While this should probably go without saying – this was very much a game of two halves. The first proved to be a cagey and at times turgid affair that was dominated by Madrid in terms of possesion but by United in every other aspect, constantly threatening on the counter attack.
For the Manchester side Danny Wellbeck, controversially selected by Ferguson ahead of Wayne Rooney, was the stand out player on the pitch in the first 45. His size and speed constantly on display, holding up the ball beautifully as well as smoothly joining in on United’s counter attacking forays into the Spanish sides half.
It was only the open legs of Madrid’s stand-in goal keeper, Diego Lopez (and presumably the offside flag) that kept Wellbeck from scoring the first goal of the tie, when he swooped on the ball which had rebounded off Madrid’s upright after Nemanja Vidic crashed a header from a corner into it.
That was just about the only highlight of the first half, other than a handful of uncharacteristically scuffed shots from United’s Dutch hitman, Robin Van Persie, and one wild swing from Madrid’s Argentine forward Gonzao Higuain. It was in truth a fairly dull affair, Real Madrid’s charismatic manager, Jose Mourinho not even sticking around for the end of injury time.
While the scores may have 0-0, United had definitely had the better of the chances and looked the better side, despite having had less than 40 per cent of the ball. This combined with an injury to Argentine winger, Angel Di Maria left Mourinho with plenty to mull over at the break.
Things only went from bad to worse for the Special One after the resumption of play. In the 48th minute a fairly innocuous looking piece of play by United winger Nani somehow sent Real’s back four into hysterics and ended up seeing Madrid captain, Sergio Ramos poke a cross into his own net.
Things looked bleak for the Spanish giants, United’s blood seemed to be up and the Old Trafford faithful were in full voice. The chill Manchester air rang with chants.
Yet, as so often happens in football, the whole complexion of the game was changed by a single refereeing decision.
Less than 10 minutes after Ramos’ own goal and with United seemingly cruising into the tournaments quarter finals Nani, who had laid the Red Devils goal on, got himself sent off. Turning to try and control a high bouncing ball, the Portguese winger drove his foot into former Liverpool and Real Madrid fullback, Alvaro Arbeloa’s chest, sending the Spaniard spinning to the turf and Nani to the sheds for an early shower.
The decision sparked howls of fury and derision from the United crowd and brought 71 (thousand) year old Ferguson to his feet, foaming at the mouth and flapping his arms about in an apoplectic rage. He looked like a drunken grandpa violently woken from his nap, stumbling and growling in his incoherent Glaswegian brogue.
Who’d be a referee?
With his opponents a man down, Mourinho smelt blood in the water and took off a defender in place of silky attacking midfielder, Luka Modric and the move brought about almost immediate rewards.
Picking the ball up from 30 metres out, the Croatian play maker jinked past United’s young English midfielder, Tom Cleverly before rifling home passed the outstretched arm of a diving David de Gea in the 66th minute.
The match was all over three minutes later, when Higuain lashed a ball across the face of United’s goal and Ronaldo, the most expensive player in the world, slide in at the far post to score his eight goal of the Champions League campaign and his second of the tie.
Mourinho later admitted in his post match press conference that his side had been lucky and that “the best team lost”, but whatever his personal feelings Madrid have gone through and United’s dream of a Treble have gone with them.
Sir Alex didn’t even attend his press conference at all, presumably went to dry his hair.