Cristiano Ronaldo steals the limelight back from Lionel Messi with his dramatic last-gasp Manchester United winner… just when Old Trafford needed him more than ever
- Cristiano Ronaldo marked his 178th Champions League game with a late winner
- His goal saw Manchester United snatch a late 2-1 victory over Villarreal
- Ronaldo’s dramatic goal snatches the limelight back from Lionel Messi
- Messi had netted a brilliant goal for PSG against Man City on Tuesday night
Cristiano Ronaldo had been here many times before. One hundred and seventy seven before Wednesday night, to be precise. Standing in the middle of pitches all over Europe listening to that evocative Champions League anthem.
No.178 will always have a special place for Ronaldo, though. The night he set the all-time appearance record in this competition, and marked the occasion with a dramatic winner deep into injury-time.
The 36-year-old had equalled the mark set by his former Real Madrid teammate Iker Casillas when Manchester United suffered a shock defeat in Bern two weeks ago, but he’s out on his own now and what a way to celebrate.
Cristiano Ronaldo made his record-breaking 178th Champions League cap a night to cherish
The United star sent Old Trafford wild after scoring a 95th-minute winner against Villarreal
Clear of Casillas and other retired greats like Xavi, Raul and Ryan Giggs. Still 27 games clear of Lionel Messi.
It is typical of Ronaldo’s rivalry with Messi that 24 hours after the little Argentine stole the headlines with his first Champions League goal for Paris Saint-Germain against Manchester City, Ronaldo was stealing them back with his landmark appearance at Old Trafford – his first in Europe here for United in 12 years – and the winning goal.
He also leads Messi in Champions Leagues won (5-4) and goals scored (136-121), both all-time records which will see him crowned as the greatest player in the history of the competition unless the former Barcelona star can produce something special to stop him in the remaining years of their glittering careers.
It’s typical that Ronaldo stole the headlines back from Lionel Messi in such dramatic style
None of which seemed to count for very much last night as United threatened to disappoint in Europe once again. How they weren’t three or four goals down by half-time is a mystery.
Ronaldo was a peripheral figure in the first half with only two half chances coming his way. The first, from Alex Telles’ corner in the eighth minute, was a header under pressure from three defenders which he directed over. The second, from Bruno Fernandes’ lob to the back post, was a volley that he fluffed from a tight angle.
When Paco Alcacer fired the Spaniards in front shortly after half-time, it was no more than they deserved.
Quite why United had to wait to go behind to wake up in this tie is another question for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. It was a hallmark of their play last season and a bad habit that ultimately cost them.
Messi had scored a sensational first goal for PSG against Man City on Tuesday evening
United were so poor, it always felt it was going to take a moment of individual brilliance to haul them back into the game and it came in the form of Telles’ excellent volley from Fernandes’ free kick.
But Ronaldo hasn’t got all these records for nothing. With just a few seconds remaining of the five added on, he got his first real chance of the game when he combined with Jesse Lingard and fired home. Players like him thrive on moments like that. He’s made a career out of it.
As Old Trafford erupted, another record had tumbled: United’s latest ever goal in the Champions League, beating Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s famous winner in the 1999 final. What a man. Viva Ronaldo.
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