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Crespo strikes late to dent Man Utd hopes
Updated: 2005-02-24 09:19

AC Milan striker Hernan Crespo pounced with a late goal to earn his side a 1-0 win at Manchester United in an absorbing Champions League first knockout round first-leg match.

AC Milan's Hernan Crespo celebrates his goal against Manchester United in their Champions League first knockout round, first leg soccer match at Old Trafford, Manchester, February 23, 2005. AC Milan defeated Manchester United 1-0. [Reuters]
The game looked to be heading for a goalless draw with 12 minutes remaining when United goalkeeper Roy Carroll failed to deal with a routine shot by Clarence Seedorf.

Crespo capitalised, striking from close range to give the Italian champions a clear advantage going into the second leg in two weeks.

"I felt we played well," Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti told a news conference. "We are pleased with the victory but we know we have only done half the job and the second half will be very difficult as well."

Milan's first European victory against a club in England was also United's first home defeat in 21 Champions League matches, going back to October 2001 against Deportivo Coruna.

"I think we deserved more," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "It was a game of real high quality and we just lacked a bit of composure when we made chances in the first half. The game is still on for us, though."

A largely tense and tactical battle on Wednesday had started brightly, with England midfielder Paul Scholes firing wide for United and Portuguese playmaker Rui Costa for Milan in the first three minutes.


Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf skimmed the home side's crossbar with a rasping 25-metre free kick and Scholes blazed an excellent chance wide after good work by Quinton Fortune.

Milan, missing their leading striker Andriy Shevchenko through injury, dominated possession in the early exchanges, frustrating United with slick passing in the packed midfield areas.

Milan defender Alessandro Nesta was booked for a foul on Ryan Giggs and United came desperately close to breaking the deadlock after 37 minutes when Fortune jabbed the ball just wide following a quick breakaway.

United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, the second highest scorer in Champions League history, started on the substitutes' bench after three months out with an Achilles injury but was brought on to a rapturous reception after 63 minutes.

Crespo fired just wide following a mazy run by Kaka but the Argentine, on loan from Chelsea, made more of his next opportunity, reacting smartly to sweep the ball home from eight metres after Carroll's blunder.

United manager Alex Ferguson threw on Louis Saha as a third striker and the Frenchman nodded narrowly wide from a corner but, as the hosts poured forward, Milan went close to extending their lead in the dying minutes.

Kaka shot wide again and United kept running into walls of Milan players, who protected their advantage with typically resolute and disciplined defending to make their side strong favourites to reach the quarter-finals.

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