The Portugal winger silenced the home crowd with a stellar performance as United claimed their first UEFA Champions League away win in nine attempts, beating SL Benfica 1-0. On his last appearance at this ground in this competition last December the former Sporting Clube de Portugal player replied to the boos with an ill-advised gesture that earned him a suspension, but this time he showed his increased maturity by setting up the 60th-minute winner for Louis Saha and generally running the Benfica back line ragged.
"Since the [FIFA] World Cup I've been booed in many games in England too but I'm getting used to it," the 21-year-old told uefa.com. "Today I did not react. I was expecting it. It was a very difficult game because Benfica are a strong team. They played very well in the first half but we were better in the second. We controlled the match and deserved the win overall."
Even when United were under pressure in the first period, Ronaldo offered an outlet, ever eager to receive the ball and carry it into Benfica territory. His influence only increased after the break and culminated in his assist for Saha's winner. With a smile on his face, he revealed after the match that only from speaking to his brother-in-law had he heard Sir Alex Ferguson's pre-match praise of him as United's best player this season. "I found that out today. It's a big motivation to work even harder," Ronaldo said.
Reflecting on Ronaldo's contribution, Sir Alex only had more words of praise. "Ronaldo is now a more mature player and showed it against a hostile public," said the United manager. "He's improving every day; he has lots of confidence and takes half the defence with him when he runs with the ball." United captain Gary Neville, meanwhile, was just glad he does not have to face him. "To play against him must be an absolute nightmare - look at the amount of running he's made their defenders do tonight, creating space for other players late on. I thought his running took the pressure off us."
Neville added that the Group F leaders had gone back to basics to secure their first away victory on the continent since November 2003. If this was winning "ugly", though, nobody told Ronaldo as he did more than anyone to exorcise the ghost of last season's loss in Lisbon which cost United a knockout round place. Another early exit is unlikely now, as a satisfied Ronaldo observed: "Our first goal is to get through to the next stage and with two wins out of two we're on the right track."
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