The Reds were superb for 56 minutes and it was looking likely that they would go through to the quarter-final of the UEFA Champions League. Then referee Cuneyt Cakir ruined the magnificent tie with his horrific decision to send off Nani. Los Blancos immediately scored twice and their dream of la decima is still on.
Disclaimer: This is going to be a terrible recap. I'm just too gutted to do anything better.
Just before kick-off, Cristiano Ronaldo was showered with affectionate applause by the vociferous Old Trafford crowd-- and then booed on his first touch. The surprises from Ferguson continued as it was Ryan Giggs -- in his 1,000th appearance -- that started on the right, Nani was on the left, and Danny Welbeck was just behind lead striker Robin van Persie. United were happy to soak up pressure but their shape was disciplined and Real Madrid never were a consistent (counter-) attacking threat. Instead, it was the home side that was most incisive, particularly Welbeck and Nani on the break. Ferguson clearly was targeting Alvaro Arbeola in transitions while the Real right-back was given all the space he could ever want when the away side had the ball. It was 0-0 at half-time but the Reds deserved a lead.
Soon after the start of the second-half, United got their goal from a Sergio Ramos own-goal. All was well. Then in the 56th minute, the entire two-legged tie -- which had more than lived up it's grand hype -- was ruined by referee Cuneyt Cakir when he shockingly decided to send off Nani for a high-boot on Arbeola. Quite simply, the decision was awful and it changed everything.
Immediately after United went down to ten-men, Real upped the pressure and not surprisingly, they got two quick goals from substitute Luka Modric and former United man Ronaldo. The Reds valiantly fought back but they were repeatedly denied by the outstanding Diego Lopez in goal -- arguably the Spanish side's most impressive player over the two legs. As anticipated, the United (understandably) crowded the Turkish referee at full-time while Ferguson yelled things you probably wouldn't want children to hear.
My initial reaction is obviously anger towards Cakir and just heart-break from the loss. I'm so proud of the players because they deserved to go through and they proved to me that they are a very, very good team. This is close to being an elite side. One certainly better than I've personally given them credit for. It was such a joy seeing Ryan Giggs boss the match at 39-years-old and in his 1,000th match. It was a treat to see a youngster like Danny Welbeck thrive on such a big stage -- Xabi Alonso is likely hoping he'll never have to play against him again. Every Red should be proud -- whether you're a player, a coach, part of the staff at the club, or a supporter. And it's because of all of this that I'm so incredibly gutted. We deserved better. This defeat will stick with me for a long time.
Manchester United man of the match?
Ryan Giggs (91 votes)
Rafael (26 votes)
Danny Welbeck (63 votes)
Other (please share why in the comments section) (14 votes)
194 total votes