Gardner: The pitch was like a battlefield hospital!
“I’m really jealous of Alastair Cook. Not just because of the 12,000 Test match runs he made for the England cricket team. Or the calm resilience he showed under fire as captain of his country. Or even because of his rakish good looks. No, what really makes me envious of Sir Alastair is the fact that he doesn’t sweat. That’s a characteristic that would have come in incredibly useful at the RhineEnergieStadion in Cologne on Monday night.
“Simply sitting still and commentating for 120 minutes led to me and Ben Thornley turning into pools of water by full-time. Even though kick-off wasn’t until 21:00 CET, the heat was still stifling. That horrible feeling of trickles of sweat falling from your neck and making their way down to the small of your back became very familiar!
“The stadium was airless; it was like trying to commentate in a sauna. So just try and imagine what it was like to run around for two hours of football?
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“It was hardly surprising that the pitch resembled a battlefield hospital at full-time with players cramping up and desperate for liquid refreshment.
“One man, though, appeared to have a forcefield of air conditioning around him on Monday night – Bruno Fernandes. He truly kept his cool when he had to wait – seemingly endlessly – to take the match-winning extra-time penalty. There was a feeling of inevitability when he stepped up and he duly found the corner of the net. Bruno has taken the nerves out of watching United take a penalty – you just know he’ll score.
“Physical and mental resilience has been at the heart of Ole’s managerial philosophy in his time as United manager – and we saw that in action versus Copenhagen. As the pressure rose and the stakes grew ever higher, the Reds didn’t crumble and got the job done.
“Not surprisingly, the squad only had a light training and recovery session on Tuesday evening.
“United are making use of the facilities at the German third-tier club Viktoria Koln. They have an extra day’s preparation for Sunday’s semi-final against Sevilla and don’t need to travel as the game will be played in Cologne – marginal gains like that could be important as United try and finish the never-ending season with a place in a European final.”
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