Rio Ferdinand last night said that the nation should follow Wayne Rooney "as a footballer rather than keep lynching him" after the Manchester United striker's goal saw his side take a huge stride towards the Champions League semi-finals.
United have never lost a European tie having won the away leg first and Rooney's demeanour throughout last night's win revealed that he carried no qualms about a Football Association commission's decision, to be made public today, as to whether his two-match ban for abusive language will be reduced, freeing him for the FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City.
Carlo Ancelotti generated all the controversy after Chelsea's 1-0 defeat, claiming that the Spanish referee had "lacked courage" by failing to award what looked like an indisputable penalty for Patrice Evra's scything tackle on Ramires in the second minute of second-half added time. "The problem is I know it's sometimes not easy to give the penalty in the last minute, and you need to have personality, courage and character," Ancelotti said. "Not always do referees have these kinds of skills. I'm disappointed but this is the result."
Sir Alex Ferguson, who had not won at Stamford Bridge for nine years, gave that view short shrift, arguing Fernando Torres dived in his own efforts to win a late penalty. "If it's a break it's our first in seven years," Ferguson said, also claiming Chelsea had set out to make "late tackles" on Rooney.
Ferdinand added that the focus on the striker was out of all proportion.
"He loves playing football," Ferdinand said. "That's what he wants to be judged on and talked about. Wayne Rooney swearing on TV – as much as much as I don't condone it – that is not front-page news.
"There are bigger things going on in the world. There are things happening in Libya and Ivory Coast and we are talking about Wayne Rooney on the front page of newspapers and swearing at a camera. I don't condone it but because it is [Rooney] everyone goes over the top."
Ferguson refused to discuss the FA deliberations and also rowed back on the assertion he made earlier this week that United could claim a second treble after a win which was built on a superb re-established partnership between Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in defence as well as Edwin van der Sar's several fine saves. Chelsea's midfield was also overpowered.
"We have to be very careful [at Old Trafford] and have to play a top performance, but the atmosphere will help us," Ferguson said. Midfielder Anderson will be back for the second leg though Rafael da Silva, carried off with a left knee injury last night, is a doubt.
On the penalty incident, Evra said he knew that the referee, Alberto Mallenco, was not going to award a spot-kick. "I did not fear the worst, I tried to go for the ball, but I touched the ball and the player as well, and I was not scared he was going to give a penalty," the French full-back said.
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