United crash out on away goals

From a seemingly impregnable position, three goals ahead of Bayern
Munich on the night and two in front on aggregate, United’s world
collapsed in a six-minute spell either side of the interval.
First-leg match-winner Ivica Olic pulled a goal back immediately
before the break after Nani had followed up Darron Gibson’s early
opener by scoring two of his own. The goal put doubt in United
minds that turned into panic once Rafael had been sent off for a
second bookable offence shortly after the restart. United tried
desperately to hang on but just as the thought started to ferment
they might manage it, Robben escaped to the far post and rocketed a
volley beyond Edwin van der Sar after Franck Ribery had dropped a
perfect corner into his path. It was a gut-wrenching climax, that
leaves the Premier League without a semi-final representative for
the first time since 2003 and United shattered after the biggest
week of their season ended in total misery, with only an outside
chance of the title to cling to and a dressing room of shattered
bodies, physically and mentally, to revive. It had all started so
magnificently too after Ferguson had named Wayne Rooney in his
starting line-up. Such is the subterfuge involved in top-level
combat these days, Ferguson’s declaration that there was “no
chance” of his star striker being involved was just part of a game.
Yet, no matter how many potential line-ups Louis van Gaal had gone
through in his mind, it is a fair assumption that Gibson did not
feature in any of them. When Ferguson has talked the Republic of
Ireland international up as a potential star of the future, few
have tended to believe him. Clearly the United boss does have
faith, and what an inspired choice it proved to be. Barely two
minutes had passed when Rafael swept the ball forward to Rooney,
whose lay-off was collected by Gibson. If Hans-Jorg Butt had done
his homework, he would have known the Derry-born youngster tends to
get his goals from outside the area. His startled look as the ball
flashed past him suggested an obvious lack of revision. It was the
start United craved, and it was to get even better when Antonio
Valencia, a constant menace down the right, sent over one of a
number of dangerous crosses. Just as Joe Cole had done at the other
end on Saturday, Nani got himself to the near post and flicked the
ball into the far corner with his heel. Old Trafford erupted, in
precisely the manner Ferguson knew they would when he spoke about
the feeling of a ball being sucked into the opponents’ goal on
those special Old Trafford nights, of which he has had so many.
Bayern were completely bewildered, both by the team they were
facing and the whirlwind that had hit them. Rafael, Rooney and
Gibson combined again, this time to send the youngster through,
only for the full-back to suffer an untimely bout of nerves as the
goal stared back and he fired wide. Yet just as the half started in
a goal burst, so it ended the same way. Once more Valencia the
architect, once more Nani supplied the finish, and the elaborate
celebration. The sense of euphoria lasted two minutes, the time it
took for Olic to shrug Michael Carrick aside and find the bottom
corner with Bayern’s first decent chance. If Edwin van der Sar had
not brilliantly turned away a curling shot from Robben that was
heading for the bottom corner, United would actually have reached
half-time behind on away goals, so precarious was their advantage.
Amid all the goalmouth incident, another pivotal moment had gone
largely unnoticed. Rafael’s petulant kick at Mark van Bommel came
back to haunt him four minutes after the restart when he tugged
Ribery back. The sight of the Bayern players converging on referee
Nicola Rizzoli demanding a red card was unseemly. The decision
itself was correct. Rafael’s dismissal brought Rooney’s involvement
to an end as John O’Shea was introduced for the first time in five
months to shore up the defensive gap and begin a rearguard action
that required resistance to almost constant bombardment. United
tried to break. Indeed Nani nearly scored his hat-trick from one
such raid, but the overwhelming pressure was one-way. Even then it
took a phenomenal goal to defeat the hosts as Robben’s
perfectly-executed volley flew past Van der Sar into the far
corner. United did not have the energy to respond.