Real Madrid 1 Manchester United 1: It just had to be him! Ronaldo's leaping leveller leaves last 16 clash hanging in the balance
He scored; of course, he scored. And he celebrated; of course, he celebrated. Nothing too showy, nothing to spoil his return to Old Trafford on March 5, but Cristiano Ronaldo has too much love for his new club to overplay the respect for his old.
Ronaldo kept Madrid in this tie, make no mistake of that. Ronaldo, and an uncommon profligacy in the second half that Robin van Persie may come to regret.
He was due a big miss and sadly it arrived in the 72nd minute in the Bernabeu when Van Persie scuffed a shot with only goalkeeper Diego Lopez to beat, allowing Xabi Alonso time to recover and clear Madrid's line. It was the one that got away; and Van Persie must hope the same will not be said of this tie.
Hang time: Cristiano Ronaldo scored against his former club with a well-executed header past David De Gea
For if ever a player can spark regrets of opportunity lost it is Ronaldo. This was not his best game, but his influence was inescapable and his goal so important.
It would be a very different second leg were Real Madrid travelling to Manchester having lost, and having failed to score, at home. Instead, Jose Mourinho still has all to play for.
United got their away goal, but Real Madrid did enough to suggest they are capable of matching that achievement next time.
As for Ronaldo, he was the difference. Had he still been at United there would only be one winner, on the night and from here. He terrified Rafael at right back in the first half, was never anything less than the most dangerous player on the field and when United scored against the run of play, it was Ronaldo who dragged his team-mates back into the contest.
He scored with a header, as the greats do. Ronaldo is one of the great aerial attackers of modern times. It helps when the marking defender does not jump, of course, and for some reason Patrice Evra did not.
Hero: Manchester United stopper David de Gea turned in a fantastic display to keep the tie level
There was a litany of mistakes from United in the build-up, however, beginning with the decision to complain about a throw-in that should have gone their way, rather than deal with the result of the injustice. This gave Angel di Maria the opportunity to cross and Ronaldo the chance to go up against a weaker defender in the air in Evra. The ball was met and diverted past David de Gea perfectly.
Victory might not have been wholly deserved on the balance of play, but United could easily have won here.
Head boy: Danny Welbeck scored the opening goal of the game from a Wayne Rooney corner
They took the lead and gave as good as they got in the second half, when Van Persie finally found some space. They will fancy their chances having collected the away goal, too, Sir Alex Ferguson getting on the front foot as promised.
He included Wayne Rooney, Van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa in the starting line-up and got the break he merited with the opening goal.
It came from a corner and equally poor defending on Madrid's part. Rooney whipped in the ball and Sergio Ramos failed to deal with it, preferring to try to grapple with Welbeck rather than stop him. He succeeded in doing neither and the England man steered his header past Lopez.
Making his point: Sir Alex Ferguson selected an attacking line-up to face the Spanish giants
Tough to watch: Jose Mourinho cut an animated figure on the touchline during the last-16 clash
That was the best of it from United, but it was far from their only opportunity to leave a mark on Madrid. In the 72nd minute, Van Persie broke down the right and struck a shot which Lopez diverted on to a post. The chance cleared, Rio Ferdinand lobbed the ball back in and Van Persie was suddenly unmarked - his shock echoing that of the stadium. He snatched, Alonso saved, the moment passed.
Credit to United for the second-half revival, though, because it had been a worrying start. There were five chances in the first eight minutes, four at one end, one at the other, but all were the work of Real Madrid, considering Raphael Varane nearly steered a header into his own net.
Battle: Robin van Persie holds off the challenge from Alvaro Arbeloa as Fabio Coentrao slides in on Wayne Rooney (below)
The activity around the visitors' goal was of greatest concern, obviously, particularly the chance that should have given Madrid the lead. That came in the sixth minute when a pass inside by Ronaldo was cut out by Ferdinand with an uncommonly heavy touch. The ball fell to Fabio Coentrao whose curled shot looked in, were it not for the fingertips of De Gea directing the ball on to the far post and back out by the narrowest angle.
This was one of De Gea's better games for the club, without being entirely convincing. He made a number of fine saves, from Mesut Ozil in the first half and particularly Coentrao in the second, but there were other instances when he looked vulnerable - not least when missing his punch from a cross. Still, few teams test a goalkeeper as frequently and with as much variety as Madrid and his good much outweighed his bad.
It had to be him: Ronaldo is mobbed by his Real Madrid team-mates after scoring for the hosts
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The same could be said of Phil Jones, who was fortunate not to give away a first-half penalty when referee Felix Brych of Germany judged him to have barged Di Maria fairly rather than shoved him illegally.
Occasionally stretched, as all defensive players will be in this company, he was part of a solid spine for United, with Michael Carrick the stand-out. He made for a composed shield and an astute counter-attacking passer. Those who feared a repeat of his head-spinning evening on Barcelona's passing carousel need not have fretted.
Embrace: Ferguson shares a hug with Ronaldo and Mourinho at the full-time whistle
Madrid caught a break, too, because Varane looked to have brought down Evra, who was running clear in the second half. Fine game though it was, the champions of Europe probably lie elsewhere.
What made this such an exciting occasion were the many defensive errors. As the competitions narrows to eight and then four, the teams that remain will be capable of picking off the eventual winners of this tie, while keeping a clean sheet.
We can save po-faced analysis for another day, though: coming up on March 5, Ronaldo back at Old Trafford and the tie of the round.
Golden opportunity: Van Persie fluffs a great chance to give United the lead seeing his miscued effort cleared off the line by former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso (below)
Half-time: The last-16 tie is evenly poised ahead of the return leg at Old Trafford on March 5