With one flick of a card, Manchester United’s hopes of a truly historic season were wiped away at their moment of greatest plausibility. Sir Alex Ferguson had set the perfect game plan, and Manchester United looked increasingly likely to progress to the latter stages of this seasons Champions League.
Jose Mourinho admitted after the game, 'the best team lost'. And with those four words, the Portuguese coach spoke more sense than the 'experts' on the ITV panel in the post-match analysis. Manchester United were robbed of a historic victory over Real Madrid Tuesday night, and will now pan all their hopes on a domestic double in the Premier League title and FA Cup. Madrid will set their own sights on to 'La Decima', but will be without the backing of Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir for the remainder of the competition.
Credit is due to Real Madrid of course. Diego Lopez had an outstanding, man of the match performance for Los Blancos, whilst summer signing Luka Modric came on and changed the game after Luis Nani's 56th minute dismissal. The Croat evaded two challenges before firing in a rasping shot past the helpless David de Gea, which was effectively the beginning of the end for Manchester United.
Sir Alex Ferguson raised eyebrows with his team selection for the tie. Wayne Rooney was dropped from the starting eleven against Madrid. Danny Welbeck was brought back into the side and was given the task of preventing Xabi Alonso dictating the Real Madrid attack. It speaks volume of Welbeck's effort that Alonso made just 16 passes in the first half, completing just 69%. Nemanja Vidic partnered Rio Ferdinand at the back for United. The pair put on a stellar, authoritative display which was reminiscent of the 08' season, where the duo were arguably the greatest centre back pairing in world football. Luis Nani, who remains in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this season actually set United on their way in the 48th minute, with his low cross deflecting off Welbeck, off Sergio Ramos and into the back of the Real Madrid net.
But his selection worked. Manchester United controlled the Spanish champions and looked comfortable - all for the referee to steal their hopes and dreams with what could only be lamented as a disgraceful decision.
Kudos must be given to Sir Alex for dropping Wayne Rooney. I myself, like the majority of Manchester United supports was shocked with the decision. But would Rooney have similar patience, temperament and control to prevent Xabi Alonso playing? Welbeck put in a master performance sitting deep, stopping the Real Madrid man from playing his usual dominant game – and should be credited for yet another impressive display.
Sir Alex Ferguson will now turn his attention towards the domestic trophies. The defeat to Real Madrid could actually spur on his side to claim a domestic double. Manchester United currently sit 12 points clear at the top of the Premier League table, and have a quarter-final FA Cup game against Chelsea this weekend. Sir Alex Ferguson will send out his men to overcome the London club and return to winning ways. Manchester United have suffered European heartbreak early on in the season once again – something that will rile the Scot for the long run as he continues his legacy in the Old Trafford dug out till next season at least.
PROFILE: Meet Cuneyt Cakir
Çakır is a 36-year-old official who began his officiating career in the Turkish Super Lig some 12 years ago.
In 2010, the referee began his Champions League career in a 1-1 draw between Barcelona and Rubin Kazan , with both goals coming from penalties rewarded by Çakır.
In a 2011 Europa League match between Manchester City and Dynamo Kiev, the Turk sent off Mario Balotelli as the Citizens crashed out of the European competition.
Çakır also made the biggest decision of last year's Champions League, sending off John Terry in Chelsea's pivotal second leg with Barcelona at the Camp Nou. In the Club World Cup final with Corinthians, Cüneyt went on to send off Terry's partner in the centre of defence, Gary Cahill, as the Blues fell 1-0.
Cakir also booked an incredible nine players between Spain and Portugal in the EURO 2012 semi-final.
Finally, in England's 1-1 draw with Ukraine in their 2014 World Cup qualifier at Wembley in September, the Turkish official sent off Steven Gerrard a few minutes before the full-time whistle.
This tie between Manchester United and Real Madrid was dubbed 'the game of the competition', but with six top sides still in contention, this years Champions League promises to be a good one.
AC Milan v Barcelona will now have the whole world watching next week. The Spaniard's find themselves 2-0 down against Massimiliano Allegri's men - after his side produced an Italian defensive master-class in the first leg. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund remain strong contenders for the trophy, whilst Juventus are still the dark horse for the competition.
Unfortunately for this game we needed a referee at the very top if his own game. Manchester United v Real Madrid had the intensity and competitiveness of two sides so tightly matched, so desperate for qualification and willing to give it all – in an illustrious bout which would of solidified world class greatness. However, the result was cruely taken out of their hands.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what what makes Cuneyt Cakir's disgusting decision even worse.