Manchester United 1 Real Madrid 2 match report: Treble dream destroyed by Nani red card as Cristiano Ronaldo scores on return to Old Trafford

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Real Madrid win 3-2 on aggregate

Old Trafford

In his day job, the Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir is an insurance agent, a man no doubt given to sober judgements on the arbitrary, irrational mishaps that come out of nowhere to blight the ordinary lives of everyday folk. Last night, it was the clerk from Istanbul who turned into the force that wreaks the havoc.

His decision to send off Nani just before the hour was one of those moments when a referee, faced with a difficult call, panics and turns it into a disaster. It was arguably, under the guidelines given to referees, a booking for "reckless" play but the collision between Nani's raised foot and Alvaro Arbeloa did not merit the red card that Cuneyt brandished from his breast pocket.

Sir Alex Ferguson rushed down from his seat in the United dug-out in order to protest like a man fleeing a burning house, but the damage was already done and by the time he reached the touchline he could see that this season of promise for his side was starting to unravel.

Leading the game through Sergio Ramos' own goal, United were picked off by Jose Mourinho's team, who made their one-man advantage count with devastating effect. In the immediate aftermath of the red card, Ferguson exhorted the Old Trafford crowd to roar their 10 men home, but an hour after the end of the game he was, according to his assistant Mike Phelan, "in no fit state" even to attend the post-match press conference.

For Cuneyt to be sure that Nani's challenge on Arbeloa was a red card he had to be convinced, under the guidelines, that the player had "endangered the safety of an opponent". Those criteria were by no means satisfied and the time that elapsed before making the call, as he shepherded players away, suggested that someone else could have made up his mind over his headset.

But that, as Mourinho later said by way of explanation, is football. United are out the Champions League and suddenly their season feels very different. Ferguson's rage at the decision could have been anticipated but the emotions ascribed to him later by Phelan suggested that this defeat is as profound as any in recent history.

With Barcelona teetering on the brink tonight, and the likes of Chelsea already out, Ferguson no doubt believed that it was his team's destiny to reach the final at Wembley. Certainly he began the night with one of those bold selection decisions, to leave out Wayne Rooney and in doing so completely change the dynamic of his relationship with one of the club's most dominant figures.

Up until Nani's sending off, it was hard to argue that Ferguson had put a foot wrong. He had picked Ryan Giggs on the right side, who had looked sharp against Fabio Coentrao. On the opposite wing, Danny Welbeck caused Madrid problems every time he had the ball. Nemanja Vidic was chosen ahead of Jonny Evans and was arguably the best player on the pitch.

Indeed, when United took the lead, Cristiano Ronaldo was so peripheral to events that you had to wonder whether the out-pouring of love and respect for him at the start of the game from the home fans had knocked him out of his stride. But Ronaldo was there at the back post on 69 minutes to slide in and score from Gonzalo Higuain's cross – the only thing he spared Old Trafford was the celebration.

With only 10 men, United never looked like they believed they could hold out. Mourinho said afterwards that history was full of sides who raised their game on being reduced in numbers by a sending off, but not United. Luka Modric clipped a shot in off David de Gea's left post and then came Ronaldo's goal and, for all the attacks United had at the end, Kaka struck a post late on.

It also helped that in goal, Madrid had another of the game's outstanding performers. Diego Lopez made a number of important saves, including a header from Vidic in injury-time at the end of the game. The last we saw of Ferguson he was jabbing a finger in Cuneyt's direction from the touchline before disappearing down the tunnel for what you imagine must have been the mother of all shouting matches.

His absence at the press conference meant that there was no chance to ask about the Rooney decision which on any other day would have been drama enough. There are two years left on Rooney's contract after this season but he is not here to sit and watch on the nights when the likes of Real Madrid are in town. It can be regarded no other way than a devastating recasting of his place in the pecking order.

Before the break, the best chance fell to United with Vidic heading the ball against the post and Welbeck unable to guide the rebound past Lopez. Although Raphael Varane, the Madrid centre-back was partly culpable for United's goal, he was excellent in controlling the threat of Robin Van Persie who, nonetheless, still made much of the mediocre service he was offered.

Before the end of the first half, Madrid lost Angel di Maria to injury and he was replaced by Kaka. United's gameplan seemed to be working to perfection when, three minutes after extra time they took the lead. Varane lost Nani and it was Sergio Ramos who turned the ball into his own goal after Welbeck managed to get a foot on the cross.

Even in the period of pressure enjoyed by Madrid that followed the goal, United had control. In the moments after Nani's raised foot collided with Arbeloa, Ramos was on the scene to protest to the referee. He was pushed away by Van Persie who, along with Giggs, seemed to be making the point that Nani's eyes had been on the ball.

Both United players seemed to be of the mind that they were lobbying against the possibility of a yellow card. Ramos aside, there was very little said by the Madrid players. When Cuneyt pulled out a red card, it was a stunning moment.

With Rooney, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia on in the closing stages, United threw what they could at Madrid but the red card had thrown them. They had run out of time.

Man of the match Vidic.

Match rating 7/10.

Referee C Cakir (Tur).

Attendance 74,959.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on