The delight in the eyes of the Aalborg caretaker manager, describing the "biggest point" in his modest club's history and relating his sporting director's vow to fly home naked if they got a draw, was leavened by a sense of bafflement last night at another bizarre performance from one of the most naturally gifted players in the land.
Allan Kuhn was too polite and far too ecstatic about the point gained to make too much of it but Wayne Rooney's apparent stamp at the Danish inside-left Kasper Risgard just before half-time, a similar challenge on defender Michael Jakobsen and a running battle with striker Thomas Augustinussen defied rational explanation – especially on a night when Rooney was his side's best player by a distance. Risgard was certainly bristling with indignation about the 41st minute challenge, in which Rooney seemed to aim a stamp as they fell to the ground together and which could yet lead Uefa to punish him. "He was jumping on my chest. I don't why because they were playing good football and at the time it was 1-1," he said. "Anywhere else but here and it would have been a red card. I think referees are frightened to punish players here at Old Trafford, and especially players like Rooney."
Kuhn was more circumspect about a challenge which bore some comparison to the stamp on Ricardo Carvalho which got Rooney sent off in the World Cup semi-final in Gelsenkirchen two years back. "You have to keep your head and be calm in situations like that, especially a world class player like him," he said. "Stupid things happen in football I know the champions league people will take care of it."
Rooney made light of the incidents – "it's football, it's a physical game," he offered – and so did his manager who implied that Rooney had been deliberately needled, and countered that Aalborg's Jeppe Curth might have been dismissed for the challenge on Carlos Tevez which earned him a booking. Rooney's conduct is part of a pattern of behaviour, though, at its worst this season in the defeat against the similarly modest challenge of Hull City here. Then, as last night, United were losing their way when they should not have been and Risgard's testimony revealed as much. "We could feel they were a bit frustrated and they were yelling at each other," he said.
There are certainly far greater challenges ahead than Aalborg, with United – Group E winners since Villarreal could not manage a win in Glasgow – potentially facing Real or Atletico Madrid and Jose Mourinho's Internazionale, as well as Sporting Lisbon or Lyon in the first knock-out round.
Long before then, Ferguson has the pressing business of Saturday's encounter at White Hart Lane, possibly minus Dimitar Berbatov, who is doubtful having suffered swelling after a kick to his Achilles against Sunderland on Saturday. Michael Carrick is also carrying a thigh injury, which is why Ferguson rested Darren Fletcher last night.
His decision to rest Cristiano Ronaldo, too, seemed no great risk as United tucked in to a visiting side which, judging by the way they started, suggested that some bunch of imposters had blundered into the wrong stadium. Champions of Denmark, perhaps, but not remotely in this league.
It took Rooney two minutes and 40 seconds to help tear them apart, Ryan Giggs lofting a ball to him, taking his headed ball back and hoisting a ball through with the outside of his right foot which Carlos Tevez deposited for his seventh goal of the season.
When even Gary Neville is trying out the backheels then you know that United are feeling a certain insouciance. It was their undoing, just as it was against Blackburn Rovers and Hull City here in games where the visitors scored three apiece. Aalborg had a habit of counterattacking quickly after breaking up United's play and in the dead ball ability of Anders Due they found a surprisingly elementary way of causing trouble.
The entire United rearguard neglected to spot Jakobsen's 31st minute left-to-right run across the box which saw him deposit Due's free-kick in off the back of his head. Kuszczak got a touch but managed only to flap the ball into the net. Unfortunate then, considering the Dane's ability, that it was to Due that Gibson offered a painfully loose pass and that Ferdinand granted him a yard's space to loft a ball across to Curth who was free to head past Kuszczak in first-half injury time.
Scoring goals is what worries Ferguson most, just now. Neville fired over from a few yards after chesting a lofted Rooney pass beyond Jakobsen and racing in on keeper Karim Kaka, and Tevez somehow deposited Rooney's through ball into the side-netting. Rooney spared any embarrassment, running onto Anderson's elegant ball to thump a 51st minute equaliser. But he will remembered for less creditable work.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Kuszczak; Neville (Rafael, 76), Ferdinand, Evans, O'Shea; Gibson (Scholes h-t), Giggs (Park h-t), Anderson, Nani; Tevez, Rooney. Substitutes not used: Foster (gk), Vidic, Fletcher, Possebon
Aalborg (4-5-1) Zaza; Bogelund, Olfers, Jakobsen, Pedersen (Sorensen, 76); Curth (Caca, 74), Enevoldsen, Augustinussen, Risgard, Due (Kristensen, 65); Saganowski. Substitutes not used: Stenild (gk), Nomvethe, Braemer, Schwartz.
Referee: L Duhamel (France).
Results: Celtic 0 AaB Aalborg 0; Manchester Utd 0 Villarreal 0; AaB Aalborg 0 Manchester Utd 3; Villarreal 1 Celtic 0; Manchester Utd 3 Celtic 0; Villarreal 6 AaB Aalborg 3; Aab Aalborg 2 Villarreal 2; Celtic 1 Manchester Utd 1; AaB Aalborg 2 Celtic 1; Villarreal 0 Manchester United 0; Celtic 2 Villarreal 0; Manchester Utd 2 AaB Aalborg 2.
Last 16 Qualifiers
Group winners: Roma, Panathinaikos, Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Porto, Juventus
Runners-up: Chelsea, Internazionale, Sporting Lisbon, Atletico Madrid, Villarreal, Lyon, Arsenal, Real Madrid
The draw is on 19 December. Teams from the same country cannot be drawn together, nor teams from the same qualifying group. The First Knockout round takes place on 24/25 February and 10/11 MarchReuse content