Posted on August 26, 2007
Nani hit a stunning 30-yard winner as Manchester United beat Tottenham 1-0 at Old Trafford to get their Premier League defence up and running.
With United looking set for a point at best from the pulsating tussle, Nani repaid the first portion of his £17million transfer fee with a sensational second-half winner.
It allowed Sir Alex Ferguson’s men to register their first win of the season, and prevented them making their worst start since the year Ron Atkinson was sacked.
But it was tough luck on Spurs who put a week of off-field problems behind them to battle manfully throughout, producing a stirring display for their under-fire manager Martin Jol.
And they also had what they thought was a stonewall penalty claim turned down shortly before Nani’s decisive strike.
How Jol must hate Old Trafford. Two years ago Pedro Mendes had a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed because none of the officials spotted his long-range shot had dropped over the line.
And Dutchman is now probably nursing an equal sense of injustice after Wes Brown appeared to block Dimitar Berbatov’s strike with his arm inside the box.
Nevertheless, with Robbie Keane hitting the bar inside 20 seconds and Berbatov denied only by Rio Ferdinand’s desperate goal-line clearance before the penalty claim, Jol could legitimately argue his side deserved much more than a third loss, which makes his stated aim of a Champions League place all the more harder to attain.
Not that Jol’s troubles will concern Ferguson too much after United finally got their title defence up and running after a nightmare start.
Despite Ferguson’s bold pre-match declaration that his side would win, confidence inside the United camp must be fragile just now and Robbie Keane had the perfect opportunity to inflict yet more damage inside the opening 20 seconds.
After Nani gifted Steed Malbranque possession deep inside his own half, he fed Berbatov, whose precise flick offered Keane his sight of goal. But, from 20 yards, the Spurs skipper could only clip the top of Edwin van der Sar’s crossbar.
It was the nearest either side came to breaking the deadlock during an opening period memorable for the frequent songs of the Tottenham faithful offering their backing to Jol and for the number of times United got to within 40 yards of the visitors goal and created precisely nothing.
On his home debut, Owen Hargreaves was off target with two long-range efforts, Paul Scholes flicked a shot wide and Michael Carrick was shaved the post with a 25-yard effort.
However, up front on his own, Carlos Tevez was ineffective, the need for support clear for all to see. But, with Cristiano Ronaldo suspended, Wayne Rooney nursing a broken foot and both Louis Saha and Anderson still injured, the Argentina star was forced to forage alone.
If Ferguson thought things would improve after the break he was sadly mistaken.
Yet again, Spurs had the best chance as Ricardo Rocha climbed above Rio Ferdinand but, from barely six yards, could only head Gareth Bale’s free-kick wide.
There was not even an hour on the clock when Michael Carrick was taken off after a poor performance against his former club.
It proved the spark for a 10-minute period in which Tottenham came agonisingly close to scoring, the had what they felt was a certain penalty claim turned down before Nani finally broke the deadlock.
Berbatov was convinced a spot-kick should have been awarded and he led a posse of visiting players around referee Howard Webb.
Just prior to that, Berbatov must have thought he had opened the scoring when he rose first after a tangle with Nemanja Vidic, then prodded a shot through Van der Sar’s legs, only for Rio Ferdinand to boot clear from virtually on his own line.
The full scale of those incidents going against Tottenham became apparent on United’s next attack as Nani collected a loose ball 30 yards out, turned towards the visitors goal, then unleashed a magnificent shot which appeared to flick off Tevez before it flew in.