Ronaldo brings United to their knees, then their feet.

Old Trafford, Manchester – 23/04/2003 – Quarter-finals
Man. United
Man. United
Van Nistelrooy 43 Iván Helguera 52 (o.g.) Beckham 71, 85
4 - 3
Real Madrid
  • Ronaldo 12, 50, 59
Real Madrid
End-to-end drama

"I lost count of how many Ronaldo scored that day. He left the pitch to a standing ovation." Luís Figo

2002/03

• RC Deportivo La Coruña beat FC Bayern München on Matchday 1 to end the Bavarian giants' 29-game unbeaten home run in the competition, stretching back to December 1997 and a 1-0 loss to IFK Göteborg.

• There were a record 44 draws in 2002/03, with three games ending 3-3 on Matchday 6. The highlight saw Liverpool FC come from 3-0 down at half-time to hold FC Basel 1893 – it would not be the last time.

• Greek side AEK Athens FC went though the first group stage unbeaten but failed to progress after drawing all six of their games against Real Madrid CF, AS Roma and Belgian titleholders KRC Genk.

The applause of a vanquished opponent always rings loudest in the memory and not even the most ardent Manchester United FC fan would deny Ronaldo was a deserving recipient at Old Trafford in April 2003.

The Real Madrid CF striker took his bow midway through the second half having dashed their dreams with a superb hat-trick – even if there was a sting in the tail.

Having lost the first leg 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu, Sir Alex Ferguson admitted the key to turning the quarter-final around had been keeping Ronaldo quiet. "We simply couldn't do it," he lamented. The Brazil striker was busy from the start, outstripping Rio Ferdinand to fire in a damaging away goal after only 12 minutes.

Ruud van Nistelrooy gave the home side a glimmer of hope before the interval with his 12th goal of the campaign – a UEFA Champions League record – but Ronaldo was not out of the spotlight for long. Moments after Luís Figo had rattled the bar, the 26-year-old tapped in Roberto Carlos's cross; only for team-mate Iván Helguera to put through his own net at the other end two minutes later.

Ronaldo was not to be denied, and any lingering United ambition ended before the hour when he flashed a stunning 25-metre drive past goalkeeper Fabien Barthez. The Old Trafford faithful were floored, their vision of reaching the final on home soil in tatters; but they rose as one to applaud off their conqueror as he made way for Santiago Solari with a quarter of the match remaining.

Yet United have a hard-earned reputation for never lying down. Their conviction and flair carried them to a remarkable 4-3 victory on the night as David Beckham, a surprise omission from the starting XI, came on to score twice. In the closing moments even the Madrid players seemed to believe Sir Alex's side were capable of the two further goals required.

Ronaldo's hat-trick was, however, deservedly decisive. "I'm never going to forget that ovation," he said. "I wouldn't call myself the main protagonist, though; the team worked together." Few in Manchester agreed with his modesty that night.

Star players

  • Ronaldo

    The highest scorer in FIFA World Cup finals history, for over a decade Ronaldo's star shined bright. He scored 273 goals in 402 games for PSV Eindhoven, FC Barcelona, FC Internazionale Milano, Real Madrid CF and AC Milan between 1994 and 2008, as well as 62 in 97 international appearances. Twice a World Cup winner, only he and Zinédine Zidane won the FIFA Player of the Year award three times.

  • Beckham

    From the moment Beckham announced himself with a goal from the halfway line, the midfielder was always in the spotlight. Not always for the right reasons, initially, but he won a place in the nation's hearts, making over 100 caps for England. Beckham's expert delivery helped Manchester United FC to six championships and the 1999 UEFA Champions League, and he also won the Liga with Real Madrid CF.

  • Luís Figo

    The leader of Portugal's golden generation, Figo was a mainstay of the national side for 15 years. A product of the Sporting Clube de Portugal academy, he enjoyed great success at FC Barcelona and it took a world-record transfer to lure him to Real Madrid CF in 2000. More titles followed, including the Ballon d'Or and 2002 UEFA Champions League, before Figo ended his career at FC Internazionale Milano, winning the Scudetto in each of his four seasons in Italy.

What happened next?

• Real Madrid CF met Juventus in the semi-finals where a 2-1 first-leg lead was overturned at the Della Alpi, the Italian side scoring three goals that meant Zinédine Zidane's late reply was in vain.

• All eyes were on Old Trafford again for the final as Juventus and AC Milan played out the first 0-0 showpiece draw in the UEFA Champions League era, the Rossoneri prevailing 3-2 on penalties.

• Vicente del Bosque guided Madrid to the Liga title but a day later learned his contract would not be renewed; the curtain also came down on Fernando Hierro's career at the Santiago Bernabéu after over 500 games.

• Carlos Queiroz came in, the first of five coaches in three seasons at the Bernabéu. Despite the €35m addition of David Beckham in summer 2003 Madrid did not lift another trophy until May 2007.

• United went through their own lean spell, but in 2008 an XI featuring Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown – the only survivors from the Madrid game – beat Chelsea FC on penalties to win the UEFA Champions League.

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