In the end the result wasn’t a surprise, but the match was by no means a walkover for Manchester United and CFR Cluj came ever so close to leveling the match in the dying minutes. Around 18,000 Cluj fans watched their team come within a fingertip of humbling the mighty United last night (October 2 ) in the Group H tie of the UEFA Champions League .
CFR Cluj started strongly and the mighty United were made to look a bit vulnerable, taking time to settle. Cluj’s Modou Sougou looked lively and caused the Manchester defense problems with his speed. After 14 minutes Cluj struck, Sougou outpaced United’s Patrice Evra and Pantelis Kapetanos outfoxed Manchester’s defense, peeling off to collect Sougou’s pass and putting the home team one – nil ahead.
Modou Sougou was substituted soon after due to a hamstring injury and Cluj felt the loss as Manchester United rallied and began to dominate midfield. United were reaching 70 percent possession, pressure was mounting on Cluj, and finally Robin Van Persie opened the scoring for the visitors after 29 minutes. It was a great ball into the box, but Van Persie was somewhat lucky, the ball bouncing off his shoulder and looping over Cluj’s goalkeeper. United looked more in control for the remainder of the first half, but were unable to score again, with Cluj defending doggedly.
Manchester United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson said “losing that goal was a shocker,” during half time, but appeared content with his team’s overall performance. Before the match the United manager had praised Cluj and described them as a difficult team to take on.
The second half started in the worst possible way for Cluj, just minutes in, United’s Wayne Rooney found space and hit a perfectly weighted pass, Van Persie chased and tipped the ball past Cluj’s keeper to score his second and put Manchester 2 – 1 up. But Cluj refused to lie down and although United had the lion’s share of the possession throughout the second half they failed to capitalize and the scoreline remained the same.
Cluj won a corner and had a chance with a powerful header – on target but unfortunately straight at Manchester’s goalie, who blocked the ball and sent it safely over the bar. The game was all but over when Rafael Bastos almost made it a fairytale finish for Cluj, he’d been lively throughout the match and got on the end of a good ball into the box with a flying header. But it wasn’t to be, United’s goalkeeper made a fingertip save and the match finished 2 – 1.
Manchester United were clearly the stronger team, but Cluj put in a courageous performance and still have a good chance of qualifying for the knock out stage. After beating Braga and taking a goal off United, the Romanian side must fancy their chances against Galatasaray, who lost to Braga in the other Group H match. Manchester currently lead the group and look set to go through as group winners, barring a big upset against Braga. But the second qualifying spot is still well within Cluj’s reach and a draw against Galatasaray would be enough to put them through if United beat Braga.
Liam Lever, firstname.lastname@example.org
photo source: uefa.com