Anderson’s second-half equalizer ensured Manchester United will avoid their main rivals in the last 16 of the Champions League after a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Valencia at Old Trafford yesterday.
United needed to avoid defeat to seal top spot in Group C, but were left shocked when Pablo Hernandez fired the visitors from La Liga into a 32nd minute lead robbing the hosts of a record six successive Champions League clean sheets.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were guilty of wasting a string of opportunities and it looked like the evening would finish in frustration before Anderson was well placed to level in the 62nd minute, only the Brazilian’s second goal in three-and-a-half-years at United.
The point was enough to ensure United will avoid the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona when the draw for the knockout phase is made on Dec. 17.
Ferguson said he was relieved to have ensured avoiding the bigger guns.
“Well we could have won the match tonight, but their keeper made some brilliant saves,” he said. “Berbatov especially could have scored five [like he did in the previous Premier League home game] but he missed with two headers and the others were saved.”
Ferguson had claimed on the eve of the game that he would be fielding his strongest possible side in an attempt to finish top of the group.
However, the United manager sprang a major surprise before kick-off by naming 20-year-old rookie goalkeeper Ben Amos ahead of Edwin van der Sar and Tomasz Kuszczak.
It was only Amos’s third senior start for United and first in the Champions League.
Amos was called into action from an early stage, the keeper doing well to keep out Alejandro Dominguez’s dipping right-foot attempt at his near post.
Dominguez was a real threat throughout, the Argentina-born player going close himself to breaking the deadlock in the 18th minute with a fiercely struck effort that rattled the United woodwork as the Spanish visitors took the game to the hosts.
Anderson was presented with a glorious opportunity to put his side ahead in the 15th minute only to shoot straight at the keeper after the Valencia defence had opened up.
Anderson quickly atoned for his error by carving out a great chance for Berbatov to end his two-year Champions League goal drought.
However, the Bulgarian fluffed the chance as he attempted to round keeper Vincente Guaita.
Then Guaita did well to keep out Park Ji-sung’s close-range volley before Valencia took the lead 13 minutes before half-time.
Once again the troublesome Dominguez was at the heart of the move as his beautifully weighted pass to Hernandez allowed the Spanish midfielder to fire beyond Amos.
“It is a shame we didn’t keep a clean sheet, but the most important thing is that we finished top of the group,” United captain Nemanja Vidic said.
Wayne Rooney almost brought them back on level terms with a delightful curling shot from outside the area that crashed against the bar before rebounding to Nani who could only fire wide of a gaping net.
That miss summed up United’s evening, which became even more frustrating when Rio Ferdinand was forced to hobble out of the game in the 52nd minute.
Rooney spurned another opportunity when he fired narrowly wide on the turn before Valencia’s good fortune finally ran out when Anderson sent United back to the top of Group C.
A stinging long-range shot by Park was parried by Guaita into the path of the former Porto player to prod home.