United bow out of Champions League

Posted Wednesday, April 07, 2010 by PA

Ten-man Manchester United crashed out of the Champions League on away goals thanks to Arjen Robben's wonder strike, which earned Bayern Munich a 4-4 draw on aggregate despite United`s 3-2 victory in the second leg at Old Trafford.

From a seemingly impregnable position, three goals ahead of Bayern Munich on the night and two in front on aggregate, the Red Devils' world collapsed in a six-minute spell either side of the interval.

First-leg match-winner Ivica Olic pulled a goal back immediately before the break after Nani had followed up Darron Gibson's early opener by scoring two of his own.

The goal put doubt in United minds that turned into panic once Rafael had been sent off for a second bookable offence shortly after the restart.

United tried desperately to hang on.

But just as the thought started to ferment that they might manage it, Robben escaped to the far post and rocketed a volley beyond Edwin van der Sar after fellow winger Franck Ribery had dropped a perfect corner into his path.

It was a gut-wrenching climax, that leaves the Premier League without a semi-final representative for the first time since 2003 and United shattered after the biggest week of their season ended in total misery, with only an outside chance of the title to cling to and a dressing room of shattered bodies, physically and mentally, to revive.

It had all started so magnificently too after Ferguson had named Wayne Rooney in his starting line-up after all.

Such is the subterfuge involved in top-level combat these days, Ferguson's declaration that there was "no chance" of his star striker being involved was just part of a game.

Yet, no matter how many potential line-ups Louis van Gaal had gone through in his mind, it is a fair assumption that Gibson did not feature in any of them.

When Ferguson has talked the Republic of Ireland international up as a potential star of the future, few have tended to believe him.

Clearly the United boss does have faith, and what an inspired choice it proved to be.

Barely two minutes had passed when Rafael swept the ball forward to Rooney, whose lay-off was collected by Gibson.

If Hans-Jorg Butt had done his homework, he would have known the Derry-born youngster tends to get his goals from outside the area. His startled look as the ball flashed past him suggested an obvious lack of revision.

It was the start United craved, only it was to get even better when Antonio Valencia, a constant menace down the right, sent over one of a number of dangerous crosses.

Just as Joe Cole had done at the other end on Saturday, Nani got himself to the near post and flicked the ball into the far corner with his heel.

Old Trafford erupted, in precisely the manner Ferguson knew they would when he spoke about the feeling of a ball being sucked into the opponents' goal on those special Old Trafford nights, of which he has had so many.

Bayern were completely bewildered, both by the team they were facing and the whirlwind that had hit them.

Rafael, Rooney and Gibson combined again, this time to send the youngster through, only for the full-back to suffer an untimely bout of nerves as the goal stared back and he fired wide.

Yet just as the half started in a goal burst, so it ended the same way.

Once more Valencia the architect, once more Nani supplied the finish, and the elaborate celebration.

The sense of euphoria lasted two minutes, the time it took for Olic to shrug Michael Carrick aside and find the bottom corner with Bayern's first decent chance.

If Edwin van der Sar had not brilliantly turned away a curling shot from Robben that was heading for the bottom corner, United would actually have reached half-time behind on away goals, so precarious was their advantage.

Amid all the goalmouth incident, another pivotal moment had gone largely unnoticed. Rafael's petulant kick at Mark van Bommel came back to haunt him four minutes after the restart when he tugged Franck Ribery back.

The sight of the Bayern players converging on referee Nicola Rizzoli demanding a red card was unseemly. The decision itself was correct.

Rafael's dismissal brought Rooney's involvement to an end as John O'Shea was introduced for the first time in five months to shore up the defensive gap and begin a rearguard action that required resistance to almost constant bombardment.

United tried to break. Indeed Nani nearly completed a hat-trick from one such raid, but the overwhelming pressure was one-way.

Even then it took a phenomenal goal to defeat the hosts as Robben's perfectly-executed volley flew past Van der Sar into the far corner.

United did not have the energy to respond.

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