Robben’s wonder strike breaks United’s hearts
Old Trafford rocked to the sound of a storming Wayne Rooney-inspired start as Darron Gibson’s early strike, followed by Nani’s flicked goal handed Manchester United the perfect platform. But a third inside the first half only precipitated Bayern Munich’s stunning comeback as Louis van Gaal’s Germans knocked United out of the Champions League.
Ferguson, having hoodwinked the world’s media just 24 hours earlier, started Rooney eight days after the striker’s ankle injury in the Allianz Arena.
It inspired the home side and United was ahead inside three minutes, with Rooney’s layoff finding Gibson for the Irishman to lash home in typical style. Gibson has not always impressed this season but packs a mighty punch when shooting from range.
The early strike a week ago sent Ferguson’s side into its shell. Not this time with a United side packed with energy and endeavor instructed to close Bayern down at every turn.
Within moments Ferguson’s side was two goals to the good, with the live-wire Antonio Valencia picking out Nani at the near post to raise Old Trafford’s roof. Nani’s flick through his legs expertly delivered.
But if Rooney’s return brought additional belief to the United cause then the Scouser had hearts in mouths when limping heavily just 20 minutes into the tie. While the forward indicated his willingness to continue, Rooney’s movement was permanently limited.
United paid little attention with the focus on putting the visitors to the sword early. First Gibson’s strike dipped just over and then Rafael led a lightning quick break in which the Brazilian full-back flashed a shot inches wide.
It mattered not with the home side adding a third from Nani following another incisive Valenica break down the right. The winger’s shot, lashed in off the bar, met with delight in the stands.
Subdued to this point, Bayern responded at last with Ivica Olic forcing a save from Edwin van der Sar at the Croatian’s feet. Better followed from the striker, a late goalscorer in Munich, who silenced the crowd by firing low past the Dutchman. Carrick’s lightweight defensive effort punished heavily.
Then the turning point as Rafael, booked early for a foul on Martin Demichelis, received a second yellow for a naïve tug on Ribéry moments into the second half. It was just the Brazilian’s second foul of the match but this time under the official’s nose with Bayern players urging the inevitable card.
Rooney’s was the sacrifice to the cause, with the England striker still hobbling despite the half-time break and pulled off for the returning John O’Shea. United a man light and without a recognizable striker invited the Germans to come forward with waves of attack.
But Nani and then Gibson should have added a fourth in quick succession. Nani’s angled shot and then Gibson’s side-footer blocked by Hans Jorg Butt in the Bayern net.
The dénouement. Arjen Robben, the man United tried unsuccessfully to sign in 2004, broke United’s hearts with a stunning goal on the volley just as the home side seemed to have the upper-hand.
“He’s [Rafael] a young boy, inexperienced, but they got him sent off. They all rushed towards the referee. Typical Germans,” added Ferguson in the heat of the aftermath.
“You can’t dispute that. The key issues were the goal before half-time and then the boy getting sent off, but it’s still taken an exceptional goal to win the tie.
“I think we’ve done well, performed well. It was a great performance. We were very unlucky.”
Perhaps so but it is remiss to hide behind Robben’s wonder-strike – a red herring with United’s deficiencies this season exposed by 12 defeats in all competitions.
In truth Ferguson’s side has gone backwards, with injuries and refereeing decisions less important than finding a midfield that can supply a base for the outstanding talents Rooney possesses.
“I don’t think it’s serious. It’s just the tissue. I’m sure he’ll be OK for the following week,” added the Scot of Rooney’s injury.
Should it not Ferguson’s gamble will have backfired hugely, with just five games to go in the Premier League.