Francisco Costinha had just equalized at Old Trafford to tie the second leg of the last sixteen encounter against Manchester United 1-1 in the 90th minute. It was in this moment that a certain Jose Mourinho announced his arrival on the world stage as he ran the length of the touchline and slid onto his knees as his Porto team went through 3-2 on aggregate.
The date was Tuesday, 9th March, 2004. Fast forward seven and a half years and he was at it again, sliding onto his knees to celebrate another of his sides snatching a last gasp 90th minute winner. This time though it was in celebration of former Manchester United ace Cristiano Ronaldo’s dramatic winner against Manchester City as Real Madrid deservedly prevailed 3-2 having twice gone behind.
Before all that, we had almost 70 minutes of dreary, listless posturing, a boring game destined for 0-0 which belied any sense of anticipation one might have had when preparing to settle down to watch the champions of Spain go toe to toe with the champions of England.
As you might have expected, Real Madrid dominated early proceedings. Ronaldo, who plundered 60 goals in all competitions last season, was the main threat as ever and tested the reactions of goalkeeper Joe Hart after just five minutes with a low shot destined for the bottom corner but for a few fingertips. Hart again kept his side level moments later when Gonzalo Higuain instinctively latched onto a Ronaldo shot-cum-cross only to see his shot somehow kept out at point blank range.
When Madrid weren’t pressing for an opener, Yaya Toure was ominously causing Real untold problems with some lung-busting charges down the middle of the pitch, using his pace and power to dominate any defenders who lay in his wake.
This provided City with a certain degree of respite, with Real, if they weren’t already aware, realising that they themselves couldn’t continue to commit too many numbers to the attack on a frequent basis for fear of being caught on the counter.
But that’s exactly what happened on the 69th minute, and there was more than a sense that Madrid had well and truly been sucker punched. Toure reminded Madrid just how dangerous he could be when he set forth on yet another of his slaloming runs down the middle, leaving the hosts’ defence stretched. He smartly fed in the waiting Eden Dzeko, who had moments earlier replaced David Silva, for the Bosnian to slide his effort into the back of the net.
Toure might even have got number two a few moments later after Carlos Tevez set him free on the edge of the penalty area, but his effort was off balance and rippled against the side netting.
Mourinho, who had already lost two of his four La Liga fixtures this season, looked in real danger of throwing away Real’s impressive statistic of having not lost in their first home match of the competition in their entire history.
Madrid have recorded 41 wins and two draws in their opening match of a European Cup campaign – the last of which came against Anderlecht in 1962.
A double substitution was thus on the cards as he chased the game, and so on came Benzema and new summer signing Luka Modric for Khedira and Higuain.
With fourteen minutes left on the clock, City fans were anxiously hoping their side could edge out what would have been a famous victory, only for Marcelo, who had earlier seen a couple of fizzing shots narrowly miss the target, find the back of the net from the edge of the area with a deflected drive that evaded the despairing dive of Hart for 1-1.
It was dreadful defending on City’s part, affording the defender far too much space and practically inviting him to shoot. Real were again in the ascendency now, piling forward for a winner, but it would be City who would score next.
Prior to the game, Roberto Mancini declared that his side had not come to the Bernabeu to draw or lose, but to “win, always” and his side echoed his words when on the 85th minute, Kolarov took a speculative shot from a freekick some 25 yards out which somehow found its way past all of Reals defenders and flew straight into the net for the most improbable of leads.
In one of the most frenetic last twenty minutes of sport witnessed in a long time though, even that wouldn’t be that with just five minutes left on the clock. Substitute Karim Benzema found himself in possession on the edge of the penalty area, swivelled away from his marker and shot on the turn into the bottom corner of Harts net for 2-2.
To cap off an amazing night, City capitulated completely in the 90th minute when a Cristiano Ronaldo shot from the edge of the area swooped over Vincent Kompany’s head before swerving past Hart to send the Bernabeu into raptures and Mourinho to his knees.
It was a celebration that revealed an outpouring of unbridled joy for the beleagured manager, following tricky times domestically as the full time whistle blew on a fabulous encounter between the two heavyweights.
For Madrid, their proud home record continues as they put their first three points on the board and have perhaps at long last turned a corner and kick-started their season.
For City, it is a chance to reflect on what might have been as a visibly dejected Hart bemoaned the conceding of two killer goals in the last three minutes of the game during his post-match interview with ITV.
On this showing though, whilst Madrid were worthy of their victory, City showed that they can more than hold their own against the big dogs of Europe, something which bodes well for them should they reach the latter stages of this competition.
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