Why Ronaldo 2008 Champions League final goal was iconic

Today marks the 16th anniversary of Manchester United’s victory over Chelsea in the 2008 UEFA Champions League final. Some fans will struggle to remember the finer details, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s iconic opening goal at the Luzhniki Stadium is still easy to recall.

Lurking with menace on Michael Essien’s blind side, Ronaldo tracked a curling Wes Brown left-footed cross before he exploded vertically into the evening air. A perfectly-timed glancing header followed, leaving Chelsea keeper Petr Cech, who was nailed to his position and helpless.

The moment capped a sequence of ethereal moments across the 2007/08 season for Cristiano Ronaldo, and provided the last of his 42 goals for the campaign. Some would argue with great confidence that it was also the one that clinched his first Ballon d'Or.

Ronaldo scores his iconic 2008 Champions League Final goal – Photo by Icon Sport

‘Ronaldo 2008' – a special type of vintage

There can be no doubt that 2008 was the year that Ronaldo truly completed his transition from wonderkid to world-beater. It was the end point of a five-season metamorphosis at Manchester United, which saw the attacker transformed from a party-tricking teenager into a match-winning machine.

In December 2008, Cristiano Ronaldo was awarded the first of his five Ballon d’or awards, and his eye for the spectacular in the biggest games helped him earn it. In that regard, five other goals stand out as particularly memorable contributors towards that sparkling accolade.

December 2017 – Ronaldo flaunts his Ballon d'Or awards Photo : Marca / Icon Sport

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Portsmouth (Premier League, January 30th, 2008)

The knuckleball free kick has been one of the most potent weapons in Cristiano Ronaldo’s armoury over the course of his glittering career, and his effort with that technique from a dead ball against Portsmouth in January 2008 might just have been his magnum opus in that regard.

With the ball set at least 35 yards from the Pompey goal, Ronaldo paced out his run-up distance, squared his shoulders in his famed gunslinger stance and strode forward to send an unstoppable Exocet missile over the Portsmouth wall and into the top corner.

The ferocity of the strike threatened to tear the net off David James’ goal, as the former England number one laughed at the ridiculousness of what had just occurred, motioning in a ‘what could I have possibly done?' shrug to his teammates.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lyon (Champions League, March 4th, 2008)

Man Utd’s Last 16 tussle with Lyon during their successful Champions League campaign in 2007/08 often gets lost in the ether, though Sir Alex Ferguson’s charges had to battle hard to overcome the dogged French side.

After a 1-1 draw in the first leg in France – which featured goals from Karim Benzema and Carlos Tevez – United held all the aces ahead of the return fixture at Old Trafford, though the game was ultimately settled by a single goal, delivered after 41 minutes.

While the goal itself – a scrappy left footer from about eight yards – didn’t live long in the memory, its impact was pivotal, keeping United’s quest for a third-ever Champions League crown alive.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Derby County (Premier League, March 15th, 2008)

With the Premier League’s climax on the horizon and fast approaching, Man Utd were locked in a two-way battle for top spot in the division with rivals Chelsea. And with every point on offer potentially crucial, United looked like they were about to drop two away to the worst team in PL history – Derby's 11-point class of 2007/08.

Desperate to avoid such a dismal result, Ronaldo was cutting an increasingly frustrated figure, having missed a series of excellent opportunities. However, he finally struck gold in the 76th minute, and after sprinting forward to meet a Wayne Rooney cross from the left, he side-footed home a winner heard around the country.

That slender win at Pride Park put United back on top of the league – a position they held on to for the rest of the season.

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrated scoring his 100th goal for Man Utd a few months after that win at Derby.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Roma (Champions League, April 1st, 2008)

Before Manchester United earned a place in the 2008 Champions League final, they had stiff challenges to overcome in the earlier knockout rounds, including a tough quarter-final test in the form of a double-header against a robust Roma outfit.

In the first leg, which was played at the Stadio Olimpico, the teams were feeling each other out, before Cristiano Ronaldo produced a spectacular deadlock-breaker in the 39th minute. Paul Scholes was the architect, standing up a cross from the right to marry up with Ronaldo’s run at breakneck speed into the penalty area.

It looked as though Ronaldo was fired by catapult from the left into centre frame on TV screens and the attacker buried his header on arrival past Brazilian keeper Doni.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Stoke (Premier League, November 15th, 2008)

While the occasion was far from mammoth, and the eventual 5-0 win over Stoke was routine, Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener against the Potters was a significant moment for the Portuguese star. That's because it was his 100th Manchester United goal.

Typically, Ronaldo reached his major milestone in spectacular fashion after only three minutes, when he showcased his uncanny ability to strike a dead ball. Positioned wide on the left flank, Ronaldo resisted the pull to cross the ball into the box and instead leathered a screaming cannonball past the Stoke stopper.

Ronaldo bookended another scintillating display when he notched United’s fifth goal with just a minute left on the clock, making immediate inroads towards a second century.


Simon Winter is a professional football tipster and sports journalist with over ten years in the industry. Best known for his time with Racing Post, Simon has also had work published by Freesupertips, Bloomberg Sports, bet365, Paddy Power, Colossus Bets, These Football Times and more. Simon covers the Bundesliga and Serie A for Football Whispers.