Ronaldo's missile sets up clash with Arsenal

Published : Apr 25, 2009 00:00 IST

The outcome is therapeutic for holders Manchester United, who are now in better shape to make a successful defence of the Champions League, even if they will have to deal with a reviving Arsenal in a semifinal whose first leg is at Old Trafford. By Kevin McCarra.

It was the sort of match that would once have been portrayed as a moment for madcap risk-taking by Manchester United. Instead they went methodically about the business of becoming the first English club to beat Porto on their own ground in European competition. The statistic is no prize in itself and United were really intent on displaying their command after being held 2-2 at home.

The outcome is therapeutic for holders who are now in better shape to make a successful defence of the Champions League, even if they will have to deal with a reviving Arsenal in a semi-final whose first leg is at Old Trafford. United appear gradually to be regaining authority, and spectacle was confined to the remarkable long-range goal from Cristiano Ronaldo in the sixth minute.

The Portuguese, stripped to the waist, was almost the last player to leave the field at full-time. This occasion in his homeland clearly had resonance for him, and Sir Alex Ferguson must have incorporated that factor in his scheming, since Ronaldo was given the key post of lone striker.

United flaunted maturity by imposing control. Nemanja Vidic may have headed away several crosses in the second half but it is hard to bring to mind vivid images of Edwin van der Sar pulling off a taxing save. One of Porto's spasmodic moments of clarity did leave Cristian Rodr�guez with a real opportunity in the 25th minute but his shot asked little of the goalkeeper.

This was a cool sort of triumph. United were, however, masters of their own fate again. After conceding 11 goals in their previous five games, resilience was resurgent. Rio Ferdinand's comeback from injury contributed but dramatic exploits were never essential. Perhaps his presence simply spreads confidence in the ranks.

Ferguson will have been gladdened, too, by the proof here of his claim that tiredness had been a factor in Porto's 2-2 draw earlier. United had the vitality to subdue Jesualdo Ferreira's team by maintaining possession. Porto tended to get the ball back in areas far from the opposition's goalposts.

Ferguson's side came to the Estadio do Dragao with the intention of introducing themselves. Porto, after all, had not come across the true United at Old Trafford. The visitors had a purpose and freshness that had barely been visible in the first leg.

That was troubling enough for Ferreira but he could not have guessed just how spectacularly United would subdue his team. They cannot have been prepared for the exquisite improbability of Ronaldo's goal. He connected so cleanly from an angle on the right that the drive from 40 yards was a hopeless case for the Porto goalkeeper, Helton, as it soared across him and into the top corner.

The Portuguese champions would have been rueful about Ronaldo. The attacker had embodied some of the worst United traits during the first leg. His petulant listlessness encouraged Porto then. Ferguson's solution to that was interesting. The decision to employ Ronaldo as the spearhead heaped responsibility on him.

He thrived on it. There was a lot to unsettle a shaken Porto. Lucho, so influential at Old Trafford, was hurt and had to be replaced in the 31st minute. From the start United had been assertive. Reinstating that forceful frame of mind has been the priority for Ferguson. The manager, for instance, welcomed the stoppage- time winner over Aston Villa in terms that implied it was sure to have great consequences. The manager would have been constitutionally incapable of ignoring the lapses that had made such a goal necessary but he made little of that in front of the microphones.

Victory, until this result, had stopped being a matter of routine and clean sheets were an aspiration more than an expectation. Porto had magnified every sign of unease. This evening was the English club's chance to show that they continue to be a formidable side.

The visitors, of course, had no need to swagger over being 1-0 up. United knew that a leveller would put Porto ahead on the away-goals rule. Such a turn of events was theoretically within the scope of a side that had, predictably, located a trace of conviction at the interval.

Efforts that missed the target still stirred the crowd. United had no intention of retreating, but they were forced to look a shade more passive. The risks were apparent when Patrice Evra committed an ungainly foul close to his 18-yard line. The set piece came to nothing, yet Porto would have grown in conviction if they had caught a glimpse of fallibility.

The onus was on United to demonstrate the traits that make them reigning champions by responding. They did so while occupying territory in the Porto half but this is no longer a side with its mind purely on tearingopen the opposition. United are patient, even if that means rivals such as Porto are not deprived utterly of hope.

It can be a dangerous game to play but it seems to be the opposition who come to lasting harm.


April 15: Arsenal 3 (Walcott 10, Adebayor 60, Van Persie pen-69) bt Villarreal 0. Half-time: 1-0. Aggregate: Arsenal 4; Villarreal 1.

FC Porto 0 lost to Manchester United 1 (Ronaldo 6). Half-time: 0-1. Aggregate: Porto 2; Manchester United 3.

April 14: Bayern Munich 1 (Ribery 47) drew with Barcelona 1 (Keita 73). Half-time: 0-0. Aggregate: Bayern Munich 1; Barcelona 5.

Chelsea 4 (Drogba 52, Alex 57, Lampard 76 & 89) drew with Liverpool 4 (Aurelio 19, Alonso pen-28, Lucas 81, Kuyt 82). Half-time: 0-2. Aggregate: Chelsea 7; Liverpool 5.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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