Dramatic day at the theatre

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The intriguing Champions League contest between Manchester United and Real Madrid on Tuesday has belied the unwritten rule in football that hyped up matches invariably fall flat. The meeting of the world’s two biggest clubs was dramatic at the Theatre of Dreams, even though it wasn’t a classic in quality.

It had everything that makes a football match compelling: an own goal, a straight red card, a sublime strike and a pulsating climax. The subplots — Ferguson vs Mourinho, Rooney’s absence from the starting XI and the return of Ronaldo to Old Trafford — were equally engrossing.
The second leg of the last 16 was so delicately poised that it wasn’t easy to hazard a guess about the outcome. Ferguson wielded his famous axe to condemn Rooney to the bench. The Scot, as every pundit worth his salt averred, got his tactics right. Real struggled for rhythm even as their opponents were stroking the ball around with élan. Ronaldo was as anonymous early on as humility in his coach Mourinho’s persona as the home team took the match by the scruff of the neck. It wasn’t a surprise that United went ahead through an own goal from Sergio Ramos. The pressure from the Red Devils paid off.
Just when it looked that the tie was slipping away from Real, Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir changed its course with an inexplicable red card to Nani. Roy Keane, the owner of many a red in his career, waded into the debate, justifying the sending off. Keane just wanted to rub Ferguson on the wrong side because the referee’s decision wasn’t right. Few would have expected that the man with the whistle would take centre stage at the end of it all. The sending off triggered United’s implosion. From the wreckage of Champions League exit, they managed to salvage some sympathy. In Mourinho’s words, the best team didn’t win. In other words, the mentally weaker team lost.
It was a night that helped Real’s emergency signing, Diego Lopez, shed his obscurity. The goalkeeper, standing in for the injured Iker Casillas, pulled off a string of fine saves to keep his boyhood club in the hunt. Not a bad outing for a player who had played for Real B and C in an unremarkable career.

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