Ferguson 'distraught' as Nani red card helps Madrid to victory
Harsh decision by Turkish referee turns the game after Manchester United were leading Real 1-0
Manchester United 1 Real Madrid 2 (Real Madrid win 3-2 on aggregate). Alex Ferguson was "distraught" after an evening of high drama at Old Trafford, according to assistant manager Mike Phelan. So upset, in fact, that he couldn't bear to discuss his team's exit from the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid.
So it was Phelan who faced the world's press, to talk about the dismissal on 56 minutes of Nani with a red card that reduced Ferguson to a broken man. "I don't think the manager is in any fit state to talk to the referee about the decision," said Phelan. "We all witnessed a decision that seemed very harsh, possibly incredible at that moment in the game."
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Incredible – No. Harsh – Yes. Nani's challenge on Real defender Alvaro Arbeloa was high and reckless but referee Cuneyt Cakir must surely have seen that the Portuguese winger's eyes were on the ball and not the player. It was a clumsy lunge that deserved a yellow, had Cakir been a lenient sort of chap.
But the Turkish official played it by the book, which states that a dangerous tackle must be punished with a red. So off went Nani, and off went Ferguson, shoving his kit man out of the way as he dashed into the technical area to remonstrate with the hapless fourth official.
As Ferguson went ballistic Real coach Jose Mourinho went to his bench, sending on former Spurs player Luka Modric in place of right-back Alvaro Arbeloa with orders for the Tottenham playmaker to exploit the space left by Nani. It was a masterstroke by Mourinho.
At the time Real were trailing 1-0 to their hosts, an own goal by Sergio Ramos three minutes after the break to blame for their plight. But with Modric on, complementing a midfield containing Kaka, Mesut Ozil and Xabi Alonso, Real now had the means to exploit their one-man advantage.
Ten minutes after Nani's red card, Modric accelerated past the wilting United defenders and unleashed a swerving shot from the edge of the box that beat United keeper David de Gea. Three minutes later Ronaldo applied the finishing touch to Gonzalo Higuain's cross and Real were all but in the quarter final.
United gave it their all in the dying minutes but Wayne Rooney – surprisingly left out of the starting XI in favour of Danny Welbeck, who played behind Robin van Persie – hoofed the ball over the bar from point-blank range and Diego Lopez made two fine saves to deny Michael Carrick and Van Persie.
Referee Cakir received the protection of a burly steward as he left the pitch at the end of the match, though not before he had been given a sarcastic round of applause by Rio Ferdinand. "We have a distraught dressing-room and a distraught manager," said Phelan. "It was a massive occasion, Ryan Giggs's 1,000th game and a worldwide audience. Like us, they are all probably wondering what has happened. A great occasion has been marred by one decision."
It was left to Mourinho to suggest that United should stop feeling sorry for themselves. Referring to the tough red card Pepe received against Barcelona that cost Real a place in the 2011 Champions League final, Mourinho said: "If somebody can cry [about a bad decision] then I am the first one… I want to be honest and to be honest is to say that in my opinion the best team lost. But that's football."