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.