Manchester United 1 Valencia 1: Anderson the saviour as leveller ensures Fergie's men top group
A boy from the beaches of Brazil eased Manchester United into the knockout phase of the Champions League on a freezing English night at Old Trafford.
Pablo Hernandez's first-half strike stopped United becoming the first side in the history of this competition to go through the group stage without conceding a goal.
Quick on the draw: Anderson sidefoots home the equaliser for Manchester United
Far more importantly, however, Anderson's first for United in Europe made sure that Sir Alex Ferguson's side - and not Valencia - finish top of Group C and will therefore avoid Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich when the draw for the last 16 is made in Nyon a week on Friday.
Ferguson has been here many times before and knows it will be far from easy; United could yet be paired with either of the Milan clubs. But he also knows they now stand a much better chance when the serious business gets under way in February.
'We can make progress,' he said. 'Now we will just have to take whoever we get. We made a lot of chances and played a lot of good football. But then we settled on what we'd got, tried to see out the game and that can be dangerous.'Their goalkeeper had a golden day. He was marvellous but should have scored a few more goals.'
Ferguson is used to seeing United make it hard for themselves and last night was certainly no exception. They had enough opportunities to bury Valencia but a combination of poor finishing, in particular from Dimitar Berbatov, and some quite exceptional goalkeeping by Vicente Guaita kept their fans on the edge of their seats right to the last.
Pain from Spain: Valencia's Pablo Hernandez scores the opening goal
One concern for Ferguson is the fitness of Rio Ferdinand who was forced off with a tight hamstring early in the second half and had to be replaced by Chris Smalling.
The England defender will be assessed this morning but Ferguson is confident Ferdinand will be available for the forthcoming Barclays Premier League clashes with Arsenal and Chelsea.
MANCHESTER UNITED(4-4-2): Amos 6; Rafael 6, Ferdinand 6 (Smalling 50min, 6), Vidic 6, Fabio 5; Nani 7 (Giggs 81), Carrick 5, Anderson 7 (Fletcher 89), Park 6; Berbatov 6, Rooney 7. Subs not used: Kuszczak, Hernandez, Obertan, Macheda. Booked: Anderson.
VALENCIA(4-4-1-1): Guaita 8; Miguel 5, R Costa 6, Dealbert 6, Mathieu 5; Hernandez 7 (Feghouli 81), Banega 6, Albelda 6, Alba 6 (Mata 68, 6); Dominguez 7 (Isco 54, 6); Aduriz 6. Subs not used: Cesar, Maduro, Soldado, F Costa. Booked: Albelda, Miguel.
Man of the match: Vicente Guaita.
Referee: Pedro Proenca (Portugal) 6.
There were some big plusses as well, not least the continuing improvement of Wayne Rooney, who looked sharper than at any point since last season. Twice he combined with Anderson in the early stages but Guaita produced two fine saves and then blocked Ji-Sung Park's volley from Rooney's cross at point-blank range. When the England striker did finally beat him with a wonderful curling attempt from 25 yards, it clipped the bar and fell for Nani whose follow-up shot crept just wide of the far post.
By then United were behind as a weakened Valencia side went ahead in the 32nd minute. Michael Carrick has to take the blame for dithering near halfway and allowing Alejandro Dominguez to intercept his weak pass.
As Fabio tried to get back and fill the void at left-back, the Argentine played the ball into the path of Hernandez and young goalkeeper Ben Amos, on his Champions League debut, could not keep out the shot. That the Spaniards held on to their lead for so long was due in no small measure to the profligacy of Berbatov, who missed a string of chances at the start of the second half and had another effort correctly ruled out for offside when he finally put the ball past Guaita.
The Bulgarian plundered five goals on his last Old Trafford appearance against Blackburn, but it is now just five minutes short of 16 hours since he hit his last Champions League against Celtic in October 2008.
Anderson will know how that feels, having scored only once in all competitions for United before last night. But when Park's fierce effort from the edge of the box brought another fantastic one-handed save from Guaita in the 62nd minute, the Brazilian was waiting to tuck home the loose ball.
It was United's 150th goal in UEFA competitions on the night Ferguson changed his team for the 150th game in a row. There was still time for another landmark moment as Ryan Giggs came on as a late substitute for Nani to make his 850th appearance for the club.
Top boys: The Brazilian celebrates his goal with Wayne Rooney
'Anderson should get more,' said Ferguson. 'He's a terrific talent, great pace and power. We're pleased he got the goal and it may help him.
'Berba could have scored five tonight, he was unlucky. But Wayne Rooney did very well again - his distribution, the way he led the line, his penetration. He was outstanding, and he's getting there quickly.'
Rooney was happy with his progress despite still not having scored in open play since March. 'I feel good fitness-wise,' he said. 'Just in and around the box I've got to get my sharpness back.'
He will get better and so will United. They always do in the second half of the season. For now, they can be satisfied with a point and first place in their group. The true value of that will become apparent in nine days' time.