Tevez’s rescue act

There were three minutes left when Carlos Tevez, a second-half substitute, demonstrated his ability to be in the right place at the right time and volleyed past Gregory Coupet at the end of United’s first spell of concerted pressure. Daniel Taylor reports.

Sir Alex Ferguson is fond of boasting that no other side in the world scores as many decisive late goals as Manchester United. It is a habit that has got them out of trouble more times than he can remember and yet again it came to their rescue, courtesy of Carlos Tevez’s predatory instincts and, collectively, a spirit of togetherness that is almost as synonymous with the club as their red jerseys. There were three minutes left when Tevez, a second-half substitute, de monstrated his ability to be in the right place at the right time and volleyed past Gregory Coupet at the end of United’s first spell of concerted pressure.

A game of few chances had looked to be drifting away from them after Karim Benzema’s splendid goal confirmed that French football has unearthed another potential superstar. Yet Tevez’s late contribution changed everything and Ferguson’s men will confidently expect to progress to the quarterfinals when the teams renew acquaintances for the second leg on March 4.

Not for the first time — and probably not the last — Ferguson, queried whether any other club could equal United’s phenomenal talent for late goals and, looking ahead to the return leg, he can take further encouragement from the fact that Lyon have not won an away match since November 24. Their manager, Alain Perrin, has constructed a fast, athletic side and Benzema is rapidly emerging as a player who could trouble the most accomplished defence. Benzema will warrant special attention at Old Trafford, but Tevez’s goal establishes United as the clear favourites and Ferguson did not disguise his jubilation.

“We’re delighted to get a draw,” he said. “When you are losing so late you can never be sure you are going to get that late goal. So it’s a fine draw for us and it gives us a good opportunity to qualify.”

It is also safe to assume that United will be more penetrative and attack-minded on their own ground. Ferguson had left out Tevez so he could squeeze in Owen Hargreaves and deny Lyon the space to work their slick, triangular passing moves. The tactic was one of conservatism but, perhaps as a consequence, it meant the English champions were not as cohesive as usual when going forward.

Ryan Giggs did not excel on his 100th Champions League appearance, Wayne Rooney flickered only sporadically and Cristiano Ronaldo had a disappointing evening, even if there were mitigating circumstances. The Portuguese winger complained in the warm-up of a laser pen being shone in his face and it continued during the game. “We reported it to UEFA before the game,” said Ferguson. “We noticed it in the warm-up and we have left UEFA to deal with it.”

The brightness seemed to dim United’s most devastating player. Ronaldo has shown himself to be a great footballer but to be a football great he needs to deliver on the highest stage, when his team needs him the most, and his only moment of genuine brilliance was a free-kick that Coupet tipped over the crossbar a minute or so before Tevez’s goal. In fairness to Ronaldo it was from that corner that the ball eventually fell for Tevez but it remains perplexing that the best player in English football fails to illuminate United’s continental excursions.

The outstanding moment was provided by a player who sent a frisson of excitement round the stadium whenever he got on the ball and extended those long, powerful legs. Benzema began the second-half as if affronted by the fact that he had not lived up to the hype in the opening 45 minutes and the 20-year-old may have to get used to the comparisons to Brazil’s Ronaldo if he carries on scoring goals as outstanding as his left-foot strike in the 54th minute.

It was a mixture of power and precision and a thing of beauty, too. The touch to control the ball and the body movement to create space meant he was unchallenged despite the proximity of several defenders. His shot was low and hard to the left of Edwin van der Sar.

“It was a fantastic goal,” said Ferguson. There was a measure of relief in Ferguson’s voice because it was not until the final exchanges that United worked up a head of steam. The home side seemed to lose their nerve, retreating further into defence before Nani’s cross was diverted into Tevez’s path. One swipe of his right boot and the game was turned upside down.