Keeshaanan Sundaresan witnessed how Manchester United were completely undone by a harsh red card decision, and applauds Jose Mourinho for swiftly capitalising and seizing victory
As with every exemplary sporting event, you'd want it to be remembered for the right reasons. Moments of brilliance where athletes go beyond their capabilities. Majestic occasions where sportsmen take the ultimate throne. "The world would stop to witness this game," said Mourinho before the match, and I believe no one will ever refute that. More importantly, it was to be Ryan Giggs' 1000th appearance in a Manchester United shirt.
Even with United holding Real Madrid to a 1-1 draw in the first leg, the Blancos were still massive favorites heading into this game. Back-to-back wins over Barcelona asserted their ever-growing confidence and the role of Jose Mourinho as the 'one for big European nights' was evidently prominent heading into this one. If anything, no one would have been surprised had Los Blancos emerged victorious out of this one.
However, the Red Devils were absolutely terrific in the first half, stopping Madrid at the final third on most circumstances while also posing a deadly threat on the break. The absence of Wayne Rooney from their starting line-up baffled many but most of them were forced to swallow their words after the first 45 minutes in which the likes of Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick worked their socks off to contain the Madrid midfield.
Sir Alex's men did break the duck right after the break, going one up courtesy of Sergio Ramos' own goal but just as things began to look good for the home side, chaos striked! Nani attempted to control a long ball with his legs and unintentionally caught Arbeloa's chest with his studs. There were protests from the Madrid players but when referee Cuneyt Cakir pulled out a red card from his pocket, the world stopped in bewilderness.
Visibly, Nani did have his studs up high but the Portuguese winger had his eyes firmly fixed on the ball and while the clash was unintentional, it was certainly a foul that probably merited a customary booking. But a straight red left Sir Alex Ferguson blowing a gasket. Even the flamboyant Jose Mourinho adorned a sympathetic semblance. A tactically astute performance from United had the fans singing their praises up to this point of time but it elevated to a whole new level when they were left to play the remaining 30 minutes with 10 men.
Howbeit, Madrid seized the initiative before the Devils could even recover from the state of shock. Mourinho immediately took full advantage of the situation by bringing on an extra man in midfield with Luka Modric replacing Arbeloa. The Croatian only took minutes to make an impact as he curled home and audacious strike that restored parity for Madrid.
You could blame the harsh decision for disrupting United's performance all you want but it was frightening to see how the Devils were being overwhelmed by it. Mourinho's men began finding clear cut gaps in their defence and it ultimately led to a second goal. So much was said about Ronaldo's maiden homecoming prior to the match but even the former United star was visibly in an apologetic mood despite firing home from close range to put Los Blancos ahead.
Sir Alex finally brought Rooney on after that and United began pressing forward frantically in search of two goals but the damage was already done. All it took was 13 minutes for Mourinho's troops to seize control of the tie, leaving United to chase shadows. And we are speaking about a team that has been personifying the 'never say die' attitude all these years. Grievance certainly got the better of them last night.
You could probably compare it to the Barcelona-Chelsea tie last year where the Blues had John Terry sent off early in the game but they still pulled through and even netted two goals to dump the Catalans out of the competition. Probably that sort of determination and drive could have aided United's comeback mission which is why their only fault in the game was losing focus temporarily after the red card. But against a side of Madrid's stature, even a one-minute period of decline could be catastrophic.
At the end of the day, Mourinho's men claimed a massive victory but as the man himself edged towards the tunnel before the final whistle in an apologetic manner, it simply justified that this clash of epic proportions will be remembered for the wrong things. "The best team lost," was what he said after the game but regardless of the incident that marred a beautiful game of football, take nothing away from Real Madrid and Mourinho's smart decision to make full use of their advantage.
As for the Red Devils, like me and the rest, life goes on.