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Denis Law exchanges pennants with Real Madrid's captain Francisco Gento ahead of United's 1968 European Cup semi-final first leg at Old Trafford

How we beat Europe's leading side in 1968

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Fifty years ago today (24 April), Manchester United defeated Real Madrid 1-0 in the first leg of the European Cup semi-final at Old Trafford.

George Best scored the only goal of the tie to hand Matt Busby's men a slender advantage to take over to the Spanish capital.
Video
John Aston (right) leaps for the ball with Real Madrid's Perez during the 1968 European Cup semi-final first leg at Old Trafford
Watch action from the 1968 European Cup semi-final, first-leg clash with Real Madrid

“We drew Madrid and, of course, everybody was fearing Real in those days,” David Sadler, one of the key men on the night, told MUTV. “They were very much the leaders in the European matches, starting in the 1950s, and had won everything there was to win in the game, including European Cups and so on.

”They were a major, major force and United, I guess through Matt and Alfredo di Stefano in particular, had a great friendship that grew through the club and fed its way through to the players. We had terrific respect for Real. To get to a semi-final was pretty much an achievement in itself, I guess, but losing at that stage is the worst feeling in football. We were going into the semi-final with a fair amount of hope that we could make the final.

“I remember it being tight. Madrid knew how to play European football - they knew there was a time for being very tight and giving nothing away. They had very talented attacking players but those players knew their jobs. They were a tough, well-organised unit.

”When you say Real Madrid, fast-flowing football and goals galore is probably your first thought but they were a better side than that. They could play to whatever circumstances were required. That's what they did in the first leg and we found it very tough. 

“I don't think we played particularly well but we got a goal, a George Best goal, so at least we were going into the second leg with something to defend.”

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