MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo removed his Manchester United jersey, flexed his muscular physique and soaked in the acclaim of the fans after a winning goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Not a bad way for the Portugal superstar to mark another record-breaking night in the Champions League.
On his record 178th appearance in the competition, Ronaldo made his most decisive intervention with virtually the last kick of the game at Old Trafford to complete United's dramatic comeback in a 2-1 victory over Villarreal on Wednesday.
After winning a header from a hopeful cross into the area, Ronaldo showed his sprightliness at the age of 36 by then reacting to a loose ball after a touch by substitute Jesse Lingard and shooting underneath Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli from a narrow angle.
Old Trafford erupted, with sprint great Usain Bolt among the United supporters celebrating as chants of “Viva Ronaldo” swept around the stadium.
It was Ronaldo’s fifth goal in five games since joining from Juventus for a second spell at United and definitely his most important.
Oh, and make that 136 goals in the Champions League — a record, naturally.
Where would United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer be without Ronaldo? It was looking like another chastening result for the Norwegian coach, who was starting to come under pressure with United having started Group F with a shocking 2-1 loss at Swiss outsider Young Boys and then losing back-to-back games at Old Trafford on the domestic front — one in the Premier League and another to get eliminated from the English League Cup.
Villarreal looked like handing United a second straight group loss by going in front in the 53rd through Paco Alcacer, who poked in a finish through the legs of United goalkeeper David De Gea following a cross by Arnaut Danjuma.
United had been outplayed by that point — Danjuma had the beating of right back Diogo Dalot time and again down Villarreal's left — but equalized within seven minutes through an outrageous volley by Alex Telles.
Picked out by a pinpoint cross from Bruno Fernandes at a free kick, the Brazilian left back took a step back at the edge of the area and struck a first-time volley that swerved inside the far post.
The result broke a run of four straight 0-0s between the teams in Champions League play, dating back to pair group matches in 2005 and 2008.
The teams also met in the Europa League final in May, with Villarreal winning a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw. Ronaldo wasn't playong for United then, though, and is already proving a difference-maker.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80