As if Bayern's two late goals were not damaging enough, there was the dispiriting sight of Wayne Rooney limping from the pitch, his right boot off, after badly spraining his ankle. What a devastating evening for the English in Bavaria.
Related ArticlesFerguson fears for United after Bayern blowRooney injury concerns easedCan United win without Rooney?Lyon 3 Bordeaux 1Champions League fixturesUnited horrorshowAfter Rooney had swept United into an early lead, mistakes by Sir Alex Ferguson's two full-backs gifted Bayern victory. Gary Neville foolishly, needlessly handled, allowing Franck Ribery his free-kick equaliser.
The Hand of Nev was utterly out of keeping with the mature, intelligent football offered by the English champions until then. Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Darren Fletcher and Rooney all impressed, keeping the ball and using it well. Neville's error was then matched by Evra, who hesitated in possession, allowing Ivica Olic to nip and beat Edwin van der Sar. What a waste of such an confident start.
The Allianz Arena's atmosphere, usually one of the best on the European circuit, had been rocking beforehand, the DJ unleashing an eclectic mix including everything from "Carmina Burana'' to "More Than A Feeling'', a sentiment shared by United fans within two minutes.
Ferguson's side enjoyed the dream start, exploiting poor defensive decisions by Bayern but still impressing with the confidence of their attacking, culminating in Rooney's precise finish for his 34th of the season.
Nani set the upbeat tone, storming down the right, nicking the ball past Martin Demichelis, the Bayern centre-half, who sent the Portuguese winger flying. The Argentine's mask, protecting a cheek injury, could not hide the perpetrator's illegal action, gifting United a free-kick out on the right. Climbing to his feet, Nani prepared to punish Demichelis with the dead-ball delivery.
Bayern's pony-tailed No 6 was engulfed in a nightmare, having conceded the free-kick and now attempting to cling to Rooney's shirt to prevent United's feared striker from reaching Nani's curling free-kick.
Bayern had known how good Rooney was in the air, how many goals had arrived from headers this season so Demichelis sought to stick tight. Any closer and he would have been inside Rooney's shirt.
Then, much to United's delight, Demichelis slipped, unable to keep his balance as Rooney twisted this way and that, his marker's slip suddenly presenting him with free passage towards Nani's ball. Rooney's left foot did the rest, volleying in from six yards past Hans-Jorg Butt.
Bayern were stunned, partly because the victims of Nou Camp '99 were more used to Ferguson's thoroughbreds finishing games strongly than starting them at a canter. United were imperious in these opening stages, the golden triangle of Fletcher-Scholes-Carrick breaking down Bayern attacks and launching United counters.
Nani was a constant threat down the right, so alarming the young full-back Holger Badstuber that the German resorted to tugging almost friskily at the United winger's shorts. Nani then dribbled into the centre, the ball sticking slightly under his feet and his left-foot shot skimming wide.
This was United at their most tactically sophisticated, the 4-3-2-1 formation giving them width, central numbers, and always the mobile menace that is Rooney upfront. Such was the Englishman's intimidating presence that Daniel van Buyten, the Belgian defender once of Manchester City in the Kevin Keegan era, took to knocking Rooney off-balance, even pushing him when United looked to break quickly.
Yet there is class in the Bavarian ranks, particularly when the ball was at the quick, responsive feet of Franck Ribery on the left or Philipp Lahm, the attack-minded right-back. Ribery had a shot saved by Edwin van der Sar, and then spinning Gary Neville and disappearing towards the line.
Van der Sar decided to punch Ribery's cross away, a surprising choice as no Bayern attacker was close. When the ball was driven back in by Hamit Altintop, Van der Sar was fortunate that the Croatian striker, Ivica Olic, just failed to turn it in.
For all their occasional frail moment defensively, United could have turned around three goals to the good such was the pace and control of their counter-attacking. At one point, they resembled the Arsenal of the North with their determination to walk the ball into the net.
Park Ji-sung's clever first-time pass down the left was seized on by Fletcher, who has matured into such an all-round force in Europe. Brimming with stamina, Fletcher was the dominant warrior between the boxes in the first half.
Out wide, the Scot eluded Lahm with an ease Ryan Giggs would have admired, reaching the byeline and delivering a left-footed cross that arrowed towards Rooney. United's No 10 could have hit the ball first time, instead electing to control it and place a shot past Butt, who read Rooney's intentions and saved well. Bayern's keeper then repelled a Carrick strike as another United counter-attack ripped through the hosts' midfield and defence.
Bayern raised their game after the break, Ribery teeing up Olic, whose over-ambitious attempt to beat Van der Sar at the near-post failed. Louis Van Gaal's side were beginning to push United deep and only a marvellous tackle from Scholes stopped Ribery.
Only Van der Sar's good positioning thwarted Altintop after the Turk's switchback dribble, the Dutchman then saving from his compatriot, Van Bommel.
These were nervous times for United, particularly whenever Ribery was running at Neville, whose intelligence and anticipation got him out of some problems but whose ageing legs meant he remained vulnerable to Bayern's dashing Frenchman.
Those Ferguson trusts most steadied the ship. Scholes' instant control plucked a loose ball out of the air. Fletcher was harrying and carrying, taking the game to Bayern.
Behind him, Rio Ferdinand showed his international class with some neat interceptions. Evra battled hard to keep Lahm at bay.
Seeking to freshen the English champions with 20 minutes remaining, Ferguson sent on Dimitar Berbatov and Antonio Valencia for Michael Carrick and the disappointing Park. United were now 4-4-2, although Berbatov dropped deep. Just as United were settling into this new system, Thomas Muller set up Olic but again Van der Sar excelled, pushing the Croat's shot away.
United, foolishly, handed Bayern a route back into the tie. Neville needlessly stuck a hand out to stop Danijel Pranjic's ball that was going nowhere. Madness. Ribery's free-kick caught Rooney, deflecting in past a stranded Van der Sar. And then came Olic. And then went Rooney. The night had become a nightmare.