El Centrocampista

Ronaldo returns to slide Real into last eight

Pre match Jose Mourinho said that the “whole world would stop and watch” the game, the morning after the night before and the very same world will probably be talking about little else.

Such was the hype surrounding the game, that it was almost a given that controversy, drama and tension were all going to be abundant. Perhaps no-one however, could have quite scripted this.

Before the game Manchester United fans gave a standing ovation to Ronaldo and chanted ‘Viva Ronaldo’ but ninety minutes later it was ‘Viva Espana!’ that reverberated around Old Trafford.

There is little doubt that the 57th minute dismissal of Nani was the game changer, not just numerically, but also mentally.

Despite protests to the contrary by home fans and officials alike, there can be little doubt that Nani’s high foot to the stomach of Alvaro Arbeloa was certainly reckless.

Whether it did enough to warrant a red card is debatable, but the Portuguese winger needlessly gave referee Cuneyt Cakir a decision to make and one that ultimately did not go in his favour.

Defendants of Nani will claim that his eyes were always on the ball, and while this is true, should never provide the ultimate get out clause for any rash tackle or challenge.

A sense of injustice or not, the way that the two teams responded to the incident couldn’t have been more stark in contrast.

Speaking after the game, Jose Mourinho said that it is often the case that a team with ten men becomes even harder to breakdown, but the complete opposite happened.

Minutes after the red card, Sir Alex Ferguson tried to promote a siege mentality around Old Trafford by passionately urging all four corners of the ground to increase the decibel level.

And while it temporarily had the desired impact, the home crowd could do nothing but stand in stunned silence as Luka Modric produced a sumptuous equaliser to turn the tie on its head, having only been on the pitch a mere seven minutes.

Not only did the Croatians curling effort restore parity in the tie and give Real Madrid that crucial away goal, but it also completely changed the flow of the game.

Before the former Tottenham mans intervention, despite having the majority of possession, Uniteds defence and midfield were collectively defiant in allowing the Spanish champions any space in which to operate.

Recognising the ‘quarterback like’ qualities of Xavi Alonso, it was clear that United had a game plan to try and stop him the midfielder from dictating in his usual manner. And to be fair to Sir Alex Ferguson, it worked.

On the contrary, Manchester United started to threaten on the break with pace of Nani and Welbeck causing a sluggish Real Madrid back four all kinds of problems, especially from wide positions.

And it was from a Nani cross that opened the scoring, Sergio Ramos shinning the ball into his own net.

Modric brilliantly equalised after skipping past a couple of flimsy United challenges, and then it was left to Cristiano Ronaldo to almost apologetically slide in to finish a teasing ball from Gonzalo Higuain.

There can be little doubt that the game did change on the sending off, but the home side must surely be disappointed in the way that they lost focused and collapsed.

Being frustrated at a perceived injustice is one thing, but it was themselves, not the referee, whose mindset was seemingly destroyed on the turn of one incident.

For a Real Madrid season that hinges solely on the Champions League, the fact that they have managed to progress despite playing nowhere near their best, must come as a relief above all else.

Jose Mourinho graceful stated that “the better team lost” and while over the two legs this was probably an accurate assessment, it is his side that will be in the draw for the last eight.

If they have any plans to progress further however, then they must do better.

Photo courtesy of ManUnited.com

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