Date:Wednesday November 22 2006
I imagine journalists would be rubbing their hands excitedly at the prospect of telling us how much United miss Ruud van Nistelrooy after last night's sickening defeat.
We've lost against a very limited team whom United have thoroughly outplayed in a noisy night at Parkhead. Of course, slick passing and posession does not matter much if the players are unable to turn them into goals. Mind you, they couldn't convert them even into chances.
United let down themselves with the final passes and therefore our first real chance came not long before the interval when a mistake allowed Ronaldo to sprint through but directed his shot tamely at Boruc's legs.
I've expected some serious improvements after half-time, and I wished Rooney did not play on the left wing. But still, our strongest team seemed perfectly happy with the 0-0 draw and retaining posession. I would have been satisfied with that, too but with a slight sense of foreboding I was sure we would concede.
Half-chances came and went and as the clock was nearing 80 minutes I began to believe we would secure that coveted point to qualify. Then lightning struck.
I'm pretty sure that Vidic's challenge on Jarosik wasn't worth a free-kick but it does not matter. Nakamura has once again decided he would score with a stunning free-kick and so he did, leaving us United fans cursing him.
The response provoked by it was significant. Our sleeping, draw-wanting starts have suddenly looked wide awake, they laid siege to Boruc's goal. And there came the moment which surely led all the pundits to lament the loss of Ruud: Rooney played a delightful chip in Saha's way who controlled it and then paused at the crucial moment, apparently thinking he was offside. He was not but the chance was squandered.
Help was still on the way for United as the first game's hero, Thomas Gravesen managed to handle Ronaldo's freekick. It was a clear penalty and Mejuto Gonzalez did not hesitate to award it.
I wasn't relieved: I was silently praying for Rooney to take the kick as I expected him not to collapse under pressure. Of course, Saha is usually a confident penalty-taker so I managed to get rid of my doubts and was relatively optimistic.
He missed it as we all know but fortunately, surely on the purpose of silencing the journalists, Ruud did the same in Madrid, thus condemning Real to second place in the group. As Boruc beat away Saha's penalty I was sure it was over but it wasn't what was disturbing me most. I could not understand why any United player had failed to go for the rebound. I mean, I didn't expect them to score from it but I hadn't seen any of them running into the box as the Celtic defenders did. Why?
Exactly a year after the ending of last season's disastrous European campaign, Benfica visit Old Trafford. Revenge will be sweet. I hope.
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Date:Wednesday November 22 2006
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