The Champions League is a beautiful thing. The knockout stages of the competition provide some of the most dramatic, endearing moments in sports anywhere in the World. The international element, combined with the quality of play make for pure dramatic tension, wonderful entertainment. To sports lovers like myself, this section of the sporting calendar is a fantastic time. Baseball is coming, the Six Nations, the NHL (Just!), the NBA, the Premier League and La Liga are all in action. Tuesday and Wednesday nights, Champions League nights, have a special aura about them.
With Real Madrid set to host Manchester United tonight at the famous old Bernabeu stadium, memories have come flooding back from their dramatic Champions League encounter which took place, that’s right, ten years ago.
Put it this way, we will be in for a sweet treat if these two home and away matches are anything like their predecessors.
In the first match at the Bernabeu a 25 year old Raul scored twice to give Madrid a 3-1 lead. While Madrid were, in stretches, sensational, United worked hard to keep the scoreline respectable, and give themselves a chance in the return leg in Manchester. The match was a celebration of football’s finest, just look at the teams that were on display. For Real Madrid there was Casillas; Salgado, Helguera, Hierro, Roberto Carlos, Figo, Makelele, Conceicao, Zidane, Raul and ‘Big Ron’, the original and still, in this writer’s book, the best Ronaldo United countered with Barthez, Neville, Ferdinand, Brown, Silvestre, Beckham, Butt, Keane, Giggs, Scholes and Van Nistelrooy. 'Galacticos' everywhere you looked.
You can watch highlights of the first leg encounter here:
In Manchester, in the return leg, the fireworks really went off.
I remember watching the second leg match in a packed Dublin bar, full of excited, expectant United fans. It was literally standing room only. Myself and a friend, who was brave enough to wear a Real Madrid jersey, stood at the back clutching our pints and betting slips. The match did not disappoint. David Beckham showed his star power by scoring twice (including one absolute cracker), but even he could only watch in awe as Ronaldo bashed a hat-trick, to send Real Madrid through 6-5 on aggregate, despite losing 4-3 on the night. Just your average 7 goal thriller!
Ronaldo was in fine form, a unique combination of skill, size, power and skill. For those who never got to see him play, check the videos out, he really was that good.
It was nothing short of a glorious night of football. You can catch the highlights of the legendary match here:
We can only hope tonight's first leg is even a small percentage as good as any of the above. All the elements are there, including the match up of coaches, Mourinho hosting his old nemesis Ferguson. We even have another Ronaldo involved, although this time it is a Ronaldo of more pout and pomp than the previous incarnation.
Hopefully tonight and during the return leg we get to zone out of our real lives and just sit back and enjoy two great teams going at each other. Maybe 11 goals total this time might be a bit far fetched, but, we can dream, right?
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