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Nakamura magic puts Celtic through

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GLASGOW, Scotland -- Celtic won a nerve-shredding Champions League clash 1-0 against Manchester United on Tuesday with a spectacular free-kick from Shunsuke Nakamura to seal a place in the knockout phase for the first time.

Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc brilliantly saved a last minute penalty by Louis Saha to ensure their safe passage and match the feat of arch-rivals Rangers who last season became the first Scottish club to reach the last 16.

With one round of matches to play, Celtic have nine points from five games and qualify from Group F because of their better record against United, who also have nine.

Benfica are third with seven points after beating visitors Copenhagen 3-1.

United dominated the first half without producing a real threat on goal in a tense 45 minutes in the Group F collision.

Saha had the first chance after three minutes when he caught Celtic captain Neil Lennon in possession on the edge of the box but Boruc saved the Frenchman's low drive from 20 meters.

Ryan Giggs swung a corner out to the edge of the penalty area after 30 minutes for Wayne Rooney to crack in a volley which zipped just beyond the left post before Bobo Balde bungled at the back and let in Cristiano Ronaldo.

The defender lost his footing and the ball on the left and the Portuguese midfielder surged into the box only for Polish keeper Boruc to dive to his left and touch away the fierce low drive seven minutes from the interval.

But a minute later Celtic produced their first chance when Polish forward Maciej Zurawski finished a pounding run down the right by whipping the ball over to the back of the box where Thomas Gravesen headed across goal and just past the right post.

The lackluster match exploded in the second half when, firstly, Saha took a leisurely shot at goal from 12 meters after believing he was offside and Boruc clawed the ball away as the Frenchman clutched his head.

Then with nine minutes left Japanese midfielder Nakamura curled in a fabulous 30-meter free-kick from out on the right into the top corner of the net for the opener.

In the final minute, Gravesen was ruled to have handled a free-kick by Ronaldo and United were awarded a hotly-disputed penalty.

However, Saha's knee-high shot towards the left side of the net was superbly turned away by Boruc to secure Celtic's victory.

Benfica hopes remain alive

Meanwhile, Italian winger Fabrizio Miccoli scored twice as Benfica defeated Copenhagen 3-1 to stay in the race to qualify from Group F.

Benfica dominated from the start and opened the scoring through Brazilian defender Leo who netted with an acutely angled shot from the right after 14 minutes.

Two minutes later, Miccoli doubled the lead with a shot from just outside the box after a good exchange with Nuno Gomes.

Miccoli scored the third goal after 37 minutes when Copenhagen goalkeeper Jesper Christiansen failed to hold the ball.

"Our defensive strategy collapsed with two goals in two minutes," said Copenhagen coach Stale Solbakken.

The Danes scored a consolation when Marcus Allback headed home a minute from the end.

With Celtic qualifying for the last 16 following their 1-0 win over Manchester United, Benfica could secure their place in the knockout stages with a win at Old Trafford in their last game on December 6. "It will be a difficult game," Benfica coach Fernando Santos said, referring to the United match.


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Nakamura celebrates his superb strike to seal Celtic's qualification in Glasgow.

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