Ronaldo returns to United, Giggs hits 1,000 games
MANCHESTER - The Associated Press
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo from Portugal, right, and FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi from Argentina, left, gesture during a Spanish La Liga soccer match at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, March 2, 2013. AP photo
As if there wasn’t enough at stake when two of Europe’s biggest teams go at it for a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals, there are even more reasons for emotions to run high at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
While one of Manchester United’s former stars returns, the club’s longest-serving player is expected to hit another milestone.
And then there’s the game itself, with United and Real Madrid level at 1-1 following the first leg of the last 16 of the Champions League.
It will be Ryan Giggs’ 1,000th senior match, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s first at United since becoming the world’s most expensive player in 2009 by swapping Manchester for Madrid for 80 million pounds (then $131 million).
"Cristiano will get a great reception on Tuesday because of what he achieved for Manchester United," United captain Patrice Evra said. "The fans will never forget what he did. Also, he still loves the club.
"I remember after the game in Madrid we had a chat. He said it was going to be more difficult to come here. This is his house, so there will be a lot of emotion."
Ultimately, though, Evra fears the player who has scored 33 goals this season, including the equalizer last month in the first leg.
"Ronaldo is a winner," Evra said. "He is a big competitor. If he can win against Manchester United he will do it."
Just like he did during six seasons at United, where manager Alex Ferguson turned him into one of football’s most lethal forwards.
When Ronaldo left United in 2009, few would have expected Giggs to still be playing at the highest level four years later.
But the 39-year-old Welsh winger, who made his debut in 1991 at 17, remains at integral part of the team.
Ferguson did rest Giggs on Saturday for the 4-0 rout of Norwich that took the team 15 points clear at the top of the Premier League.
But it was only to save Giggs for Tuesday, with Ferguson saying he "owed it to the lad" who has appeared in four Champions League finals and emerged victorious in 1999 and 2008.
It remains one Ferguson’s greatest frustrations in a reign stretching back to 1986 that he has only won the European Cup twice, leaving the club with three successes compared with Madrid’s nine.
Winning a 10th is the priority for Jose Mourinho to salvage something from a gloomy Spanish league campaign.
Although Madrid warmed up for the trip to England by beating Barcelona 2-1 on Saturday, the Catalan team is 13 points ahead in the title race.
Madrid could be boosted at United by the return of captain Iker Casillas, who is part of the 24-man squad despite the goalkeeper being out of action since fracturing his left hand in January.
Spirits are high in the Madrid camp after last week’s double success over Barcelona, with a place also booked in the Copa del Rey final by beating the league leaders on Tuesday.
"Manchester is really strong but we’re going to Old Trafford with confidence," Kaka said. "It’s a traditionally European squad that always goes far in the competitions they play in."
Madrid hasn’t been to Old Trafford since 2003 when United won 4-3 but lost 6-5 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.
Everything points to Tuesday’s match being as close again.
"It is going to be a special night," United striker Wayne Rooney said. "It is probably the two biggest clubs in the world and something we are all looking forward to."