MANCHESTER - Manchester United
inflicted more Champions League misery on Chelsea with a 2-1 win
that put them in the semi-finals and then twisted the knife when Sir Alex Ferguson said he might not have fielded the right team.
Mexican striker Javier Hernandez opened the scoring just
before half-time and Park Ji-sung added a second just moments
after Didier Drogba had given Chelsea hope with an equaliser on
the night but United ran out 3-1 winners on aggregate.
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Ferguson's side, who beat Chelsea on penalties in the 2008
final and had carved out a 1-0 lead from last week's first leg,
absorbed plenty of pressure during an open and balanced game in
which the Londoners had Ramires sent off with 20 minutes left.
The victory put United into their fourth semi in five years
and left big question marks hanging over Chelsea manager Carlo
Ancelotti's future now that his flagging team's only realistic
chance of silverware has evaporated.
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United, chasing a treble of Champions League, Premier League
and FA Cup, will face Schalke 04 or Inter Milan in the last four
with the German side holding a 5-2 advantage over the Italians
before Wednesday's quarter-final second leg.
Ferguson singled out "incredible" old-timer Ryan Giggs for
an outstanding game in the centre of midfield from where he set
up Hernandez's 43rd-minute opener while adding that the Mexican
had almost not started as he had toyed with a different lineup.
"We had two teams picked tonight and hopefully I picked the
right one, I'm not sure I did pick the right one," Ferguson told
a news conference.
"The other option is to play Park in that position and Wayne
(Rooney) up top, leaving Chicha (Hernandez) out. That's where
you get luck, Chicharito scores the first goal."
While the loud taunts from United fans to Chelsea manager
Carlo Ancelotti of "You're getting sacked in the morning" were
possibly wide of the mark, the Italian is under pressure now his
side's last realistic chance of silverware has vanished.
"I'm not concerned," he told a news conference when asked if
he was worried about his job given owner Roman Abramovich, who
was watching from the stands, has been quick to show the exit to
previous managers who finish a season without a trophy.
"I have to work, I have to try to do my best. It is not my
decision to stay or not stay," said Ancelotti.
Although Chelsea started brightly their cause was not helped
by striker Fernando Torres' apparent lack of confidence in front
of goal, which seems to be growing with every match that goes by
without him breaking his scoring duck at the club.
Ancelotti said he had "maybe" made a mistake in starting
Spain forward Torres, whom he replaced with Drogba for the
second half with the Ivorian immediately sharpening things up.
Torres left the field to loud jibes of "What a waste of
money" as United fans revelled in his failure to score since his
50 million pounds British record transfer in
January from arch rivals Liverpool.
Chelsea, the last team to win at Old Trafford a year ago en
route to the Premier League title, looked hungry for a repeat
with Nicolas Anelka shooting just wide after a quarter of an
hour and Torres also squandering a couple of chances.
It was, however, United who got the ball in the net first in
the 26th minute with Hernandez's diving header from a Rooney
cross only for the linesman to flag for offside even if it took
some time for the jubilant home fans to realise it.
That frustration was forgotten two minutes before the break
when John O'Shea sent a reverse pass to Giggs on the wing and
the evergreen Welshman slid a pinpoint ball across the area
where the lurking Hernandez, ruled just onside, crashed it into
the roof of the net from virtually under the crossbar.
It was Hernandez's 18th goal of the season for United and
came at the worst possible time for Chelsea.
When Ramires was sent off for fouling Nani after 70 minutes
Chelsea's hopes looked shot but a fired-up Drogba had other
ideas when he controlled a ball with his chest and unleashed a
right-footed shot under Edwin Van der Sar in the 77th.
Any hope Chelsea had of United buckling were snuffed out
immediately, however, as Park netted 21 seconds later to calm
the home side's nerves and give the Londoners another entry to
their catalogue of wretched Champions League moments.
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