As Manchester United midfielder Nani shuffled off the field at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho patted him on the back.
Moments earlier, Nani had been shown a controversial red card by referee Cuneyt Cakir for a clumsy, high challenge against Alvaro Arbeloa. With his right leg extended and studs out, Nani kicked Arbeloa in the midsection as both players went for the ball. Although the Portuguese winger seemed to have his eyes over his shoulder looking for the ball and be unaware that he was about to collide with -- and kick -- Arbeloa until it was too late, the referee opted not to show him a yellow for the dangerous play. Not surprisingly, the decision to send Nani off with a straight red incensed Sir Alex Ferguson. It also altered the complexion of the match.
At the time of the dismissal in the 57th minute, United held a 1-0 lead (2-1 aggregate) over Mourinho's club in the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 matchup. Thanks to goals from Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo after the contested call, Madrid would rally for a 2-1 (3-2) win and advance to the quarterfinals.
"I doubt that 11 against 11 we can win that match." Mourinho told reporters after the final whistle, via The Associated Press. Assured a spot in the quarterfinals, Mourinho even went as far as to say, "the best team lost."
Whether or not Mourinho believed that his team couldn't have rallied against a full-strength United or if he was just managing egos in both dressing rooms, Madrid seized the opportunity presented. Just two minutes after the red, Mourinho pulled Arbeloa, primarily a defensive player, and inserted attack-minded Modric. Ten minutes later Modric pinged the equalizer into the back of the Manchester net off the post with a fine, curling effort from distance. Facing a 10-man resistance, Madrid found the game-winning score just minutes later when Ronaldo got onto the end of a cross from Gonzalo Higuain.
After the match, Ferguson did not address reporters and sent Manchester United assistant Mike Phelan in his place.
“I think we all saw and we all witnessed a decision which seemed very harsh, possibly incredible at that moment in the game," said Phelan, via Goal.com.
Much of the reaction by fans and pundits on social media seemed to agree with Phelan and United.
With so many critiquing his call against Nani for being overly harsh, the referee found support in an unlikely place.
"The referee has made the right call," former Manchester United captain Roy Keane told ITV Sport, via ESPN UK. "It's dangerous play, it's a red card. He knows there are other footballers on the pitch and to be fair to the referee, he took a few minutes, spoke to his assistant and decided it was a red card."