A late goal from substitute Anthony Elanga rescued a 1-1 draw for Manchester United at Atletico Madrid in their Champions League last-16 first-leg clash on Wednesday (February 23). United, looking disjointed and lacking spark, were cornered from the start by a relentless Atleti, who opened the scoring after seven minutes with a brilliant header by Joao Felix from Renan Lodi’s cross.

Atletico had many opportunities to extend their lead and hit the post twice but were punished by a defensive mistake which gifted the ball to Bruno Fernandes 10 minutes from time. The Portuguese playmaker found Elanga behind the defensive line and the 19-year-old striker scored with a precise cross shot, one of only two United efforts on target in the whole game but none by Cristiano Ronaldo.

United faced a hostile atmosphere at Metropolitano stadium as the home fans packed the sold-out venue and cheered loudly as their team make a fast start. “Looking at the game, the way it was, we have to feel really happy with the result,” United manager Ralf Rangnick told a news conference.

“After the performance in the first half it could only get better. What we played in the first half – I still can’t believe it. We played without conviction and the necessary aggression against the ball. That’s why we were really struggling.”

Atletico suffocated United’s defence with a fierce high pressing game and dominated the ball with almost 70 per cent of possession. The Premier League side failed to register a shot on target in the first half and the hosts almost extended their lead just before halftime when Sime Vrsaljko’s header struck the crossbar.

With his team failing to break down Atleti’s compact defensive lines, Rangnick made four substitutions, replacing Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford with Alex Telles and Elanga who came up with the equaliser.

Atletico substitute Antoine Griezmann nearly grabbed a late winner for the hosts but his shot from inside the box hit the post. “We are not happy because it was not a good display of football from us, but we are strong at home and we believe we can improve in the second leg, win and advance,” Telles told a news conference.

(with Reuters inputs)

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