Manchester United were eliminated from the most coveted Cup competition in the world on Wednesday night in heartbreaking fashion. Having won their home leg 3-2 and finishing off the tie with a level aggregate score of 4-4, United were put to the sword by the dreaded away goals rule.
Such are the laws of the modern day UEFA Champions League competition that Bayern Munich will now face French side Olympique Lyonnais in what’s sure to be a fantastic Semi Final.
Wednesday night’s match was the classic example of the game being a “tale of two halves”. United were by far the better team in the first half as they dominated possession with a strong attacking midfield consisting of Nani and Antonio Valencia on either side of the slyly included Wayne Rooney. The support consisted of a midfield three of Darron Gibson, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher.
United got the start they needed as Gibson caught Munich keeper Jorg Butt flat-footed with a fantastic long range strike. Nani struck second with a cheeky, yet brilliant back heel flick and United were suddenly cruising into the semi’s after 7 minutes. As an attacking unit, United were quite possibly at the best they’ve been in 2010 with Antonio Valencia seemingly taking on defenders and crossing at will.
United defender Rafael was the villain on the night after being sent off early in the second half after receiving his second yellow. After his dismissal, United’s attacking prowess was a shadow of it’s former self. It’s almost unbelievable how the absence of one man can destroy a team’s ability to hold up the ball and move out of their own half.
Rafael’s first yellow was a petulant kick out at Munich midfielder Mark van Bommel. The incident was deserved, callow and obvious. His marching orders came just a few minutes after the restart when he tugged back Franck Ribery who was full speed ahead towards United’s goal. The Munich players were then seen surrounding the referee in hopes they could influence his decision to send off the young Brazilian.
In a controversial statement, Sir Alex Ferguson has described the Munich players as behaving like “typical Germans“. Even as a United supporter, I’m not really sure I get the point of the odd statement and was upset to see Ferguson stoop to such depths.
Fast forward to the 74th minute with the score now 3-1. Spectators witnessed a moment of pure class when Dutch winger Arjen Robben volleyed in a spectacular shot off a Franck Ribery corner to put Munich level 4-4.
Let’s face it, in the moments that followed the sending off, Bayern Munich were always going to score to level the aggregate scoreline. They dominated possession and created chance after chance when all United could do was sit back and take the brunt of the attack. Bayern Munich definitely made the most of their man advantage and made United pay dearly for it.
I’m not going to say that either team was the better team over two legs. Bayern Munich won a tight first leg and United won the second, also by a 1 goal margin. This exit will be a tough one to take for United supporters, especially with the kind of season Wayne Rooney has had thus far. Get that man fit and in a final, and there’s no telling what he can do.
United supporters must take this setback with some perspective. Manchester United have participated in the last two Champions League Finals, won the Final in 2008, won the Premier League title three years straight, and still have a damn good chance to do it again this year, if and when Chelsea slip up. Not to mention a few League Cup titles and the FIFA Club World Cup a few years ago.
As the World Cup approaches in the not so far off distance, England supporters of Manchester United will also slowly turn their thoughts and energies to the national team hoping Rooney can lead the three lions like he has led the red devils.
In late round Champions League ties that are this close, an exit always hurts. Ferguson may lament some decisions in the first leg when it looked like United were set to take a 1-1 draw back home to Old Trafford. This year though, it just wasn’t to be – even if it was by the slimmest of margins.
I promise United fans that there are brighter days ahead. It’s not all doom and gloom. We played a good match (& won) and a few moments didn’t go our way. Still though, as I sit here writing this article hoping it’ll act as the therapy I need, I can’t help but to think what would have been had Rafael not been sent off and had Rooney been fully fit.
Guess we’ll never know.