Manchester United's joy at finally defeating a Spanish club on their own soil was tempered last night when Roy Keane and David Beckham suffered injuries which threaten to undermine their domestic and foreign ambitions.
The damage to Beckham, the victim of a reckless challenge by Diego Tristan in added time, cannot be assessed until the swelling goes down. His tears, and the strapping on his legs, as he was carried off, do not augur well for United or England.
Keane has a hamstring injury which will rule him out for "four to six" weeks, said Ferguson. The United captain, who missed the 1999 final through suspension, could be back for the 15 May final. If United can get there.
They ought to at least win this quarter-final, first-half goals by Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy having given them an impressive cushion for Wednesday's second leg. However, as well as Keane, and probably Beckham, United will also be without Juan Sebastian Veron and Paul Scholes at Old Trafford. Veron had already been ruled out with a heel injury while Scholes will be suspended after being booked for the third time in the competition. The midfield could thus consist of Luke Chadwick, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, and Ryan Giggs.
"We have a pool of players to cope with it, you have to cope," said Ferguson last night. "The spirit and attitude of the players gives us a good chance. I hope we don't regret the chances we missed. Ryan could have put the game beyond their reach."
He added: "We played marvellously. You have to go back to 1999 since we played as well as that. The disappointment was the injuries and the suspension."
Ferguson was understandably furious at Tristan's tackle and Javier Irureta, the Deportivo coach, did not disagree when Ferguson said: "It should have been a red card."
Beckham's value had been shown by his 15th-minute goal, his 16th of a prolific season. It followed an impressive opening by United, who deployed Giggs in the hole behind Van Nistelrooy, with Scholes filling in on the left flank. This successful experiment was watched intently by the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, who had flown to Galicia for the game.
United, with Giggs and Scholes prominent, took the game to their hosts and Van Nistelrooy, twice, and Giggs both should have done better with early chances. This pressure was rewarded when, from a seemingly innocuous position, Beckham scored.
United were passing the ball across the Deportivo defence when the England captain spotted Francisco Molina off his line. As the keeper realised the danger, Beckham curled a wickedly dipping shot over his head from 35 yards.
As a stunned silence settled upon the home support, the small pocket of United fans tucked in a corner of the hitherto intimidating Riazor could be heard running through the Red Army repertoire. But gradually the balance of possession began to tilt Deportivo's way, with the veteran left-winger Fran increasingly influential.
Yet they remained frustrated. Ronny Johnsen and Butt smothered the first wave of attacks and, when the cover was pierced, the goalkeeper Fabien Barthez was equal to the challenge. Sergio's shot and Tristan's header were parried; Cesar and Victor's shots were caught. Four minutes from the break United struck again. A Beckham free-kick was only partially cleared and, when Mickaël Silvestre's cross eluded Cesar, Van Nistelrooy was on his shoulder to score his 33rd goal of the season.
United's joy was cruelly cut short. Keane, challenged by Sergio, fell to the deck. Unusually, he stayed down. United's fears were confirmed as Gary Neville immediately signalled for a substitute. As Quinton Fortune came on, with Scholes moving to central midfield, Keane was carried around the touchline. Back in Bromley the Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy prayed, along with every watching Irishman, that it was not as bad as it looked. He should be fit for the World Cup, but match-sharpness will be hard to attain.
Though deprived of their leader, United stood firm, with Johnsen spreading confidence with his command. Barthez was kept busy, but only from range. United, on the counter-attack, were more dangerous and Lionel Scaloni twice came close to conceding penalties, first for a charge on Silvestre, then for a tackle on Van Nistelrooy.
Scholes, for his third significant foul of the night, was booked. It should have been immaterial as Giggs, whose second-half misses cost United victory here in the group stages, should have put the tie beyond Deportivo. After 65 minutes slide-rule passes from Silvestre and Van Nistelrooy put him through but, though he went round Molina, Cesar cleared off the line. A minute later he went clear again, this time from the half-way line, but Molina dived bravely to pluck the ball off his toes.
Irureta tinkered with his formation sending on Dutch, Brazilian and Argentinian reinforcements but United's back four remained impermeable. Not so Deportivo's as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on for the selfless Van Nistelrooy, turned to shoot against the base of the post.
Deportivo lost heart, then control, as Tristan scythed down Beckham. Eriksson's habit of leaving before the final whistle meant he probably did not see his stricken captain carried from the field. It will have been a stiletto shock when he heard. He, and Ferguson, will hope for better news this morning.
Deportivo La Coruña (4-2-3-1): Molina; Scaloni, Cesar, Naybet, Romero; Mauro Silva, Sergio; Victor (Duscher, 87), Valeron (Djalminha, 67), Fran (Makaay, 62); Tristan. Substitutes not used: Nuno (gk), Capdevila, Pandiani, Hector.
Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Barthez; G Neville, Blanc, Johnsen, Silvestre; Beckham (P Neville, 90), Keane (Fortune, 44), Butt, Scholes; Giggs; Van Nistelrooy (Solskjaer, 76). Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk), Irwin, Forlan, O'Shea.
Referee: K Vassaras (Greece).Reuse content