However in, a testament of quality over quantity, four of those games have been classics, and FIFA.com looks back over those historic, heavyweight encounters in the European Cup.
Real Madrid 3-1 Manchester United – Semi-final first leg (agg. 5-3), 11 April 1957
In United’s first foray into Europe, Matt Busby’s English champions had won many hearts for their impressive style of play. Against the European champions, however, they were given a harsh lesson in a 3-1 defeat.
English newspaper The Times lauded Real’s entertaining “pirouetting” attack, describing their play “as if they were the spread tail of a peacock, proud and at times even arrogant”.
The front five of Francisco Gento, Hector Rial, Alfredo Di Stefano, Enrique Mateos and Raymond Kopa were just too much for United, despite holding out for an hour thanks to heroics from Jack Blanchflower, Roger Byrne, Duncan Edwards, not to mention Ray Wood in goal.
United had chances of their own though but the pressure they fought against finally told thanks to a fine diving header from Rial at the far post following Gento’s inviting cross.
Di Stefano was performing as if from “another planet” that night. Covering every inch of the final third, he was imperious. He doubled the scoreline, slotting past Wood, before Taylor bundled in a reply after an almighty goal-mouth scramble.
Enrique Matos ensured the 125,000 fans went home happy though, slotting home from six-yards following a neat flick from Kopa, seeing Los Blancos regain their two-goal lead. In the second-leg, Real were 2-0 up inside half-an-hour and while United drew level late-on, it was in the Bernabeu that the tie was won.
Real Madrid 3-3 Manchester United – Semi-final second leg (agg. 3-4), 15 May 1968
A 1-0 win courtesy of George Best had put United within touching distance of their first European Cup final at the fourth attempt, but little was certain against Madrid – as the ensuing game would show.
The game looked to be following the pattern of 11 years prior, with United holding back wave after wave of attack from Real before the deadlock was broken on 32 minutes. Pirri headed home from Amancio’s free-kick to level the tie, before Gento put the Spaniards ahead after a defensive error.
Ignacio Zoco sliced into his own goal to provide brief parity, but a swift Amancio shot from 18 yards sent the hosts in ahead on aggregate at half-time. Real looked confident, the fans looked jubilant, but that was to drastically change.
First, David Sadler pounced on a Paddy Crerand’s flick-on to level the tie. Then George Best produced the moment of brilliance that put United into the final, darting in from the right with 12 minutes left, drawing in two defenders, before cutting the ball back for Bill Foulkes to fire in. The response was intense but United held out.
Spanish newspaper Ya felt, “the English did not deserve the draw... but the Madrid defence sent them into the final”, while The Times described it as a “hazardous and remarkable journey” for United at the Bernabeu, one they would complete against Benfica at Wembley to lift their first European Cup.
Manchester United 2-3 Real Madrid – Quarter-final second leg (agg. 2-3), 19 April 2000
After a goalless draw in Madrid, United needed to maintain a tight defence during the return leg in Manchester, but when Roy Keane turned the ball into his own net after 21 minutes Old Trafford was silenced and the pendulum swung vehemently in favour of the visitors.
The European champions had no choice but to throw all they could at Real, but an up-and-coming young goalkeeper by the name of Iker Casillas kept them at bay. "For an 18-year-old, that was not normal," Sir Alex Ferguson reflected after the game.
The home side came out after half-time intent on drawing themselves level, but their gung-ho approach – later described as "tactical anarchy" by Real coach Vicente del Bosque – was to be their undoing.
United were picked off while in defensive disarray, first with a fine curling finish by Raul, and then the Spaniard double his tally following a sublime work from Redondo, who beat Henning Berg on the wing with deft backheel.
In hindsight Ferguson admitted he got the approach wrong. “The second leg at Old Trafford was a defining moment for me because we would have gone through if we had the patience," the experienced Scotsman said. "Instead, after going 1-0 down, we attacked them and were slaughtered on the counter-attack.”
Manchester United 4-3 Real Madrid – Quarter-final second-leg (agg. 5-6), 23 April 2003
There aren’t too many games where the victors’ efforts are almost completely expunged from memory, but, even though United won the game 4-3, Ronaldo’s exceptional hat-trick is what dominates all memories of this Old Trafford encounter.
United came into the tie desperate to make it into the final, which was to be staged at a month later in Manchester. Since their last meeting all three FIFA World Players of the Year had arrived at the Bernabeu, but Raul’s brace was the difference in the first-leg.
"You can buy great players like [Luis] Figo, [Zinedine] Zidane and Ronaldo, but the best player in the world at the moment is Raul," said Ferguson after the game. "They mesmerise you at times with the control and passing.”
In both games Zidane was sublime for the cup holders, but it was the Brazilian forward’s finishing that ended United’s hopes of reaching a home final, beginning with a low, driven strike that beat Fabien Barthez at his near post.
Van Nistelrooy equalised before half-time but when the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ golden boot winner capped off a stunning counter-attack for Real, the tie looked lost. Ivan Helguera put into his own net shortly after, but Ronaldo produced an unstoppable 25-yard thunderbolt to ensure progression into the semi-finals and round-off arguably his crowning moment in a Real shirt.
Having left to a standing ovation from away and home fans alike, a Beckham brace won the game on the night for United, but the star of the night was undoubted.
"When you score four goals at home, you expect to go through, but you can't legislate for someone like Ronaldo," Ferguson said. "It was a pleasure to be involved in a match of that nature. We had the best ref (Pierluigi Collina) and it was the best game in Europe this season. It produced football of incredible imagination. People will talk about it for a long time.”