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Friday Flashback: The free-kick that defied physics

This week, we travel back to January 2008 to catch Cristiano Ronaldo at the peak of his Manchester United career.

Manchester United v Liga De Quito - FIFA Club World Cup 2008 Final Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

The visit of Portsmouth to Old Trafford in January 2008 was expected to bring a routine victory for Manchester United, and that’s pretty much how it turned out.

The Premier League encounter was unremarkable in most respects, but will be long remembered for a moment of magic from Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Potuguese star was at the peak of his powers throughout the 2007-08 season, and would, of course, go on to score 42 goals to help United secure a Premier League and Champions League double, before collecting the Ballon d’Or for his efforts.

Manchester United v Portsmouth - FA Cup Quarter Final Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

And in this match, after just 10 minutes, Ronaldo had fired the Red Devils into the lead with his 26th goal of the season.

But it was his second, less than three minutes later, that had fans inside Old Trafford rubbing the eyes in disbelief.

A free-kick 25 yards from goal, right of centre. The former Sporting CP player had already earned a reputation as one of the deadliest free-kick takers on the planet, honing his now trademark dipping and swerving technique.

Ronaldo, in his now famous stance (well, perhas a slightly less exaggerated version of it) eyes up the wall and David James’ position in the Portsmouth goal. Does he avoid the wall and aim for the side guarded by the goalkeeper? Or try to get the ball up and over, or even around, the wall into the more exposed side of the goal.

He runs up, and with little backlift, connects with the ball in that punching manner that seems to generate such unpredictable movement.

The ball seems to pass high above the wall, destined for the stands, until suddenly, an incredible dip and swerve sees it settle just beneath the crossbar, and into the top corner of the net, kissing the frame of the goal on its way in.

Ronaldo doesn’t sprint off in celebration. He stands where his is, flexing his muscles and shouting as if to affirm that this is just what he expected to happen. Wayne Rooney leads the charge of team-mates rushing to celebrate with their star man. They appear to be in disbelief at the marvel of physics the Portuguese has just conjured. Ronaldo is completely unsurprised.

The game finished 2-0, a routine win for United in their march to the title.

Afterward, Sir Alex Ferguson had high praise for Ronaldo’s dead-ball prowess: "David Beckham's strike rate was pretty good," He said. "Eric Cantona used to take them too but Ronaldo's strike rate is phenomenal.

"That without doubt must be the best (I've seen in the Premier League). From that distance he is going to hit them. No keeper in the world would save that.

"The boy practises. It's a delight to see, terrific."