On a night of high drama at Old Trafford, Porto fought back to earn a 2-2 at Manchester United thanks to an 89th-minute equaliser from substitute Mariano.
United looked to have snatched victory from this absorbing quarter-final first leg when their own substitute Carlos Tévez put them 2-1 in front with six minutes remaining but Mariano’s even later intervention means that just as they did five years ago, Porto left Old Trafford celebrating a draw. It was richly deserved too, Porto going in front through Cristián Rodríguez’s fourth-minute strike – his first in the UEFA Champions League – and continuing to trouble United even after Wayne Rooney’s equaliser on the quarter-hour.
Where Porto’s 1-1 draw here took them past United in the 2003/04 first knockout round, this result – and performance – will give Jesualdo Ferreira’s team real hope of ousting the champions in next Wednesday’s second leg in Portugal. Porto fulfilled Ferreira’s pre-game promise that his players would rise to the occasion, attacking United from the off. Lisandro gave United an early warning when he tested Edwin van der Sar with a near-post drive inside the third minute. Sixty seconds later the Dutch goalkeeper was beaten. Cristiano Ronaldo lost the ball inside his own half and though Jonny Evans intercepted Lucho’s through pass, the Northern Irishman diverted the ball straight to Rodríguez, who cut inside and drove a left-footed shot across Van der Sar and into the far corner.
After Ronaldo had tested Helton with a fierce header from United’s first attack of note, the home side drew level when Rooney, anticipating well, latched on to Bruno Alves’s careless back-pass and lifted the ball coolly over the Brazilian goalkeeper. Porto shrugged off that setback and kept going forward and Rodríguez almost had a second when, from a deflected Lucho cross, he headed straight at Van der Sar from close range.
United, surrendering possession repeatedly, looked a shadow of the side that kept 14 successive Premier League clean sheets earlier this season and Porto soon threatened again, Raul Meireles drawing a fingertip save from Van der Sar before Hulk curled the ball narrowly wide after John O’Shea had given the ball away. Hulk, the powerful Brazilian striker, embodied the visitors’ positive approach. Driving at United’s nervy defence whenever possible, he showed the upper body strength to hold off defenders, plus the skill to carry the ball past them.
United improved after the restart and almost found a reward shortly before the hour. Rooney very nearly caught out Helton with a lobbed attempt from out on the right, and from the resulting corner, Helton had to palm wide a Nemanja Vidić header. Sir Alex Ferguson sent on Ryan Giggs, Tévez and Gary Neville and it was from Neville’s superb right-wing cross that Rooney could have headed United’s second; instead he failed to make contact. Yet Rooney played his part in United’s second, backheeling a Neville throw into the path of Tévez who got ahead of Rolando to steer the ball beyond Helton. Porto were not finished, however, and Mariano was on hand to collect Raul Meireles’s deflected cross at the far post and finish past Van der Sar.