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Sunday 17 June 2018

Reds ben-efit from error

Benfica 0  Manchester United 1

Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford celebrates with team-mates after scoring against Benfica at the Stadium of Light, Lisbon last night. Photo: Rafael Marchante/Reuters
Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford celebrates with team-mates after scoring against Benfica at the Stadium of Light, Lisbon last night. Photo: Rafael Marchante/Reuters

Manchester United continued their charge towards the Champions League knockout phase as Benfica’s Mile Svilar, the competition’s youngest-ever goalkeeper, was embarrassed by a Marcus Rashford free-kick.

Jose Mourinho arrived at his former club looking to make it three victories from as many Group A matches - a chance to bring back the feel-good factor sorely lacking in Saturday’s uninspiring scoreless draw at Liverpool.

While unable to produce a swashbuckling display, United emerged triumphant in Lisbon as star man Rashford caught out fellow teenager Svilar with a free-kick that secured the visitors a narrow 1-0 win.

The deciding moment was a nightmare for the 18-year-old on the night he replaced Real Madrid great Iker Casillas as the youngest-ever goalkeeper to start a Champions League match.

Only tested by a low Nemanja Matic drive in a tepid first half, United upped the ante after the break led by the former Benfica midfielder and 19-year-old star Rashford.

The forward twice called Svilar into action from corners before trying his luck with a 64th-minute free-kick. The out-of-position goalkeeper backpedalled in attempt to stop the whipped effort, but could only carry it over the line.

Rashford’s ingenuity was key and Mourinho will be hoping the injury that forced him off late on is not too serious given the absentees the United boss is already having to juggle.

Victory means United are on the brink of reaching the knockout phase for the first time since 2013-14, whereas Benfica have yet to muster a point at the halfway point of Group A – and, to make matters worse, will be without captain Luisao at Old Trafford after his late sending off.

Their already precarious position meant it was bold to plump for Svilar in goal - a player whose unorthodox diving header clearance was the most exciting moment of a drab start.

It took 15 minutes for the first flicker of quality to bring the first chance. Benfica left-back Alex Grimaldo showed great skill and awareness when bombing down the flank before sending in a cross that Eduardo Salvio drilled wide.

Romelu Lukaku responded with a header that smashed back off the crossbar, but referee Felix Zwayer whistled for an infringement as the match returned to its plodding pace.

There was a brief period of United attacking excitement before the break as Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan missed the target either side of a Matic low attempt that Svilar denied - the only shot on target in a dire opening period.

Ander Herrera drilled wide and Rashford saw a hopeful effort denied when play resumed, with the latter soon showing exceptional skill to take Douglas off his feet out wide.

Matic flashed over from long range and Rashford twice threatened Benfica’s teenage goalkeeper directly from corners as United pushed for the opener that still evaded them.

However, their 19-year-old forward had found a chink in Svilar’s armour and made it count from a free-kick out wide, catching the teenager out of position as the goalkeeper failed to stop the ball crossing the line.

Rashford would soon limp off to be replaced by Anthony Martial, with the in-form substitute swiftly showing great skill before having a near-post attempt stopped as the match petered out.

Luisao’s second yellow card late on for a late lunge on substitute Scott McTominay compounded a miserable night for Benfica.

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