Tuesday 11 December 2018

Romelu Lukaku shows his class by comforting Benfica's teenage goalkeeper after howler

Romelu Lukaku and Mile Svilar embrace after the UEFA Champions League group A match between SL Benfica and Manchester United at Estadio da Luz
Romelu Lukaku and Mile Svilar embrace after the UEFA Champions League group A match between SL Benfica and Manchester United at Estadio da Luz
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Romelu Lukaku showed his compassionate side after Manchester United's 1-0 away win over Benfica in the Champions League, taking the time to check on 18-years-and-52 days old - a Champions League record for youngest goalkeeper - Mile Svilar, whose mistake handed all three points to Jose Mourinho's side.

The young Belgian was caught out of position in the 64th minute as Marcus Rashford's free-kick from wide left looped over his head and ended up crossing the goal-line, while Svilar desperately scampered backwards to prevent it crossing the line. He couldn't.

Where it looked like the the ball would be crossed into the middle to be met with a header, Rashford instead bent his effort back towards goal, the flight deceiving Svilar and making him wish the ground would open up in front of him.

Svilar kicked the ball away in anger as the referee awarded the goal, before turning to the crowd to apologise. "It's a lonely place," said Rio Ferdinand in the BT Sport studio after the match.

There was some good to come of the incident though. As Manchester United players shook hands with their Benfica counterparts at the final whistle, Lukaku played big brother and spent time giving Svilar a pep talk and a cuddle.

Benfica sold last season's first choice shot-stopper, Ederson, to Man City to £34.7million and only gave Svilar his professional debut last Saturday in the Taca de Portugal against Olhanense from the Portuguese Second Division.

He kept a clean-sheet in that match but wasn't so fortunate on Wednesday evening, as his high profile mistake was the difference between the two.

Svilar was born and raised in Antwerp, also the home of Man Utd striker Lukaku, which might explain why he felt the particular need to reassure him.

Jose Mourinho revealed after the game that he had deliberately targeted Benfica's new goalkeeper,  providing confirmation that the relentless Sunday League hoofing of balls into the six yard box was strategy:

"I know how good the [goalkeeper] was and I told the players but we had a little strategy to take his space, to make him [nervous]. He risks a lot but only the very good take risks like that. We were in control."

The homework paid off. Steven Gerrard couldn't believe Benfica had entrusted a player with so little experience to guard their net:

"I don't know what the manager's doing. Picking [Svilar] is almost stitching him up. He's clearly talented but no way near ready to play in the Champions League."

On a more positive note, the #heartwarming scenes at the final whistle provided spectators with something approaching genuine entertainment, having been subjected to a 90 minute result grind by Mourinho's pragmatic United machine.

With it clear that sportsmanship is still alive, hopefully Lukaku's warm embrace will be all Svilar needs to overcome this setback. If it isn't, he should just watch YouTube clips of the time Ronaldinho near-hospitalised David Seaman with a similar strike.

It happens to the best sometimes, even those experienced and old enough to grow a moustache as majestic as the ex-Arsenal goalkeeper's.

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