Tuesday, July 16, 2024

United welcome prodigal son Ronaldo back

Cristiano Ronaldo was welcomed back into the Manchester United fold with open arms but the Portugal winger was unable to inspire the European champions to victory over Villarreal here on Wednesday.

A 0-0 draw ensured the Spaniards became the first side to avoid defeat in a Champions League match at Old Trafford since they recorded the same score nearly three years ago, ending United's record winning run at home at 12 matches.

Predictions that Ronaldo's first appearance of the season might elicit a hostile response from sections of the crowd proved completely misplaced, the Portugal winger's introduction as a second-half substitute drawing the biggest cheer of the night.

The Old Trafford faithful opted to celebrate his 42 goals from last season rather than dwell on his close-season attempts to engineer a transfer to Real Madrid.

And in the half hour he did play, Ronaldo did enough to suggest that the United fans' forgiving attitude will be rewarded by another productive season from the 23-year-old, who would have been credited with a decisive assist if Jonny Evans had not sent his inviting late cross crashing against the woodwork.

A positive start by Villarreal soon gave way to sustained domination by the home side and goalkeeper Diego Lopez's flap at an Owen Hargreaves corner should have left the visitors a goal down after eight minutes.

The ball dropped invitingly for an unchallenged Rio Ferdinand at the back post but the England defender's attempted volley was miscued back across the face of the goal.

Lopez was equally unconvincing when beaten by the pace of Nani's long-range shot, the rebound off his midriff only just escaping Wayne Rooney.

A minute later, United were denied what television replays suggested was a stonewall penalty for Sebastian Eguren's trip on Park Ji-Sung just inside the box.

Park, making his first start of the season, had the clearest of United's first-half chances.

A neat combination with Nani enabled Darren Fletcher to play the Korean in behind Villarreal's back four but the resulting strike lacked conviction and Edmilson was able to stretch out one of his long legs and deflect it wide.

Tevez also threatened to break the deadlock, his 25-yard drive drawing a full-stretch save from Lopez, and United had another penalty claim waved away by German referee Wolfgang Stark when Park was again sent sprawling in the area, this time by Joan Capdevilla.

A full hour had elapsed before Villarreal finally produced a response to their hosts dominance and United were fortunate to escape unpunished when Guille Franco got away from United's centrebacks to meet Angel Lopez's low cross.

The striker's deft flick beat Edwin van der Sar but rebounded off the inside of the far post and back into the arms of the relieved United goalkeeper.

Park made way for Ronaldo immediately after that let-off and the winger quickly picked up where he left off last season.

After starting a move that finished with Gonzalo Rodriguez clearing off the line from Tevez, the 23-year-old went close to opening this season's account when he headed narrowly wide ten minutes from the end and there was still time for him to whip in a cross that Evans will feel he should have converted.



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