Giggs goal gets Man United draw at Benfica

Ryan Giggs equalized shortly before halftime as Manchester United rallied for a 1-1 draw at Benfica in the Champions League on Wednesday.

The 37-year-old Giggs received a pass from Antonio Valencia on the right, cut inside and fired a left-foot drive from the edge of the area into the top corner.

His strike canceled out Oscar Cardozo’s 24th-minute goal in the closely fought Group C opener. Nicolas Gaitan lifted a pass from the left flank toward Cardozo, who got ahead of Jonny Evans and struck a right-foot shot beyond Anders Lindegaard’s reach.

United was coming off a powerful start in the Premier League, with four straight wins and 18 goals scored.

But it was mostly an uninspired and disjointed performance from United at the Stadium of Light after manager Alex Ferguson made eight changes to his starting lineup from last weekend’s domestic win at Bolton.

The two clubs, favorites to advance to the next round, predicted the game would be their toughest in the opening round.

Swiss champion FC Basel and Romanian newcomer Otelul Galati are also in the group.

Ferguson opted for more seasoned players as United started its quest for a fourth European title, though he also gave Lindegaard his Champions League debut while Darren Fletcher and Antonio Valencia made their first starts of the season.

After a tame start by both teams, Gaitan produced the best early effort when he sent a left-foot shot just wide of the United goal in the 17th. Cardozo then forced Lindegaard to dive sharply to his right to grab a low drive.

Benfica’s tightly-packed defense blocked Wayne Rooney’s path to goal while the home team kept probing at the United backline, where central pair Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were absent through injury.

Antonio Valencia raced back in the 35th to intercept a pass from Javi Garcia to Gaitan who was poised to break unmarked into the United area.

Rooney and Valencia could have done more when they snatched the ball from Benfica right back Emerson but there was nobody in the area to pounce.

Looking to keep up the pressure on the visitors creaky defense, Benfica replaced midfielder Ruben Amorim with striker Nolito.

United wasn’t giving up, though. Luisao had to be quick to stop Rooney’s break, then Artur rushed out to keep out Giggs’ effort.

At the other end, Lindegaard pulled off a sharp save to deny Nolito.

The introduction of Nani on the United flank unsettled Benfica though it was Lindegaard who was called into action again to stop Gaitan’s late shot.