Manchester United had waited 31 years to
play in a European Cup Final. The pressure and burden of expectation would have been
immense under any circumstances, but this team were also on the brink of completing the
first ever treble.
Watching the United team in training in Barcelona Ferguson
sported a red United shirt from the great Busby era of 1968. Aware of the clubs heritage,
Ferguson was also wearing his heart on his sleeve in terms of his pride in his own young
In a pre-match interview Ferguson observed "They're
special. They're all special. They could have played for three days on Saturday. They were
buzzing in training the day after the FA Cup Final. We've had no time to relax, but we've
enjoyed the challenges in the League and the FA Cup, and now we're prepared for
Fatigue, it seems, was not an option. Fergie acknowledged
the fact that Bayern won their title some time previously and have not yet had their
domestic Cup Final. They had time to rest and prepare for the match. Surely that's a great
position to be in? "An outsider might think that, and I'd understand. But I know my
players. I'd rather be in the position we're in with my players than any other," he
stressed. "We've done our homework as best we can, and we know exactly how they'll
play. You're just waiting for one individual to change the game." Was he thinking of
Stefan Effenberg, Bayern's inspirational but volatile midfielder? "We're aware of
Effenberg. You have to be." No more, no less.
Ferguson closed the press conference with words that
confirmed that this trophy is the one he's always wanted. "I'll be the happiest man
in the world if we win it," he beamed.
United were forced to go into the big match without Keane
and Scholes due to suspensions. Without the option to play the midfield he would have
preferred, Ferguson was going to rely heavily on Beckham. Then Manchester United appeared to suffer a late blow to
their European Cup Final plans on the Tuesday night before the game. Star midfielder David
Beckham limped away from the training session with an ice-pack on his right thigh, having
pulled up during the hour-long exercise. In the event
Beckham was able to play, and was to be a strong candidate for man of the match.
Then there was the match itself, recorded by the official
Manchester United Web site as follows.
Look up the word
"occasion" in any dictionary - English, German or Spanish, and you should see a
picture of the Nou Camp stadium, taken in the minutes before kick off in the 1999 European
Champions League Final. To say it's big is to damn it with feint praise. The European Cup
Final. On what would have been Sir Matt Busby's 90th birthday. Peter Schmeichel's last
game with the club. At the Nou Camp, Barcelona. It couldn't be bigger if it tried. A
fantastic stadium, an incredible atmosphere, and the biggest game in club football to look
forward to. If you could bottle this feeling, you'd make a fortune.
But back down to earth. When the team sheets were passed around, the name of Jesper
Blomqvist was on everyone's lips. Many column inches have been filled recently speculating
how Alex Ferguson would fill the midfield gap left by the suspended Roy Keane. In the end,
he did the unexpected, which, ironically, we should have expected.
David Beckham recovered from the knock he picked up in training, and moved into centre
midfield while Blomqvist patrolled the left flank, moving Giggs to the right. Despite his
match winning performance on Saturday, there was no place for Teddy Sheringham in the
starting eleven, the resurgent England man having to be content with a place on the bench
alongside David May, who many expected to fill in at centre-back. With Ronny Johnsen not
being deployed in midfield, he was not needed.
The Bayern team came as no surprise, largely because Ottmar Hitzfeld named it 48 hours
ahead of the match. A supreme show of confidence, or an act of gross stupidity. Only time
A spectacular, colourful opening ceremony got the evening underway, with dancing girls,
inflatable statues and loud music getting proceedings off to a lively start. I wouldn't
like to think what Sir Matt would have thought about it all, but it certainly heightened
the party atmosphere within the ground. Monserrat Cabelle, the opera singer, made probably
not the most graceful entrance of her career, on the back of a truck, to serenade the
crowd with a rendition of "Barcelona." Then the football, never in danger of
being overshadowed, started. The roar that greeted the teams was something to behold. This
is what we were here for.
The first event of the match was a free-kick awarded to Bayern after Jancker was felled on
the edge of the area by Johnsen. The Bayern fans called for a penalty, but the Italian
referee was sure it was outside the box. It did not matter to Mario Basler. Just outside
the box, he struck a sweet shot that curled past Peter Schmeichel on his left hand side
and into the net. 1-0 to Bayern after just five minutes. But we've been here before. Don't
That is what Schmeichel seemed to do just two minutes later. A misunderstanding with
Johnsen almost let Jeremies in, but the Dane got himself out of trouble with a hasty
Bayern chances were coming thick and fast, and Basler put in a great ball to Zickler in
the ninth minute. A well-timed interception took the ball to safety. Nervous times.
United's first real chance came in the 14th minute, when Jaap Stam rose well to head the
ball on to Cole. The striker lost the ball at his feet, but fortuitously regained it, and
got off a shot that looped off a defender's boot. The whole stadium watched as the ball,
almost in slow motion, passed just wide of Kahn's post.
Effenberg did well in the 16th minute to create a chance for Jeremies, but the German
international did not get a proper shot off, and Schmeichel saved comfortably.
