Manchester United rekindled glorious European nights from their past as a stunning goal by Cristiano Ronaldo fired them to victory over Porto in their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday.
No English team had ever beaten the Portuguese champions on their own soil, but the winger’s first-half wonder strike gave his team a 1-0 win on the night, 3-2 on aggregate, to set up an all-English semi-final tie with Arsenal.
Coming into the game as underdogs after a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford last week, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson urged his players to bring the spirit of the 1999 treble winning team to the Dragao Stadium in what was his 150th Champions League match.
One flash of genius from the Portuguese maestro coupled with gritty defensive play earned United glory and keeps the red half of Manchester dreaming of the quintuple.
Ferguson started with the same formation as the first leg, but had the luxury of picking a fit Ferdinand in defense, while midfielder Anderson was given a start against his old club.
The Dragons from Porto were intent on making the same type of start that rocked United last week, but after a promising opening they were stunned by a sixth-minute rocket from Ronaldo.
There seemed no danger when the winger drove into the Porto half, but the World Player of the Year took a swing of his right foot and unleashed an unstoppable shot from 35m into the top left-hand corner of Helton’s goal.
The home team’s attacks were disjointed and it was through set-plays they looked most dangerous, with defender Bruno Alves firing a 30m free-kick narrowly wide of the post.
United had been undone by the Portuguese team’s slick positional interchange at Old Trafford and again it was when Cristian Rodriguez drifted in from the left that they looked dangerous.
The Uruguay winger found space on the edge of the area and floated a ball to Lucho Gonzalez, but the midfielder’s acrobatic volley was easily saved by Edwin van der Sar.
Things got worse for Porto when midfield general Lucho was forced off with an injury to be replaced by last week’s hero Mariano.
One of the misses of the season prevented United registering a perfect half that would probably have put the tie beyond their hosts.
Ryan Giggs whipped in a corner which found Vidic after Dimitar Berbatov’s flick. Virtually on the goal-line and with the goalkeeper nowhere, the Serb somehow sliced the ball over the crossbar.
The game settled into a less frantic pattern than the first half as United drew numbers back. Again set-plays threatened United and center-back Rolando should have equalized from a Meireles corner, but put his header wide of the goal.
There was time for one last scare for the visitors, but Lisandro Lopez hit his shot straight at van der Sar with the goal gaping.