Cristiano Ronaldo, whose jump is better than the average for National Basketball Association players, leaped to Real Madrid’s rescue to keep his team on even terms with Manchester United in soccer’s Champions League.
Ronaldo, for whom Real paid United a world record 80 million pounds ($124 million) in 2009, sailed above defender Patrice Evra last night to score with a header in the 30th minute and secure a 1-1 draw in the round of 16 match at Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
“His kneecap was at the height of Evra’s head,” United manager Alex Ferguson told reporters. “Certainly Messi can’t do that,” Ferguson said, referring to four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi.
The teams, competing in their fifth two-game European Cup duel since 1957, will meet again March 5 at Old Trafford in Manchester for a place in the quarterfinals of the continent’s elite club competition.
Ronaldo, the 2008 world player of the year, scored a similar goal for United in the 2008 Champions League final against Chelsea.
Biomechanic tests on the 6-foot-1 forward at England’s University of Chichester in 2011 found that he can jump 78 centimeters (31 inches) in the air from a standing start. That’s seven centimeters higher than the average NBA player and surpasses former Los Angeles Lakers forward Earvin “Magic” Johnson and nearly equals Lamar Odom of the Los Angeles Clippers and former Laker center Shaquille O’Neal, according to sports science website topendsports.com.
Ronaldo didn’t celebrate his goal, and after the match went to the opposition locker room to chat to his former teammates. He played for United from 2003 to 2009.
“It was my home for years and I have a very special affection for them,” Ronaldo told reporters.
In the second half, David De Gea, who joined United from hometown club Atletico Madrid in 2011, saved Fabio Coentrao’s shot with his leg in the 60th minute. It was one of “three or four good saves” made by the Spanish goalkeeper, Ferguson said.
“I’m pleased for the boy,” added Ferguson. “He’ll be pleased coming back to Madrid, especially as he played for Atletico.”
Ronaldo had two late chances to score again when he hit a free kick just over the crossbar in the 86th minute. Then, in stoppage time, defender Phil Jones scrambled the ball away from the 28-year-old Portuguese in the goal mouth.
Real, the record nine-time champion, and three-time winner United played previously in two semifinals and two quarterfinals since 1957 with Alfredo di Stefano, George Best and Bobby Charlton among the goal scorers. Real advanced in three of the four meetings, including 13 years ago following a 0-0 draw in the first match at home.
Real coach Jose Mourinho said the two-game series remains “absolutely 50/50.”
“My confidence hasn’t diminished even 1 percent,” Mourinho said. “Lots of teams have scored goals at Old Trafford this season and none of them have the attacking power of Real Madrid.”
In three weeks, Ronaldo will be applauded by United fans in the same way that Real Madrid supporters gave an ovation to winger Ryan Giggs last night, Ferguson said. Giggs, 39, entered as a substitute for United after 64 minutes.
“I can assure you when Ronaldo steps on the field at Old Trafford he’ll get exactly the same reception,” Ferguson said.
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