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Thu 11 Dec 2008 02:57 AM

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Man Utd secure draw while Arsenal lose to Porto

Goalscorer Rooney lucky not be be red-carded, Arsenal outplayed in Portugal.

Wayne Rooney saved Manchester United from an embarrassing Champions League defeat at home to Aalborg on Wednesday for a 2-2 draw while Arsenal went down 2-0 to Porto, to finish second in their group.

England striker Rooney scored a crucial equaliser on 52 minutes to extend United's unbeaten run in the Champions League to 19 games - a record shared with Ajax and Bayern Munich but the striker was lucky to avoid a red card for a first-half foul on Kasper Risgard.

Sir Alex Ferguson's team were unconvincing and defeat would have been a setback, but the loss of Rooney to suspension could potentially have been much more damaging.

"There were some great chances," Ferguson said. "We should have taken at least 30 percent of them and then we would have won the game comfortably.

"We should have won the game, but the good thing is we won the group which we wanted to do and our unbeaten record remains, which is good."

Topping the group means United will play the second leg of their knockout tie at home and Ferguson feels that could be an advantage.

"(We will) come to Old Trafford with a full house and a really good atmosphere," he said. "We are there, have got the track record and the players so let's go and have a go."

Rooney admitted this Aalborg side was a lot better than the one United had beaten 3-0 in Denmark in October.

"We know we can play a lot better," he said. "Aalborg were definitely a better team than we played in the first game. But with the players we have we should be winning these games.

"In the first half the tempo of our game wasn't good and they caught us on the counter-attack a few too many times. I think in the second half we could have won the game."

With United already assured of their place in the Dec. 19 draw for the Champions League knock-out stages, Ferguson rang the changes against the Danish champions, making nine changes from the team that defeated Sunderland at Old Trafford last Saturday.

Cristiano Ronaldo, sidelined due to the hip injury sustained in that 1-0 victory, made a brief appearance on the pitch before the game, however, when he was presented with the Ballon d'Or by Denis Law and Sir Bobby Charlton - two of United's three, along with the late George Best, previous European Footballers of the Year.

Even without Ronaldo, United would not have expected to be troubled by an Aalborg team treading water in mid-table in the Danish League, and the European champions appeared to be threatening a rout when they took the lead from their first attack after just three minutes.

A swift one-two between Ryan Giggs and Rooney led to Giggs releasing Tevez inside the Aalborg penalty area and the Argentina striker ruthlessly took his chance by guiding a first-time left foot shot past goalkeeper Karim Zaza.

Rooney and Tevez proved a lethal double act at times last season, but their partnership has been broken up by the arrival of Bulgarian hitman Dimitar Berbatov.

The pair showed signs of their old understanding, however, as they tore apart the Aalborg defence in the early stages and Tevez should have scored a second when he shot wide from fifteen yards after being picked out by Rooney.

Tevez then sent a glancing header from Rooney's cross wide of the far post on 23 minutes as United maintained the pressure, but Aalborg were able to withstand the pressure and they stunned United by equalising on 31 minutes.

Anders Due's in-swinging free-kick from the right flank was met with a backwards header from Michael Jakobsen and his contact was enough to take the ball past goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak.

Four minutes before half-time, Rooney then had his lucky escape when French referee Laurent Duhamel failed to spot his foul when he placed his studs in Risgard's chest.

Aalborg were angry at the referee's failure to spot the incident, but they made United pay in perfect fashion by grabbing a shock lead when Jeppe Curth headed in Due's cross two minutes into injury time.

United responded well in the second-half, though, and Rooney hauled them level when he rifled in from 20 yards after being released by Brazilian midfielder Anderson.

But although the home side poured forward in search of a winner, Aalborg held out and the visitors claimed a deserved draw.

Meanwhile, Arsenal were forced to settle for second place in Champions League Group G after slumping to a lacklustre 2-0 defeat at Porto.

Arsene Wenger's side needed only a draw at the Dragao Stadium to guarantee pole position and the advantage of a home second leg tie in the second round.

But Wenger put out an under-strength team and paid the price as his youngsters were swept aside by the Portuguese champions.

Bruno Alves punished poor defending to open the scoring just before half-time and Lisandro Lopez lashed in the second soon after the interval.

The defeat was Arsenal's first of the group stages but, with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Roma among the potential group winners lying in wait in the last 16, it could prove fatal to their chances of advancing to the latter stages.

"We were quite comfortable until they scored, what was disappointing was when we tried to come back we were not capable of creating chances. We gave the ball away and were in danger of conceding more," Wenger said.

"Many players had little injuries and in the Premier League we are in a position when every game is vital and that's what we tried to protect this week.

"It will be difficult in the next round but we will be up for it and we have a chance against any side in the world."

Manuel Almunia, Arsenal's stand-in skipper, added: "We were not in the game at any moment, we were not aggressive, we didn't pass the ball well and this is why we lost.

"I'm very disappointed. Everyone is wearing the Arsenal shirt and has to give 100 percent. That was not the case."

Wenger made seven changes to the team that defeated Wigan on Saturday and Emmanuel Eboue was given a chance to silence the boo-boys who jeered him off after a woeful substitutes' appearance.

But Wenger was without injured midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and opted to rest Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie.

Eboue was back in the travelling Arsenal fans' good books before the game as they chanted his name, but he still looked nervous in the early stages and fouled Porto striker Hulk on the edge of the area.

Bruno Alves's resulting free-kick forced a smart stop from Almunia.

Arsenal threatened for the first time when Mexican teenager Carlos Vela won a free-kick and Denilson's deep set piece was headed over by Abou Diaby.

A neat combination between Nicklas Bendtner and Aaron Ramsey opened up the Porto defence in the 25th minute. Welsh teenager Ramsey cut into the penalty area, turned his marker and fired in a low shot, which Helton did well to push around the far post.

But that was as good as it got for Arsenal in the first half though. They lacked any drive or attacking momentum and Porto were able to wrestle control of midfield with little resistance.

Almunia had to rescue the Gunners when he blocked Lucho Gonzalez's close-range effort and Gallas was on hand to scramble the loose ball clear.

Porto stepped up the pressure and got their reward in the 39th minute as Diaby was punished for a dismal piece of defending.

Diaby completely lost Bruno Alves at an inswinging corner and the Arsenal midfielder could only watch in dismay as the Porto star headed powerfully past Almunia.

Arsenal were just as lethargic after half-time and it was Eboue who was the villain again as the right-back's dozy defending allowed Lisandro to make it 2-0 in the 54th minute.

Fernando's pass split the Arsenal defence but Eboue played Lisandro onside and the striker took full advantage, racing clear to drive past Almunia.

Wenger responded by sending on teenagers Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere and Arsenal briefly showed some life when Ramsey's turn and shot tested Helton.

Porto still looked the more potent force and Cristian Rodriguez made a dynamic run into the area that ended with a low shot just wide of the far post.

Lucho should have added to Arsenal's misery but failed to hit the target with only Almunia to beat. Wenger and company had to be content with such small mercies on a dispiriting night.

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