With the visit of Real Madrid to Old Trafford for the 2nd Leg of our Last 16 Champions League tie approaching I thought it would be a great chance to re watch and do a full post on the last time Real visited in the 2003 Champions League.
April 9th 2003 saw Manchester United travel to Spain for the first leg of a Champions League Quarter Final with Real with the Reds in great European form. They had successfully qualified top of the 2 Group Stages winning 9 (including a brilliant 3-0 win away at Juventus), drawing 2 and losing only 1 game in the process. Ruud van Nistelrooy had scored 11 goals in 8 games and was bang on form.
Real Madrid had signed Brazilian, Ronaldo the previous summer to join an attack that already had Raul, Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane. They were top of the table in Spain playing beautiful football and scoring goals for fun.
The Reds dusted themselves off in the League with a 6-2 battering of Newcastle at St James Park, a good draw away at Arsenal and a comfortable win against Blackburn to consolidate their position at the top of the table.
Next up Real Madrid came to town and they were ahead after 12 minutes. Ronaldo beating Barthez at his front post. The crowd responded and so did United as they started to take the game to Real. Ruud van Nistelrooy scored his 12th goal in 9 Champions League games to send United in at half time 1-1 and losing 4-2 on aggregate.
The 2nd half started with a mad 15 minutes that saw Ronaldo put Real back ahead finishing a nicely worked goal, Veron forced an OG to equalize before Ronaldo completed his hat trick with a stunning long range effort. He left the game to a standing ovation from the whole ground as recognition of his feat.
United were losing 6-3 on aggregate but the score did not reflect their performance. The Reds dominated long spells of the game, creating good chances but picked off by moments of real class.
With 30 minutes to play, the Old Trafford crowd grew louder, driving the team on with their support still beliving they could witness something special. They almost did just that. The arrival of David Beckham off the bench saw him curl home a free kick to level the game with 20 minutes to play and then with 5 minutes left bundled home a goal bound OG to put United 4-3 up on the night and in need of a further 2 goals to qualify.
United being United, gave hope and for 5 minutes there was a genuine belief it was possible. Ryan Giggs flashed a half chance snap shot across goal, Beckham curled a free kick just over and Van Nistelrooy flashed a cross across the 6 yard box before having an effort from outside the area saved. The great Madrid Galaticos turned to time wasting as Old Trafford erupted with passionate belief.
The full time whistle blew to a deafening rendition of “we’ll never die’ as United fans applauded their team off the pitch after a great effort against a great team. The players were thanked for giving the fans a few minutes that had allowed them to believe that that impossible was possible like only United can.
Here are the best GIF moments from the game…
1. Ruud van Nistelrooy skill and shot
Wonderful skill by Ruud van Nistelrooy to beat his man and work space from a tight angle for a shot that was well saved. It was a typical Ruud effort full of power and frightening accuracy.
2. John O’Shea Nutmeg
A moment that will always be remembered from this game as Jonny went marching down the wing, nutmegging the great Luis Figo in the process.
3. Ruud van Nistelrooy touch, Veron Pass
Nice skilful flick from Van Nistelrooy to get United moving and Juan Sebastian Veron attacking down the line who then plays a first time outside of the boot pass infield.
4. A Double Double tackle on Zidane
This is great as both Phil Neville and Ole Gunnar Solskjear make not 1 but 2 synchronised tackles on Zidane.
5. Juan Sebastian Veron Skill
Wonderful skill from Veron as he juggles the ball over and away from Steve McManaman.
Bonus GIF Moments
For more on this game, there is this great article on the Guardian website with photos and player quotes from the game