By Graham Lister
As one of the iconic cathedrals of world football, the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, home of Europe's most successful club, has long enjoyed a prestige and aura that can inspire - or more often intimidate - visiting teams. Those from England have mostly stumbled at the Bernabeu when facing Real Madrid in European competition, though a few have achieved valuable draws and two have actually won there.
The record shows that Los Blancos have won six of their 12 home encounters to date against English teams in Uefa competitions, drawing four more and confirming that the Bernabeu has usually been a venue in which the European dreams of visitors from England have faded.
On Wednesday night Manchester United, currently leading the English Premier League by an emphatic 12 points, will attempt to secure their first win on the Bernabeu turf, and in so doing join Arsenal and Liverpool as members of a small but select club comprised of those who have beaten Madrid in their own back yard.
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United were in fact the first to attempt that feat, with a young team which, 12 months later, was decimated on an icy runway in Munich. Matt Busby's vibrant Babes were well on their way towards claiming a second consecutive domestic League title, and heading for an FA Cup final appearance, when they were drawn against holders Real Madrid in the semi-final of the 1956-57 European Cup. United's board had defied the myopic hierarchy of the Football League (who had banned Chelsea from entering the inaugural European Cup) and accepted the FA's invitation to participate, Busby declaring: "Prestige alone demanded that the Continental challenge should be met, not avoided".
A crowd estimated at around 135,000 witnessed the first leg at the Bernabeu, where Alfredo di Stefano was in typically imperious form, orchestrating the attacks as Madrid established a 3-1 advantage to take to Manchester. Hector Rial and Di Stefano gave the hosts a two-goal lead in the space of three second-half minutes just after the hour, and although Tommy Taylor pulled one back in the 82nd minute, Enrique Mateos made it 3-1 within 60 seconds. The deficit was too much for United to overhaul at Old Trafford, where the return leg finished 2-2. A disappointed Busby graciously acknowledged: "A great experienced side will always triumph over a great inexperienced side."
He had another chance to beat Madrid in a European Cup semi-final 11 years later, with the team he had built in the aftermath of the Munich disaster. George Best had scored in Manchester where United won the first leg 1-0. But at the Bernabeu it looked bleak for the Red Devils after Jose Martinez Sanchez - aka Pirri - levelled the tie on aggregate in the 36th minute and Francisco Gento (41) put rampant Real ahead. Then on 44 minutes goalkeeper Antonio Betancort misjudged an ambitious lobbed back-pass by Ignacio Zoco and United were back in it through the resulting own goal.
However, Amancio Amaro wasted no time in making it 3-1 on the night, leaving the home crowd raucously ecstatic and United chastened as they trooped off at the interval. The second half saw United grow in confidence and stature, with Best now mercurial on the wing and David Sadler switched to bolster the attack. Blanco nerves began to jangle. When Best headed on a free kick on 73 minutes, Sadler raced in to nod it over the line. And in the 80th minute, Best mesmerised the home defence with a mazy dribble before cutting the ball back to United defender Bill Foulkes, who rifled it into the far corner to make it 3-3. United may not have won at the Bernabeu, but it felt like it as they were through 4-3 on aggregate to a Wembley final - where they beat Benfica after extra-time.
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The Gunners became the first English team to beat Real Madrid at the Bernabeu when they won a Champions League round-of-16 tie 1-0 in February 2006 en route to the final. Thierry Henry scored the decisive goal in the 47th minute, shooting across Casillas with Madrid defenders trailing in his wake.
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The Reds under Rafa Benitez emulated Arsenal's feat in another round-of-16 tie in February 2009, restricting Real to a few half-chances and deciding the game through Yossi Benayoun's header from a Fabio Aurelio free-kick eight minutes from time.
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In May 1980, Nottingham Forest enjoyed a famous victory at the Bernabeu, though not against Real Madrid. Brian Cough's side beat Hamburg 1-0 in the European Cup final and so retained the prestigious trophy they had won in 1979.
The next English team to try their luck were Ipswich Town. The Suffolk club had finished fourth in the old First Division in 1972-73 under Bobby Robson's shrewd management, and qualified for the Uefa Cup where they were drawn against Real Madrid in the first round. Rubinan conceded an own goal in the first leg at Portman Road, giving Ipswich a narrow lead to defend in Madrid. Their captain Mick Mills was reported in the Spanish press as saying: "El Real no es invincible" ("Real are not invincible"); the Tractor Boys duly held out for a shock goalless draw at the Bernabeu and progressed to the second round.
One of the most controversial and contentious meetings between Real Madrid and English challengers was that involving Derby County in the 1975-76 European Cup. Dave Mackay's side were irrepressible at the Baseball Ground as Charlie George had arguably his best game for the Rams, who enjoyed good fortune as they were awarded two penalties and saw Real denied a goal when the same Russian linesman who had officiated at the 1966 World Cup final flagged for offside. George, who had opened the scoring in the ninth minute, converted both Derby penalties on his way to a memorable hat-trick, and David Nish was also on target - though Pirri netted crucially for the visitors.
Real had lost 4-1, and their players were incensed by the performance of the officials. Gunter Netzer lamented: "We cannot win this match now and that is because of some terrible refereeing decisions." And Paul Breitner insisted: "This referee through his poor decisions has taken away a whole year's hard work by our club. Our disallowed goal could not have been offside."
