Ronaldo shows respect for Manchester United, but his season remains on the brink

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Cristiano Ronaldo took plenty of plaudits for a classy "non-celebration" but little else as Real Madrid's season was pushed to the brink of emptiness on Wednesday.

Ronaldo's equalizing goal after 30 minutes gave him the opportunity to make good on his promise to shun soccer's typical post-scoring ritual as a mark of respect to Manchester United, his former club.

After Ronaldo leapt into the air, hung there long enough for a crossing pass to arrive, then powered a header into the corner of the United goal, the Madrid star wheeled away and raised his hands to stop his teammates from embarking upon any form of celebration.

"I will not celebrate if I score against United," Ronaldo told reporters recently. "I had six great years there and I am still friends with my teammates."

It was an honorable move from the 28-year-old, whose antics and actions both within the white lines and outside them have rarely endeared himself to rival fans, though he did donate $150,000 to an Afghanistan war charity this week.

As impressive as the goal was, though, it was not enough to give Madrid the outcome they desired from the first leg of this home-and-home encounter in the last 16 of the Champions League.

[Related: Ronaldo rescues draw against gritty Manchester United]

Danny Welbeck's header for United after 20 minutes meant Ronaldo's goal only tied things up, which is eventually how the contest ended at 1-1, giving United the advantage heading into the return leg in Manchester in three weeks' time.

For Ronaldo and Madrid, it is now desperation time. The Spanish league title has almost certainly slipped away, with Barcelona having opened up an ominous 16-point gap, and the Champions League is the club's only real chance to secure the kind of silverware it craves.

Likewise for Ronaldo, if he fails to mastermind a revival at United's Old Trafford stadium on March 5, the arena he graced for six years before heading to Spain in a world record $131 million transfer, his bid to usurp Lionel Messi as the world player of the year will be doomed.

And while he may not regret making the switch from Manchester in 2009, Ronaldo must surely envy his old team's rugged relentlessness, a trait which sees them well clear in the English Premier League race and kept them all square here despite having less individual talent than Madrid.

The frustration for him and Madrid boss José Mourinho is that they were the better team on the night, dominating possession and generally looking far more threatening.

[Related: Dortmund and Shakhtar play to draw after plane tragedy]

As has been the case all too often though recently, a defensive lapse proved painfully costly, and captain Sergio Ramos' failure to stick close enough to Welbeck gave United the early goal that may well prove decisive.

Manchester goalkeeper David De Gea had perhaps his best game for United. De Gea was on hand in the early minutes to tip Fábio Coentrão's low effort onto the post, to stop Coentrão again just after halftime and in the waning moments to parry a strong drive from Sami Khedira.

Madrid only met United at this early stage of the knockout rounds because of its struggles during the group phase, where it lost to Borussia Dortmund and could only place second behind the German club in Group D.

The match-up provided fans with a blockbuster clash but has put Ronaldo and Madrid on the verge of what would be a frustrating and meaningless final few months of the season.

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