MADRID, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- It had been billed as the game of the season by Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho and Wednesday night's Champions League last 16 first leg tie between Real Madrid and Manchester United lived up to the billing.
90 minutes of thrilling end to end football ended with a 1-1 draw thanks to goals from Danny Welbeck and Cristiano Ronaldo.
It was a game both sides could have won and although Real Madrid did more attacking, Manchester United also had great chances to have taken a better result home for the return leg.
Both coaches sprang surprises in their starting 11 with Rafael Varene preferred ahead of Pepe, who is just coming back after an ankle injury, in the Madrid defense, while Xabi Alonso was included in Mourinho's side despite problems with a pelvic injury.
Meanwhile Sir Alex Ferguson included striker Danny Welbeck in his starting 11 along with Wayne Rooney, who dropped to a wide role, and Robin Van Persie.
Shinji Kagawa was also included in the United side with Tom Cleverley the player to miss out in midfield, while Jonny Evans was in for Nemanja Vidic, who was perhaps the most surprising omission from the English side.
As expected the game started like an express train with Fabio Coentrao seeing David De Gea getting enough of a touch to divert his sixth minute shot onto the United post, while at the other end, Kagawa and Van Persie were looking sharp, although Van Persie was booked after putting his hand in Sergio Ramos' face as they challenged for a high ball.
Real Madrid were doing most of the attacking, but United opened the score as Welbeck easily beat Ramos to nod home a corner after 20 minutes.
The home side looked to react, forcing a series of corners before Ronaldo saw a shot flash past the post after a rebound from a free kick.
He made no mistake just before the half hour with a magnificent header to level the scores following a cross from the left, although he didn't celebrate out of respect for his former club.
The game was being played at a frantic pace with both Welback and Rooney going close for Manchester United, while at the other end Mesut Ozil forced a good save from De Gea after a long ball from Alonso, before Ronaldo headed wide in injury time when a goal looked certain.
De Maria went close twice for Madrid in the opening minutes of the second half, but saw one shot saved by De Gea and another go wide.
Meanwhile Rafael Varene was a tad fortunate that the referee waved play on after his challenge on Welback, when he was the last defender.
Coentrao was denied by a flying save by De Gea as Real Madrid replaced Benzema with Higuain to give more aggression to their attack.
At the other end Van Persie saw a drive tipped onto the bar and then when Madrid failed to clear his miss-hit show was scrambled away before it crossed the goal-line by Alonso.
The closing minutes saw United sit deeper back to defend the result to take back to Old Trafford in three weeks and it was no surprise to see Madrid's play become slightly more static, although there was still time for Ronaldo to almost scramble the ball home at one end and Van Persie to end the game with a shot parried round the post.