Champions Man United set to miss out on top spot after being held at home by Portuguese


MANCHESTER UNITED manager Sir Alex Ferguson refused to blame his players after two defensive errors cost them three points and almost certainly wrecked their hopes of winning Group C.

An own goal by Phil Jones gave Benfica an early lead and was compounded by a poor kick from goalkeeper David de Gea, which allowed Pablo Aimar to equalise after United had fought back through Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Fletcher.

The draw leaves United in danger of missing out on the Champions League knockout stage altogether, but even if they are still likely to qualify, it will require an upset elsewhere to hand them top spot and a favourable draw.

“I’ve no fault with my players at all. We deserved better. It’s a cruel game at times and it was cruel for us tonight,” said Ferguson.

“It was very disappointing – a bit freakish, to be honest with you – an own goal and then a bad kick out from David De Gea. The chips are down for us but I have every confidence in my team.”

United were without injured striker Wayne Rooney, but still posed the Portuguese visitors ample problems in attack. In defence, however, they were suspect, and bold Benfica took advantage.

The home side fell behind in the third minute when Nicolas Gaitan scurried down the right and whipped in a left-footed cross which youngster Jones tried to intercept but only succeeded in diverting past De Gea.

Both sides traded raids before United levelled on the half hour, when Nani’s cross found Berbatov (left) and the Bulgarian striker headed his first Champions League goal for three years.

A pulsating contest continued to ebb from one end to the other, but United’s growing superiority was rewarded in the 59th minute when Evra crossed and Fletcher stabbed home at the second attempt.

No sooner had Old Trafford’s celebrations ceased, however, than De Gea’s weak kick fell to Bruno Cesar and his low cross hit the off-balance Rio Ferdinand, allowing Aimar to tap the equaliser into an unguarded net.