It had been highly anticipated by fans all over the globe, and once again Jose Mourinho declared that "the world would be watching". After a tightly poised 1-1 draw from the first leg, Manchester United would have felt they had the slightest of edges as the second leg loomed.
Even the choice to leave Wayne Rooney on the bench, as strange as this was, did not kill the optimism in the hearts of United fans everywhere. And as Ronaldo stepped out for his first return to Old Trafford, and Ryan Giggs made his 1000th senior appearance, the crowd at the Theatre of Dreams was full of life on such a magical night.
But in a split second, and with one of many absurd decisions throughout the night, referee Cuneyt Cakir changed the whole game when he sent off Nani for a 'high foot'. The decision stunned the Old Trafford crowd who were full of song following the own goal that gave them the upper hand on the night and on aggregate. Many may have thought a yellow at worst for Nani, but a sending off for trying to make a pull down with his toe we have seen him do so many times was not expected. And Sir Alex was fuming at the decision from the a Turkish ref, who has a notorious reputation of getting his red out of his top pocket in high profile fixtures, as John Terry found out last season.
Many will say he should have been sent off, many will argue he shouldn't, but there can be no doubt from anyone that this was what changed the game in Real's favour. United had their tactics spot on up until this point, and even after it, despite conceding the two goals that eliminated them, took the fight to Real and if not for their keeper Diego Lopez, would have found the net again. And following the sending off, the ref went on to make even more bizarre decisions, such as the foul and yellow for substitute Pepe when all Ashley Young wanted was a throw United's way. There is no doubt the little Turk took centre stage for this and intended to be remembered yet again
But even being down to 10 men, United continued to ask questions of Madrid and some brilliant save from Lopez was all that kept them out. Playing 10 v 11 is never easy, especially when you play a side that passes the ball and moves around so well. United were visibly strained when defending and it could have been more for Madrid. Michael Carrick was everywhere yet again for United and was pivotal in midfield of the home side.
But as a United fan, I can be proud of their efforts last night. The sending off will be debated for weeks by people all over the World. Whether it was correct or not, there is no denying it changed what was a quite brilliantly poised game at the time. And even after the injustice of it, the remaining 10 fought on and can be proud that they did so, and so well against an undoubtedly fantastic side in Real Madrid. As a quite humble Mourinho told the world following the game, "the better team lost".
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