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Champions League: Anthony Elanga earns Manchester United late draw at Atletico Madrid

Manchester United
Manchester United's Anthony Elanga celebrates scoring their first goal during the match Champions League Round of 16 First Leg between Atletico Madrid vs Manchester United at Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, February 23, 2022. A late goal from substitute Anthony Elanga rescued a 1-1 draw for Manchester United at Atletico Madrid in their Champions League last-16 first-leg. REUTERS/Javier Barbancho

MADRID, February 24: A late goal from substitute Anthony Elanga rescued a 1-1 draw for Manchester United at Atletico Madrid in their Champions League last-16 first-leg clash on Wednesday.
United, looking disjointed and lacking spark, were cornered from the start by a relentless Atleti, who opened the scoring after seven minutes with a brilliant header by Joao Felix from Renan Lodi’s cross.
Atletico had many opportunities to extend their lead and hit the post twice but were punished by a defensive mistake which gifted the ball to Bruno Fernandes 10 minutes from time.
The Portuguese playmaker found Elanga behind the defensive line and the 19-year-old striker scored with a precise cross shot, one of only two United efforts on target in the whole game.
United faced a hostile atmosphere at Metropolitano stadium as the home fans packed the sold-out venue and cheered loudly as their team make a fast start.
“Looking at the game, the way it was, we have to feel really happy with the result,” United manager Ralf Rangnick told a news conference.
“After the performance in the first half it could only get better. What we played in the first half – I still can’t believe it. We played without conviction and the necessary aggression against the ball. That’s why we were really struggling.”
Atletico suffocated United’s defence with a fierce high pressing game and dominated the ball with almost 70% of possession.
The Premier League side failed to register a shot on target in the first half and the hosts almost extended their lead just before halftime when Sime Vrsaljko’s header struck the crossbar.
With his team failing to break down Atleti’s compact defensive lines, Rangnick made four substitutions, replacing Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford with Alex Telles and Elanga who came up with the equaliser.
Atletico substitute Antoine Griezmann nearly grabbed a late winner for the hosts but his shot from inside the box hit the post.
“We are not happy because it was not a good display of football from us, but we are strong at home and we believe we can improve in the second leg, win and advance,” Telles told a news conference.
Champions League: Prolific Sebastien Haller scores at both ends as Ajax draw with Benfica
Sebastien Haller kept up his remarkable scoring record in this season’s Champions League, finding the target at the right end shortly after putting through his own net as Ajax drew 2-2 with Benfica in their last 16, first leg on Wednesday.
Haller’s 26th-minute own goal cancelled out Dusan Tadic’s opener for the Dutch champions at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, but the Ivory Coast striker then put Ajax back in front just three minutes later.
It was not enough for Erik ten Hag’s side to win the game, as Ukraine international Roman Yaremchuk came off the bench in the second half to earn Benfica a deserved draw.
However, Haller has now scored 11 goals in this season’s Champions League after ending the group stage in double figures.
“We are a bit frustrated. We could and should have done better and we are a bit disappointed to leave here having drawn 2-2,” Haller told French broadcaster Canal Plus.
Of his own goal, he added: “It’s not the best feeling, especially as it gave them the equaliser and gave them a lift.
“It was a blow to our morale but it is our job to remain focused, to not let our heads go down in such a situation.”
Having never played in the competition before this season, Haller is the first player to score in each of his first seven Champions League appearances.
Only Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski and Ruud van Nistelrooy have scored in more consecutive Champions League matches, with Ronaldo doing so in 11 straight games between 2017 and 2018.
The former West Ham United man is also just the second Ajax player to score 11 goals in Europe in the same season, after Ruud Geels in 1975/76.
However, with UEFA having abolished the away goals rule in Europe, the tie remains firmly in the balance going into the return leg in Amsterdam on March 15.
Ajax took the lead in the 18th minute in this meeting of two clubs with six European Cups between them thanks to a fine finish from skipper Tadic.
Alex Grimaldo lost possession under pressure from Noussair Mazraoui who then delivered a measured cross from the Ajax right for Tadic to score with a cushioned first-time finish for his 10th goal of the season.
However, Benfica drew level soon after as former Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen drilled a low ball into the six-yard box and Haller — for once in the wrong place — could only help it on its way into the net.
Yet he made up for that just three minutes later, pouncing to convert the follow-up after Odisseas Vlachodimos had stopped Vertonghen diverting a Steven Berghuis cross into his own net.
It was Haller’s 29th goal in 29 games in all competitions this season for his club.
Ajax could have extended their lead just before the break as Antony slipped in Edson Alvarez, but the Mexican’s shot came back off the far post and this time Haller was unable to turn in the rebound.
Benfica, currently third in the Portuguese league, then stepped up the pressure in the second half and got their reward in the 72nd minute.
Veteran Ajax goalkeeper Remko Pasveer could only parry out a Goncalo Ramos shot and the giant Yaremchuk — who had replaced Brazilian international Everton 10 minutes earlier — was able to head in the loose ball. (Agencies/AFP)

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