Bayern Munich, through an Arjen Robben wonder goal, have knocked Manchester United out of the 2010 Champions League, despite losing at Old Trafford 3-2 this evening.
The German side, who carried a 2-1 advantage from the home tie in Munich go through by virtue of their additional away goal, scored tonight, though the sides were level on 4-4 aggregate scoreline when the final whistle blew.
But what an away goal.
Two weeks ago, in almost identical circumstances against Fiorentina, Arjen Robben scored a stunning left footed shot into the top left corner from 25 yards. Tonight, with his side losing 4-3 on aggregate, Robben hit a low percentage volley with exquisite style, right into the bottom left hand corner from the angle of the area, following a pinpoint cross from the unusually quiet Franck Ribery.
Ribery had been kept quiet in the first 45 minutes by Manchester United’s young right-back, Rafael Da Silva, who was to provide a more telling contribution in the second half by picking up a second yellow card with a minor tug to the Frenchman’s shirt which saw United reduced to ten men.
While Manchester United fans will look to this sending off, and it could be argued that Van Bommel of Bayern committed at least as bad a second foul while on a yellow card in the first half, the match should, in truth, have been safe by this point, such was United’s dominance in the opening sequences.
United had raced away to a 2-0 lead in the first eight minutes, with goals from Gibson, who lashed in a shot from 20 yards after taking a pass from Rooney, who made a miraculous recovery from last week’s injury to start the game. The ball to Rooney had been won by Rafael and played 40 yards into Rooney’s feet to set this up.
Next it was Nani’s turn to provide a moment of class as he turned in a low Valencia cross with a well taken back heel.
United looked as though they could well run away with this match, an idea confirmed when, on 41 minutes, Nani, who had, until tonight, not scored in Old Trafford since January 2009, scored his second of the night after a United counter-attack saw Valencia cut the ball back towards Rooney. The ball evaded the Englishman, and every player in the box, but Nani, who was racing forward in his attacking left-midfield position. He side-footed the ball coolly into the roof of the net with an easy, sweeping motion.
Bayern had yet to hit a shot on target until moments before United’s third, when Van der Sar had to be smart to make a one on one save against Olic, so there had been an early warning shot before a hopeful ball played into the United box toward that same man looked to have been well read by Michael Carrick. The United midfielder, however, failed to get more than a glancing header on the ball, and Olic raced in to smash the ball low past Van der Sar at his near post.
The timing of this goal, from Bayern Munich’s point of view, could not have been better, as it meant they now needed just one unanswered goal from the final 45 minutes of this match in order to progress. And that is precisely what they got.
Within minutes of the restart, Ribery was running at United’s defense, having got an headstart on his young marker. Rafael, who picked up a foolish yellow card in the first half for retaliation after a perceived injustice, committed what was adjudged to be a professional foul in attempting to hold back Franck Ribery, and Bayern Munich players were quick to crowd referee Rizzoli gesturing the card that was to follow. The decision to produce Rafael’s match ending second yellow was fair enough, however, as his attempt would produce a yellow card on many a European night: there was never any likelihood he would win the ball.
To say that this moment ended the match would do a great disservice to the four good chances that Manchester United managed to create with just 10 men, especially considering Wayne Rooney’s substitution soon after the sending off, to be replaced with John O’Shea who went to the vacant right-back slot. Carrick, Nani, Gibson and Fletcher would all have reasonable chances to take the margin of goals required to two before Robben produced his miraculous strike on 74 minutes.
Franck Ribery and Robben, at a corner, hatched a plot to unglue Manchester United’s resolute defense by looping the ball right over it, to the other corner of the area, from Frenchman to Dutchman, where the latter would volley home. Sure. Even though the execution of this plan would be something few players in world football could produce more than one or two times out of twenty, these two got their lines absolutely spot on, as Robben connected so sweetly with a volley which nestled into the United net a foot away from the post opposite him, despite Michael Carrick’s despairing attempted block.
This was the perfect strike to seal what was a gripping two-legged quarter-final. While United will feel sore that they were undone by a couple of mistakes in two games that they controlled for large spells – United were scintillating for the first half hour tonight – the German side looked cool and composed throughout. At no point did Bayern Munich look like a side who did not believe they could progress to the next phase.
Progress they have, for these two giants of Europe have been split by the narrowest of margins: an away goal.
But, oh, what a goal it was.