On a pitch in pristine condition before a crowd approaching 2,000, Benfica twice fell behind before deservedly equalising twice.
But after squandering several chances to win the game in the second half they fell to a goal just two minutes from the end – leaving them no time to come back and force penalties.It was a super goal that won the game too.
Touching on a pass ahead of him substitute Ramon Calliste, top scorer in United’s under-17s last season, burst past his marker before firing home from left to right across the face of the goalkeeper.Benfica started well, bringing two saves out of goalkeeper Luke Steele only for Brian McClair’s young team to take a 13th-minute lead with a quality goal.Eddie Johnson controlled a searching pass beautifully on the chest and moving on a couple of strides he turned well before shooting low into a corner across the face of Benfica’s goalkeeper.The goal settled United and after playing compact early on they stretched Benfica playing the ball wide to both wings.Johnson showed good strength to shake off a marker but homing in on goal his low drive lacked power to double United’s lead.Midfielder Adam Eckersley should have scored, after a deft touch from Denmark youth international Mads Timm put him clear, and United were denied again with a spectacular fisted clearance from ‘keeper Joao Godinho after a rasping goal-bound strike from skipper David Jones.Benfica should have drawn level but impressive right wing-back Joao Pereira, whose tricky runs caused problems all night, dragged a shot wide with the goal gapping.Decio Gomes also squandered an opportunity before Benfica deservedly equalised through substitute Vasco Firmino from four metres after Gomes’ effort rebounded kindly off the post.Firmino headed a glorious chance over from four yards after the interval and minutes later United went 2-1 ahead; Timm’s nifty footwork beating two defenders and the advancing Godinho before rolling the ball in.The Benfica stopper then pulled off a smart save to thwart Johnson again while at the other end goalmouth activity increased as Pereira and Firmino started to get around United’s fullbacks.Good deliveries across the face of goal were not capitalised upon – twice Joao Vilela was just centimetres away – so United held onto their lead.Steele flicked over a stinging rising shot from substitute Helio Pinto, but when the United ‘keeper blocked well from Fernando Alexandre on 70 minutes the ball rebounded to Firmino who rolled it home.It was no more than Benfica deserved and they finished by far the stronger.
But just minutes from time (and penalty kicks) their good work counted for nothing as Calliste hit United’s match-winner.United manager Brian McClair said: ‘It was a good game and our finishing and defending was very good.
Benfica were a more experienced side than us and in the second half they played some wonderful football.’It was an excellent game for us, the players worked hard for themselves and the team and I was happy with their attitude and commitment throughout.
I really thought it was going to be decided by penalties.’Benfica under-22 goalkeeping coach Paulo Manuel Bento, a former Portugal international, said: ‘I’m disappointed with the result, we played very well in the second half.
Sometimes the best team doesn’t win and this is what happened tonight.’We’re here to win the tournament and well be looking to win our next two games and take the trophy back with us.’Manchester United: Luke Steele; Lee Sims (David Poole, 71), Adam Eckersley, Phil Bardsley, Paul Tierney; Chris Eagles (Jamie Day, 46), David Jones, Danny Byrne, Neil Wood; Eddie Johnson, Mads Timm (Phil Picken, 75).Benfica: Joao Godinho; Joao Pereira, Amaro Fernandes, Frederico Runa, Tiago Carvalhinho (Nuno Alves 58), Decio Gomes, Fernando Alexandre, Fabio Ferraz (Vasco Firmino, 34; Alexandre Dias, 87), Joao Vilela, Paulo Cesar (Helio Pinto, 52), Alcidio Agostinho (Flavio Casal, 87).Officials: Lee Mason (Bolton), Russell Barry, Barry Breuilly.
4th official: Garry Poole.