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Porto exposes Reds' frailties

MANCHESTER United's pulsating 2-2 draw with free-running Porto on Tuesday was everything the Champions League aspires to.

Porto deserves enormous credit for going to Old Trafford with a real willingness to attack and it should really have won the match such was its dominance in the first half.

Even after Carlos Tevez had put United ahead five minutes from the end, Porto refused to sit back and hope its solitary away goal would prove key. Instead, it poured forward to grab the equalizer through substitute Mariano. Wayne Rooney was gifted an equalizer before halftime.

United now travels to Portugal on April 15 probably needing to win, something no English team has managed in 11 previous attempts, though a high-scoring draw would also be enough to send it through.

"You have to think the last goal was one we could not afford to lose," said United manager Alex Ferguson. "It was a terrible goal to give away when you are 2-1 up and seeing the game out."

United, which has looked rocky at the back in recent weeks as it lost successive league games to Liverpool and Fulham and needed a stoppage-time goal to beat Aston Villa 3-2, was again all at sea in the absence of the injured Rio Ferdinand.

Johnny Evans, who has generally been an impressive stand-in at centre back for much of the season, had a night to forget and will be relieved that his catalogue of errors did not lead to more Porto goals.

United's midfield was ineffective for long spells, producing little in attack and looking ragged in preventing Porto's counter-attacks from ripping through the home side's deep-lying defence.

It was all the more surprising coming only a few weeks after it was breaking records for consecutive clean sheets with Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic being compared favorably with the great Old Trafford centre-back partnerships.

Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar certainly earned his money on Tuesday, especially in the fiery opening half-hour when Porto scored through Cristian Rodriguez and could easily have had three more.

The result, and the performance, persuaded bookmakers to lengthen the odds on United retaining its European crown, with Barcelona installed as new favorites.

Porto's home record is formidable but will it risk a repeat of such a high-energy assault on the holders in the home leg when a 0-0 or 1-1 draw would send it through?

"It's going to be difficult for us now. It will be a difficult game in Porto, that goes without saying," Ferguson said.

Porto coach Jesualdo Ferreira said the draw had put his side in a good position. "The score is a good score, but nothing has been sorted yet. We can at least go back and dispute the result with Manchester United, though," he said. "We deserve this scoreline because we had more chances than them, but we must now convince our players that they can go even further and do better things."


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