United get what they deserve – the Europa League

Basle 2 Manchester United 1

St Jakob-Park

When Christmas comes to the snow-flecked banks of the Rhine, a DVD of this match will be filling rather more Swiss stockings than It's a Wonderful Life. This was Basle's game of their lives and it consigned Manchester United to the kind of footballing Alaska that is the Europa League.

It is admittedly the one competition, in its former guise of the Uefa Cup, that Sir Alex Ferguson has never won and, frankly, in the words of Roy Keane, his one-time captain and enforcer who watched from the stands, they deserve to be nowhere else.

Even had they left Switzerland with the point that would have carried them through to the knockout stages, there was nothing in their arthritic, error-strewn campaign to suggest they would not have been eliminated by the first decent side they met. Ferguson admitted that it was at Old Trafford rather than Basle that the fatal damage to their campaign had been done.

United were playing in white shirts and facing a side in claret and blue stripes, just as they had done in the European Cup final at Wembley. They were outplayed and hurt by Barcelona but it is one thing to lose a final, it is quite another to fall at the first hurdle, as United did for the first time in the Champions League since they left Lisbon bottom of their group exactly six years before.

By finishing last in 2005, Manchester United were spared the Uefa Cup, which Ferguson would have been grateful for. Channel Five, who hold the British rights to the Europa League were, along with Basle and Napoli, the night's big winners. At one swoop they have secured two of the biggest clubs in English football.

Defeat would have been hard to swallow and the loss of his captain, Nemanja Vidic, would have stuck even harder in Ferguson's throat. Just before the interval he tangled with Basle striker Mario Streller and went down in obvious agony; a blow upon a bruise.

That may have explained why Ferguson was unusually graceless in defeat. Most of the time, he knows how to lose but his remarks that he could not judge Basle as an attacking force because they had gone forward so little were raw. They did score twice.

Both were created by Xherdan Shaqiri, the young, stocky, highly-talented midfielder who may not remain at St Jakob-Park for very long and the first arrived before 10 minutes were up.

When goalkeeper David de Gea was signed, there was an acceptance that his youth would mean that a few mistakes would be the price of a considerable talent, which was on display just after the interval when he tipped away a fierce free-kick from Alexander Frei.

St Jakob-Park in early December was, however, no place for a goalkeeper with nerves. Several days of rain had slicked and soaked the pitch, which was rutted and uneven. There was the wind which had been strong enough to threaten the roofs of the stalls at Basle's Christmas market. It was a night to shoot on sight.

De Gea was undone not by a shot but a cross from the 20-year-old Shaqiri, whose family had sought refuge in Switzerland from Kosovo. For reasons only he can know, De Gea tried to kick the ball. Like so many did here, he miscued and the ball bounced out to Streller, who before the game had tried to articulate the sense of wonder that would accompany a Swiss victory. He met it perfectly, his foot right over the ball as it bounced in front of him and suddenly the talk of miracles became flesh. United's backs were already turned towards the wall and now they could feel the bricks.

Six minutes from the end came what everybody in the stadium knew was the killer goal. Again it came from Shaqiri; the ball eluded Chris Smalling and Alexander Frei stooped low to head the ball home. The flares burned in the stands and Heiko Vogel, the Basle coach, who was not born when Ferguson entered management, danced on the pitch, saying he wanted to "kiss every corner flag".

With his red hair and caustic wit, Vogel is something of a Swiss Gordon Strachan. He had taken over in the wake of the chaotic 3-3 draw at Old Trafford that, in Ferguson's opinion, wrecked Manchester United's chances far more than this defeat. Vogel had remarked that since Basle had to beat United to qualify, they would need a "perfect game and that someone upstairs had to shine his light on us."

Momentarily, it flickered. Facing his own net, Markus Steinhofer, Vogel's full-back, drove a cross against his own bar, which his manager said on any other night would have gone in. Luis Nani performed manfully and twice Ryan Giggs, playing better as the edgy, rain-swept night dragged on, set up Wayne Rooney, who was not the pivotal figure the situation demanded.

Then with a minute left, Federico Macheda struck the bar and although Yann Sommer scrambled Phil Jones' header back, it had obviously crossed the line. Manchester United had three minutes of stoppage time, the time it had taken them to win the European Cup against Bayern Munich 12 years ago. Now, there was no grand finale and although Ferguson kept frantically pointing to his watch, time had long since run out for his team and for this campaign.

Man of the match Shaqiri.

Match rating 8/10.

Referee B Kuipers (Netherlands).

Attendance 36,894.

Plain sailing as Benfica stay top

An early tap-in from Paraguay striker Oscar Cardozo earned Benfica a 1-0 home win over Otelul Galati and clinched top spot in Group C. They had secured qualification with their 2-2 draw at United in the previous round and were able to relax and control the tempo of the match after taking the lead. Argentinian winger Nicolas Gaitan ran to the byline and his clever pass found Cardozo, who coolly tapped in the winner in the seventh minute.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child