More than a few eyebrows were raised before the last 16 meeting of Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford last night. Wayne Rooney was dropped to the bench, in a decision that was sure to write the headlines either as a terrible mistake or a tactical masterstroke, with it looking likely to be the later until a certain Turkish referee decided to make a name for himself.
Sir Alex Ferguson looked to have made all the right decisions in an enthralling encounter as the Manchester United team were full of energy and determination as they headed towards a memorable victory. United appeared to be in complete control after a Sergio Ramos own goal put them one nil up on the night.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s emotional return to the Theatre of Dreams was a largely anonymous affair, being tracked all the way by the never aging Ryan Giggs and the youthful, but seemingly experienced Rafael Da Silva. Nani and Welbeck were both dangerous on the counter against a team who Sir Alex described as possibly the best in the world at counter attacking football. Real Madrid also looked hopeless at defending from set pieces and for all their possession, they seemed to do very little with it, as the Manchester United goal keeper, David De Gea had very little to do.
The complexion of the game changed entirely, however, on the 56th minute. United cleared an attempt from Madrid, and Nani attempted to bring the high looping ball down. Alvaro Arbeloa jumped in attempting to win the ball and Nani’s high foot did catch the Spanish right back. The collision looked innocuous enough, Nani clearly only had eyes for the ball, and almost everyone in the stadium expected at most a yellow card for Nani. When the Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir produced a red card it was greeted with a stunned silence.
The protests of the Manchester United players and staff did nothing to change to appalling decision, and even Jose Mourinho looked like he couldn’t believe his luck. He did, however, exploit the situation perfectly, bringing on Luka Modric, who was able to make use of the space afforded by having the extra man.
Real Madrid stuck twice to leave United facing an almost impossible task, however, even being a man down, they looked dangerous and threatened the Madrid goal repeatedly. Had it not been for the heroics of Diego Lopez who pulled off a series of fine saves, the result could have been very different. As it was however, the events of the 56th minute had settled the destiny of an otherwise enthralling encounter.
It is a shame that the referee totally ruined such a game. It was clearly the wrong decision, despite what the bitter Roy Keane may say. Mourinho said the better team lost and you would be hard pressed to find anyone to disagree with him. Sir Alex was clearly fuming, having had the game taken out of his hands and refused to show up for the after game interviews. UEFA will likely fine him but I doubt they would have liked to hear what he really thought.
Rio Ferdinand will also likely face sanctions for sarcastically clapping the referee, but that is a restrained reaction compared to what many people would have liked to do. Controversy has also arisen over the fact that Cuneyt Cakir has a Twitter account on which he follows Real Madrid and Ronaldo. Whether he was merely grossly incompetent, or actually corrupt will be the question for many. One thing is certain however, his actions ruined a great occasion and helped end Manchester United’s European hopes.
Thanks for reading,