Football: Referee was `a shocker'

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The Independent Online
WHAT STARTED as potentially a night to remember for Manchester United became one they will want to forget. The Champions' League campaign, their manager, Alex Ferguson, conceded, was a matter of grasping small comforts from a match that descended sharply into disappointment.

"It wasn't too bad a result in the end," he said, "considering that we conceded two penalties and had a man sent off. I'm happy with the result because we could have lost."

Ferguson was at a loss to explain why his players surrendered a two-goal advantage after the interval, although he said Barcelona's first goal, within two minutes of the restart, was crucial.

"We got caught cold in the second half; we lost impetus, our game plan and our shape. In the first half we were looking dangerous, particularly with David Beckham on the wing, but for some reason we started to pass back and were looking for our full-backs to dictate possession. It was very disappointing."

Ferguson was also less than happy with the referee, Italy's Stefano Braschi, whom he called "a shocker", particularly regarding Barcelona's first penalty when Rivaldo collapsed under a challenge from Jaap Stam.

"I thought the decision for their second goal was appalling," he said. "The referee was very poor. In the last three major games we've had here, we've had bad referees. I saw the Barcelona coach [Louis Van Gaal] going into the referee's room afterwards; I'm sure he was delighted to see him."

Even the crumb of comfort for the United manager - the other result in Group D, a win for the unfancied Brondby over Bayern Munich - had a barb. "Obviously the winner of the group will go through," he said, "but I think it'll be very hard for the runner-up to progress now."

Van Gaal attributed the difference between his side's first and second- half performances to "psychological" reasons. "We played exactly the same tactically," he said, "but in the second half we had more spirit and showed more courage. We could have won, as United were very tired.

"In the first half we lost the ball in the first phase of our construction, which is very dangerous with Solskjaer and Yorke in the opposition. All United's chances came because we gave away possession.

"I was angry with the performance before half-time but in the second half, the mental strength of my players was very good. They came back from 2-0 down and when it went to 3-2 they came back again. It's a great compliment to them."

Like Ferguson, Van Gaal was disappointed by decisions from the officials, complaining about an offside flag that denied his team a first-half goal. "Now I'm very disappointed, as it's easy for a linesman to see that," he said.

He was happy, though, to improve on his side's Champions' League opening 12 months ago, when Barcelona lost 3-2 at Newcastle United. "We have made a better start than last year and we have scored three goals. Now we have to be very alert against Brondby in our next match because their win has given them a psychological advantage."

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