De­pay moves United closer to group stage

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY STEVE DOU­GLAS

Manch­ester United may just have found a new star to fill the club’s iconic No. 7 shirt.

New sign­ing Mem­phis De­pay moved United closer to qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the lu­cra­tive Cham­pi­ons League group stage Tues­day, scor­ing a first-half dou­ble and pro­vid­ing an as­sist for Marouane Fel­laini’s stop­page-time header in a 3-1 win over Bruges in the first leg of their play­off.

“I want to kiss him tonight,” United man­ager Louis van Gaal said of De­pay.

The 21- year- old Nether­lands winger joined United from PSV Eind­hoven in the off­sea­son for £25 mil­lion (now US$39 mil­lion), with a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the hottest prospects in Europe. He was handed the No. 7 jersey worn by United greats Ge­orge Best, David Beck­ham, Eric Can­tona and Cris­tiano Ron­aldo.

It’s still very early days — three com­pet­i­tive games, to be pre­cise — but De­pay is al­ready fast be­com­ing an Old Traf­ford fa­vorite.

His goals, in the 13th and 43rd min­utes, came af­ter pick­ing up the ball out­side the penalty area. De­pay’s whipped cross for Fel­laini’s header in the fourth minute of in­jury time — when Bruges was down to 10 men af­ter Bran­don Mechele’s 80th-minute red card — was just as im­pres­sive and might be even more im­por­tant.

Late goals were a theme of the Cham­pi­ons League play­offs Tues­day.

Lazio beat Bayer Lev­erkusen 1-0 through Keita’s 77th-minute goal, Is­lam Sli­mani struck an 82nd-minute win­ner for Sport­ing Lis­bon in a 2-1 vic­tory over CSKA Moscow, and BATE Borisov of Be­larus beat Par­ti­zan Bel­grade 1-0 cour­tesy of Mikhail Gorde­ichuk’s 75th-minute strike.

In the other match, FC As­tana has a good chance of be­com­ing the first Kazakh team to reach the group stage af­ter beat­ing APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus 1-0.

While those four matches hang in the bal­ance head­ing into the sec­ond legs on Aug. 26, Bruges may strug­gle to re­cover from the goal scored by Fel­laini — a Bel­gium in­ter­na­tional.

“If you keep 2-1, you have hope, you never know,” said Bruges coach Michel Preud’homme, who is a good friend of Fel­laini’s. “But this last goal was very bad for the con­fi­dence.”

De­pay failed to shine in his first two matches for United — 1-0 wins in the Premier League against Tot­ten­ham and As­ton Villa — but he made his mark on the Euro­pean stage with his first goals for the 20-time English cham­pi­ons.

United fell be­hind when Michael Car­rick di­verted an 8th-minute free kick into his own goal but was level five min­utes later. De­pay col­lected a pass from Car­rick, cut in­side his marker, and drove a shot into the cor­ner from in­side the area.

His sec­ond was even

bet­ter. Da­ley Blind’s slide-rule pass split Bruges’ de­fense and found De­pay, who curled home a shot into the far cor­ner from marginally fur­ther out than his first goal.

“I ended last sea­son with a lot of goals,” De­pay said. “You come to a big club and you have to do a good job again. It is a nice feel­ing to score two goals at Old Traf­ford.”

As­tana did not ex­ist when Man United won the last of its Euro­pean Cups, in 2008.

But the gov­ern­ment- backed team, which is play­ing in the Cham­pi­ons League for the first time this sea­son, could pro­vide a great story line af­ter tak­ing the ini­tia­tive in the matchup against APOEL thanks to a 14th-minute header by Bau­rzhan Dzholchiyev.

AP

Manch­ester United’s Marouane Fel­laini, right, cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing against Brugge dur­ing the Cham­pi­ons League play-off round, first leg soc­cer match be­tween Manch­ester United and Club Brugge at Old Traf­ford, Manch­ester, Eng­land, Tues­day, Aug. 18.

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