And for 56, entertaining and nerve-wracking minutes it was just that. Two great clubs and two of the best managers the game has seen going head to head, blow by blow as they had done in the first leg.
Then, after a miscued clearance, Nani’s outstretched leg collided with Alvaro Arbeloa’s chest. As the Portuguese lied on the turf, most expected a yellow card to be a suitable punishment for his infringement, but when the card did come out of Cuneyt Cakir’s pocket it was red.
Old Trafford, players and fans alike were stunned, while Fergie vented all his disgust and rage towards the man from Turkey.
Less than 10 minutes later, Luka Modric unleashed a venomous strike from the edge of the box that ricocheted against the box and into the net to level the score.
Within three minutes, the sucker punch landed on United’s jaw and it was delivered by the most awaited actor in the play.
Higuain and Ozil combined in the box before the Argentine fired a vicious shot across goal that was turned in by Ronaldo, his leg outstretched, at the far post.
His muted celebration was a world away from the raucous reception that had welcomed him onto the pitch before kick-off, as the Real Madrid number 7 returned for the first time to the ground that had transformed him from promising teenager into a world class phenomenon.
Without the injured Phil Jones, Sir Alex Ferguson decided against deploying Wayne Rooney out wide, opting instead for a trio formed by Nani, Danny Welbeck and Ryan Giggs behind Robin Van Persie, while Nemanja Vidic partnered Rio Ferdinand in the middle of a defence tasked with keeping out a Real Madrid side that had failed to score only once in the last 32 matches in the Champions League.
After sustaining early pressure from Madrid, the first real opportunity of the game fell to United, Vidic header crashing against the post with Welbeck unable to convert from close range.
The United striker was denied again ten minutes later, as Lopez redeemed himself with an excellent save after spilling Van Persie’s thunderbolt.
The chances woke United into the life. They were not only defending and denying spaces to Madrid’s midfielders, they were also counterattacking with purpose, roared on by the kind of crowd Old Trafford should sport more often.
United’s positive attitude was rewarded straight after the restart as, having blocked efforts from Welbeck and Van Persie, Madrid’s defence failed to deal with Nani’s cross causing Sergio Ramos to poke the ball past Lopez.
Desperate attack after desperate attack saw Lopez denying Van Persie – twice – and Vidic, while Rooney skied his effort over the bar.
Chants rang around Old Trafford as Ryan Giggs tirelessly chased down another ball, and Jose Mourinho quietly left the pitch, almost embarrassed by the way his team had progressed.
Fans and players alike can hold their heads high tonight, unfortunately the same can’t be said about the referee.
In the words of Jose Mourinho “the best team lost”.
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