If the world did stop to watch, then the world’s time was not wasted. This was a night of drama, high skill and no little controversy.
It was not just the night that Jose Mourinho triumphed once more over Alex Ferguson, thanks in so small part to a harsh red card for Nani, nor just the night that the indefatigable Ryan Giggs played a brilliant 1,000th game of his professional career.
It was also the night that Ferguson decided Wayne Rooney was no longer part of his strongest XI.
Perhaps there was a subconscious nod to history for the previous time Real had come to Old Trafford for a Champions League night 10 years ago Ferguson left David Beckham on the bench – and then sold him at the end of the season.
Ferguson insisted that Rooney “still needed a couple more matches”, though the England striker had played an all-action 90 minutes against Norwich. Certainly the selection will serve to further stoke the rumours that Rooney will be offloaded at the end of the season. Even Rooney’s wife Coleen was bemused, tweeting: “Can’t believe @WayneRooney isn’t starting tonight!!!”
The world may have been watching on TV but there were plenty at Old Trafford too – Diego Maradona, was there; so too apparently Gareth Bale.
Before kick-off, the stadium DJ played Enrico Morricone’s spine-tingling music from the final showdown of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – this really was a whites-of-the-eyes fight to the death.
After the first half, even Coleen must have admitted to herself that Fergie had got his team selection just right.
Not only had United constricted Real to such an extent that David de Gea had not had a save to make at the break, but they had piled the pressure on the Madrid goal.
Giggs’ old head had contrived to win a corner off Fabio Coentrao, and the Welshman himself whipped it in for Nemanja Vidic to smash a header against the foot of the post. Danny Welbeck somehow contrived to miss the rebound but he was offside anyway.
The fear factor in the stadium was rising in that too many let-offs could cost United dear – after Robin van Persie had contrived an opening, Diego Lopez parried it straight to the feet of Welbeck but the keeper made amends to block a certain goal.
All Real had to show was one flash of Cristiano Ronaldo magic, nipping to the side of Giggs but firing high and wide.
At half-time it was a ’job done’ team talk for Ferguson, while Mourinho must have displayed some bitten fingernails to his team.
Those nails must have been down to the quick just three minutes into the second half after some panicky defending saw Sergio Ramos turn the ball into his own net.
Then came the Nani dismissal, and one that will burn as an injustice in United hearts for years. He hung his boot high and long in the air as the ball dropped, only to see his studs come into contact with Arbeloa’s chest. There was little in the way of intent or recklessness, nevertheless Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir reached for the red card.
The decision had Ferguson scrambling off his seat in fury: it was not just the severity of the decision, there was no doubt the dawning reality that this was the end of the line.
So it proved: a real screamer by Luka Modric smacked in to the net off the post, then Ronaldo finally had an impact to sweep home a move created by a sweet flick by Mesut Ozil at the far post.
United were down and just about out, and Ferguson sent Rooney on with 17 minutes left and two goals needed.
He had a chance, and a great chance it was too, with six minutes left for a goal that would have lifted the roof off Old Trafford but hooked over from six yards out.
That was it, more or less. Mourinho, not for the first time, departed with the victor’s laurels: seven wins, seven draws and only two defeats is his head-to-head record with Ferguson.
The world switched off, exhausted by the excitement of another epic European night.