It’s United’s to lose now, insists Ferguson

REAL MADRID 1 vs MANCHESTER UNITED 1

MANCHESTER United boss Sir Alex Ferguson believes his team have one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals after they held Real Madrid at the Bernabeu last night.

Danny Welbeck headed the visitors in front with 20 minutes played in the last 16, first leg tie, but United old boy Cristiano Ronaldo inevitably levelled 10 minutes later.

In an even second half United went closest to grabbing a winner when Robin van Persie saw a shot come back off the post and Ferguson is confident his side can now finish the job in the second leg in three weeks’ time.

“I’ve got to be pleased with the result. It takes us back to Old Trafford with a great chance,” said the 71-year-old Scot.

“I think we’ll score at Old Trafford, but I know how dangerous they can be on the counter attack because I watched them at Manchester City earlier this season.

“So we still have a big job on our hands, but it’s within our grasp.”

United keeper David de Gea, much maligned for some of his Premier League performances this season, made several outstanding saves to deny Real a second.

And Ferguson was full of praise for the ex-Atletico Madrid stopper’s performance.

“David de Gea made three or four great saves,” he said. “But we missed chances ourselves. It was an interesting game.”

Real flew out of the traps in front of an expectant home crowd and forced a fine finger-tip save from De Gea, who pushed Fabio Coentrao’s low, curling effort onto the post.

But United weathered the storm and took a surprise lead through Welbeck when the England forward rose above defender Sergio Ramos to meet Wayne Rooney’s corner and headed in only his second goal in 28 matches. The visitors’ lead was soon wiped out though, when Ronaldo leapt majestically to head Angel Di Maria’s left-wing cross into the bottom corner.

Real continued in the ascendancy after the interval, as Ronaldo, Di Maria and Coentrao all tested the agility of De Gea with shots from in and around the box, but the

22-year-old was equal to everything the home team threw at him.

United were forced to soak up the pressure for much of the second period, but Van Persie twice went close to snatching a memorable victory in the 72nd minute. First, the Dutchman got in behind the Madrid defence and saw a powerful right-footed strike squirm through the hands of Real keeper Diego Lopez and come back off the post.

And, as the hosts struggled to clear their lines, Van Persie found himself with space inside the box again, but this time saw a miscued shot hooked off the line by Xabi Alonso with Lopez beaten.

Khedira and Real substitute Gonzalo Higuain called De Gea into action again late on, but the keeper made two outstanding reaction saves.

Ronaldo made one last attempt to steal the limelight with five minutes remaining, but the Portugal star’s long-range free-kick dipped onto the roof of the net.