Though the mood in the Manchester United FC camp was understandably downbeat after their elimination from the UEFA Champions League by FC Bayern München, there was a real determination to bounce back by retaining their English crown.
Another glorious European night at Old Trafford was in prospect when United responded to a 2-1 defeat in Germany by establishing a 3-0 lead after 41 minutes, Darron Gibson and Nani – the latter with two fine finishes – both on target.
Ivica Olić crucially pulled one back before half-time, however, and the tie swung further Bayern's way with Rafael's red card (50) before Arjen Robben struck majestically (74) to secure the visitors an away-goals triumph.
"I would have rather not scored and gone through," said Gibson, an impressive figure in midfield having been handed a starting berth. "Everyone is devastated and there's not a lot more I can say except we've got the characters and experience in the dressing room and I'm sure we'll be able to pick ourselves up."
United will have do so quickly as they have only five Premier League games – beginning with Sunday's trip to Blackburn Rovers FC – to overturn Chelsea FC's two-point advantage at the summit if they are to register an unprecedented fourth straight English title. "We'll think about this for a long time but it's important that we bounce back quickly," said Darren Fletcher.
Nani echoed those sentiments: "We're feeling bad because we played so well in the first half, scoring three goals in a great performance. They were a bit lucky but we couldn't respond after the red card. We now have to give everything to try to win the league."
Like his team-mates, goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar – who could do little about either goal but made sterling saves from Olić, Robben and Franck Ribéry – pointed to Rafael's sending-off, with United 3-1 up, as the turning point. "If it was 11 against 11 they would have had to push for the second goal, probably by playing on the counter," he said. "And the way we were pressing we would have created more chances.
"The game plan was perfect in the first half. We put the pressure on Bayern, made chances and scored goals. I think we deserved to go through. They got a lucky goal in injury time last week and today, even with ten men, they didn't make many chances." Two were enough to earn a semi-final date with Olympique Lyonnais, though, with the first leg in Munich on 21 April.
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