BENFICA 1, MAN UNITED 1
ON a night when almost half Manchester United’s team had to shake off ring rust, the evergreen Ryan Giggs once again showed there is no substitute for the golden glow of experience.
Giggs, who will be 38 in two and a half months, scored United’s equaliser 18 minutes after Oscar Cardoza had fired Benfica into a 24th minute lead in their Champions League opener at the Stadium of Light.
The Welshman almost gave the Reds a second goal midway through the second half following a dazzling bit of trickery more reminiscent of his younger days as a winger than his current status as United’s elder statesman.
With one eye on Sunday’s Old Trafford encounter against Chelsea, United manager Ferguson gambled on a team containing six players yet to start a first-team game this season.
Giggs was joined by outfield players Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Ji Sung Park and Antonio Valencia, and goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard.
While Giggs, Valencia and Lindegaard produced impressive displays, Carrick, Fletcher and Park found it difficult to blow away the cobwebs of inactivity.
Lone striker Wayne Rooney received too little support up front and was forced to fall back deeper and deeper to hunt for the ball – a feature of his frustration over the years.
Benfica threatened to make United pay for their lack of cohesion in midfield and defence in a first half more than shaded by the Portuguese side.
In Nicolas Gaitan and Pablo Cardoza, they had the sharpest players on the pitch and it was no surprise when the two of them combined superbly to give Benfica the lead.
Gaitan’s almost nonchalent 40-yard pass with the outside of his left foot found Cardoza hovering just outside the United box.
Jonny Evans was turned inside out as Cordoza chested down Gaitan’s pass before sidestepping him to hit a rasping right-foot shot into the top left corner of the net.
United began to stir towards the end of the half and equalised with an equally fine goal.
Valencia touched the ball inside from the left wing to Giggs and the United veteran bore down on the Benfica goal before unleashing a tremendous 25-yard shot into the top right corner of the net.
The Reds were a different proposition after the interval with Valencia, Fletcher and Giggs all having chances to put their side ahead.
Ironically, given United’s penchant for squeezing the life out of opponents in the latter stages of a game, it was Benfica who finished the stronger, and it took two magnificent saves by Lindegaard to deny Gaitan and lively subsitute Nolito.
Ferguson said: “We came back strongly after the break and dominated the opening 30 minutes of the second half, but they were dangerous near the end. When they had possession they did well and when we had possession we did well, but that is what you get from good sides.”
Lindegaard, who will be back on the bench on Sunday, was less conventional with his post-match comments.
“My debut was very amusing. I had great fun and enjoyed it. I was sad I did not stop their goal, but I was satisfied apart from that. I am at United to play and not sit on the bench.”