Heartbreak for Manchester United tonight as Bayern Munich battled back from going 3-0 down to score two vital away goals and send United crashing out of the Champions League in devastating circumstances. A late goal in the first half by Ivica Olic and the controversial sending off of Rafael in the early stages of the second-half proved crucial as Bayern once more got the better of their bitter rivals. Arjen Robben scored a sublime goal to ultimately decide the tie. Elsewhere in Europe tonight, Bordeaux beat Lyon 1-0 but the scoreline was not enough to send them through as they went out losing 3-2 on aggregate.
Where to start? If ever someone questions the use of the cliché “it was a game of two halves” in analysing a football game there could be no better demonstration to present to them than footage of this encounter.
To be completely exact (and more than a little particular) this was more a game of 44 and 46 minutes than exactly two halves but we won’t split hairs. Drama is nothing new in ties between these clubs and tonight there was some on offer before a ball was even kicked. Wayne Rooney, who was yesterday “definitively ruled out” by Alex Ferguson was a surprise inclusion in the United line up as the United boss hoped to disrupt Bayern’s pre-game plans. By selecting Rooney, Alex Ferguson showed just how seriously his side were taking the encounter and simultaneously just how little faith he has in Dimitar Berbatov as a back up. It was a move Ferguson claimed was not a risk, but few people would fail to question the validity of such a statement given that the Englishman was initially ruled out for up to a month just 8 days ago and would go onto to last just under an hour in the tie.
Once the Rooney hype had settled down the the game began at a blistering pace. It was clear for all to see that Manchester United had no intention of setting the stall out with the intention of nicking one late in the game, as they absolutely flew out of the blocks and began to overawe Bayern . Within just three minutes of the whistle being first blown they had the start they wanted. Wayne Rooney’s first meaningful touch of the game was to expertly divert a pass from Rafael toward Darron Gibson and the Irishman, a surprise inclusion in the line up did the rest.
Gibson has a very useful habit of scoring long range goals and with the home crowd urging him to shoot he unleashed a low drive toward the Bayern goal which somehow evaded the efforts of Jorg Butt to stop it. The United bench erupted and already the gamble in starting Rooney seemed to be paying dividends. The German keeper possibly could have done better but nobody except those who made their way from the European mainland could have cared less.
United’s lightning start had Bayern rocking and even those with the worst nasal senses in Old Trafford could not help but to acknowledge the distinct scent of blood that was wafting around the stadium. As Bayern ran about aimlessly, it took the hosts just four minutes to land another blow to their opponents.
Wayne Rooney sent out a sweeping ball to Antonio Valencia who carefully created an opening before fizzing a ball across the six-yard line which Luis Nani (pictured, right) expertly turned into the far post with a neat flick of the inside of his right boot. Bayern’s marking was dreadful and United had no hesitancy in letting them know it. There was a certain irony in how the goal was finished since just four days earlier Chelsea’s Joe Cole had netted in equally as skilful a fashion as United gave up ground in the Premier League to their London rivals.
With United 2-0 up the first worrying sight of the night came as Wayne Rooney emerged from a tackle with a painful grimace on his face as he clutched his now famous right ankle. Rooney got to back to his feet but looked far from 100% as the game progressed.
United were well on top and chances for Bayern were few and far between. Franck Ribery was unable to struggle out of Rafael’s pocket and Arjen Robben was being excellently marshalled by Patrice Evra.
The omission of Gary Neville from the starting line-up was telling in terms of Ferguson’s intent for the game. Rafael has rarely failed to deliver in an attacking sense but for now, question marks still remain over his defensive attributes. Until his marching orders the night could not have been going much better as he hurried and hassled Ribery to the extent where the mercurial Frenchman was made look little above ordinary.
On the 38 minute mark he could even have had his name on the scoresheet first beginning a move by dispossessing Ribery and then being played through by a beautiful pass from Carrick. As he raced toward sgoal a United third seemed certain however the Brazilian fluffed his lines and shot wide of the post much to the anger of Wayne Rooney and Nani who had gotten themselves in excellent positions in the Bayern goal area.
United were very nearly made pay just minutes later as Bayern had their first real chance of the night. Thomas Muller neatly thread a pass through to Ivica Olic in the United box however Edwin Van Der Sar was quick to snuff out the chance as he bravely dived in front of the onrushing Croatian.
