Manchester United's UEFA Champions League
campaign started with their qualifying games against LKS Lodz of Poland. The first leg was
at home, and United faced a team content to pack the defence and without much attacking
ambition. United attacked at will and opened the scoring after 16 minutes with a sweet
side-step and shot from Giggs. A header from Cole after 81 minutes made the match result
In the second leg, with a 2-0 deficit to chase the Poles
were transformed as a side and attacked from the outset. United reacted calmly and kept
the Poles at bay with simple and safe passing. After gaining composure, United made the
occasional chance, and the 0-0 draw was enough to see United progress.
United's reward in the Champions League was 'the group of
death'. United's Group D comprising Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Brondby.
United's opener in Group D was a home tie against
Barcelona. Beckham flourished in midfield and provided the ball with which Solskjaer
struck the Spanish bar, then provided a deep cross which Giggs headed home. One-nil to
United. Then after 25 minutes Beckham found Yorke, his overhead kick rebounding for
Scholes to convert for 2-0. After this Barcelona had a goal disallowed for offside before
Anderson made it 2-1 on 47 minutes. Then a Barcelona penalty made it 2-2 on the hour. Four
minutes later, a Beckham freekick curled perfectly from 25 yards out made it 3-2 to
United, before a handball by Nicky Butt for which he was sent off gave Barcelona their
second penalty of the night to square the game 3-3 in a breathtaking contest.
Next United faced Bayern Munich. Bayern's Brazilian Elber
put the Germans ahead after 11 minutes from what may have been an off-side position. In
reply United slowly consolidated before Beckham produced another of his trademark crosses
for Yorke to find the net with a diving header. Sheringham was excelling in his deep-lying
role and United took control. On 49 minutes United took the lead with Scholes winning a
50:50 challenge against keeper Kahn before finding the net. Bayern pushed forward to find
an equaliser but United held on with Schmeichel denying them, until an uncharacteristic
error by United's keeper, coming for and then missing a ball that should have been left
for Stam, allowed Bayern to level at 2-2.
After two draws against two of Europe's top clubs United
wanted to produce their first win in the Group. United responded with six goals to bury
Brondby in what was a record away win in Champions League history. Giggs scored the first
after just 2 minutes after the Brondby keeper spilled a cross from Wes Brown. Giggs
followed up with his and United's second after 21 minutes, before Cole's superb exchanges
with Yorke made it 3-0 after 28 minutes. Brondby got one back before Keane added United's
forth. Yorke made it 5-1 before Solskjaer, on as substitute scored with his first touch to
make it 6-1. A coasting United allowed Brondby to snatch a second in the final minute and
the match finished 2-6. On the same evening Bayern defeated Barcelona, a result which left
United on top of Group D.
Brondby's return to Old Trafford resulted in similar
demolition. United were 3-0 up within 16 minutes courtesy of goals from Beckham, Cole, and
Phil Neville. Beckham's opener was a free-kick from 30 yards driven low past the keeper
while Cole got United's second with a wonderful chip after working with partner Yorke to
make the opening. Yorke himself added United's fourth after 28 minutes. One more strike,
from Scholes after 62 minutes resulted in a comprehensive 5-0 victory.
United's next opposition was away to face a Barcelona side
that had to win to stay in the competition. It was a match that was to eclipse even the
earlier thrilling 3-3 contest at Old Trafford. The drama began after only 49 seconds when
Anderson found the net. Barcelona pushed forward with waves of attacks but United stood
firm with Schmeichel outstanding. Soon it was United that began to threaten, and
Blomqvist's footwork set up Yorke to level the score after 25 minutes with a low drive
from the edge of the box. This was followed by a superb goal in which Cole and Yorke
exchanged before Cole produced the perfect finish. United were 2-1 up for just four
minutes, before Rivaldo executed a curling free-kick after 57 minutes. The match retained
its tempo and United regained the lead after 68 minutes, Beckham crossing for Yorke to
head powerfully home. Needing the win, Barcelona pushed forward again, and Rivaldo
levelled the score at 3-3 with an overhead kick. It was Rivaldo again who hit United's bar
with a 30 yard strike, but United held out and the 3-3 draw was applauded by both sets of
The final match of the Group for United was one which also
involved both sides in mathematical calculations; results else where and a draw would be
enough to see both teams progress. In the event the draw saw United go through as one of
the best two runners up, and as the competitions top scorers and placed in the toughest
Group, it was well deserved. In a big match, Wes Brown again looked composed and the game
was surprisingly open. However, it remained scoreless until the 43rd minute when Beckham
found Giggs, who in turn found Keane at the edge of the box from where the captain fizzed
in a low shot. Old Trafford erupted, but Bayern raised their tempo and Salhamidzic made it
1-1 after 56 minutes. United held on for the final 30 minutes, and a place in the Quarter
Final was secured.
|Group D Final Table
United's opponents in the Quarter Finals
were Internazionale Milan. It was a night in which Beckham was to play against Simeone,
the player at the centre of his sending-off in the previous Summer's World Cup game for
England. In the event, it was Beckham's evening and the Spanish side never got to grips
with Beckham's crossing and Yorke's finishing. The first came after 6 minutes, the second
on 45 minutes; both times Beckham crossing and Yorke rising to head the ball home. Simeone
himself netted the ball in the second half, but his effort was harshly disallowed for
pushing. Schmeichel was at his best and made fabulous saves from Zamorano and Ventola.
