BASEL 2 vs MAN UNITED 1
MANCHESTER United manager Sir Alex Ferguson blamed wayward finishing after a shock defeat at Basel condemned them to a catastrophic elimination at the group stages of the Champions League.
United needed only a point to ensure their place in the last 16, but goals in each half from Marco Streller and Alexander Frei sent them tumbling prematurely for only the third time in 16 years – and the first since 2005.
Not for them the lucrative and glamorous nights against the Continent’s elite; instead they will take a financial hit of more than £10m and resign themselves to regular Thursday fixtures in the Europa League.
To make matters worse, Nemanja Vidic will be out for several months with a knee ligament injury. Striker Wayne Rooney’s Swiss nightmare is not over yet, meanwhile; he faces an appeal hearing against his three-match Euro 2012 ban today in Nyon.
“We had so much of the ball, and so many really good opportunities in the last third of the field. The finishing part, you have to say we let ourselves down,” said Ferguson.
“Of course we’re disappointed, there’s no other way you can feel. You have to deal with disappointment. These young players will feel the disappointment tonight but they’ll have to cope with it. It’s a loss because it’s the best tournament in the world. It’s a marvellous tournament.”
Needing at least a draw, Ferguson sent United out intent on winning, with a line-up including Rooney, Nani, Ashley Young and Ryan Giggs, but their early buoyancy was punctured after just nine minutes.
Xherdan Shaqiri drilled a cross from the left that goalkeeper David de Gea could only divert to Streller, whose volley into the ground found the net.
Rooney could only miskick from virtually under the crossbar when Nani’s teasing low cross begged to be finished on 30 minutes, and United’s troubles deepened before half-time when Vidic was carried off with a knee injury that left him on crutches.
Still it seemed unthinkable the visitors would not overturn the deficit in the second half, but the closest they came was when Basel full-back Markus Steinhofer volleyed a cross onto the underside of his own bar.
Six minutes from time Basel struck the killer blow, Shaqiri again the source of a telling cross missed by both Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling but not Frei, who stooped to head in at the far post.
Phil Jones gave United hope with an 89th-minute header, but their attempts to avoid the ignominy of elimination died with a whimper.