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40-yard strike from Ronaldo was enough
It took something special: a quite breathtaking 40-yard strike from Cristiano Ronaldo which, allied to a first clean sheet in six games, took the holders into the final four. Indeed, it would have been the Reds' defensive resolve which would have pleased Sir Alex Ferguson most, as the return of Rio Ferdinand brought an assuredness to the champions and restricted the dangerous hosts to but a handful of opportunities.

Following last week's 2-2 first-leg draw, Porto went into the match with a crucial away-goal advantage. That was tellingly overturned inside six minutes of an imposing second encounter. Had Sir Alex been asked to draw a blueprint of his perfect start, it wouldn't have been too far removed from what actually transpired.

The Reds were already looking confident when Anderson slipped a pass to Ronaldo, but the winger's ambition beggared belief. Having received the ball just inside the hosts' half, Ronaldo took a touch to set himself and arrowed an unstoppable effort into Helton's top corner. The ball travelled 40 yards to the goal, but the Brazilian goalkeeper could get nowhere near it.

A Sporting Lisbon export, Ronaldo was predictably jeered from the first whistle by the blue and white clad hordes in the stands. Suddenly, he had provoked silence on every side of the Estadio Do Dragao - bar, of course, the sizeable pocket of writhing, jubilant United fans behind the opposite goal.

The Reds' approach to the game mirrored that of Porto in the first leg: dominant, with the hosts completely on the back foot. Indeed, it took 20 minutes for the Portuguese champions to notch an effort of note; as Bruno Alves' free-kick drifted a couple of yards wide of Edwin van der Sar's goal.

Porto had shown their class at Old Trafford, so it was no surprise that they began to gradually exert themselves on the game. Lisandro's spectacular scissor-kick forced a routine save from van der Sar, but United's defence - reinforced by the pairing of Ferdinand with Vidic - stood firm.

In the latter stages of the half, the chances see-sawed. Ryan Giggs' volley was kept out by Helton, Alves powered a header wide and Vidic stabbed John O'Shea's flick over the bar from close range.

Half-time came and went with no changes of personnel, but with a definite shift in setting as teeming rain began to saturate the Portuguese turf. Dimitar Berbatov almost immediately tested Helton's handling of the new conditions, but the Brazilian was equal to his low, drilled effort.

With United ahead, the onus was always going to be on the home side to fashion chances, however, and the visitors' job was largely one of containment in the second half. After the recent spate of concessions, a clean sheet wouldn't just put United through; it would mark a return to the defensive solidity which had been the bedrock of the season to date.

Raul Meireles sliced a shot past the top corner, Hulk fired a free-kick straight at van der Sar and Rolando powered a free header over the bar when he should have done better, but United's demeanour was largely one of calm throughout, containing the storm rather than weathering it.

On occasion, the Reds could even embark on forays forward. Wayne Rooney, outstanding throughout for his defensive diligence as much as his attacking incision, drilled one effort fractionally over Helton's bar. Moments later, however, Lisandro went one better in hitting the target. Even if it was a wasted opportunity, fired straight at van der Sar, it was a timely reminder that one without reply would be enough.

Ronaldo did threaten again, drawing a fine low save from Helton, but he had already struck the telling blow. Now the Reds must shoehorn two more massive games into an already congested fixture list. But, having signalled a return to miserly ways in defence and with a calm befitting of champions, Sir Alex and his players will be relishing every minute that remains of this captivating season.
 
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