Madrid, Spain – Manchester United clung to a hard-earned draw against a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Real Madrid on Wednesday night.
The English Premier League leaders were often on the back foot against the side currently second in Spain’s La Liga, but will take great satisfaction from a 1-1 draw. With the second leg to come at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground, there is all to play for.
The two-legged tie between United and Madrid, widely billed as the pick of the Champions League last 16 draw, contained plenty of attacking intent, as well as its share of missed chances and an inspired performance by United goalkeeper David de Gea.
The game also contained an additional, tantalizing narrative: The return of former United star Cristiano Ronaldo, who was to face his former team mates for the first time.
On the night, the Portuguese proved a thorn in his old team’s side, scoring a stunning header to equalize after Danny Welbeck had given United a 20th-minute lead against the run of play. The goal was Ronaldo’s 183rd in 180 games since his £80m ($130m) transfer in June 2009.
In a first half dominated by Real Madrid, the Spanish side had twice as many shots as a Manchester United team that occasionally threatened with counter-attacks. However, it was United who took the lead, with Welbeck heading home a Wayne Rooney corner after escaping his marker in Madrid’s six-yard box.
Within ten minutes, the Spaniards were level. When Ángel di María whipped in a left-wing cross, Ronaldo leaped above Patrice Evra and Jonny Evans to produce a stunning bullet header (above) and send the Bernabéu into raptures. True to his word before the game, the star refused to celebrate against his old club.
Manchester United showed more authority in defense in the second half, with most of Madrid’s chances coming from outside the 18-yard area. Indeed, the English side could have clinched an unlikely victory in the last quarter of an hour. A Robin van Persie effort rattled the crossbar late on, and the Dutchman had an effort cleared off the line just moments later.
Reflecting on Ronaldo’s goal later, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson said:
“I blamed Patrice Evra at first. But then I saw the replay and felt stupid. Watch it again. Ronaldo’s kneecap is the same height as Evra’s head. It’s phenomenal. I don’t think there’s another player in the world who can do that.”
The return leg in Manchester will take place on March 5.