The veteran keeper was out quickly to thwart Morientes and made two splendid diving saves to frustrate van Nistelrooy to prove he has lost none of his athleticism. Ronny Johnsen was fortunate not to concede a penalty after a tangle with Salgado before Morientes finally broke the deadlock, shortly after going close with a prodded effort. With six minutes of the first half remaining, the former Liverpool centre-forward collected a pass from Claude Makelele and unleashed a shot from the edge of the box, as he was closed down, that found the bottom corner of the net.
Van Nistelrooy switched sides at the interval and United instantly posed more of a threat with Yorke claiming a penalty after a tussle with Fernando Hierro. However, Johnsen was forced to make a superb, if painful, block on Ruben de la Red and the Real substitute also forced another stop out of van der Sar.
Morientes spurned a glorious opportunity to double his and Madrid's tally when delaying his finish after being picked out by Figo but clipping wide of an inviting target. Another break with the hosts stretched saw Figo test van der Sar with a bending drive and the Dutch keeper was equal to the task in stunning fashion.
Yet United did at least now look capable of getting on the scoresheet, thanks largely to van Nistelrooy's presence. The prolific striker dived to head off target when Pedro Contreras appealed unsuccessfully for a foul by Andy Cole after an Irwin corner came off Jose Amavisca. Following an inch-perfect pass by Scholes, van Nistelrooy then rolled a shot just wide with the Reds' best effort of the game at that point.
More was to come from the ex-Hamburg forward who was really coming to the fore. Latching onto a pass down the right by Yorke, he rampaged into the box and smashed a shot high into the net past Carlos Sanchez to bring the house down. Back on level terms on the day, only an acrobatic tip-over by Sanchez kept out Cole's stooping header after another burst by van Nistelrooy.