Black night for Rooney as Reds flop
Striker's injury a bitter pill as Bayern's late show turns tie
AS Bayern Munich's players wheeled away to celebrate their dramatic winning goal last night and Manchester United's shell-shocked defenders wondered what had hit them, one figure was lying prone on the ground near the halfway line.
Thumping the ground in pain, Wayne Rooney looked in clear distress.
If this was a traumatic night for United as a game they might have sewn up early on was flipped on its head -- 1999 with a twist -- then it became a pretty alarming one for thousands of England fans, too, as they had to watch Rooney receive treatment from the United doctor and physiotherapist.
Not the sort of player to complain unless there is a good reason, Rooney needed the support of both men to get off the pitch. As he departed down the tunnel, football fans in England prayed their World Cup hopes were not going with him.
The striker's last World Cup was all but ruined by a metatarsal injury that meant that he missed the start of the tournament and was still struggling for fitness when his side were knocked out.
But if his national side are dependent on Rooney, United were no less reliant on him last night as they set about overcoming Bayern at the Allianz Arena in this reprise of an old rivalry.
It will be many years yet before anyone can mention Manchester United and Bayern Munich in the same breath without thoughts instantly turning to that night of nights at the Nou Camp.
There remains plenty to revel in; the see-sawing drama of those final minutes, the capture of Alex Ferguson's holy grail, the culmination of the treble and all on Matt Busby's birthday.
Even the quotes were good. "Can Manchester Unite score? They always score," Clive Tyldesley said in what must rank as the most prophetic piece of commentary. Truly it was the occasion of "Football. Bloody hell." Up under the roof, the United fans sang an homage to that evening in Catalonia -- "who put the ball in the Germans' net?" -- but that must have felt like a lifetime ago as events took their dramatic turn last night.
The players have all but moved on, with Gary Neville the only survivor of the starting XI last night. Bayern have traded coaches five times since that traumatic defeat with Ottmar Hitzfeld, the shell-shocked manager in Barcelona that evening, leaving, returning and then departing again.
One man has kept going, the one in the black coat who was repeatedly off his bench last night exhorting his players to sharpen up as they played fast and loose with their early advantage.
If one thing remains unchanged 11 years on, it is Ferguson's drive to get his hands back on that European trophy. His eyes are still on the prize but his squad, his strategy, even his philosophy are transformed since those days.
Last night's team are unrecognisable from the cavalier treble winners who, themselves, were a notch more tactically sophisticated than Ferguson's original champions of 1994.
To watch United with their five-man midfield, a lone raider in Rooney and a tight midfield three was to be reminded of how much Ferguson has had to adapt his game -- but last night the search for greater tactical control was fleeting.
Ferguson has had to learn from bitter experience about trying to play a more controlled game, but this was one of those occasions when his players struggled to exert a mastery over their opponents. If United were intending to play out this tie in comfort after seizing an early lead through -- who else? -- Rooney, then it showed that they are not always the masters of possession.
They came as clear favourites. You could not find a cab driver in Munich who did not predict doom for his team. "Manchester United are simply too good," they said.
But having enjoyed such a bright start, the way they allowed themselves to be pegged back in the second half felt like a return to the loose old days. And it felt even worse than that for Rooney.
© The Times, London