<!– Put this anywhere in the of your page where you want the widget to show up. –>Ajax 0-2 Manchester United
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Second half strikes from Ashley Young and Javier Hernandez proved the difference as Manchester United opened a a 2-0 Europa League last 32 first leg advantage with victory against Ajax on Thursday.
Ajax arguably enjoyed the better of the first half but were unable to make a breakthrough, and United preyed on that wastefulness as Young produced the first moment of composure inside the box – twisting and turning before firing a low shot into the net. Hernandez then completed the win on the counter-attack late on/
It was a professional performance from the Premier League side, playing in the competition for the first time since 1995, as they allowed their Dutch opponents to create the majority of the chances but made sure to finish when the best openings presented themselves.
Ajax started brightly, with Christian Eriksen firing a number of attempts at David de Gea and Siem de Jong forcing a sprawling save from the Spaniard from long range. United had a couple of first half chances of their own – Nani wasting a good chance, and Hernandez being denied by Kenneth Vermeer – before escaping a scare on the stroke of half-time after as Rio Ferdinand made a slightly mis-timed lunge inside the box.
The second half was more even, and the hour-mark brought the decisive moment of the match. Nani’s cross found its way to Young on the right, and the former Aston Villa man cut inside twice before hitting a right-foot strike in at the near post.
From there United made sure to stay solid at the back – with Ajax restricted to long shots that De Gea could cope easily with. They began hitting their opponents on the counter-attack and soon got their reward – with Hernandez slotting past Vermeer after great build-up play between Antonio Valencia (who was injured in the move) and Wayne Rooney had left the defence reeling.
<!– Put this anywhere in the of your page where you want the widget to show up. –>Porto 1-2 Manchester City
Sergio Aguero’s 85th minute tap-in ensured Manchester City came from behind to secure a 2-1 first leg lead against FC Porto.
Silvestre Varela had put the home side in front with straightforward finish after 25 minutes, but an own goal from Alvaro Pereira – under pressure from Mario Balotelli – and then Aguero’s simple strike five minutes from time enabled Roberto Mancini’s side to head back to England in a strong position in the tie.
It looked like it could have all been so different for City, as they fell behind following a slow start to the match. Porto striker Hulk burst beyond the attentions of the defenders just before the half-hour, and his low cross found Varela who kept his cool to bury the ball beyond Joe Hart.
City had their chances to get back into the match almost immediately – with Micah Richards hitting the post from an acute angle – but struggled to really test Helton, despite Hart being left without another save to make in the away goal.
It took until the second half for the course of the tie to change, and even then it was only after City enjoyed a slice of good fortune. A high ball into the box was aimed at Balotelli, and the Italian applied pressure to Pereira who succeeded only in diverting the ball beyond the stranded Helton and into the unguarded net.
Late on it got even better for City, as they took advantage of a counter-attack not dissimilar to the United one that saw Hernandez rewarded with a goal – this time with Yaya Toure proving the driving force as he strolled into the box and had the wherewithal to spot Aguero lurking at the far post.
His pass across goal was measured, leaving the Argentinian the simplest of jobs to finish and put City within touching distance of the next round.
The other English team involved in action on Thursday, Stoke City, failed to match their Premier League contemporaries as they fell to a 1-0 defeat to Valencia.
On a typically unfriendly Thursday evening at the Britannia Stadium, the Spanish side proved they were up to the stern examination as Mehmet Topal fired the winner in the first half.
Topal netted the only goal of the game in the 36th minute with a 30-yard screamer that gave Asmir Begovic absolutely no chance.
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Sofiane Feghouli also hit the post in the second half while Stoke, who have lost their past four Premier League games, were limited to half chances. They will now have to win at the Mestalla if they want to continue their European adventure.
United, meanwhile, are currently on course to face Lokomotiv Moscow in the last 16, after they mounted a second-half fightback to snatch victory over Athletic Bilbao at the Luzhniki Stadium.
The Spaniards had defied sub-zero conditions to take a deserved half-time lead thanks to a 25th-minute strike from their star teenage winger Iker Muniain. But Lokomotiv roared back after the break with Felipe Caicedo winning a 61st-minute penalty, converted by Dennis Glushakov, before scoring the winner himself 10 minutes later.
Manchester City will have to wait to get any indication of who they may face – assuming next week’s second leg goes as planned – after Legia Warsaw could only manage a 2-2 home draw with Sporting Lisbon
Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid also claimed an important lead in their away leg with a 3-1 victory over Lazio, while Metalist Kharkiv enjoyed a 4-0 away win against Salzburg.
AZ Alkmaar were home winners after scoring the only goal of the game against Anderlecht, while Viktoria Plzen held Schalke 04 to a 1-1 draw.
In the other evening ties, PSV Eindhoven took control of their tie with Trabzonspor after a 2-1 win, while Udinese were held to a goalless draw by PAOK Salonika as the absence of injured captain Antonio Di Natale told.
Standard Liege drew 1-1 with Wisla Krakow, while Club Brugge succumbed to Hannover 96 and Steve McClaren’s FC Twente will return to the Netherlands with the advantage after beating Steaua Bucharest 1-0.