Marcus Rashford Free-Kick Sees Manchester United Top Benfica in Champions League

Matt JonesFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2017

LISBON, PORTUGAL - OCTOBER 18: Marcus Rashford of Manchester United celebrates after he scores a goal to make it 0-1 during the UEFA Champions League group A match between SL Benfica and Manchester United at Estadio da Luz on October 18, 2017 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Manchester United continued their perfect start to the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, as they beat Benfica 1-0 at the Estadio da Luz thanks to a Marcus Rashford free-kick and a comical goalkeeping error.

United struggled to get going in the opening period in Lisbon, as neither side showed much in terms of attacking intent. 

In the 64th minute, it was a mistake from Benfica's young goalkeeper Mile Svilar that allowed the Premier League side to get in front, as he carried Rashford's long-range effort over his own goal line. With frustration setting in late on, Benfica skipper Luisao was sent off for a second yellow card.

This win sees the Red Devils cement their place at the top of Group A with three wins from three games; they lead Basel, who beat CSKA Moscow on the night, by three points.

Svilar's night was a bittersweet one.
Svilar's night was a bittersweet one.PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/Getty Images

The big news pre-match was that Benfica stopper Svilar was to become the youngest goalkeeper in Champions League history aged just 18 and 52 days, per Match of the Day.

As noted by The Independent's Miguel Delaney, on his big night, there was little trepidation from the teenager early on:

To begin with, Benfica were the team in control of possession, with Alex Grimaldo bombing down the left side and teeing up Eduardo Salvio, who could only fire wide. 

But on the break and from set pieces, the Red Devils were looking a threat. Romelu Lukaku rattled a header against the crossbar after a fine delivery, though play was stopped for a foul on the goalkeeper.

That aside, chances were at a premium for both sides for long spells of the first period, with the two teams seemingly content to keep the game level. As noted by Samuel Luckhurst of the Manchester Evening News, the travelling supporters were keeping themselves entertained as half-time approached:

United did create a couple of openings before the break, with Rashford firing over inside the area and Nemanja Matic testing Svilar. But the stalemate at the break was a fair reflection on moribund proceedings.

In the second half, there was a bit more impetus in United's play in Lisbon, as Jose Mourinho's men sought to move through the gears. Opportunities were still tough to come by for the visitors, though, and in the end they needed a big hand from Benfica's goalkeeper to get them ahead.

Svilar made a major error that allowed United to take the lead.
Svilar made a major error that allowed United to take the lead.Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Having been so impressive to that point, Svilar got caught under Rashford's free-kick, overbalanced and stepped back into the net with the ball.

As noted by Portuguese football journalist Tom Kundert, it appears as though the United man had picked up on a weakness in the 'keeper's game earlier on:

Per Mark Ogden of ESPN, the home fans did their best to lift the spirits of Svilar after his costly gaffe:

The goal, unsurprisingly, settled the Red Devils down, as they started to knock the ball around with increased purpose. And as the clock ticked down, the visitors did their utmost to take the sting out of the game.

Mourinho's men saw the game out well after edging in front.
Mourinho's men saw the game out well after edging in front.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Benfica threw more men forward in search of an equaliser in the final stages, and Ruben Dias should have done better when he found space in the area from corner. The defender couldn't keep his shot on target, allowing the Red Devils to keep their narrow advantage intact.

Indeed, the conviction with which United finished this one started to frustrate the Benfica players, and in stoppage time, Luisao lashed out at Scott McTominay. The referee had no choice but to issue a second caution and make the Red Devils' task of seeing this one out even easier.