Under-par Madrid beneficiaries of controversial dismissal

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Cuneyt Cakir's name won't be forgotten in a hurry at Old Trafford. Real Madrid progressed to the quarter-finals of the Champions League with a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford, giving Los Blancos a 3-2 win on aggregate, but all the talk post-match was of the performance of the man in the middle.

Star names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin van Persie, Mesut Ozil, Xabi Alonso, Rio Ferdinand, Sergio Ramos and Ryan Giggs were on the pitch for the "match the world would stop for," but the Turkish official took centre stage after his decision to send United's Nani off caused uproar amongst home supporters, players and coaching staff.

It came in the second half with the hosts leading 1-0 through a Sergio Ramos own goal, and the decision completely changed the game. It came 10 minutes after the restart and Luka Modric's equaliser was not long after.

-- Match report: Manchester United 1-2 Real Madrid
-- Delaney: Real profit from red card
-- Blog: The best team lost

Cristiano Ronaldo's winner, on the night, was three minutes after that. Bring on the booing so loud you could probably hear it back in the Spanish capital.

On first impressions, the referee's decision was a shock. The challenge was a clumsy one from the Portuguese, but there seemed no malice. Just a desire to control the ball in mid-air without realising Alvaro Arbeloa was in so close proximity.

A free kick and a yellow card -- but few were expecting an early bath. Cakir was, and his delay in showing it to Nani only acted to add to the surprise element of the decision.

For my money, it should have been a yellow, nothing more. Yet with the dust settling, maybe the decision was not as rash as some are making it out to be. To reaffirm, I'd have gone with a yellow, but Cakir at least took his time in making the decision - it didn't seem a rash one, running up to the player straight away to shove the card firmly in the player's face. Probably the wrong one, though.

Mourinho didn't comment too much post-match, instead pointing out that what goes around, does indeed come around. The 'Special One' was fuming at a similar decision that went against Madrid in 2011 when Pepe saw red for a challenge when he didn't even make contact with Barcelona's Daniel Alves in the same competition.

Two wrongs do not make a right, of course, but it may be a sign that this is Madrid's year -- for up until the dismissal, the Premier League leaders were the better side.

Sir Alex Ferguson's men were not dominant, but tactically they were spot-on. Sitting deep, not allowing Madrid to counter, and soaking up the pretty lacklustre pressure well. At the other end, they were carving out the better chances, too, with Nemanja Vidic hitting the post and Danny Welbeck seeing the rebound somehow saved by Diego Lopez - who had a good night for the visitors.

Ronaldo was not having his usual impact, perhaps in part to United's tactics and perhaps in part due to his emotional return to his former home. A huge reception from the home fans before kick-off, but booing their former idol thereafter should have reminded Madrid's talisman that it was business as usual with La Decima at stake.

Xabi Alonso was pressed constantly by Welbeck --- with Wayne Rooney a shock exclusion, taking a spot on the bench -- making it difficult for Madrid's usual leader to orchestrate the moves from deep.

The left-hand side was dealt with, too, by Ferguson's men. Plenty of kudos to Ryan Giggs, making his 1,000th United appearance, in being part of that and helping Rafael deal with not only Ronaldo (or Ozil, when he moved to occupy that spot), but with the forward runs of Fabio Coentrao.

Giggs got a warm reception from the Bernabeu faithful and had another good game on home soil. He was older than the referee, and when he made his United debut in 1990 Raphael Varane was not even born.

Mourinho said the best team lost, but Madrid were ruthless when Nani saw red and really rammed their dominance home - a speciality. No time for sympathy, time to get the job done. On came Modric for Arbeloa and Madrid went with three at the back and more in attack.

The former Tottenham Hotspur man has been hit-and-miss since his move to the Bernabeu but this was definitely a 'hit' night. At first it looked as if he was destined for the bench with Kaka on to replace the injured Angel di Maria, but Modric's arrival, as well as Nani's departure, helped swing the game. His goal was superb, flicking off the inside of the post and giving David de Gea no chance.

His movement was good, his link-up play was good and his hunger was apparent. A word in the ear from Mourinho? "I've brought you to this club to win games, go and do it." Job done.

I've sent huge praise Varane's way so far this season, and rightly so -- he's already up there with the top defenders and he'll be a world great sooner rather than later for my money.

He's still learning, though, and for United's goal he should have done better with clearing up the loose ball. The young Frenchman looked in pole position to win the ball against Nani, but seemed to slow down and act with caution, possibly in fear of giving away a penalty, when a better option would have been to just get the ball safe.

Lopez had arguably his best game since making the move to Madrid. A touch of fortune in how he saved Welbeck's early effort (every save counts), but his positioning and anticipation for numerous second-half chances, including those from Vidic, Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie, was good and he's proving a shrewd bit of business by Mourinho.

It's probably not enough to keep Iker Casillas out from returning to a starting role when he recovers from injury, but you never know, especially considering the drama at the turn of the year.

The night wasn't complete without a Ronaldo goal. It showcased the controversy of the referee's decision, then, to send Nani off when that decision overshadowed the story all were waiting for - Ronaldo scoring the winner on his return to Old Trafford.

A low shot to the far post from Gonzalo Higuain was too fast for Rafael, who let it pass and allow the Portuguese a tap-in at the far post. No celebration, not on the outside, anyway.

Madrid did get a little more fortune on their side late on when Patrice Evra went down under a careless challenge by Ramos - a penalty that could have easily been given, especially given the Nani decision, but they got away with it.

While Cakir's decision to dismiss Nani will live long in the memory of Ferguson, who sent assistant Mike Phelan out to do the post-match press conference, and United fans, it's onwards and upwards for a Madrid side who can't stop winning big games this year, and have their eyes firmly set on a Champions League and Copa del Rey double -- not a bad little finish given the problems this season.

Madrid were not at their best -- far from it, but perhaps Los Blancos can take plenty from the fact they know they can play better, they know United are one of the toughest tests in the competition, a test they passed -- just -- and from the fact that fate may just be on their side this season.

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