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Benfica 0-1 Man Utd

Returning home from Lisbon last December was no fun. The taxi driver taking us back to the airport had his car decked out in a full Benfica kit and gloated as he looked over at the headlines staring up from the passenger seat. That trip saw United dumped out of Europe and the scene of George Best’s greatest performance replaced with memories of failure and embarrassment. For those of us there in Lisbon that night, this game was all about revenge. Three years without a European away victory playing against a team we have a grudge against; bring it on.

The day itself was long, but enjoyable. A 6am start at Manchester airport is never fun, but Lisbon was sunny and full of Reds as the day progressed. The squares filled up with Reds who mixed with the local supporters and joined up with Sporting Lisbon fans to mock Benfica. It was all good natured with Reds shaking hands with all who approached, and other tourists looking bemused. The buses came back to collect us for the match at 6pm and our support was well up for it.

United seemed to have other ideas. They came out on to the pitch sluggishly, could not string two passes together, looked fairly vulnerable at the back and had the away fans groaning. Many must have been wishing they had stayed in the Lisbon squares basking in the sun and enjoying the constant offers of cheap drugs, fake sunglasses and the odd dodgy watch. However, when Saha popped up in the second half to strike the eventual winner, the whole trip was worth it. Suddenly the good football flowed and chances came as the home team pushed forwards leaving gaps at the back. Only a bad miss by Saha and an incredible triple save from their keeper kept the score down to one.

The game ended and United had won away in Europe at last. Many of us would like to think that the players did this for George Best, as an apology for the match that was supposed to be played in his name last year. It was not a great performance at all but ultimately we created more chances than the opposition and looked steady after going a goal up. The more worrying aspects were the terrible performances by Carrick and Rooney; both need a good run to get back to form. The more welcoming factors were the steady game played by Heinze, and the return to the pitch of Alan Smith.

After the game things passed peacefully. Credit must go to the Benfica fans who all seemed to applaud us on leaving the stadium and wave off our coaches pleasantly. Unlike our friends in Oporto, the police were also fantastic and behaved 100%. We made our way back to the airport and made it to Manchester for 3am – a 21 hour trip well worth it.

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