Bayern now the kings of the comeback
So Wayne Rooney does not have a monopoly on improbable comebacks after all. The Liverpudlian Lazarus lasted 55 minutes, covered 5.95 kilometres and helped fashion two goals. However, Bayern Munich's powers of recovery seem greater still.
If not back from the dead, they had twice responded from unpromising positions to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time in nine years. If anything heals faster than Rooney's ankle, it would appear it is Louis van Gaal's team.
They conceded three goals in the opening seven minutes of the two legs and one in the remaining 166 to take an improbable route to the last four. Defensively fragile but excelling in attack, they are a strange hybrid of a mediocre side and a magnificent one. Their achievements over the last eight days definitely merit the latter adjective.
At the risk of national stereotypes, German teams tend to be renowned for their mental strength, but this counted as a special fightback. Overwhelmed at one point, overrun at times, they managed to overcome Manchester United.
Ejected from Europe before the semi-final stage for the first time in four seasons, theirs was a night of emotional extremes. Initial euphoria gave way to eventual heartbreak, the concept of Rooney as returning hero replaced by concern that a risk would backfire. An eight-day spell may have cost them both Premier and Champions League. This is a team that has developed an unfortunate habit of letting leads slip.
Turning points abounded: the goal the workaholic Ivica Olic conjured for himself on the stroke of half-time; the dismissal of the previously influential Rafael da Silva; the removal of Rooney, enforced as it appeared, a few minutes later. And in the final reckoning, the sweetly-struck volley that Arjen Robben conjured from Franck Ribery's corner to send Bayern through. After making a similarly decisive contribution against Fiorentina in the previous round, this particular Dutchman is flying.
It was a game that, Rooney aside, was all about wingers. United's were outstanding. Cristiano Ronaldo's successor, Antonio Valencia, created two goals while Ronaldo's compatriot and spiritual heir, Nani, scored two. Before either, three of the men Ferguson gambled upon combined superbly, Rafael picking out Rooney, who laid the ball into Darron Gibson's path. The Irishman drilled the ball in from 20 yards.
Then Rooney found Valencia with a delightful cross-field ball. The Ecuadorian tormented Holger Badstuber before delivering a cross that Nani finished, apparently intent on impersonating Joe Cole, with a backheeled flick. The Portuguese then lifted the ball into the roof of the net after Valencia had lobbed the ball over Martin Demichelis and cut it back.
Game over? Hardly. Olic outmuscled Michael Carrick and then beat Edwin van der Sar from an acute angle before the break. After it, Rafael tugged back Ribery. And then one Bayern winger took a corner and another volleyed it in with impeccable technique and admirable timing. "It was an incredible comeback from three goals down," Van Gaal said. "It's taken an exceptional goal to win the tie," Sir Alex Ferguson added.
Rather more contentious was Rafael's exit. Ferguson blamed the Bayern players for, in his view, influencing referee Nicola Rizzola. "Typical Germans," he said, a rather less welcome and accurate generalisation. "They got him sent off, the Bayern players - there's no doubt about it. They almost forced the referee. He wasn't going to do that, but we've seen that before from teams like that." Van Gaal countered: "Today the young boy had aggression but not control."
"Until the sending off we were fantastic," Ferguson added. "It was a marvellous performance." Not that a terse Ferguson was marvelling. One ambition has gone unrealised for another year. The autopsy on an exit on away goals may yet suggest another top-class player is required, if he can be funded. That, though, was not Ferguson's immediate assessment. But then both the match and their run lend themselves to differing conclusions.
In everything other than the outcome, it was one of the great European nights at Old Trafford. United were fantastic in the first half yet the final verdict may be that, the superlative double over AC Milan excepted, this was an undistinguished campaign on the continent. With no English team in the semi-finals for the first time since 2003, the Cross of St George has been lowered.
There was a changing of the guard, too, when Ferguson, often an advocate of experience, became an apostle of youth by opting for Gibson, Rafael, Nani and Valencia. Unglaublich, a German observer said when surveying Ferguson's team selection. It means unbelievable. It was a word that could be repeated throughout the night. It was "football, bloody hell" for Ferguson in 1999 and "fussball, unglaublich" for Bayern in 2010.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Nani. The winger took his two goals terrifically well and, but for a fine save from Hans-Jorg Butt, would have had a hat-trick. In a brief spell alone up front after Rooney's replacement, he led the line in enterprising manner. Like one or two of Nani's recent performances, it felt like a coming-of-age display.
MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: "Excellent," according to Ferguson. They were much improved. They had verve and pace, especially in attack, and the gamble on Gibson was justified. Rafael proved a marked improvement on Gary Neville in everything other than his dismissal. For the veterans Neville, Giggs and Scholes, plus the omitted Dimitar Berbatov, it must have been a particularly uncomfortable evening.
BAYERN MUNICH VERDICT: Van der Sar had to make several saves and the talents of Ribery and Robben mean Bayern probably merit a billing as favourites against Lyon in the last four. An indefatigable approach should help, even if questionable defending does not. The first three letters of the left-back Badstuber's surname provided an accurate description of his performance against the electric Valencia.
ROONEY OUT: Manchester United's top scorer has rejoined the injury list. According to Ferguson - while taking into account that this is the man who had said 24 hours before that Rooney stood "no chance" of playing in this match - he will miss Sunday's trip to Blackburn but should return for the Manchester derby. "It's similar to what he had last week," he said. "It's a burst blood vessel. He won't be out for too long." The former Manchester City defender Daniel van Buyten was responsible for a couple of ill-timed challenges and Ferguson said: "I don't think he got any protection."