Our alphabetical look at United's special relationship with Portugal begins with A to P...
A is for Anderson
Brazilian he may be but Anderson joined United from Porto. A is also for Alcochete, hothouse for Sporting Lisbon’s young tyros – and future Reds. Since 2002, this Carrington-esque academy on Lisbon’s southern outskirts has been panning for gold – with spectacular results. An agreement between United and Sporting in May 2003 bore sumptuous fruit three months later in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo, with Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha – Nani to you – following in summer 2007. A also represents John Aston Jr – man of the match against Benfica at Wembley in 1968. The Salford-born winger’s industrious display and terrific deliveries from the left eclipsed even the brilliance of George Best on the night United hoisted a first European Cup.
B is for Benfica
One third of the Santa Trinidade (Holy Trinity) also comprising Sporting Lisbon and Porto. European Cup winners in 1961 and 1962, and finalists in 1963, 1965, 1968, 1988 and 1990, the Eagles are the tournament’s biggest aggregate victors: they swooped to conquer 18-0 against Stade Dudelange (10-0, 8-0) in 1965/66 – the year George Best stunned them in their own backyard in the quarter-final (see ‘U’). United have met Benfica seven times in the European Cup, winning six and losing one. The Reds clinched top spot in Group F in 2006/2007 after a 3-1 home win – Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Giggs and Louis Saha on target – which knocked Benfica out; tit-for-tat after the Portuguese inflicted United's exit at the first phase in 2005/06, the first such blow in 11 years.
C is for close, but no cigar!
Trailing 4-0 to Porto in the 1977/78 European Cup Winners’ Cup, the Reds came within an ace of overturning the first-leg deficit on a raucous Old Trafford night. Dave Sexton’s men triumphed 5-2, exiting 6-5 on aggregate. C is also for Porto’s Jorge Costinha, whose last-gasp equaliser dumped us out of the Champions League in 2003/04 – heralding that horribly unforgettable sight of Jose Mourinho cavorting in glee down the OT touchline.
D is for dragon