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Sport – Football;United break Russian duck to maintain perfect start

MOSCOW: A late goal from Antonio Valencia earned Manchester United a 1-0 victory over CSKA Moscow on Wednesday to leave the English champions on the
verge of clinching their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

The Ecuador winger’s close range strike made it three wins out of three for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in their group and also made a little bit of history by securing United’s first European victory over Russian opponents.

They also equalled Dutch great’s Ajax’s Champions League record of 14 successive away matches unbeaten.

United had returned to the Luzhniki Stadium, scene of their 2008 Champions League final victory over Chelsea, with depleted resources.

Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs were the most conspicuous absentees but Patrice Evra, Darren Fletcher and Park Ji-Sung also had to be left behind in Manchester because of injuries and the proximity of Sunday’s Premier League showdown with Liverpool.

Ferguson was at least able to restore Nemanja Vidic to his customary role alongside Rio Ferdinand following the Serbian centreback’s recovery from an ankle injury.

CSKA, now managed by the former Sevilla, Tottenham and Real Madrid coach Juande Ramos, had to do without injured Chilean winger Mark Gonzalez.

The Russians kicked off with a run of six consecutive European wins on home soil behind them but their guarded approach to the contest hardly indicated a side with deep reserves of confidence.

A cagey opening set the tone for a first half in which both sides appeared content to concentrate on patient build-up play without ever really threatening to open up their opponents.

CSKA’s much-admired Serbian midfielder Milos Krasic had the first shot on goal but his effort, following a mazy run to the edge of the area, was struck well wide.

United gradually began to assert themselves as the opening period wore on but the only time Igor Akinfeev, was called into action was when a hopeful 35-yard strike by Paul Scholes bounced in front of him and accelerated off the artificial surface, forcing the goalkeeper to palm the ball over the bar.

Krasic responded by working his way past two defenders and into the box but the subsequent shot was pulled across the goalmouth.

United continued to look the more composed of the two sides after the interval and, with just under an hour elapsed, would have taken the lead but for a fine save from Akinfeev, who threw himself full-length to his left to keep out Nani’s diving header from a Gary Neville cross.

Valencia soon went even closer to breaking the deadlock. After exchanging passes with Nani on the edge of the area, the Ecuadorian winger unleashed a fierce right-foot drive that struck the angle of post and bar.

At that stage it seemed as if United’s controlled dominance would go unrewarded but, with five minutes left, Valencia made sure of the points by beating Akinfeev from close range after Berbatov had flicked Nani’s cross on to him on the right-hand edge of the six-yard box.

Anderson might have doubled the winning margin but the Brazilian midfielder contrived to place his shot from a similar distance wide of the post after Berbatov’s back heel had left him with only the goalkeeper to beat.

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October 22, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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