Champions League – United held by effervescent Porto
Holders Manchester United were held to a 2-2 draw by an impressive Porto side in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie at Old Trafford.
But another second half replacement, Mariano Gonzalez, netted for the visitors in the last minute to put Porto firmly in the driving seat ahead of next week’s return leg at the Estadio do Dragao.
The result saw United extend their unbeaten run in the competition to 22 games but Porto’s formidable home record will now be of real concern to Alex Ferguson, whose team will have to win to keep alive their hopes of retaining the trophy.
The Scot’s opposite number Jesualdo Ferreira had promised the visitors would attack from the outset, and it was clear his words were backed up by substance as Porto flew out of the blocks and went straight for United’s jugular.
From the very first whistle, Porto went on the front foot and in just the third minute, Hulk – a danger throughout – unleashed a powerful drive from distance which Edwin Van der Sar was forced to tip over the bar
The visitors’ forward-thinking was rewarded soon after with the opener on four minutes, Cristian Rodriguez pouncing on a poor Jonny Evans clearance before sidestepping the defender and firing low into the far corner.
United were stunned and they took their time to recover. Rarely do the English and European champions show so clearly they are rattled, but such was their lack of composure after the goal went in, their passing game suffered and a number of passes uncharacteristically went astray.
Porto nearly capitalised, Lisandro Lopez bringing Van der Sar into action again with a well-struck effort on six minutes.
With so many passes failing to reach their intended targets, United were by and large impotent going forward, although Helton was finally called on to deny Cristiano Ronaldo a header on 14 minutes.
It was a decent save by the Porto keeper, but there was nothing he could do moments later when a moment of madness from defender Bruno Alves handed United an equaliser on a plate.
The Portugal international committed the cardinal sin of making a blind back pass; if he had looked before playing the ball back to Helton, he would have seen Rooney sneaking up behind him.
The United striker gratefully accepted the gift, running onto the ball before dinking it over the keeper and into the back of the net.
But the hosts failed to use the goal as a springboard to taking control of the game – Porto’s fearless display could take a great deal of credit for that.
The Portuguese champions continued to attack at every opportunity and were unlucky not to re-take the lead before the first half was out, Rodriguez twice going close with headers and Hulk seeing a long-range shot bounce wide.
After the break, United’s uncertainty on the ball initially persisted, but eventually they did begin to enjoy more possession and with that came chances to grab a winner.
After Park Ji-Sung had stung the gloves of Helton, Rooney gave the hosts a lift with an exquisite attempted lob which the furiously backpeddling Porto keeper was forced to tip over the bar.
From the resulting corner Nemanja Vidic, who along with Rooney and Paul Scholes returned to the United line-up from suspension, thumped a header goalwards but again Helton was alert enough to make the save.
At the other end, Lopez saw a deflected shot trouble Van der Sar before Aly Cissokho blasted on target from distance.
The visitors had a big penalty shout turned down on 74 minutes when Tevez, on in the 72nd minute for Scholes, appeared to bring down Hulk at the by-line in the box.
A relieved Tevez went on to lift United spirits on 85 minutes, the Argentine netting from close range after Rooney had flicked on Gary Neville‘s throw into the Porto penalty area.
But the relief around Old Trafford was short-lived as an unmarked Gonzalez finished at the far post four minutes later to give United an uphill battle in next Wednesday’s return leg.