Manchester United were eliminated from the Champions League in controversial fashion as Cristiano Ronaldo returned to poke in Real Madrid's winner at Old Trafford.

Nani was erroneously red carded on 56 minutes by referee Cüneyt Çakır with United 1-0 ahead thanks to Sergio Ramos' own goal shortly after the interval.

Substitute Luka Modrić's rifled strike then levelled the match and the tie just after the hour mark before Ronaldo pounced three minutes later.

nani

Nani was harshly red carded

The Portuguese's dismissal was another slice of luck for José Mourinho at Old Trafford, nine years after his Porto side were the benefactors of an egregious offside call against Paul Scholes after he scored legitimately. Mourinho offered Nani a sympathetic pat and appeared as baffled by the referee's decision as Sir Alex Ferguson was furious.

Madrid enjoyed the sterile domination but it was United who came closest to breaking the deadlock in an enterprising first half.

The ageless Ryan Giggs' corner was headed onto the post by captain Nemanja Vidić in the first 45's outstanding chance, while Diego López denied Robin van Persie and then the gamely Danny Welbeck with routine saves.

Gonzalo Higuaín meanwhile had a goal disallowed in front of the Stretford End when Madrid captain Sergio Ramos was penalised for a foul on Van Persie from a set-piece.

United broke the deadlock in untidy fashion after the pause when Raphaël Varane failed to clear and Nani's low cross was helped on by Welbeck to ricochet off the hopeless Ramos.

cristiano ronaldo

Muted celebration: Ronaldo came back to haunt United again

Nani, monitoring an aerial ball, then caught Alvaro Arbeloa accidentally to concede what appeared to be a foul and yellow card. Only Çakır decided otherwise and sent the perplexed Portuguese off to a cacophony of jeers.

Already struggling to retain possession with 11 men, United weathered the storm for 10 minutes before Modrić's fantastic strike swerved in off David de Gea's post. The selfless Higuaín then delivered an inviting cross for Ronaldo to capitalise at the far post to win the tie.

Veteran López denied Michael Carrick, Van Persie and Vidić as United delivered a spirited, yet fruitless, onslaught to the soundtrack of a defiant Old Trafford.

"The best team lost," shrugged a humble Mourinho. The last time he said that was when his Chelsea team were eliminated by Liverpool in 2005. It suited him more eight years ago.

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  • Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid reacts after scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second leg match between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford on March 5, 2013 in Manchester, United Kingdom.

  • Manchester United v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Round of 16

    MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 05: Real Madrid Manager Jose Mourinho gives orders to Cristiano Ronaldo during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second leg match between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford on March 5, 2013 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

  • Cristiano Ronaldo del Real Madrid durante el partido contra Manchester United por la Liga de Campeones el martes 5 de marzo de 2013. (AP Foto/Jon Super)

  • Gonzalo Higuaín del Real Madrid pega el centro que Cristiano Ronaldo remata a gol en el partido contra Manchester United por la Liga de Campeones el martes 5 de marzo de 2013. (AP Foto/Jon Super)

  • Manchester United players try to remonstrate with referee Cuneyt Cakir after their Champions League round of 16 soccer match against Real Madrid at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Cuneyt Cakir gave a red card to United's Nani during the match. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Wayne Rooney shows his dejection after a missed chance against Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Wayne Rooney shows his dejection after his teams 2-1 defeat against Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

  • Manchester United's Ryan Giggs reacts after his teammate Nani was shown a red card during the Champions League round of 16 soccer match against Real Madrid at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

  • Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo from Portugal smiles as he sits on the pitch during their Champions League round of 16 soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Real won the match 2-1 to beat Manchester United 3-2 on aggregate. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Nani celebrates after an own goal by Real Madrid's Garcia Sergio Ramos during the UEFA Champions League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Nani celebrates after an own goal by Real Madrid's Garcia Sergio Ramos during the UEFA Champions League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

  • Real Madrid players congratulate Luka Modric from Croatia, left, after he scored against Manchester United during their Champions League round of 16 soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Nani celebrates after an own goal by Real Madrid's Garcia Sergio Ramos during the UEFA Champions League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Nani is sent off after receiving a red card from referee Cuneyt Cakir during the UEFA Champions League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Nani receives a red card from referee Cuneyt Cakir during the UEFA Champions League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

  • Real Madrid's smiles as he sits on the pitch during their Champions League round of 16 soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Real won the match 2-1 to beat Manchester United 3-2 on aggregate. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Wayne Rooney after the final whistle

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson (centre) looks on as his player Luis Nani (not in picture) is issued with a red card

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Luis Nani (centre) looks shocked as he is issued a red card

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Nani receives a red card from referee Cuneyt Cakir during the UEFA Champions League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

  • Manchester United players try to remonstrate with referee Cuneyt Cakir after their Champions League round of 16 soccer match against Real Madrid at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Cuneyt Cakir gave a red card to United's Nani during the match. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Real Madrid's goalekeeper Rodriguez Diego Lopez and Manchester United's Robin van Persie battle for the ball

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand after the game

  • Real Madrid players celebrate after being Manchester United in a Champions League round of 16 soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Robin Van Persie (left) and Ryan Giggs show their dejection after a missed chance against Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson after the final whistle

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson after the final whistle

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Wayne Rooney after the final whistle

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Real Madrid's manager Jose Mourinho

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson (left) and Real Madrid's manager Jose Mourinho On the touchline

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson (left) and Real Madrid's manager Jose Mourinho On the touchline

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Ryan Giggs and Robin van Persie (left)

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Real Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez (left) makes a save from Manchester United's Danny Welbeck (right)

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (front) celebrates scoring his teams second goal of the game with teammates

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (front) celebrates scoring his teams second goal of the game with teammates

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Ryan Giggs and Robin van Persie (right)

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Real Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez (left) makes a save from Manchester United's Danny Welbeck (centre)

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (right) and Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso

  • Real Madrid players celebrate after being Manchester United in a Champions League round of 16 soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea makes a save

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson gives directions to his players from the touchline

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson looks at a linesman on the touchline

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho on the touchline

  • Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson, left, reacts as Real Madrid's coach Jose Mourinho from Portugal gestures from the touchline during their Champions League round of 16 soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

  • Manchester United's Robin van Persie, left, and Michael Carrick react after Real Madrid scored their second goal during their Champions League round of 16 soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

  • Real Madrid's Kaka from Brazil, center, and Mesut Ozil from Germany congratulate Luka Modric from Croatia, left, after he scored against Manchester United during their Champions League round of 16 soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

  • Manchester United players react after their teammate Nani was shown a red card during the Champions League round of 16 soccer match against Real Madrid at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

  • Manchester United's Patrice Evra, rear, challenges Real Madrid's Luka Modric from Croatia during their Champions League round of 16 soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

  • Manchester United's Nani, 2nd left, is shown a red card during the Champions League round of 16 soccer match against Real Madrid at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Robin van Persie (centre) and his team-mates stand dejected after they concede the first goal

  • Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16 - Second Leg - Manchester United v Real Madrid - Old Trafford

    Manchester United's Robin van Persie (left) and his team-mates stand dejected after they concede the first goal