While all eyes will be on Messrs Ronaldo and Messi when Manchester United and Barcelona battle it out for a place in the Champions League final, one youngster who took the competition by storm on his debut may well hold the key.
On Tuesday, September 28, 2004, Wayne Rooney (pictured above) – having not kicked a ball since limping out of England’s Euro 2004 campaign – announced his arrival at Old Trafford in spectacular fashion, scoring a breathtaking hat-trick and creating another as he single-handedly tore Fenerbahce apart for his new side.
It was more than expected from the teenage prodigy Sir Alex Ferguson had shelled out £27 million (Dh202.5m) for. Now, three-and-a-half years and a league title later, the explosive ex-Evertonian needs to recapture that form to shoot United into the final in Moscow. Last Wednesday’s 0-0 draw against Barcelona at the Nou Camp saw him disappoint. Asked to play on the right side of midfield, Rooney struggled to make an impact on one of the biggest games of his career. Poor control and bad positioning led to his manager substituting him with 15 minutes left and the England striker could not have had any complaints.
United’s No10 has not been as proliferate as his Portuguese teammate this season, but it’s Rooney’s all-round game – bringing others into play – that compares favourably with Ronaldo.
In Cataluna, however, even that facet failed.
And while the mercurial winger has added a PFA Player of the Year Award to his Young Player of the Year title, Rooney has failed to go that step further.
He has been the man for the big stage before; can he do it again to fire United past the Spanish giants and into an all-England showdown in Russia? Should they progress, who will the reigning Premier League champions face at the Luzhniki Stadium on May 21?
The rather predictable first leg draw at Anfield between old foes Liverpool and Chelsea has set up a familiar conundrum for the return at Stamford Bridge.
Both sides will be wary, and a cagey tie should ensue.
Chelsea will take heart from Rafa Benitez’s failure to see his team even score in the Blues’ backyard since his arrival on Merseyside, but there is one glaring difference in his 2008 model: Fernando Torres.
The Spaniard has been a revelation in his first season – with 30 goals, including five in Europe – and played a key role in his side’s defeat of Arsenal in the quarter-finals.
Chelsea have not lost at home against Premier League opposition in four years, but the Spaniard could be the man to break that trend on Wednesday night.