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Champions League: Elanga to the rescue as United draw at Atletico; Benfica held

February 24, 2022 10:04 IST
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IMAGES from the UEFA Champions League matches played on Wednesday.

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo (2ndL) tackles Atletico de Madrid's Reinildo Mandava (right) during their UEFA Champions League Round Of Sixteen Leg One match at Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid

IMAGE: Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo (2ndL) tackles Atletico de Madrid's Reinildo Mandava (right) during their UEFA Champions League Round Of Sixteen Leg One match at Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid. Photograph: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

A late goal from substitute Anthony Elanga rescued a 1-1 draw for Manchester United at Atletico Madrid in their Champions League last-16 first-leg clash on Wednesday.

United, looking disjointed and lacking spark, were cornered from the start by a relentless Atleti, who opened the scoring after seven minutes with a brilliant header by Joao Felix from Renan Lodi's cross.

 

Atletico had many opportunities to extend their lead and hit the post twice but were punished by a defensive mistake which gifted the ball to Bruno Fernandes 10 minutes from time.

The Portuguese playmaker found Elanga behind the defensive line and the 19-year-old striker scored with a precise cross shot, one of only two United efforts on target in the whole game.

United faced a hostile atmosphere at Metropolitano stadium as the home fans packed the sold-out venue and cheered loudly as their team make a fast start.

"Looking at the game, the way it was, we have to feel really happy with the result," United manager Ralf Rangnick told a news conference.

"After the performance in the first half it could only get better. What we played in the first half – I still can’t believe it. We played without conviction and the necessary aggression against the ball. That’s why we were really struggling."

 Manchester United's Anthony Elanga celebrates with Bruno Fernandes after scoring the equaliser against Atletico Madrid

IMAGE: Manchester United's Anthony Elanga celebrates with Bruno Fernandes after scoring the equaliser against Atletico Madrid. Photograph: Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Atletico suffocated United’s defence with a fierce high pressing game and dominated the ball with almost 70% of possession.

The Premier League side failed to register a shot on target in the first half and the hosts almost extended their lead just before halftime when Sime Vrsaljko's header struck the crossbar.

With his team failing to break down Atleti’s compact defensive lines, Rangnick made four substitutions, replacing Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford with Alex Telles and Elanga who came up with the equaliser.

Atletico substitute Antoine Griezmann nearly grabbed a late winner for the hosts but his shot from inside the box hit the post.

"We are not happy because it was not a good display of football from us, but we are strong at home and we believe we can improve in the second leg, win and advance," Telles told a news conference.

Haller scores at both ends as Ajax force 2-2 away draw

Benfica's Roman Yaremchuk scores their second goal during the UEFA Champions League Round Of Sixteen Leg One match against AFC Ajax at Estadio da Luz in Lisbon

IMAGE: Benfica's Roman Yaremchuk scores their second goal during the UEFA Champions League Round Of Sixteen Leg One match against AFC Ajax at Estadio da Luz in Lisbon. Photograph: Octavio Passos/Getty Images

Prolific striker Sebastien Haller was again among the goals as Ajax Amsterdam forced a 2-2 draw away at Benfica on Wednesday in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Not only did the lanky Haller score to take his tally in this season’s competition to 11 goals in seven games, but he also contributed an own goal in a pulsating clash at the Estadio da Luz.

The Dutch club were ahead after 18 minutes through captain Dusan Tadic but an unfortunate own goal from Haller saw the scores level seven minutes later.

Ajax, however, did not take long to restore their lead as Haller made amends with a close-in finish in the 29th minute.

A second-half header from substitute Roman Yaremchuk ensured a draw for the hosts and a boost to their hopes in the second leg next month.

The action swung from one end of the pitch to the other in a high-tempo match with Ajax profiting from their pressing game and Benfica always looking dangerous on the counter attack.

It was a squeeze on fullback Gilberto, after a poor kick out from his goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos, that saw Ajax create the first goal as Noussair Mazraoui stole away possession and whipped in a cross that Tadic calmly side-footed home on the half volley.

Ajax Amsterdam's Noussair Mazraoui and with Benfica's Darwin Nunez vie for possession  

IMAGE: Ajax Amsterdam's Noussair Mazraoui and with Benfica's Darwin Nunez vie for possession. Photograph: Pedro Nunes/Reuters

Former Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen was at the heart of Benfica’s 25th-minute opener. He had two efforts blocked but persisted in chasing the ball in the penalty area, then whipped in a square ball that struck Haller and deflected into the Ajax net.

There was a touch of irony three minutes later as a deflection off Vertonghen was stopped by Vlachodimos but Haller was well placed to snap up the rebound and restore Ajax’s lead.

They should have gone into the break with a bigger lead but Edson Alvarez hit the bottom of the upright with an angled shot on the stroke of halftime.

Benfica had several second-half breaks as Rafa Silva’s running offered them a way back into the tie. His 60th-minute pass to Darwin Nunez was missed by centimetres but Silva’s creativity set up the 72nd-minute equaliser.

He found Goncalo Ramos on the edge of the area, whose shot on goal was parried up into the air by Ajax goalkeeper Remko Pasveer and Yaremchuk ran through to power home the looping ball with his head.

Ajax host the return match at the Amsterdam Arena on March 15.

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Source: REUTERS
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