Then deep into stoppage time after the keeper had again blocked brilliantly, this time
from Colonnese, it was Berg that blocked on the line when a goal had seemed inevitable.
With United taking a 2-0 lead to the away leg, it was a
night for character as much as skill. For most of the match United were under pressure as
Inter fought to open the scoring. The United defence were solid, and Berg was outstanding.
However, French referee Gilles Veissiere deserves a mention for his excellent performance;
standing firm against an intimidating atmosphere to turn down a catalogue of desperate
dives and play-acting from the home team. United rode their luck, Zanetti hitting the
post, Schmeichel produced a fine save from a half-fit Ronaldo, and the sterling Berg
denying the home side. United survived until the 63rd minute when Ventola made it 1-0.
Thereafter Inter attacked in waves seeking their second, the tension increasing by the
minute, until Scholes clinically taken chance from eight yards out levelled the score at
1-1 and secured United's progress to the Semi Finals.
The Semi Final pitched United against Juventus. For an hour
of the match, United at home were outplayed by the visitors. The Italian side was full of
quality, and Zidane and Davids looked awesome. Juventus fully deserved to take the lead
after 25 minutes when Conte netted with a low cross-shot. United fashioned occasional
chances, but it was only midway through the second half that they began to impose
themselves, Giggs and Keane both testing the Juventus keeper Peruzzi. Sheringham came on
for Yorke, and United pushed forward for an equaliser. Sheringham seemed to have produced
the goal after 86 minutes, but it was ruled off-side. Scholes and Cole both missed
opportunities, before in the 90th minute, Juventus failed to clear Beckham's overhead
cross, and Giggs was on hand to lash the ball high into the roof of the net from four
yards out. At 1-1 United faced a huge task in the second leg; needing an away win against
The second leg of the Semi Final saw United rise to supreme
heights, and forge one of the most stirring comebacks in European football history; it was
only to be surpassed for it's drama by the Final itself. Juventus were 2-0 up in only 11
minutes, Inzaghi scoring after 6 minutes, and then poaching a second after a deflection
off Stam. United however were unbowed, instead they pulled one back after 34 minutes with
Keane's header from a Beckham corner. United were now the better side and after Stam had
headed off his own line to keep Juventus at bay, Yorke made it 2-2. There after both sides
had chances, with United the closer, twice hitting the post. A 2-2 draw with the away
goals would have been enough for United, but Cole put the result beyond doubt six minutes
from time. Sadly bookings for Keane and Scholes meant they would miss the Final, but
United were there and it was to be against Bayern Munich in Barcelona.
The European Champions League Cup Final of 1999 will remain
long in the memories of all football fans. For United it was to produce an unbelievable
climax to an incredible season. Seeking an unprecedented treble, United had already
secured the Premier League Championship and F.A.Cup. The European Cup had eluded them for
31 years since Busby's triumph of 1968. The 1999 triumph when it came, with the way it
happened, was hard to take in.
The German side had settled quicker and made the better
start, and after just 6 minutes a free-kick from Basler put them 1-0 up. The free-kick
itself was controversial as Johnsen's challenge on Jancker appeared to be accidental.
United however went on to enjoy the better part of possession in the first-half, and
Beckham being asked to play in an unfamiliar role in centre of midfield was impressive.
Thereafter United pushed forward but without reward, and Bayern looked composed. As time
ran out United pushed further forward and allowed Bayern to counter-attack. Schmeichel
made saves from both Effenberg and Scholl, and United hearts stood still as Scholl chipped
against the post and Jancker hit the cross bar five minutes later.
Still United refused to give in but chances for Yorke,
Sheringham, and Solskjaer slipped away. The 90 minutes were up and all that remained was
three minutes of added time.
The Bayern colours were already being tied to the trophy
when United were awarded a corner in stoppage time. Then followed the most astonishing
resurrection in the history of the competition; if not any major world football Final.
United's corner was taken by Beckham. The ball arrived at the feet of Giggs who mishit his
shot towards Sheringham who was able to steer the ball just inside the Bayern net. The red
half of the Stadium erupted, and in the commentary gantry the sound of the noise enveloped
the television coverage before ITV commentator Clive Tyldsley simply proffered to the
millions watching back home "...name on the trophy."
Moments later, with Bayern still in shock, another Beckham
corner was nodded across the goal and this time Solskjaer poked the ball past Kahn and
into the roof of the Bayern goal. Again the red half of the Stadium erupted, and again in
the commentary gantry the sound of the noise enveloped the television coverage for several
seconds before the immaculately measured words of commentator Tyldsley observed
"...Manchester United have reached the promised land." Seconds later the
referees whistle was blown, and they had.
Bayern Munich: 1 (Basler 6)
Kahn, Babbel, Kuffour, Linke, Matthaus (Fink 80), Tarnat, Jeremies, Effenburg, Basler
(Salihamidzic 90), Zickler (Scholl 71), Jancker
Manchester United: 2 (Sheringham 90, Solskjaer 90)
Schmeichel, Irwin, Johnsen, Stam, G Neville, Blomqvist (Sheringham 67), Butt, Beckham,
Giggs, Yorke, Cole (Solskjaer 81)