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(From Guardian Unlimited)
Preamble: Good evening everyone. So it all comes down to this. It's very rare that Manchester United go into the final game of a Champions League group needing a result to qualify, but that's the case tonight. Should United win, they will be guaranteed a place in the last 16 alongside Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Rangers. Should they draw and Villarreal beat Lille (or Lille beat Villarreal by more than one goal), then they will also qualify. Should they draw and the game in Spain also end in a draw, or if they lose in Lisbon, United will not reach the knockout stages for the first time in a decade. And should that happen, Sir Alex Ferguson's days as United manager will most likely be numbered at the end of the season.
That's how important tonight's clash is. It's also pretty big for Benfica too, of course. The Portuguese team haven't had much European success since the early 1990s - when they were a force on the continent under the management of Sven-Goran Eriksson. They'll have about 65,000 locals cheering them on this evening in the Stadio da Luz - the place where a certain George Best made his name in 1966. That's one of two great nights United have had against Benfica - the other coming in the 1968 European Cup final at Wembley - and it could be time for United's latest boy wonder, Wayne Rooney, to score his first Champions League goal since his debut hat-trick against Fenerbahce last season and really make his mark on the tournament. One note of caution though: United haven't won away in the Champions League for two years. Oh, and one more: they've only scored two goals in five games in the competition this season.
Benfica: Quim, Alcides, Luisao, Anderson, Leo, Nuno Assis, Petit, Beto, Nelson, Nuno Gomes, Geovanni.
Subs: Nereu, Bruno Aguiar, Mantorras, Dos Santos, Joao Pereira, Roque, Ricardo Rocha.
Man Utd: Van der Sar, Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea, Ronaldo, Smith, Scholes, Giggs, Rooney, Van Nistelrooy. Subs: Howard, Brown, Saha, Park, Richardson, Fletcher, Bardsley.
Referee: Kyros Vassaras (Greece)
Fergie has at last thrown caution to the wind and picked not just a 4-4-2 formation, but an attacking 4-4-2 formation, with Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo (a Benfica supporter) on the wings. That means Darren Fletcher and Park ji-Sung are both on the bench, while Gary Neville returns to the side and assumes the captaincy.
The Benfica side has been hamstrung by injuries, most notably to their playmaker Simao.
Sky Sports are actually covering the game between Sparta Prague and FC Thun this evening. Will the viewing figures reach double figures for that game, I wonder?
First anti-United email "Am I the only one cheering on Benfica?" asks Jus Cooper. I'm sure you're not. "If for nothing else, but to see what shade of red Fergie's head goes in the post-match interview before he explodes?"
While we're waiting "The telly is down, due to some misundertanding about a bill - so I'm reduced (that's not …