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Manchester in mourning
by Paul Kennedy, December 7th, 2011 11:08PM

TAGS:  england, italy, uefa champions league


[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] It's a night Manchester won't quickly forget.

Both United and City were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League in the group stage. City's exit was not entirely unexpected. But United's was a stunner. A 2-1 loss to tiny Swiss club FC Basel relegated United to playing Thursday nights in the Europa League, a fate that didn't please United manager Alex Ferguson one bit.

There were more than a few fans and pundits who were happy to see United fall. Former United star Roy Keane, now a TV commentator, said that United had "got what they deserved."

Ferguson hit back at Keane. "I don't know why you bring up a TV critic," he said when asked about Keane's remarks at the postgame press conference. "That's nothing to do with it."

In a dig at Keane's less-than-stellar managerial record, Ferguson added: "Roy had an opportunity to prove himself as a manager too. It's not an easy job. We've got young players."

The prospect of playing in the Europa League didn't please Ferguson.

"It's a competition I've never been in with United," he said. "It does mean one thing. Thursdays all the way through. Thursday and Sundays. That's got to be dealt with. It's not the best, but that's our penalty for not qualifying tonight."

United needed only a tie to go through to the final 16 of the Champions League but United never looked like it would get the job done after goals by Marco Streller early and Alexander Frei late put Basel ahead by two goals.

"It wasn't a good start to the game," Ferguson said of Streller's goal in the 9th minute. "That was a surprise, as we expect to control the game by possession and they scored from their first attack. When you're 1-0 down away from home, you have a job to do. We didn't take our opportunities, and that was the story of the game."

United would not been in trouble if it had not played to a 3-3 tie at home with Basel in a match it could have lost.

United's exit marked only the third time in 16 appearances in the Champions League that it failed to advance out of the group stage. The others came in 1995 and 2006.

Like United, City was undone by a poor start to its first Champions League campaign when it tied Napoli, 1-1, at home and lost its second game away to Bayern Munich, 2-0.

City won three of its last four games, including a 2-0 victory over Bayern on Wednesday, but it became only the fifth team to exit with 10 points when Napoli won, 2-0, at Villarreal to go through with 11 points.

"I think that usually with 10 points all the teams go through always, 99 percent," City manager Roberto Mancini said. "But in this group it was not enough, Napoli got one point more than us and they deserved to go through."

Mancini chose to look on the bright side of City's first campaign.

"We're disappointed not to be in the Champions League any more but next year we want to be better," the Italian said. "We can learn as a team. This is normal, it's our first time and we got a tough group. We want to improve the squad for the competition next season. We made some mistakes in it this year. But we are disappointed and I'm sorry for the club and the supporters because they deserve to still be in the Champions League."

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