Manchester United edged a step closer to qualification to the Champions League knock-out stages with a hard-fought 1-0 victory against Benfica.
A superb free-kick from Marcus Rashford on 64 minutes, which 18-year-old goalkeeper Mile Svilar carried behind the line, was enough to seal another three points as the Reds continued the march towards the last 16.
It was top versus bottom in Group A, with the Reds leading the way on maximum points and with seven goals scored at the start of the night. Benfica, meanwhile, sat on zero points with a minus six goal difference.
Aguia Vitoria, the club’s famous eagle mascot, did its traditional flying around Estadio da Luz and, while neither side flew out of the blocks, it was Benfica who created the game’s first real opening on 15 minutes, as a powerful run and cross from Alex Grimaldo led to Eduardo Salvio firing just wide.
Romelu Lukaku headed against the Benfica crossbar a minute later but the whistle had already gone, much to the relief of Svilar, who became the Champions League’s youngest-ever stopper.
After Rashford had headed a Daley Blind cross over just after the half-hour mark, Svilar was then called into action with a smart save from former Eagles star Nemanja Matic as the Reds began to take more control. Henrikh Mkhitaryan then shot off target before the break.
Rashford was well and truly on target in quick succession in a bizarre few minutes soon after the hour, which resulted in United taking the lead. After the England international had sent over two wicked in-swinging corners that had Svilar panicking, the teenager caught Rashford’s superb 35-yard free-kick but, such was the power, he and the ball dropped back behind the line to alert goal-line technology and lead German referee Felix Zwayer to rightly award the goal.
Ruben Dias had Benfica’s only real sight of goal in the second period six minutes from the end, but he could only fire over from a corner when he was left unmarked.
The hosts ended the game with 10 men after Luisao was dismissed for a second yellow card and he’ll now miss the trip to Old Trafford. The Reds, meanwhile, recorded a third straight Champions League victory, with the knock-out stages now within touching distance at the half-way stage in Group A.
Benfica: Svilar, Douglas, Luisao, R.Dias, Grimaldo, Fejsa, F.Augusto, Pizzi (Zivkovic 59), Salvio, D.Goncalves (Jonas 69), Raul.
Subs not used: Cesar, Lopez, Samaris, Seferovic, Cervi.
Sent off: Luisao
United: De Gea, Valencia, Lindelof, Smalling, Blind, Herrera, Matic, Mata (Lingard 83), Mkhitaryan (McTominay 90), Rashford (Martial 76), Lukaku.
Subs not used: Romero, Darmian, Jones, Young.
Booked: Valencia, Lingard
STATE OF PLAY IN GROUP A
The Reds remain well in control of Group A after Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over the Eagles, but hot on their heels are FC Basel, who recorded a 2-0 win away at CSKA Moscow. Next up for Jose Mourinho’s men is another meeting with bottom-placed Benfica, this time at Old Trafford on 31 October. In the other double-header, Basel host CSKA.