There were no shortages of headlines for this colossal quarterfinal clash. Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester's prodigal son's return to Old Trafford was the headline going into the match, but Turkish referee, Cuneyt Cakir's decision is likely to be the lasting one. The referee deemed Nani's high-footed challenge on Álvaro Árbeloa worthy of a red card, but most, if not all, would agree that Nani didn't really have any malicious intent as both players came together.
The action, and ambition from Real Madrid's perspective, was lacking in the first half of play, and everything to play for remained finely balanced going into the intermission. Manchester United always looked more likely to open the scoring, and did so through a Sergio Ramos own goal early in the second half. Madrid's prospects of advancing took quite a hit, and looked unlikely at this point.
Then came the sending off of Nani in the 56th minute that completely turned the match on its head. True to the prophetic Jose Mourinho's words, the whole world did stop to watch this match, but the conversation over Cuneyt Cakir's decision is not likely to subside following the final whistle. With an extra man, Madrid poured on the pressure as United had no choice but to pack in the defense to avoid conceding the crucial away goal.
Manchester United's efforts proved futile, however, as they were only able to keep los Blancos off the scoresheet for 10 minutes following the red card. Luka Modric, an acquisition that has divided the merengue fanbase on his usefulness, was brought on to replace a struggling Árbeloa, and banged in a divine goal worthy of his 33.2 million-pound move to the Bernabeu. Not but two minutes later, Cristiano Ronaldo capped his Manchester return as he tucked home a dagger goal assisted by Gonzalo Higuaín, who proved his inclusion in tonight's match quite worthy. This effectively buried the Red Devils' hopes of advancing through to the Champions League quarterfinals. True to his word, there was no celebration out of the Portuguese, but his fellow teammates could not hide their elation as they must have known at that point that their quest for La Decima would not end tonight.
While Nani's sending-off will be the talking point, tonight's match was noteworthy for many other footballing reasons. The night began as one of ovations, both for the ageless Ryan Giggs' 1000th career appearance for Manchester United's senior team and for Cristiano Ronaldo's return. True to his goalscoring identity, Ronaldo did get on the scoresheet, but the pressures of playing in front of the Old Trafford faithful weighed visibly on his performance.
Real Madrid advances through, albeit, with a strange taste in the mouth of Madridistas given how tonight's match unfolded. It's the end of a truly wild week of football for Madrid with uplifting back-to-back triumphs over hated rivals, Barcelona, and an away win at Old Trafford to see us through to the UCL quarterfinals. The mindsets of both Jose Mourinho and his players will be interesting to follow going forward coming out of this gauntlet of a week. But for us fans, we may finally be able to take a deep breath once again. Hala Madrid!