United's defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League has fan Rasheed reeling after a former favourite dealt the killer blow
By Rasheed Abu Bakar
It had to be him. It just had to. Four years after leaving Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo stuck out his right or left foot, who cares, to end his former club's hopes of the Treble.
Overshadowed for most of the game by the evergreen Ryan Giggs and Rafael, Ronaldo popped up when it mattered most to tuck Gonzalo Higuain’s cross three minutes after Luka Modric curled in a superb equaliser minutes earlier.
United raised the roof at Old Trafford after forcing a Sergio Ramos own goal early in the second half but the real drama came just before Real Madrid’s quick fire goals – in the 56th minute to be exact.
With eyes on the ball, United’s on and off form winger, Luis Nani stuck out his leg to bring down the ball at the same time as the onrushing Alvaro Arbeloa. Both players made contact with each other and not surprisingly, Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir blew the whistle for a Real Madrid freekick.
A freekick for dangerous play is understandable but much to the surprise of the partisan crowd in Old Trafford and the millions of fans worldwide, Cakir flashed his red card at Nani. Ferguson jumped out of his seat and the fourth official almost had the hairdryer from the scary Scot.
Old Trafford was left stunned, I slumped deeper into the couch. For a good two minutes, United players surrounded the referee and argued. Argued they certainly did but Nani was already on the way to the tunnel. Things took an expected turn after that.
Ferguson got his tactics right – leaving Wayne Rooney on the bench and opting for a very boisterous Danny Welbeck, who last scored the when these teams met but after going a man down, the pendulum swung in Madrid’s favour as United simmered down and looked to stop Madrid’s man advantage.
Sent on for Arbeloa, Modric slotted into the already packed midfield and it was really strange seeing a former United target and Premier League player curl one in past David De Gea. I could even hear the sudden hush in Old Trafford (and Fergie’s gums chewing harder on that already tasteless chewing gum).
Up to that point, United were clearly favorites to go through. They kept Ronaldo at bay, suffocated Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira in midfield and Nemanja Vidic was a beast taking care of things at the back. The Serbian also came so close on two occasions to put United in the driving seat.
Even before the sending off, Nani looked sharp and gave Madrid’s fullbacks a horrid time. His interchange of passes with Welbeck and Van Persie led to most of United’s opportunities. Some may be surprised at Tom Cleverley’s appearance given that a certain Japanese star just scored a hat trick a few days ago but the England international was buzzing as usual alongside Michael Carrick.
On his 1000th game for the club, Giggs was also in the thick of things. With the help of Rafael, who had another great game, the Welshmen tracked Ronaldo and matched his pace most of the time. Unbelievable considering Giggs will be 40 next year.
While United bow out of Europe, Ferguson knows that all 11 players tasked to take United through did exceptionally well - hard to find faults around the pitch, even with Van Persie who has unfortunately started abit of a goal drought. The Dutchman stuck to the game plan and was active all over the pitch.
It is unfortunate that a sudden and strange decision from the referee settled the game. I am very sure that if Nani had not been sent off, United would have scored at least one more.
Social media was abuzz with United and rival fans exchanging unpleasantries. Some were even criticising Rio Ferdinand for sarcastically clapping in the face of the referee at fulltime.
Sorry, but I think Ferdinand did very well to calm himself down to just a clap in the face. To lose a game after such a big decision, Ferdinand should have done more than just a clap to the face - I am more than willing to pay his fine.
It’s been a strange couple of days for United fans to be honest. Former United player Carlos Tevez scored at Villa Park to cut United’s lead at the top by twelve points and last night, another former player and a United target scored one each to kick United out of Europe.
With just the FA Cup and Premier League to contest for, I expect the players to have even more purpose now. Securing the Premier League title and FA Cup will not help erase this heartbreak but the reminder of this pain will benefit the squad and hopefully spur them to European glory next year.
Excuse me while I ponder upon this loss again. I must not, but the ‘Spanish smash and grab’ act has knocked me back quite hard.