Manchester United had to come from behind once again to beat Braga thanks to goals from Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez which secures their qualification to the knockout stages.
The last time the two teams met, Braga took a surprise 2-0 lead early on at Old Trafford but went on to lose the game 3-2. A similar pattern took in Portugal tonight after Braga took the lead, only to be denied by three late United goals in a game that also saw a 12 minute delay because of power failures in the second half.
The first-half never really got going as neither side managed to create chances and there was no surprise when the two teams went in at the break level-pegging at 0-0. The best chance of the half came from the home side when a Antonio Eder header hit the post. Apart from that, no chances were created in the opening 45 minutes at the Estadio Municipal de Braga.
Luckily for the spectators and the travelling fans, the second half was a lot better and a lot more action packed despite having a 12 minute break when there seemed to be a power cut at the stadium which saw all the floodlights go off.
Just before the power failure, Braga took a deserved lead thanks to an Alan penalty after Johnny Evans was penalised for obstructing De Castro Custodio. Alan’s goal saw him score his third goal in two games against the English side, but once again, his goal ended up meaning nothing.
With their tails up, Braga looked confident to go on and win the game, but a power failure just before the hour mark meant both teams had to leave the field of play and they didn’t make their way back onto the pitch until 12 minutes after. This might have been the turning point in the game as after the players returned, Braga didn’t look the same and United looked more inspired to go on and win the game.
Manchester United were made to wait for their equaliser, but in the 80th minute they got it when Robin Van Persie pounced on an error from Braga goalkeeper, Beto. As Robin Van Persie picked up the ball outside the box, he turned and realised the keeper was way off his line, which left the Dutchman the simple job of lobbing the advanced goalkeeper, which he did with ease. The goal left the Braga manager fuming on the touchline as he couldn’t believe what his goalkeeper was doing so far out of his goal.
Five minutes later, it got worse for Braga as Wayne Rooney was taken down in the box after a rash challenge from Braga defender, Nuno Andre. Rooney, who missed his last penalty, picked himself up and smashed the ball past Beto to make it 2-1 to United. What looked like a great penalty was actually proven wrong by the replays as it showed that Rooney had actually slipped in his run-up and was quite lucky to see his strike hit the top of the net.
To top things off for the travelling side, Javier Hernandez put the game to bed with a 90th minute goal after some dodgy footwork by the Mexican. As the loose-ball fell to Hernandez’s feet, he then side-stepped the keeper and tried to walk it into the back of the net, but was denied on the line by a Braga defender, but luckily for the little Mexican, he was able to stab a foot out and send the ball finally into the back of the net.
The 3-1 win has seen Manchester United qualify for the last 16 with two games to spare. This is exactly what Sir Alex Ferguson wanted as it now gives him a chance to play some of his youngster in the next two games. He will also be happy that they have got through to the knockout stages, as it is something they couldn’t achieve last year.
Manchester United midfielder and veteran, Ryan Giggs, spoke after the game about the disappointment they felt after not progressing last year:
“I think we were all disappointed [we didn’t progress from the group stage last year]. It was not good enough and we knew we had to do something about it and we have. Long may it continue.
“We have really good strength in depth at the moment and it shows with Chris Smalling playing his first game in a long time tonight. It is good to have that strength when you have two games in a week and it is looking good for us.”
Alex William Batt