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Rafael's exquisite strike helped Manchester United stay on course for the Barclays Premier League title as Queens Park Rangers's survival hopes took another blow after defeat at Loftus Road.
The Brazilian right-back's first-half effort set Sir Alex Ferguson's side on course for a victory which was wrapped up 10 minutes from time by veteran Ryan Giggs.
Harry Redknapp's team are seven points adrift of safety and have 11 matches remaining.
While QPR's on loan full-back Fabio was ineligible to face his parent club, his brother Rafael put in a fine performance in west London and rifled home from distance in the 23rd minute.
Giggs made sure of a victory that was never really in doubt late on, although United's afternoon was marred slightly by a knock to Robin van Persie.
The first opportunity for the visitors on 13 minutes. After being caught on the edge of the box by Jose Bosingwa - making his first appearance since 8 December - Nani connected with the resulting free-kick, only to see his flicked header go wide.
Adel Taarabt fired a low shot just wide of David de Gea's near post soon after but United were in control.
Julio Cesar had to be alert to tip a goalbound Javier Hernandez effort over the bar, with the Mexican meeting a Ashley Young cross with a superb improvised header.
United did not have to wait long for the opener, though, with Rafael thumping home in style midway through the first half.
Taarabt lost possession in his own half and play developed down the right, allowing Van Persie to wriggle free and hit a cross. Cesar parried the acute drive but the ball fell kindly for Rafael, who hammered a 25-yard strike into the top corner.
Jamie Mackie and Andros Townsend blazed over as QPR attempted to draw parity before Taarabt struck wide. When the Tottenham loanee did get the ball moments later, his long-range effort forced a corner from which Christopher Samba saw a header cleared off the line by Rafael.
The right-back, playing superbly in Shepherds Bush, then helped United counter, sending a fine ball over the top to Van Persie, who saw a brilliant left-footed volley denied in equally impressive fashion by Cesar.
It was the Netherlands international's last contribution before he was replaced by Danny Welbeck, having appeared to pick up a hip complaint in the build-up to Rafael's goal.
Despite his exit, United continued to control the match and almost immediately doubled their advantage as Giggs swung in a free-kick for the unmarked Nemanja Vidic to flash a header inches wide.
Bobby Zamora, managing a long-term hip injury, managed to return for the second half despite picking up an ankle injury at the end of the first half, unlike Esteban Granero, who was replaced by Jermaine Jenas after picking up a knock.
The visitors continued to threaten, Hernandez seeing an effort saved easily by Cesar before he was replaced by Wayne Rooney, who had been suffering with a sinus problem in the week.
QPR also made a change in the 61st minute, with Zamora limping off to be replaced by Loic Remy - a change that almost paid dividends straight away. The January signing made himself space in the box to unleash a well-struck effort that De Gea head to be alert to stop, with Samba heading wide from the following corner.
United soon settled, though, and QPR captain Clint Hill did well to block a close-range strike by Rooney, before Jenas put in an equally-impressively challenge to deny Welbeck.
The visitors grabbed their second goal 10 minutes from time as Nani played a cute ball through to Giggs, whose strike from an acute angle beat Cesar to send the 3,081 visiting supporters into raptures.
Giggs then rattled the crossbar with a looped strike and a Samba header brushed the post late on but there were to be no more goals despite the best efforts of both sides.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson: "It is a good position but you know the way we approach it is to win our next game. That is the best way to do it, carry on doing that. I think [the win] was more about determination and concentration at the back, in particular. We defended that part very, very well. It was a scrappy game at times and the pitch was lively.
"It is a tight ground and it was an ideal situation for a shock. Fortunately, we didn't get that. One goal is never enough, as you know. It only takes a second to lose a goal. I thought we played much better in the second half, I must say. We created some good chances but obviously Ryan [Giggs]'s goal with 11 or 12 minutes to go killed the game.
"I said to [Rafael] he must have closed his eyes. He has three goals for us this season. The lad has had an absolutely magnificent season and is maturing all the time. He has had a fantastic game."
Queens Park Rangers manager Harry Redknapp: "I thought we were bang in the game. The little right-back hits a 'worldie' – he won't hit another goal like that as long as he plays football. He's hit one out of the clouds that's gone in the top corner. Up until then there wasn't a lot in it.
"This leaves us bottom today, but we won't be bottom at the end of the season. I still feel we'll get out of it. Every game is important, they will be tough games. We need to get a team together on Monday, bed them in and work with them, and I think there's enough there to give us an opportunity. I'm still optimistic.
"You probably think I'm mad, but I don't think I am. Everybody else has written us off, but I haven't. I still feel we have a chance."
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