How the Mighty Have Fallen

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Byline: MATT LAWTON reports from Basle

Basle 2 Man United Man United 1 MANCHESTER UNITED crashed out of the Champions League to Basle on one of Sir Alex Ferguson's worst nights in Europe.

A stunning defeat in Switzerland saw United fail to progress beyond the group stage for the first time since 2005, and only the third time in Ferguson's reign at Old Trafford, and will see them endure the shame of the Europa League.

'That's our penalty for not qualifying tonight,' admitted Ferguson after seeing United finish third in the easiest group in this season's Champions League.

'It's a competition I've never been in with United. It does mean one thing, Thursday and Sunday right through and that has to be dealt with.

'We're disappointed. Our record in the last few years has been outstanding. It's a loss because it's the best tournament in the world.' Patrice Evra said: 'It's embarrassing to be in the Europa League. I'm not ready for it and the way I feel now, it's Champions League or nothing.

'I feel I will wake up tomorrow and we will have qualified. But it's not a dream. We deserve to be out. Maybe one or two of us have to look in the mirror.' To make matters worse for United, captain Nemanja Vidic was stretchered off after injuring his right knee just before half-time and he later left St Jakob Park on crutches.

'We don't know with Vidic at this moment in time,' added Ferguson. 'It's certainly medial ligament but hopefully that's the worst it is.' United only needed to avoid defeat but Marco Streller and Alexander Frei gave Basle a twogoal advantage before Phil Jones got one back late on. Ashley Young's late equaliser saved United when the teams drew 3-3 in September, but there was no reprieve this time.

United have experienced so many highs in this competition under Sir Alex Ferguson. Two victories as well as a run that has seen them reach three of the last four finals. But that hugely impressive spell ended with a whimper here, the difficulties Ferguson has experienced in building a new midfield finally proving his undoing last night.

Roy Keane was a member of the ITV commentary team last night and he must wonder how United's engine room has dropped so drastically in quality.

Phil Jones is a hugely promising young man but a midfield trio that also includes a 38-year-old Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-sung is far from ideal, even if Giggs executed some beautiful long-range passes in the first half. Keane wasn't short of criticism afterwards, saying: 'People have talked about the young players, everybody building them up -- but they've got a lot to do. I'd be getting hold of some of those lads, saying: "You'd better buck up your ideas". I think their best player tonight was Giggs -- that sums it up. United got what they deserved.' Told about criticism of his team by Keane, Ferguson said: 'Roy had a chance to prove himself as a manager and it's a hard job.' Whatever Fergie's plan was, it went drastically wrong after Streller took advantage of an injury to Chris Smalling and put this wellorganised Basle side in front after only nine minutes.

But it was in such situations that Ferguson could so often rely on Keane or Paul Scholes to take the game by the scruff of the neck -- and last night he had nobody except an out-of-form Darren Fletcher and Darron Gibson. …