Mackay decided that Derby could defend their three-goal lead at the Bernabeu, but a more adventurous approach might have served the Rams better. Real Madrid pulled a goal back after just three minutes when Roberto Martinez glanced in a header. And their relentless pressure told after the break when they levelled on aggregate with two in 10 minutes through Martinez and Santillana (Carlos Alonso Gonzalez, nicknamed after his birthplace, Santillana del Mar). Now Derby had no option but to attack, and the mercurial George evaded three tackles before firing home a 25-yard howitzer that zipped in off the crossbar. Madrid looked to be going out, but with six minutes left on the clock, Amancio went down in the box and Pirri converted the penalty.
The second round tie went to extra-time, Real Madrid clinching it 5-1 on the night, 6-5 on aggregate, when Santillana finished a devastating counterattack. Mackay had the class to admit afterwards: "Real played like world champions. They were superb. They played us off the park just as we did against them at Derby." He added, though: "We were cheated by that penalty six minutes from victory. The referees are mostly so bad that you will always be cheated in Europe. Real were cheated at Derby, but the blow came for us so close to the finish." His Madrid counterpart Miljan Miljanic agreed: "It was certainly not a penalty, but that unfortunately is football."
Amancio had become Real's first-team coach by 1984-85 when they met Tottenham Hotspur in the last eight of the Uefa Cup. The tie was a personal nightmare for Spurs legend Steve Perryman. In the first leg at White Hart Lane he unwittingly deflected the only goal of the game past his own goalkeeper Ray Clemence. And in the 78th minute of the goalless return at the Bernabeu, he was red-carded for a retaliatory foul on Jorge Valdano. It was Perryman's club record 64th and final European game.
In April 2000 Manchester United were defending European champions when they visited the Bernabeu for a Champions League quarter-final, and the emphasis was initially on defence with the outstanding Mark Bosnich and Jaap Stam repeatedly thwarting the invention and thrust of a Real Madrid attack inspired by Steve McManaman.
United created chances of their own on the break with Madrid stretched, but found 18-year-old Iker Casillas in good form between the posts. So they claimed a creditable goalless draw; but it went sour for them at Old Trafford where Roy Keane put through his own goal and Raul scored twice with assists from McManaman and Fernando Redondo. A David Beckham solo effort and Paul Scholes penalty earned the hosts some respectability, but it was not enough and the holders bowed out. Fittingly, Madrid went on to claim their eighth crown.
It was Leeds United's turn to experience heartache in Madrid when they visited the Bernabeu in the second group stage of the Champions League the following March. The Yorkshire side had already progressed with Real to the quarter-finals, but were disappointed to lose against Los Merengues. Raul and Luis Figo were the chief architects of victory for the hosts, although Leeds endured some tough luck in defeat. David O'Leary's team got off to the ideal start when Alan Smith gave them a fifth-minute lead, but Real quickly equalised when a Luis Figo free-kick was clearly put into the net by Raul's hand. Four minutes before half-time, Figo's tame free-kick was covered by Nigel Martyn until it suddenly took an outrageous bounce and beat the keeper at the near post.
Leeds remained undaunted, and Mark Viduka brought them level on 54 minutes when he rose unchallenged to head Ian Harte's corner powerfully beyond Cesar. Four minutes later Raul met a Figo cross to beat Martyn with a close-range header, and although Viduka later hit the post, Madrid won 3-2. O'Leary said afterwards: "You can't legislate for the first two goals," while Leeds defender Rio Ferdinand commented: "The boys kept on plugging away, and showed a bit of bottle."
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Ferdinand was at the heart of Manchester United's defence by the time the Red Devils returned to Madrid for another quarter-final in April 2003. But unlike three years earlier, when they held firm at the Bernabeu, they were outclassed and close to being routed as Zinedine Zidane supplied the magic and Raul fired the bullets in an exhilarating performance by Vicente del Bosque's side. Real were 3-0 up by the 49th minute, with Figo, Raul and Raul again on the scoresheet.
Future Madrid striker Ruud van Nistelrooy pulled a potentially priceless goal back for United, who were ultimately relieved to escape with just a 3-1 defeat. There would be no reprieve, however, as Ronaldo (the original, Brazilian one) earned an ovation from the Old Trafford crowd for a sensational second-leg hat-trick. United won 4-3 on the night, two late efforts from substitute Beckham, soon to be Madrid-bound, giving the scoreline a flattering aspect after Van Nistelrooy and Ivan Helguera, with an own goal, had netted; but Real were through 6-5 on aggregate.
Arsenal and Liverpool then showed that English clubs could actually win at the Bernabeu (see box), though it didnot help Tottenham when they met Real in a Champions League quarter-final in 2011. Harry Redknapp would later bring Emmanuel Adebayor to White Hart Lane, but for the time being he had to watch as the Togolese striker, on loan to Madrid from Manchester City, scored twice to put Jose Mourinho's men in a commanding position. Peter Crouch was sent off after 14 minutes for a second bookable offence as Spurs found themselves overpowered by Real's attacking momentum. The hosts had 18 attempts on target, including a stunning effort from the edge of the area by Angel di Maria that brought their third goal, and a Cristiano Ronaldo volley from a narrow angle that produced their fourth in a 4-0 win.
Now as Mourinho's side prepare to welcome United they may reflect on the drama that unfolded earlier this season when they met United's crossown rivals Manchester City in a Champions League group game at the Bernabeu. Real triumphed 3-2, and required a last-minute Ronaldo winner to do so; but they dominated large stretches of an enthralling encounter. Goalkeeper Joe Hart had to be at his best to keep City in it, so it was a shock when Edin Dzeko put them ahead on a rare break in the 69th minute. Marcelo levelled with a deflected shot (76), only for City to lead again when Aleksandar Kolarov curled a direct free-kick into the net from 25 yards (85). But Real came back at them, Karim Benzema equalising (87) before Ronaldo's last-minute effort flew into the net past the unsighted Hart.