbalancing Jonny Evans, and strike right-footed past Lindegaard.

The key problem was United's concession of the ball in the final third, so their superior possession counted for nothing and allowed the Portuguese chance after chance. Carrick had been one repeat offender and so was Giggs, allowing Javi Garcia to take possession and then aim before Antonio Valencia made a vital block.

But three minutes before the break Giggs, starting his first game of the season for United, unleashed his shot past Artur from 20 yards and changed the game. The Valencia-Giggs axis might have produced an unlikely second goal minutes into the second half when the Ecuadorean, suddenly causing Maxi Pereira the same problems as Fabio, raced into the area again. His low cross fizzed across the face of goal. We must enjoy Giggs while he lasts.