Manchester giants humbled in Europe

The Premier League’s self-esteem was dented when its 2 leading clubs were defeated by a couple of Europe’s less exalted sides. Manchester United were eliminated from the Europa League by Athletic Bilbao, while neighbours City went out to Sporting Lisbon.

United were humbled by the sustained excellence of Athletic Bilbao, who thoroughly outplayed them home and away. In the San Mames stadium in Bilbao, United were flattered by the 2-1 scoreline. Bilbao missed a host of chances to increase their tally, while Wayne Rooney’s superb strike was United’s first real chance.

Sir Alex Ferguson was uncharacteristically generous to his opponents. "I want to wish them well and I hope they win it," the United manager said. "It's testimony to the hard work they all put in, their coach right through to the players. I think they have created a cause and it's a wonderful thing to see such incredible energy and determination to win football matches, so I think they deserve to win it."

Manchester City came close to pulling off an astounding comeback. After going 2 goals behind at home, they scored 3 to level the tie, but were eliminated on away goals. Goalkeeper Joe Hart came agonisingly close to securing a dramatic winner when he came forward in injury time and saw his header saved.

City manager Roberto Mancini blamed himself for the elimination. "I made a mistake in the first game when I prepared," he admitted, "because, after Porto, to play against Sporting I thought was maybe easy, but football is never easy."

Certainly not for English sides at present.

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