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Ronaldo ends Manchester United's dream

Darren Bentley in Manchester | April 24, 2003 03:45 IST

A stunning hat-trick from Ronaldo sealed Real Madrid's passage into the semi-finals of the Champions League on Wednesday despite the reigning European champions losing a spectacular match 4-3 to Manchester United at Old Trafford.

In a throwback to the high-scoring European nights of the 1950s and 60s, Real went through 6-5 on aggregate with the Brazilian striker, the top scorer at last summer's World Cup, finding the target three times.

Real will now play Juventus in the last four with the winners of that tie facing the winners of the AC Milan-Inter Milan derby semi-final in the European Cup Final at Old Trafford on May 18.

Ronaldo scored for the reigning European champions after 12, 50 and 59 minutes before United set up a storming two-goal finish with substitute David Beckham scoring twice to give them a 4-3 victory on the night.

But it was not enough to keep alive their hopes of lifting the title on their own ground.

"It was a marvellous night for football, but of course we are disappointed," said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

"We made chances, some excellent chances, but did not take them and you have to do that against a team like Real. Good luck to them now, I hope they go on and win it."

Beckham Dropped

England captain Beckham had been replaced in United's starting line up by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Ferguson gambled on extra firepower to try and overturn Real's two-goal first leg advantage.

Dutchman Ruud Van Nistelrooy almost provided the perfect start for United with a vicious angled drive in the third minute that was parried away by Iker Casillas.

However, the downside of United's all-out attacking policy was that the Spaniards could score themselves to nullify the away goal Van Nistelrooy grabbed in Madrid.

Those fears materialised with just 12 minutes gone as Ronaldo struck his first with deadly accuracy after moving clear of Rio Ferdinand and driving the ball between Fabien Barthez and the Frenchman's near-post.

United weathered a long period of Real domination and eventually equalised in the 43rd minute.

Ryan Giggs found Solskjaer in the penalty area with the Norwegian turning the ball past goalkeeper Casillas and Ivan Helguera for Van Nistelrooy to force home from close range to make it 1-1.

It was his 10th goal in seven games and his 12th in the Champions League this season, a record for the competition.

Ronaldo put Real 2-1 ahead five minutes after the break with a gaping goal at his mercy following a build-up involving Zinedine Zidane and his Brazilian team mate Roberto Carlos.

United made it 2-2 almost immediately when Helguera turned the ball into his own net in the 52nd minute before Ronaldo secured the overall victory with a stunning 25-metre strike that gave Barthez no chance with 31 minutes to play.

Beckham, who came on as a 63rd minute substitute for Juan Sebastian Veron, made it 3-3 with a brilliantly executed free kick in the 71st minute. Beckham also forced the ball across the line for United's fourth after 84 minutes.

Great Match

In a night of brilliant attacking soccer from both sides, both were able to step up a gear and put the other under pressure.

There were several key moments, but the vital turning point came after 50 minutes when Real grabbed the crucial second away goal.

Luis Figo hit the bar with a delicate chip over Barthez, and before United could clear their lines Roberto Carlos raced onto Zidane's defence-splitting pass and squared for Ronaldo to slot into an empty net.

Almost immediately, Helguera squared things up on the night with a comical own goal from Veron's low cross.

Casillas then maintained Madrid's two-goal aggregate lead with smart instinctive saves from van Nistelrooy and Veron.

Ronaldo capped his magnificent solo display just before the hour mark with a stunning third goal from 25-yards before Beckham squared things up again with a trademark free kick, tapping in his second from close range six minutes from time.

But by then it was too little, too late and Real were through.
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