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Utd face battle to avoid cup exit

Rooney came closest to scoring with a last-minute shot over the bar

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) -- Manchester United face a desperate battle to stay in the Champions League after they were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw by Villarreal in Group D at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

United failed to score for the third straight game in the event and must win their final match at Benfica to guarantee a place in the knockout stages for the 10th year in a row.

Villarreal top the standings with seven points from five games, one ahead of United and Lille who were also held to a goalless draw at home to Benfica.

United made a lively start at Old Trafford and nearly took the lead after three minutes when Wayne Rooney brilliantly created room for a shot which was smothered by goalkeeper Mariano Barbosa.

Rooney then had a long-range effort blocked by his strike partner Van Nistelrooy but Villarreal, with five Argentines in their ranks, put together some neat attacks of their own.

United winger Cristiano Ronaldo headed a Paul Scholes corner narrowly over the bar as the hosts desperately sought to increase the tempo but despite winning a succession of corners they failed to test Barbosa again before halftime.

The introduction of Park Ji-sung as a substitute perked United up and the Korean almost set up a chance for Rooney with his first touch.

The game became scrappy amid a flurry of yellow cards, Marcos Senna and Alessio Tacchinardi of Villarreal and Scholes for United.

Park and Rooney again combined well to create an opportunity for the Korean but United were increasingly frustrated by the delaying tactics of their opponents.

An unmarked Ronaldo headed an inviting cross from Wes Brown well wide and the biggest cheer of the evening came on 73 minutes when Gary Neville returned to the side after three months out with a groin injury.

The England international and fellow substitute Louis Saha, making his first appearance of the season, failed to inspire their team, however, and Rooney's shot just over the bar was the closest United came in the dying minutes.

On hold

Lille's hopes of qualifying for the phase were put on hold when they were held to a goalless draw by Benfica at the Stade de France on Tuesday.

The Ligue 1 side, who have only scored once in their Champions League campaign this season, once more proved too goal-shy to break down their rivals' defense.

Lille will book a place in the last 16 should they beat Villareal in two weeks time.

"We played a very solid game," coach Claude Puel said.

"They almost had no chances. As far as we're concerned, we created several good chances but failed to convert them."

Midfielder Geoffrey Dernis said: "A victory would have put us in a very good position but as we've always said, we'll have to snatch our qualification in Spain."

A French European crowd record was broken as some 76,079 fans saw a disappointing game at the Stade de France.

The previous record was set on November 2 in the same stadium when the northeners beat Manchester United 1-0 in front of a 66,740 crowd.

Lille had a clear chance five minutes before the break but striker Matt Moussilou proved too clumsy in the box to give Lille the advantage.

Benfica had to replace Italian striker Fabrizio Miccoli with substitute Mantorras after 44 minutes after Miccoli suffered a thigh injury.

In the second half, the home side enjoyed most of the possession but failed to get past Benfica's rearguard, well marshalled by Brazilian Luisao.

Cameroon midfielder Jean Makoun had a last chance for the hosts in the 88th minute but his powerful header was tipped over the bar by Benfica goalkeeper Quim.

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