Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured) is set to play in the Europa League for the first time in 20 years

Cristiano Ronaldo’s last Europa League game was a 6-4 loss to Partizan Belgrade in 2002

It’s been two decades since Cristiano Ronaldo last missed out on the Champions League.

Manchester United’s ever-green striker, now 37, has racked up 183 appearances in 19 seasons in Europe’s premier competition, scoring 140 goals – double figures an all-time high.

Portugal striker Ronaldo’s 140 figure is more than double all in history except for four players – Lionel Messi (125), Robert Lewandowski, Karim Benzema (86 each) and Raul (71).

But after the Red Devils’ hugely disappointing 2021-22 campaign, new boss Erik ten Hag and his side now face a return to the Europa League with a clash against Real Sociedad on Thursday.

If Ronaldo, who has been benched for United’s last four games, plays any part in the match, it will be just the third appearance in Europe’s second-tier competition in his long and illustrious career, and his first in 20 years, while at Sporting Lisbon.

But when were the last two and what happened in those games? Below, sports mail takes a trip down memory lane to recall the historic occasion…

Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured) is set to play in the Europa League for the first time in 20 years

Erik ten Hag (right) and his team will face Real Sociedad in their first group game on Thursday

Erik ten Hag (right) and his team will face Real Sociedad in their first group game on Thursday

Ronaldo's last Europa League appearance was in October 2002 for Sporting Lisbon against Partizan Belgrade - below Sportsmail takes a trip down memory lane to recall the occasion

Ronaldo’s last Europa League appearance was in October 2002 for Sporting Lisbon against Partizan Belgrade – below Sportsmail takes a trip down memory lane to recall the occasion

Drill at Sporting

Sporting Clube de Portugal aka Sporting Lisbon first team manager Laszlo Boloni recognized Cristiano Ronaldo’s potential right away.

Talented winger Ronaldo broke through at the Portuguese club as a teenager (pictured)

Talented winger Ronaldo broke through at the Portuguese club as a teenager (pictured)

The Romanian lifted the teenager through the ranks, making him the first player to represent the club’s U16, U17 and U18 teams, as well as the B team and the first team, all in the same season.

Ronaldo had just one season of senior football with the Greens and Whites before moving to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Man United, where he was transformed into one of the best players in the world.

His Primeira Liga debut came on 29 September 2002 against Braga, and on 7 October he scored a brace in a 3-0 win over Moreirense, putting him firmly on the radar of several top European clubs, including United. , Arsenal and Liverpool.

Before his league arc, however, he was thrown into the first team for two matches in the UEFA Cup, now known as the Europa League, which arguably helped launch his senior career.

What happened in the first leg?

Sporting were drawn against Serbian side Partizan Belgrade in the first round, and the first leg in the Portuguese capital saw Ronaldo named on the bench, with fellow skilful winger Ricardo Quaresma in the starting line-up.

Partizan took the lead in the 11th minute thanks to an own goal from Hugo, and although Tonito equalized, Andrija Delibasic put Partizan in front again eight minutes before half-time. Boloni had seen enough.

In the meantime, he made a double change, bringing in wides Ronaldo and Rodrigo Tello and knocking out Pedro Barbosa and Rui Jorge. Ivica Iliev, however, scored in the 78th minute to give the visitors something to defend in Eastern Europe.

What happened in the return match?

Ronaldo had clearly been impressed enough to start the second leg – four days after his league debut – behind closed doors in the Serbian capital, and grainy YouTube footage shows flashes of the promise that alerted him to United.

A fresh-faced Ronaldo, in a weird black kit with yellow sleeves and wearing the No.28, received plenty of the ball from his teammates, who clearly trusted him despite his young age.

Ronaldo played nearly two hours across both legs which saw Sporting lose 6-4 to Partizan

Ronaldo played nearly two hours across both legs which saw Sporting lose 6-4 to Partizan

Footage shows Ronaldo showing off his now-iconic trickery, tricking defenders into fouls with spellbinding passes, feints and changes of pace.

He is roughly brought to the ground on several occasions by opposing players, but apart from a brief moment of frustration, watching Austrian referee Fritz Stuchlik with pleading eyes, there is little whining now common to be seen.

In fact, after Tonito helped Sporting take the lead, good control saw Ronaldo cross for striker Vitali Kutuzov, who headed against the post before grabbing the rebound to make it 2-0 in at night and 3-3 in total. .

After attempting a spectacular aerial kick and having a decent shout for a penalty disallowed after being burst into the penalty area by Milan Stojanoski, he was taken off in the 74th minute along with Kutuzov for Marius Niculae and Barbosa.

Delibasic pulled one back but Pedro Contreras’ goal made it 3-1 on the night, 3-3 on aggregate, extending the game. Ten minutes from the penalty shootout, strikers Dejan Zivkovic and then Damir Cakar scored as Partizan progressed 6-4 on aggregate.

Ronaldo, however, had made his mark. United were calling.

Why did Ronaldo want to leave this summer?

The now-veteran superstar, despite scoring 24 goals in 38 appearances in all competitions last season, couldn’t help United finish higher than sixth, after being knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid in round of 16.

Ronaldo made his position clear to the club and new manager Ten Hag: nothing but the Champions League was good enough, and United having failed to qualify, he wanted to leave.

But no concrete offers materialized: Saudi club Al Hilal were interested and made an “obscene” contract offer but was never a realistic option, Chelsea owner Todd Boehly was keen but the manager of the time, Thomas Tuchel, refused.

So, after the transfer window closed earlier this month, it looks like Ronaldo will be forced to stay until at least January, raising the prospect of another Europa League appearance 20 years after his first steps in the competition.

Ronaldo has announced his desire to leave this summer because he wants Champions League football - now he could be forced into the Europa League, starting on Thursday night

Ronaldo has announced his desire to leave this summer because he wants Champions League football – now he could be forced into the Europa League, starting on Thursday night

Thursday Preview

Dropped after the club’s 4-0 humiliation against Brentford, Ronaldo now appears to be second choice up front, with Marcus Rashford favored after his resurgence amid Ten’s desire for pace, mobility and forward pressure. Hag.

Ronaldo, therefore, short of game sharpness, could well be used to lead United’s attack against Real Sociedad at Old Trafford on Thursday night.

Imanol Alguacil’s side have had a mixed start to the season and sit ninth in La Liga after two wins, a draw and a defeat in their first four league games of the campaign.

They were humiliated 4-1 at home to Spanish giants Barcelona and came up against another star-studded side, with United in fine form thanks to four successive wins since the Brentford horror show.

The Basque club have former Manchester City midfielder David Silva, winger Mikel Oyarzabal and striker Umar Sadiq in their ranks.

Far from the Partizan side of 2002, that’s for sure…

Cristiano Ronaldo’s last Europa League game was a 6-4 loss to Partizan Belgrade in 2002

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.