Despite his own standout goalkeeping display against Manchester United FC, Manuel Neuer was saddened by FC Schalke 04's 2-0 home loss, saying: "We were always a step behind".
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Sir Alex Ferguson credited him with "probably the finest" goalkeeping display he had seen against his team but that was no consolation for Manuel Neuer after his FC Schalke 04 side's 2-0 home defeat by Manchester United FC.
Schalke's loss in Tuesday's semi-final first leg would have been even more deflating but for a succession of superb stops by Neuer, who made seven saves to repel a first-half United onslaught – foiling both Javier Hernández and Ryan Giggs in one-on-ones – before finally succumbing to quick-fire strikes from Giggs and Wayne Rooney midway through the second period.
Yet Neuer could draw no satisfaction from his own display as he reflected on a defeat that ends a run of five straight home wins in the competition and, moreover, leaves Ralf Rangnick's men requiring a small miracle to rekindle their hopes of a first UEFA Champions League final appearance when they visit Old Trafford for next Wednesday's return.
"That doesn't help me at all," said the German international. "We lose together and the disappointment is bigger than everything else. We've lost a home match very clearly and had hoped for more. We didn't get into the game, we were always a step behind." Neuer argued that Schalke, while lacking United's experience of competing at this advanced stage, were too respectful of their opponents and let them dictate the game.
He said: "They have a really experienced and clever team and we were probably too in awe of them. We don't have 11 Raúls on the pitch – we have many young players without the experience he has but the respect of our team [towards United] was really big, probably too big."
Raúl himself, Schalke's leading scorer in the competition, did not have a sniff of the United goal, and admitted that his side never got going in the match – it took until the 82nd minute for Sergio Escudero to draw the only serious save that Edwin van der Sar made in the match. "They were better, they had lots of chances and we never settled in the game," said the former Real Madrid CF man.
The defining image of Schalke's struggle was that of Christoph Metzelder dragging Rooney to the turf late in the first period, having exhausted all legitimate means of stopping him. The defender said: "The disappointment is bigger than any pride we have in reaching the semi-final. We were clearly second best. Except in the opening minutes we never got a grip [on United]. We could never get them out of position and exploit the space – most of the time we were just chasing after them.
"Amid this disappointment, though, we should never forget it was a big achievement reaching the semi-finals – it means a lot to the club this journey we've made with the fans but when you're so close to the final and your limitations are exposed so clearly it is painful."
Looking ahead to the second leg, Metzelder promised that Schalke would not be raising the white flag in Manchester. "After all it is a Champions League semi-final and we are going to make it as hard as possible for them, and try everything," he said. For Raúl, there is the opportunity to restore damaged pride. "There are 90 minutes left and we're not going to just give up; we know it's very difficult but will try to at least leave a good impression."