Cristiano Ronaldo kept his promise of not celebrating against Manchester United if he scored as Real Madrid drew 1-1 with United in the first leg of their last 16 tie at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The former Manchester United player was excellent throughout the night, equalising with, in the words of Sky Sports commentator Gary Neville, a header after a Jordan-esque leap. But his celebration was muted in a sign of respect for his former club.
Danny Welbeck had given United the lead after 20 minutes in what was an entertaining encounter and leaves the Red Devils with the slight advantage of an away goal when they welcome the Los Merengues to Old Trafford on 5 March.
Ronaldo warmed up with a right footed low shot and a left footed rebound from a freekick that hit the wall, but it was Wayne Rooney’s corner — followed by Welbeck’s header — that brought the first real roar from the crowd.
Buoyed by the goal, Real Madrid poured forward, with Mesut Ozil brilliant across the attacking half. David de Gea had a busy first 45 minutes, keeping out attempts from Di Maria and Ozil while urging his defenders to close down Ronaldo. He also made an excellent save — palming away Fabio Contreao’s shot onto the post early in the game.
As the match carried on, De Gea got better and was certainly the best man on the pitch for United — and produced a performance nothing less than what can be expected of a player who formerly donned the gloves for Real’s local rivals Atletico Madrid.
The first half came to an end with another headed chance for Ronaldo, with Jonny Evans having no answer to the Portuguese skipper’s aerial prowess — this time the header was just wide of the far post.
United started the second half with some more energy, driving up the pitch, but it seemed Jose Mourinho had asked his team to play a high-line — harrying the midfield and particularly stifling Rooney.
It worked for a while before it almost backfired as Michael Carrick — calmness personified in midfield — played Patrice Evra through on goal. The Frenchman was denied a goalscoring chance by Raphael Varane, who will count himself lucky not be sent off after replays showed that he got more of the man than the ball.
Gonzalo Higuain replaced Karim Benzema after the best part of an hour and set up Ronaldo with a low cross, but the onrushing Rio Ferdinand did enough to thwart the opportunity.
Contreo had another chance shortly after, but his sliding half-volley was kept out unconventionally by De Gea who kicked out at it while falling backwards.
The shots were coming thick and fast. Di Maria sent two rasping efforts goalwards, one just landing ahead of De Gea before he collected and the other fizzing past the post.
The best chances for United came when Robin Van Persie, who was uncharacteristically quiet, burst into life after 70 minutes. He first had a shot parried away by Diego Lopez onto the bar and was judged onside moments later when the ball came to him with only the keeper to beat. Alonso, who thought the flag would go up, quickly cleared the ball before RVP’s tame shot could roll across the goal-line. You hardly see him miss left footed shots, but it was one such night for United’s top scorer.
Both managers packed the midfield as the match drew to a close. While Mourinho brought on Pepe and Luka Modric, Ferguson sent on Ryan Giggs, Antonio Valencia and Anderson. He had already started Phil Jones in midfield in a role similar to the one he was given against Everton on the weekend.
That afternoon, he kept Marouane Fellaini at bay and he was successful in keeping Ronaldo shackled for most of the game. A last ditch block from a stab at goal from the Real No 7 was strong evidence of that fact. He did, however, commit a lazy foul on Modric, with the resulting Ronaldo freekick just going over the bar and landing on the top of the net.
One last effort from RVP was the last kick of the match — and was saved by Lopez. But there wasn’t enough time for it to be taken, leaving the United players arguing with the referee after the final whistle.