ManUtd.com's Steve Bartram salutes his fellow Reds following their show of passion, noise and colour in Rome...
It’s not often that we United fans have to take our medicine, but there is little option after our defeat to the magnificent Barcelona.
Expectations have grown through the last three silver-laden seasons. The 2006/07 league title was retained in 2007/08, with the most wonderful night in Moscow thrown into the bargain. Last night, with the league, Carling Cup and Club World Cup already bagged, the chance to become only football’s second Quadruple winners loomed tantalisingly on the banks of the Tiber.
That history ultimately beckoned for another was tough enough to take, with Barcelona becoming Europe’s fifth Treble winners, but the way United were led a merry dance by Pep Guardiola’s side was a cruel end to a season which had briefly hinted at a trophy monopoly.
Despite this denouement, United supporters could leave the Stadio Olimpico with heads held high. It stuck with me that so many Arsenal fans had stayed at Old Trafford to applaud the league champions earlier this month, and United's travelling support were on similarly fine form in Rome.
Before, during and after the match, including at half-time, the Red Army’s strains boomed around the stadium as supporters sought to haul United back into a game being conducted almost entirely at Barcelona's chosen tempo.
When it became clear that no amount of cajoling could take the trophy away from a Barcelona side marching unflinchingly towards their destiny, the mood in the United section changed. It’s never easy retaining an air of dignity when you're being outclassed, but the long, heartfelt applause which greeted the substitution of Andres Iniesta – quite imperious throughout - said much for our collective recognition of quality and, painful as it is to say, justice.
The air of acceptance continued past full-time with lasting applause for Barcelona and a rousing salute to a United side who achieved so much before clattering into the final hurdle, but there was still an undertone of defiance which strode to the fore just ahead of the Catalans’ trophy lift.
While Barcelona’s supporters emitted little more than an expectant hum as the new champions of Europe prepared to lift their prize, boisterous cries of ‘United, United’ provided the