Manchester United rekindled glorious European nights from their past as a stunning goal by Cristiano Ronaldo fired them to victory over Porto in their UEFA Champions League semi-final. No English team had ever beaten the Portuguese champions on their own soil, but the winger's first-half wonder strike gave his team a 1-0 win on the night, 3-2 on aggregate, to set up an all-English semi-final with Arsenal.
Coming into the game as underdogs after a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford last week, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson urged his players to bring the spirit of the 1999 treble-winning team to the Dragao Stadium. One flash of genius from the Portuguese maestro coupled with gritty defensive play to earn United glory and keep the red half of Manchester dreaming of a quintuple.
The United handler was like a schoolboy at the end jumping up and down in delight. "It doesn't matter who you play when it is your 150th game!" beamed Ferguson. "150 games is a long time! I thought we defended very well and we had restored stability at the back with (Nemanja) Vidic and (Rio) Ferdinand reunited, which is a solid partnership and they understand each other so well.
"I couldn't see too much danger from Porto really, save some half chances but nothing more than that," he added.
Ferguson started with the same formation as in the first leg but had the luxury of picking a fit Rio Ferdinand in defence while midfielder Anderson was given a start against his old club. The Dragons from Porto were intent on making the same type of start which rocked United last week, but after a promising opening they were stunned by a sixth minute rocket from Ronaldo.
There seemed no danger when the winger drove into the Porto half, but the FIFA World Player of the Year took a swing of his right foot and unleashed an unstoppable shot from 35 yards into the top left corner of Helton's goal.
"That was maybe one of my best strikes," conceded Ronaldo. "Anderson gave me the ball and when I turned I knew I was going to go for a shot. It was intentional," he added, admitting that being played up front was not his favourite spot.
Ferguson was in awe of the goal. "It was unbelievable. It was a magnificent hit," the Scot purred.
The home team's attacks were disjointed, and it was through set-plays where they were looking most dangerous with defender Bruno Alves firing a 30-yard free-kick narrowly wide of the post. United had been undone by the Portuguese team's slick positional interchange at Old Trafford, and again it was when Rodriguez drifted in from the left-wing that they looked dangerous.
The Uruguay winger found space on the edge of the area and floated a ball to Lucho Gonzalez but the midfielder's acrobatic volley was easily saved by visiting goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar. It was therefore against the run of play when Ryan Giggs nearly doubled United's lead.
The Welshman fired in a volley from Dimitar Berbatov's cross but Helton did well to smother the shot and recovered before Ronaldo could pounce on the rebound. However, things did get worse for Porto a minute later when midfield general Lucho was forced off with an injury to be replaced by last week's hero Mariano.
One of the misses of the season prevented United registering a perfect half, which would probably have put the tie beyond their hosts. Giggs whipped in a corner which found defender Nemanja Vidic after Berbatov's flick. Virtually on the goalline and with the goalkeeper nowhere, the Serbian somehow sliced the ball over the crossbar.
The visiting side, maybe spurred on by a traditional Manchester downpour, started the second period brightly with Berbatov testing Helton a minute in. The game settled into a less frantic pattern than the first half as United drew numbers back and invited their hosts to play in front of them.
With their defence looking much more solid than in the first leg, the visitors were restricting Porto to long-range shots, midfielder Raul Meireles coming closest with a 25-yard curler over the crossbar. Again set-plays threatened United and centre-back Rolando should have equalised from Meireles's corner, but put his header wide of the goal with van der Sar floundering.
There was time for one last scare for the visitors but Lisandro Lopez hit his six-yard shot straight at van der Sar with the goal gaping.