United beats Benfica 2-0 after more agony for keeper Svilar
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Another Champions League victory for Manchester United. Another moment to forget in the competition for young Benfica goalkeeper Mile Svilar.
Two weeks after carrying the ball over his own goal-line to gift United a 1-0 win in Lisbon, the 18-year-old Svilar endured the misfortune of conceding an own goal to set the English club on its way to a 2-0 win at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
Nemanja Matic’s long-range shot in the 45th minute struck the post, rebounded onto the shoulder of the diving Svilar and deflected into the net as the teenager looked back in horror.
Svilar had earlier saved a penalty, low to his right off Anthony Martial, in the first half but couldn’t keep out a 78th-minute spot kick that was converted by Daley Blind, which sealed another unconvincing win for United over the Portuguese team.
With four straight Group A victories, United needs one more point from its last two games to advance as group winner, which might earn the team an easier match in the last 16. Its first opportunity comes against Basel on Nov. 22.
Benfica has lost all four of its games and is out of realistic contention for a top-two finish, six points behind both Basel and CSKA.
Svilar’s back-to-back humiliation has really hit the Portuguese team.
The games against United are the only two the Belgian keeper has played in the Champions League. He is the youngest goalkeeper ever to appear in the competition, and maybe the most unfortunate.
“Mixed feelings, of course,” Svilar said of his performance.
While he was clearly at fault in Lisbon for catching Marcus Rashford’s free kick and taking it over the line as he back-pedaled, he cannot be blamed for the goal on Tuesday that gave United the lead somewhat against the run of play.
“The first goal is quite strange,” Benfica coach Rui Vitoria said.
“But Svilar is still a junior. He is still 18 years old. He did a lot in tonight’s match, he showed what he is capable of.”
After starting the season in free-scoring form, United’s players have struggled for fluency in recent weeks and this was another victory they had to grind out. It ended slightly acrimoniously, too, with Romelu Lukaku denied the chance to end his five-match streak without a goal by taking the second penalty.
With Martial — the designated penalty-taker — having been substituted, Lukaku grabbed the ball and placed it on the spot after Rashford was chopped down by Andreas Samaris. There was then confusion as first Ander Herrera went over to consult with Lukaku, before Blind finally took over spot-kick duties — seemingly after an intervention from Mourinho, who was waving furiously on the touchline.
“I don’t see the drama. There is no drama,” Mourinho said
“Romelu wants to take it, he has the personality to take responsibility. Herrera the same. But my decision is based on what we did in training the past few days. The players respect my decision. That’s it, end of story.”
A goal may have improved Lukaku’s confidence heading into Sunday’s Premier League game at former club Chelsea. Instead, he is six games without scoring, having netted in nine of his first 10 matches for United.
Lukaku’s recent form was defended before the match by Mourinho, who described the striker as “untouchable” and said that United’s fans needed to respect him.
United managed to keep a 12th clean sheet in 16 matches this season but only because of the brilliance of goalkeeper David de Gea, who clawed away a shot from Diogo Gonclaves that was headed for the top corner and also denied Raul Jimenez with his outstretched right foot.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80