Whereas United were almost made pay for their profligacy, in the next passage of play the tables were well and truly turned, except United were far less wasteful. More terrible Bayern defending saw Antonio Valencia, who by now was having a field day on the right hand side stole past the the young Bayern left back Holger Badstuber once again and played another low cross into the box which evaded Wayne Rooney but eventually wound up at the feet of Nani who finished with aplomb high into the Bayern net to take United three clear on the night and two clear on aggregate.
As Old Trafford exploded with joy few could have foreseen the impending dismay.
With just one minute until halftime and a festival air ringing around the stadium a speculative ball into the United box somehow found Ivica Olic up against Michael Carrick just yards from the United goal. The Croatian all too easily shrugged off the Englishman’s attention and turned a carefully placed effort past Van Der Sar into the far corner. All of a sudden a hush fell over The Theatre of Dreams as everyone darted their eyes towards the scoreboard and quickly begun speculating about the goal’s importance. It was to be vital.
Having utterly dominated the opening half and scoring three goals in the process, United still only found themselves a hair’s breadth ahead of Bayern and all of a sudden Ferguson’s half-time team-talk took on a very different complexion. Surely there couldn’t be another memorable twist in the tale of the much coloured history between these sides…. Could there?
As the players emerged for the second half there was a notable difference in the swagger of both teams. Bayern were a new team and wasted no time in setting about their task, bringing the game to United from the first minute and giving them a very definite taste of their own medicine. Inside just five minutes the game was utterly turned on it’s head as Rafael, who had picked up a yellow card in the first half for a silly act of petulance dragged back Ribery as he broke forward. Ribery and his team mates surrounded the referee and gave him little choice but to award Rafael a second caution and send him on his way.
After the game Ferguson was furious with the actions of the opposing players, describing their actions as those of “typical Germans”.
Whether or not the dismissal was deserved United were now down to ten men and their previously enjoyed dominance was well and truly over. Bayern swarmed forward and quickly assumed possessional supremacy. Rooney, who in truth never looked at the races, was sacrificed for the returning John O’Shea and Nani was asked to play a more central role as Ferguson reshuffled his pack in order to hang on to the advantage.
As Bayern huffed and puffed, a goal seemed inevitable. United’s defence was throwing themselves at every Bayern effort but as the Germans bombarded the nets it seemed that United could do little to stop their house from blowing down. In the end, after a barrage of attempts it was a moment of magic that finally shook the United walls to the groud.
Arjen Robben (pictured) the hero against Fiorentina two weeks was once more the man to rescue his team. With 74 minutes on the clock a carefully choreographed corner routine saw a ball lofted to the Dutchman on the edge of the area and with a precise swing of his left boot Robben curled a fantastic shot through a crowd of players and into the United goal past a helpless Van Der Sar. 3-2 on the night, 4-4 on aggregate. Comeback complete.
Ferguson sent for the attacking firepower immediately, first sending on Dimitar Berbatov and then Ryan Giggs but the home side never seemed likely to get back into the game and the remaining time played out towards a crushing defeat for United.
Ferguson must wait for at least one more year to get his hands on the much coveted European Cup and attention will now turn to domestic affairs as his side attempt to overcome a two point deficit to Chelsea as they try to stop their season from spiralling to a disappointing conclusion. Up next for United is Blackburn, whether or not Wayne Rooney will feature is unknown. Bright spots on a dark night for United will be the continued improvement of Nani and Valencia and the return of O’Shea from long-term injury however another poor performance from Michael Carrick and the seeming inability of Berbatov to step up to the plate when needed are growing concerns.
Bayern march onto a semi-final against Lyon and their first appearance in the last four since their successful campaign of 2001. A fine side with excellent players and an astute coach they will be strong favourites to battle their way through to a late May showdown against either Barcelona or Inter Milan in the Bernebau.
Man Utd: Van der Sar, Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Fletcher, Carrick, Gibson, Valencia, Rooney, Nani
Subs: Kuszczak, Berbatov, Giggs, Scholes, O’Shea, Jonathan Evans, Macheda
Bayern Munich: Butt, Lahm, Van Buyten, Demichelis, Badstuber, Robben, Van Bommel, Schweinsteiger, Ribery, Olic, Muller
Subs: Rensing, Altintop, Klose, Pranjic, Contento, Gomez, Tymoschuk
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)