Football: Keane off target as Benfica spoil the party

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Manchester United. .0

Benfica. . . . . . .1

WHAT a relief to remember without regret. A year ago this fixture would have provided an arrow to fire at Manchester United, a club forced to wallow in nostalgia after 26 years of fruitlessly chasing the championship. Now, winning the Premier League has removed the burden of living up to the past.

The rebuilt Stretford End could embrace the past glory of 1968 without reason for self-recrimination. United met Benfica yesterday to mark the European Cup final of 25 years ago warmed by the prospect of a challenge for the champions' trophy next month.

George Best did his bit to revive the Sixties by failing to attend and Tony Dunne also sent his apologies, but the rest of the team who won the European Cup at Wembley were there, plus David Herd. The match programme too harked back, printing a full list of teams and results from 1967-68.

Only the manager, Alex Ferguson, was casting his gaze forward. 'It is fitting Benfica should be our visitors, not only to celebrate the 25th anniversary. . . but to remind our League champions that they haven't matched the glory days of Sir Matt Busby. There is still the European Cup to be won.'

Roy Keane, United's pounds 3.75m summer signing from Nottingham Forest, could also not afford to rest on his laurels on his home debut, but a few surging runs and one perfect penalty-area pass to Andrei Kanchelskis apart, he was sucked into the general lethargy of a team who seemed all too aware that this was a friendly.

Without Paul Ince and Eric Cantona, their most influential players last season, they spent much of the match defending while relying on solo raids by Ryan Giggs. Only Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes showed any urgency.

Benfica were much the better side, causing their handful of supporters to break out into the Portuguese version of 'You're supposed to be at home'. The reaction of the United fans was to applaud warmly. That, more than anything, showed that nothing was at stake.

The visitors could have gone ahead after 12 minutes when Isaias blazed over with Peter Schmeichel striving to regain his position after diving at Rui Aguas's feet. The goalkeeper was also fortunate when swerving shots from Rui Costa and Isaias hit his body. Third time was not so lucky, however. Sergei Yuran, one of nine Benfica substitutes, seemed to be wandering aimlessly around the midfield in the 57th minute. Yet he recovered his wits to shoot suddenly from 25 yards and comprehensively beat Schmeichel.

It was left to Keane to miss United's best chance, heading over from six yards with virtually an open goal at his mercy. The fanzine Red Issue found United's only cutting edge of the afternoon: a reminder that their neighbours City have not won the championship for 26 years. What a difference a year makes.

Manchester United: P Schmeichel; P Parker, D Irwin, S Bruce, A Kanchelskis, G Pallister, B Robson (B Thornley, 85 min), R Keane, B McClair (D Ferguson, 65 min), M Hughes (D Dublin, 65 min), R Giggs. Manager: A Ferguson.

Benfica: Neno; Abel Xavier, Mozer, William, Veloso, Helder, Vitor Paneira, Joao Pinto, Rui Aguas, Rui Costa, Isaias. Coach: A Oliveira.

Referee: J Worrall (Warrington).

Goal: Yuran (0-1) 57 min.

Arsenal ended their tour of South Africa by beating Kaizer Chiefs 1-0 yesterday, writes Dave Hadfield from Durban. An early goal by Kevin Campbell won the match for the FA Cup holders, who also beat Manchester United and the Soweto team, Orlando Pirates, without conceding a goal.