MAN UNITED 1, REAL MADRID 2
(Real Madrid win 3-2 on aggregate)
Sir Alex Ferguson was so devastated by Manchester United’s controversial Champions League exit that he was lost for words and unable to attend the post match press conference.
“We have a distraught dressing room and distraught manager which is why I am sat here,” explained No 2 Mike Phelan who was sent to attend the briefing.
Ferguson has seen his dream of delivering a third Champions League title disappear when Nani was dramatically dismissed by Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir.
United appeared on course to reach the quarter finals as the sending off completely changed the complexion of the game as they were ahead through a Sergio Ramos own goal and rarely in trouble.
Thirteen minutes later and Real had overturned the deficit through goals from Luca Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo who was given a rapturous welcome on his return to Old Trafford for the first time since his £80million move to Spain.
It was also a sad night for Ryan Giggs who was making his 1,000th career appearance while Ferguson again failed to get the better of Jose Mourinho – he has registered only two victories in 16 matches against his rival.
Phelan said: “We felt we had our tactics right for the big occasion and were comfortable in the first half.
“We scored which put us in a commanding position then the game completely changed by one decision which was amazing and very harsh.
“Everybody is sat in the dressing room extremely disappointed and wondering why it has happened. It was a great performance marred by one decision.”
Ferguson and Mourinho adopted a cautious approach as underlined by a look at the respective substitutes’ benches.
United has the likes of Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Shinji Kagawa in reserve.
Real’s bench included Karim Benzema, Pepe, Kaka and Modric as they, too, had plenty of back up if change were required.
After a tentative opening, United almost went ahead after 20 minutes when Nemanja Vidic’s header from Giggs’ corner struck an upright with keeper Diego Lopez beaten.
Danny Welbeck’s follow-up shot was desperately saved on the line by Lopez, but the referee’s assistant had flagged for offside.
Real had a goal ruled out after a foul by Serge Ramos who climbed over Robin van Persie before heading on the ball to Gonzalo Higuain who found the net.
United had another glorious chance to take the lead when Lopez superbly denied Danny Welbeck after initially parrying a shot from van Persie.
The breakthrough came three minutes after the restart when Ramos put through his own goal.
Nani’s cross from the left was touched on by Welbeck and Ramos could only divert it past Lopez into his own goal.
The match exploded to life when Nani was controversially sent off following a challenge on Alvaro Arbeloa which appeared more accidental than malicious.
Ferguson raced to the touchline to contest the dismissal and then gestured windmill like with his arms to fans in all four stands to whip up the atmosphere.
The sending off proved to be the pivotal moment of match as within 13 minutes United’s lead had been overturned.
Modric, who had only been on the field for seven minutes, powered home a 25-yard drive which flew in off the upright.
And three minute late, United were undone again as Higuain crossed from the right of the box and Ronaldo slid in at the far post to convert from a couple of yards.
United, needing to find two goals from somewhere, sent on Rooney, Young and Valencia.
They exerted considerable pressure with Michael Carrick, van Persie and Vidic all denied by Lopez who was unbeatable.
With United committed to all-out attack, Real could have won by a wider margin as Kaka’s deflected effort struck an upright while Ronaldo was twice denied by David De Gea.