On 23 April 2003, the last time Real Madrid visited Old Trafford, Manchester United defeated the Spanish club 4-3 but were still knocked out of the Champions League quarter-finals, 6-5 on aggregate, by the galácticos of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luís Figo and Roberto Carlos in one of the great club encounters. A Russian billionaire named Roman Abramovich, a guest that night, was so inspired by what he saw that he ended up buying Chelsea that summer.
On 8 April United lost the first leg 3-1 to Madrid at the Bernabéu. A Raúl double plus a Figo effort was answered by a Ruud van Nistelrooy finish which grabbed Ferguson's team an away goal.
Quinton Fortune, United midfielder
"We were frustrated over there the way the result went in Madrid – Figo got a great goal against Fabien Barthez who was caught in between whether it was a cross or not. I can still remember clearly it going in the back post. They had a great team, Zidane, Ronaldo, but we still thought that bringing them to Old Trafford we had a good opportunity of at least of getting something from the game."
Ryan Giggs, Manchester United winger
"We were already 3-1 down from the first game but we always feel that if we can get a good start we can claw back virtually any deficit at Old Trafford."
Santi Solari, winger for Real Madrid
"I remember us winning the first game comfortably and that we felt, and in fact were, better than them. I remember getting annoyed when the second leg came round because I felt that I deserved to play and Vicente del Bosque chose Steve McManaman instead. With hindsight, it was a good decision: the ex-Liverpool player against United. Macca playing in England was a clever move that no one expected as he hadn't been playing much."
United had their own selection issues. David Beckham, whose relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson had waned since the manager kicked a boot at his head following an FA Cup defeat to Arsenal two months before, was dropped to the bench in favour of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Sir Alex Ferguson, United manager
"Ole had been in fantastic form in that position. The temptation is to make him a substitute as you know that he can come on and change games, but only so many times can you hit a guy over the head like that by leaving him out."
David Beckham, United midfielder
"In the couple of days leading up to the Madrid game I did my best to concentrate on our preparations like everyone else but the thought that I was going to be dropped just nagged away at me like a sore tooth. I was on the outside looking in. 'Real Madrid: an important game, son. Too important for you to play in.' I could taste the anger in the back of my throat."
A 12th-minute goal by Ronaldo put Real 4-1 up on aggregate and the tie firmly in their control.
Pierluigi Collina, referee
"The spirit at Old Trafford was very good. The early goal scored by Real Madrid gave the match a particular path because they had already won the first game 3-1. But nevertheless it was balanced during the first half with some great scoring opportunities."
Fabien Barthez, United goalkeeper
"The atmosphere was fantastic as it usually is when you are up against a team like Real Madrid at their peak. It is true that Ronaldo was a huge player on the night but let's not forget Zidane, Roberto Carlos and Figo – that was a very big and great football team, and they were stronger than us."
At half-time the score was 1-1 with Van Nistelrooy's 43rd-minute goal cancelling out the opener. Five minutes into the second half Real went 2-1 up when the Brazilian scored his second. An Iván Helguera own goal moments later made it 5-3 on aggregate before Ronaldo completed the hat-trick a minute before the hour.
Steve McManaman, Real midfielder
"Everyone was thrilled for Ronaldo. He had taken so much criticism over his fitness but with that hat-trick he had shown what he was worth on the biggest stage in a massive game."
"Ronaldo was on fire, and his hat-trick made it a bridge too far."
"I saw Ronaldo play better a few times in Spain when at Barcelona and I was playing for Atlético Madrid [between 1996-69], and he was still in unbelievable shape when we met him at Madrid. He was just an outstanding player."
As Ronaldo was replaced by Solari on 67 minutes, Old Trafford rose to applaud.
"When Ronaldo scored the three goals even Manchester United fans were almost sure that their team couldn't go through to reach the semi-final. When he left the field of play almost every United fan stood up and clapped their hands, because of course what Ronaldo did in that match was something very special."
"Ronaldo destroyed us. Raúl was out with appendicitis, so the big man was up front on his own. The whole crowd got to their feet and gave the bloke the kind of ovation a United player would have got. The Manchester crowd knows its football and knew they'd been privileged to be there, watching Ronaldo play. I felt really proud of them in a different way that night, watching their reaction as Ronaldo walked off with his hands above his head, clapping back."
Beckham was finally given his chance by Ferguson as a 63rd-minute replacement for Juan Sebastián Verón.
"I got the call to go on from the coach Mike Phelan a couple of minutes after Ronaldo's third goal. I was desperate to be out there. Not to make my point now, just to be involved in an amazing game of football."
Within 22 minutes of coming on Beckham, who would join Madrid that summer, had scored twice.
"I don't remember how long it took but it was very few minutes by Beckham. The first goal was a free-kick, a great delivery of a free-kick."
"I was celebrating what I'll remember as my best free-kick ever in a Man United shirt. At 3-3 in the game I was buzzing – I felt like I had been plugged into something but all of a sudden Madrid's players were coming up to me and having a chat while the football, this incredible match, was crackling on around us. First Guti ran alongside me and asked if we could swap shirts at full time. Then, Roberto Carlos was grinning at me again: 'Are you coming to play for us?'
"Ten minutes left and it was Zidane's turn: 'David, your shirt?' I was chasing around still trying to make things happen. They were not trying to distract me or wind me up – they were just certain that they were going to win all night long."
"I thought the two goals that David scored went almost ignored and hardly mattered because of what Real had done in the first leg."
Fortune entered as an 82nd-minute substitute for Roy Keane.
I was very frustrated because I was watching from the bench and I could not believe how easy it looked for Madrid. All I wanted to do was rattle a few cages and make Zidane upset because he just looked so graceful. It was beautiful watching them. I was a kid then so for me to be on the same pitch as so many great players was beyond my imagination. It was just unbelievable."
"We fought back to win 4-3 on the night, and it was a hugely entertaining contest. To be brutally honest, though, that's not much consolation when you've lost."
"As we shook hands with the Real players there was a moment or two of 'if only'. Then elation washed over me. I felt more fulfilled by the 30 minutes of football I'd just played than any game all season. By the time I got back to the dressing room I had Guti and Zidane's shirts under my arm, and a warm glow inside. I remember the gaffer saying to me quietly: 'You played well. David.'"
Ferguson had higher praise for the hat-trick man.
"What a game – Ronaldo was marvellous. His third goal was a tremendous strike and you can't legislate for someone who produces moments like that."
"I will never forget this night."
Anyone who witnessed the contest felt the same.