Manchester United marched into this season’s Champions League knockout stages on Wednesday night, negating a largely lacklustre display with a late comeback against SC Braga in Portugal.
Robin van Persie’s smartly-taken leveller, Wayne Rooney’s penalty conversion and a close-range finish from Chicharito gave the Reds a fourth straight Group H victory, after Alan’s spot-kick early in the second period had given the hosts a deserved lead.
The Reds’ late rally came completely without warning in a game unexpectedly enlivened by a 10-minute stoppage for floodlight failure. Home goalkeeper Beto had been troubled more by the teeming rain than by the visitors for 80 minutes, while David De Gea, conversely, needed to make three sharp saves and was also rescued by his woodwork.
A rejigged United side had looked out of sorts for long periods amid taxing conditions. Chris Smalling made his first outing of the season, named alongside Jonny Evans from the off, with Rio Ferdinand dropping to the bench. Rafael joined Ferdinand in reserve as Antonio Valencia started at right-back.
The changes continued throughout the team, with Robin van Persie, Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley all named as substitutes as Sir Alex Ferguson opted to field Ryan Giggs and Anderson in midfield, with Wayne Rooney dropping off lone striker Chicharito and flanked by Nani and Danny Welbeck.
There was a disjointed look about United’s opening, while Braga began with greater cohesion at both ends of the field. While there was no repeat of the lightning start the Portuguese side made at Old Trafford, it took just six minutes for Eder to break through the Reds' lines and drag an ambitious low effort off target.