Ferguson admits: 'I did not see that one coming'

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The Independent Football

The popular perception of Sir Alex Ferguson is that he is a bad loser. This is unfair, he is usually generous in defeat, it is when he is on top that the Manchester United manager becomes abrasive. He is a bad winner.

The popular perception of Sir Alex Ferguson is that he is a bad loser. This is unfair, he is usually generous in defeat, it is when he is on top that the Manchester United manager becomes abrasive. He is a bad winner.

The pattern ran true last night in the press room at Old Trafford where Ferguson explained, not without some gallows humour, that he could not understand how Manchester United's quest to regain the European Cup had ended with the kind of last-minute goal which was always their own speciality.

"You get shocks in life," he remarked with the painful half smile of a cabinet minister who has just lost his seat. "I did not see that one coming." Costinha's 90th-minute goal which prevented Manchester United competing in the quarter-finals of the European Cup for the first time in eight years was met with equanimity.

"You are overcome with worry when you have had an abject failure. But here you have to assess the game and say we were unlucky to go out. I have had disappointments very many times. If you join the club of managers, one thing is certain, you are going to taste defeat."

Ferguson argued with some justification that Manchester United deserved to win the match but whether they deserved to win the tie was quite another matter. Ferguson himself conceded that United had escaped lightly with a 2-1 defeat in the Dragao stadium while his counterpart, Jose Mourinho, thought Porto ought to have won the first leg by three or four clear goals and feared he might pay for it at Old Trafford.

Had Paul Scholes' second goal of the evening been allowed, as it should have been, matters might have been very different. "I could not believe it," Ferguson said. "One player can play you onside and be missed by the linesman but three of them played him onside; but that's football. It would have been a very comfortable position for us to go in 2-0 up."

Once more the failings appear to lie at the heart of the defence, a Manchester institution that is more maligned than the old Arndale Centre. Superficially, it appears to be true - the pattern of no clean sheets at Old Trafford since early January continued with disastrous consequences. In reality, however, the makeshift back four, marshalled by Gary Neville, who was as effective as he had been in Oporto, excelled.

"It was not a great Manchester United performance but it was laced with good play and the defence which had been a problem did extremely well," Ferguson said. "We surrendered possession in areas where they did not threaten us. I felt it was important that their good central midfielders did not threaten us and generally they did not."

Porto's gamesmanship enraged Old Trafford but the bitterness that had festered between Ferguson and Mourinho appears to have eased. Beating Manchester United at Old Trafford is something his mentor, Sir Bobby Robson, has not achieved with Newcastle, and Mourinho was conciliatory in victory. The two men had shaken hands and the Neville brothers and Cristiano Ronaldo had exchanged shirts in the away dressing-room. "That's what I like about football," Mourinho remarked. "Sometimes you play with words to put pressure on people but after the final whistle you change."

Ferguson, too, was not prepared to take the bait when asked if he was offended by Porto's extravagant celebrations after Costinha's goal which saw Mourinho running on to the pitch. "No, they got out of jail. That's the way you should celebrate goals, it's part of the game."

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