MANCHESTER, England (AP) — As if there wasn't enough at stake when two of Europe's biggest teams go at it for a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals, there are even more reasons for emotions to run high at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
While one of Manchester United's former stars — Cristiano Ronaldo — returns, the club's longest-serving player — Ryan Giggs — is expected to play the 1,000th match of a glittering career.
And then there's the game itself, with United and Real Madrid level at 1-1 following the first leg of the last 16 of the Champions League.
"As a European night I don't think you can get any bigger than this one," United manager Alex Ferguson said Monday.
Madrid coach Jose Mourinho added: "The world will stop to watch this tie, which doesn't look like a tie. It looks like a final."
It will mark Ronaldo's return since becoming the world's most expensive player in 2009 by swapping Manchester for Madrid in a transfer worth 80 million pounds (then $131 million).
"I think he will have a great reception," Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso said. "But after the match starts all the feeling will be just about giving the best for our team."
Despite having seen his star player leave the club, Ferguson had nothing but superlatives for Ronaldo, calling him a "supreme athlete."
"My biggest concern will be if he turns up," Ferguson quipped, adding that United is more focused on its own game plan. "If we go in wondering about the damage Cristiano can give us, then we will forget some of the things we can do ourselves."
It was Ferguson who helped to turn Ronaldo into one of football's most lethal attacking forces during six seasons at United.
When Ronaldo left Manchester in 2009, few would have expected Giggs to still be playing at the highest level four years later.
But the 39-year-old Welsh winger remains at integral part of the team.
"You set out different goals at the beginning of your career," said Giggs, whose latest contract takes him up to the end of next season. "You want to get into the team, then you want to stay in the team, then you want to win things and you never think you are going to get to a 1,000 games.
"I am proud of what I have done. I have worked hard, I have had a lot of things go for me — the continuity of the manager being here, playing with good players."