SEVILLE, Spain – The Sevilla crowd was ready to erupt when forward Luis Muriel appeared free from markers inside the area, with the ball in perfect position for his header just a few meters (yards) from the goal.
From that spot, there was surely nothing Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea could do to keep the hosts from opening the scoring.
Only, there was.
De Gea came up with a spectacular one-handed reflex stop, quickly stretching out his right arm to parry the ball over the crossbar and stun both Muriel and the local fans.
It was the highlight of another solid performance by De Gea, and it helped United hold Sevilla to a 0-0 draw in their first-leg match in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.
“It was in the last minute of the first half so it was an important moment of the game,” De Gea said. “I made a save and I’m happy for that.”
Muriel had nobody close to him when he jumped near the six-yard (meter) line but his firm header wasn’t placed far enough from De Gea and the goalkeeper made him pay.
In disbelief, the Colombian forward embraced the left post and closed his eyes for a few moments.
“I lament that missed chance,” Muriel said. “I could have gone for the corner but I decided to strike it harder instead of placing it. De Gea is a great goalkeeper and made a great save.”
A few moments before Muriel’s header, De Gea had already been forced to tip a header by Steven N’Zonzi over the crossbar. He also stopped a long-range shot by Muriel by making a difficult diving save close the ground.
The scoreless result left the tie open heading into next month’s second leg in Manchester, when Sevilla will be trying to make it to the quarterfinals for the first time and United will look to return to the last eight after three seasons.
In the night’s other game, Shakhtar Donetsk came from a goal down to beat Roma 2-1 after midfielder Fred netted the winner with a perfect free kick in the 71st minute.
It was another solid defensive performance by United, which has kept nine clean sheets in its last 11 matches in all competitions. Jose Mourinho’s team has the best defense in the Premier League with 19 goals conceded in 27 matches.
“I think the only moment where we felt relieved was in the last couple of minutes in the first half where (we had) a couple of mistakes in possession and they had a couple of good situations with two David great saves,” Mourinho said. “We have one match to decide everything at Old Trafford.”
Sevilla, a five-time Europa League winner, hadn’t been held to a scoreless draw at its Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium in 62 consecutive matches in European competitions, dating back to 2005. De Gea became the first visiting goalkeeper to keep Sevilla from scoring in a Champions League match at Sanchez-Pizjuan.
Sevilla coach Vincenzo Montella had warned ahead of the match that his strikers had to improve in front of goal because missed chances could be costly against United’s defense. He had complained about the team’s wasted chances in recent matches.
“I’m happy with the personality shown by the team but we should have scored a goal or two after creating so many chances,” he said. “But we have to be satisfied because it’s still wide open.”
In one of United’s few chances, forward Romelu Lukaku had a goal disallowed for controlling the ball with his arm before finding the net from inside the area with about 10 minutes left.
Mourinho raised some eyebrows by leaving Paul Pogba on the bench but had to bring the midfielder on less than 20 minutes into the match because of an injury to Ander Herrera.
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