Match made in heaven. Almost.

We all witnessed two games of the highest magnitude.

It was the Champions League. A big occasion, two great managers, two great stadiums, two clubs with enormous history of winning titles, a former player-romantic returning to his old club.

It was obviously going to be a classic.

Nani sent off vs Real Madrid

We all know what occurred during the two matches. Instead of beating around the bush, I’ll get straight to the point. The entire football community is asking one question, “Was justice done?” I am nobody to decide on that question, and neither is anyone else. What’s done is done. United are out of the Champions League, and Real Madrid are through. Here are a few conclusions I drew out from the two matches that the world witnessed.

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Let’s start at the Santiago Bernabeu. It was an enthralling match. The stage was set for an epic match, and the fans were amazing generating the amount of noise they did. It was almost impossible to believe before the match that United could go to the Bernabeu, tactically outclass Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho, soak up pressure from the Madrid fans, and win the match. They came close. Both the managers admitted that a 1-1 draw was a fair result at the end and had no major complaints about the refereeing or the match in general.  I think differently here. I feel the referee did not have the best of matches in terms of making the bold decisions. Evra was fouled by Varane in the second half when he was sent clear through on goal by Carrick. That, was a red card. It was a clear foul, Varane was the last man, a clear red card. Referee did not have the balls to even give it as a foul. Play continued, and so did everyone else. Angel Di Maria was impeded inside the penalty box by Phil Jones, that was a penalty. He went shoulder to shoulder with Di Maria, and bumped him. Nothing was given. The Madrid players and the fans alike appealed for a spot kick, but the referee did not have the guts to make a big decision which could have influenced the match either way. Ryan Giggs made his 999th appearance of his career at the Bernabeu, and the Madrid fans were up and applauding when he came on. It speaks volumes about the man.

Dangerous play?

The stage was set for another classic at Old Trafford after the first leg ended 1-1, and this time the appointed referee was Cuneyt Cakir from the Turskish league. He got three decisions wrong on this day. First, Rafael Da Silva handled the ball on the goal-line preventing a header from crossing the line. It would have been a bit harsh on him if it was given a hand ball, but his hands were all across his head – blocking the ball with his arm – penalty. Another came from a corner from Manchester United, when Nemanja Vidic headed the ball which went over the bar, and goalkeeper Diego Lopez’s effort to clear the ball resulted in him punching Vidic in the face. Dangerous play – no? A red card for a punch – no? Okay people might say he was going for the ball and accidently punched Vidic in the face. Now the big deicision, which many believe changed the course of the match. Nani chases a ball in the air, and as he always does in every match, tries to bring down the ball the way he did at that point. In comes Alvaro Arbeloa challenging for the ball, gets the ball, Nani hits his studs into Arbeloa’s chest. Both players go down. Everyone is waiting for the play to resume. It is a Real Madrid free-kick. And then Mr. Cakir takes out the shotgun. Red card! Nani sent off for ‘dangerous play’. Never mind the punch on Vidic’s face, never mind the kick on Taylor’s face by Crouch in the Stoke City vs. West Ham match. Nani had not intention of causing any hurt to Arbeloa. There has been a lot of controversy regarding this incident with mixed views from everyone. I won’t infuriate the debate more.

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Ronaldo received a staggering welcome at his former club. He described it as “unbelievable” and “overwhelmed” when he was greeted by the United fans. He did not have the best of the games at Old Trafford. He admitted to have failed by his own standards. It was okay to think that he was fazed by emotions. It was the biggest occasion for Ryan Giggs – playing his 1000th match and lasting for the entire 90 minutes at the age of 39. His performance in the match was a joy to behold. He ran on the pitch like a young boy tracking back Ronaldo’s runs on the right wing, played two crosses to Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick, the resulting attempts hitting the post and saved superbly by Diego Lopez repsectively. His pass of the match came in the first half when he made Fabio Coentrao look like an absolute amateur, and fizzed in a swinging cross from the right wing to land directly onto Robin Van Persie’s left foot. An enormous amount of respect for him for his performance and his spirit.

From a refereeing standpoint, UEFA and the referees should be ashamed of the way they handled the big decisions in both the legs. UEFA should be clever enough to not appoint a referee from a small league, who does not have the experience of handling big matches day-in day-out. And matches don’t come bigger than the two footballing giants clashing with each other. Jose Mourinho conceded that the better team lost on the night (He has his eyes set on the United job, eh?) and it was true, whatever the intentions of Mourinho must have been. United had curtailed Madrid for the first hour of the match with a very well organized team and getting the tactics right. What would have happened if the red card was not given? It is a very hypothetical scenario, and to say that United would have gone on to win comfortably, is insulting to the quality that Real Madrid possess in its world-class players. The match could have ended 1-2 anyway. But out of those who understand football, 90% would say the match was United’s.

The entire team and the fans alike were shocked at the decision by the referee. So much so that they did not play for the next 15 minutes. They went back to just defending and conceded two goals. The only mistake that United made in the entire match was to get affected by the referee’s decision. That cost them the match. The battling display they showed after going down 1-2 with 10 men was a mark of champions.

That some fans are into healthy discussions about the two matches certainly makes me happy. It means that football is growing, and so are the intellectuals. The fact that football means much more than a game to some romantics is just so pleasing to see. Being a Manchester United fan since the past 10 years, I am not sad today that United lost. I am just sad that such a big occasion in the Champions League had to make headlines for the wrong reasons on the pitch.

Despite all the speculation and controversy, I’ll leave you on a lighter note. Below is a video in which referee Cuneyt Cakir explains why he sent off Nani.

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Post-match interviews from Jose Mourinho and Mike Phelan.

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Dhaval Malnika

Manchester United fan. Electronics Engineer. Masters student at University of Colorado at Boulder. Associated with Football Paradise since its inception. No non-sense center back in love with the beautiful game.