Red Devils forced to take qualification attempt to final game against Basel with a poor defensive performance despite dominating for long periods of the second halfManchester United will need a point against Basel in their final Champions League Group C game to ensure qualification to the knockout stages, after being held to a 2-2 draw at home to a Benfica side who have sealed progression to the round of 16.
The hosts were on the back foot from the off as they conceded within the opening five minutes through a Phil Jones own goal. They later equalised through Dimitar Berbatov, and looked favourites to take the three points for much of the second half.
The Red Devils took the lead through Darren Fletcher, but were immediately pegged back through a Pablo Aimar goal that proved to be enough to see the Portuguese through, courtesy of their superior head-to-head record against the Old Trafford side.
For United, Wayne Rooney did not recover from a knock he picked up on Saturday against Swansea, so Ashley Young filling in after three games on the sidelines with a toe injury. Berbatov was given a rare start up front to partner him.
Nemanja Vidic was suspended after picking up a red card in their previous game against Otelul Galati, and as such Jones partnered Rio Ferdinand in central defence, with Patrice Evra and Fabio flanking them.
And the defence looked shaky from the start, as Benfica took the lead with the first attack of the game in the fourth minute. Patrice Evra was caught upfield as he slipped over, allowing rumoured United target Nicolas Gaitan space on the right.
As the Frenchman struggled to get back, Gaitan fired in a shot that deflected off Evra's legs and across goal, where it went in off the helpless Jones' knee as he became the fifth United player to score an own goal in the Champions League.
The home side looked shell-shocked, and could have conceded again straight after, when a quick corner led to a chance for Bruno Cesar to force in an effort at goal, but fortunately for the hosts it flew over.
United were undoubtedly growing into the game, though it had become a bit stop/start as Benfica conceded many niggly fouls when the hosts seemed to threaten.
And on the stroke of the half hour, United were level. A quick free-kick taken by Young was pushed wide to Nani, who found Berbatov to glance a header into the far corner for his first Champions League goal in over three years.
It was a fine header from the Bulgarian, but he was afforded far too much space in the penalty area from the Benfica defence, who outnumbered the United players in the area by two to one.
For a brief period the game seemed to be turning into a basketball-style match as first Benfica looked to attack before Young was sent through on goal by Berbatov, only to hit his effort straight at the goalkeeper.
Five minutes before half-time United seemed set to take the lead, as Michael Carrick found Young in space, who lofted a ball over the top for Berbatov. The Bulgarian drew the ball out of the air before nutmegging Luisao, but his shot was deflected out for a corner which came to nothing.
United came out after half-time with increased vigour and were causing the Benfica defence plenty of problems in the opening 10 minutes with sustained pressure on the goal as Carrick, Berbatov and Nani began to torment.
And they should have taken the lead as Fabio found himself in front of goal with only Artur to beat, but he elected to chip the 'keeper, and it didn't come off.
The pressure was growing, and eventually United did gain the advantage. It seemed no coincidence however, that the rock at the back of Benfica's defence was forced to go off only minutes beforehand.
After a Valencia cross was cleared, Evra picked up the ball deep on the left. His ball found the perfectly timed run of Fletcher, and though his first effort was well saved by Artur, he calmly knocked in the follow-up.
But United had all their hard work undone seconds later, as they gifted Benfica an equaliser. A back-pass from Jones was shoddily cleared by David de Gea, and no-one from the United defence seemed to react as Cesar ran into the box.
His cross was blocked by Ferdinand, but it fell kindly to Aimar to volley into the roof of the net.
The goal really took the wind out of United's sails, and exposed the defensive frailties that have plagued them thus far in the Champions League.
As the half progressed it seemed that both sets of players were feeling the effects of the match taking place at such a frenetic pace.
With a little over 10 minutes to go Berbatov missed a real opportunity to put daylight between the sides at the top of the table, volleying over from 10 yards with the goal gaping.
As the minutes wore on, United were packing the opposition half as Benfica looked set to hold out for a draw, that is until Machado broke and drilled a shot into the side netting.
There was still time for a United onslaught, but Benfica held strong to take it to the wire and the home side will now need a point in Basel to qualify, while the visitors could celebrate edging through - with an unbeaten record so far in the section.
How do you stay up to date with football when on the move? With http://m.goal.com – your best source for mobile coverage of the beautiful game.