Basel Knocked Man United Off Their Perch

Beaten finalists last May, Manchester United won't be gracing the glamorous Champions League again this season after being upstaged and ousted by FC Basel on Wednesday. The three-time European champion slumped to a 2-1 loss against the unheralded Swiss champion when needing just a draw to advance from its group to the knockout rounds.

"We're disappointed, there's no other way you can feel. It's a loss because it's the best tournament in the world," United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said, after his team's second group-stage exit in 16 straight Champions League campaigns since 1996. Though Ferguson lamented United's poor finishing, Basel deserved a victory that will be hailed in the history of Swiss football.

"I can just beam with pride. Tactically, mentally, physically, everything just worked right," coach Heiko Vogel said. Captain Marco Streller scored in the ninth minute, pouncing on United goalkeeper David de Gea's error, and forward partner Alex Frei struck in the 84th. United responded through Phil Jones's scrambled goal in the 89th.

Basel, led by its novice interim coach, joins group winner Benfica among Europe's elite in the last-16 draw next week. United, a winner and twice runner-up in the past four seasons, finished third in the group. It now has the unwanted honor of playing in the second-tier Europa League from next February.

"That is our penalty for not qualifying tonight," Ferguson said, with Thursday dates in Europe forcing rescheduled Sunday fixtures in the Premier League. "We deserve to be out. We should have woken up earlier in this competition," United defender Patrice Evra said.

More misery was heaped on Ferguson as he lost captain Nemanja Vidic to what appeared a seriously injured right knee. Basel celebrated with a lap of honor around St. Jakob Park as if it had won a trophy. Yet its win showed that a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford, the result which upset the expected balance of power in Group C was no fluke. "We were careless. We let ourselves down badly," Ferguson said, reflecting on wasting a 2-0 lead that night in September.

On a cold night and rain-soaked pitch, United started brightly. A long spell of possession ended when Park Ji-sung turned in the penalty area and curled a left-footed shot too high. Basel's hottest young prospect Xherdan Shaqiri had troubled the visitors with a long dribble before he created the opening goal. Shaqiri fired in a low cross after defenders Vidic and Chris Smalling collided when failing to clear a high ball from the right. De Gea chose to block awkwardly with his legs rather than hands and guided the ball toward Streller, whose left-footed shot bounced just inside the post.

United dominated possession but created little until Nani sparked a frenetic spell around the half-hour mark. The Portugal winger teed up Rooney three yards (meters) out but the England forward failed to connect cleanly. Rooney then seized on a clever reverse pass from Ryan Giggs but shot at goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Nani was denied by Sommer's smothering save, and his trickery repeatedly troubled left-back Park Joo Ho.

United lost Vidic in the 42nd minute when the Serbian fell clutching his right knee after tangling with Streller. Vidic left the stadium walking with the help of crutches. "We think it's certainly a medial ligament. Hopefully, that's the worst of it," Ferguson said.

Into the second half, Giggs freed Rooney to run clear in the 49th but his shot floated wide of Sommer's left-hand post. Basel responded strongly as United's looked exposed to Shaqiri's influence in central midfield. The 20-year-old playmaker curled a shot wide, then Frei's free-kick was tipped over by the diving De Gea. Basel defender Markus Steinhoefer almost gifted United a spectacular goal in the 60th minute when he volleyed Nani's cross against the bar. As United's play grew more urgent, Sommer rose to the challenge with excellent handling to protect his team's lead.

A memorable Swiss victory appeared sealed in the 84th minute when Frei stooped to head home a bouncing ball at the back post. Jones gave United some hope when he bundled the ball just over the line, after substitute Federico Macheda's shot ricocheted back out off the crossbar.

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