Kahn had to be at his best in the
20th minute, when Andy Cole motored into the area, and got up well at the near post. He
met Beckham's corner with his head, close in on Kahn, but the goalkeeper did well to punch
clear. United began to put some of the pressure back on the Germans in the following six
minutes, culminating in a good move involving Butt and Giggs. Butt received the ball on
the edge of the area, shimmied, trying to make a yard of space for himself, but his touch
was too strong, and gifted the Bayern defence the ball.
Zickler had a shot from distance after Beckham has been dispossessed by Jeremies a minute
later, but his shot went wide of a diving Schmeichel.
United just needed a change in luck. They were making all the right moves, but the final
ball was more often than not cut out, or a weak shot came at the end of a good move. That
was well illustrated when Giggs broke with pace down the right, delivered a good ball to
Yorke, only for his shot to take a deflection, which took all the sting out of it.
United were on the back foot again in the 36th minute, when Basler made a darting run
towards the area. Butt tackled well, but the rebound fell to Zickler. He tried hard to get
a shot in, but was tackled before he could do so.
Beckham struck a good free kick from 30 yards with five minutes to play, but Kahn just
watched as it curled wide of his right-hand post.
Giggs almost broke through in the 42nd minute, but the throughball was just too weighty,
and Kahn claimed at the winger's feet. That summed up United's frustrating half perfectly.
Panic almost set into the United defence in the dying moments of the half, as all three
Bayern strikers converged on goal. Johnsen kept calm to bring the ball clear.
No changes were made at half-time. Maybe the change of ends would suit United, attacking
towards their own fans. Bayern started as they had finished - pressurising. Matthaus
played a sweet ball through to Jancker, and Schmeichel got down well to put the German's
opportunistic toe-poke out for a corner.
A comedy of errors ensued in the 50th minute, when Butt stooped to head back Irwin's
throw-in. The defender's resultant back-pass to Schmeichel put the keeper in trouble, and
his clearance was blocked by an onrushing striker. Fortunately, it rebounded to safety.
Still no improvement from the first half. Giggs pounced on a loose ball in the 53rd
minute, and crossed for Yorke. Linke got his head in first, however, and nullified the
Blomqvist had United's best chance of the match so far, when Giggs again broke free on the
right. His pinpoint cross only needed the slightest touch to be diverted into the goal,
but the Swede got under the ball, sent it flying high over the bar, and was left holding
his head in his hands, prone in the Bayern six yard box.
Effenberg was booked in the 59th minute for a tackle from behind on Giggs. Mario Basler
attempted a Beckham-like shot from just inside United's half in the 63rd minute, seeing
Schmeichel off his line. The shot was just too strong, however, and sailed over
24 minutes to go, and Teddy Sheringham was introduced in place of Jesper Blomqvist. His
arrival was greeted by the crowd similar to that of a prodigal son. Yorke dropped off the
two strikers, in search of space, and more importantly, the ball.
Gary Neville's throw-in in the 68th minute saw Yorke touch it on to Cole, whose attempted
bicycle kick did not come off, sending the ball away from goal.
Mehmet Scholl came on for Bayern in the 70th minute, replacing Alexander Zickler. In the
next minute, Effenberg struck a great shot from way outside the area, but the rocket flew
just wide of Schmeichel's left hand post. Jancker and Effenberg combined well with 72
minutes on the clock, and Schmeichel had to pull off a world class, fingertip save to deny
Basler made another great run with 12 minutes to go, and set up Scholl on the edge of the
area. His little chip beat Schmeichel all ends up, and came back off the post. United
Lothar Matthaus was replaced by Thorsten Fink with 10 minutes to go. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
came on for Andy Cole a minute later. United forced a couple of good opportunities, but
the Bayern defence held firm.
Schmeichel saved well again in the last eight minutes, turning away Babbel's shot for a
corner. From the corner, Jancker's athletic overhead shot rebounded off Schmeichel s
crossbar to safety. Twice had the woodwork come to United's rescue. That tells its own
Sheringham almost performed the heroics again after being put in by Solskjaer, but his
shot was weak and presented Kahn with no problems. A minute later, Yorke missed the ball
completely after Beckham's little touch in the area.
One minute to play, and
Sheringham came to United's rescue. Beckham's corner fell to Giggs on the edge of the
area, he shot and Teddy deflected the ball into the net. Unbelievable. 1-1.
Better was still to come. Another Beckham corner. Another Sheringham touch. This time
Solskjaer hooked it in. Two goals in a minute. Liverpool revisited. Absolutely incredible!
2-1 to United. Bayern were finished.
We hardly had two chances all match, then two late, late strikes won us the European Cup
and the treble. What a team. What a night. One word - fantastic!
After the match Ole Gunnar
Solskjaer was asked for his reaction "The feeling is difficult to describe just
now," said a beaming Ole. His and Sheringham's goals, back to back at the death,
shattered Bayern Munich, who had led for 86 minutes or more. Throughout that time, United
kept going and it was their perseverance which told in the end. "The team spirit is
unbelievable here, which is why I stayed. Everyone works and plays for each other,"
explained the match-winner. Coming on as a second half substitute, Solskjaer had earlier
watched in agony as United failed, time after time, to make a significant breakthrough,
despite seeing a lot of the ball. "We had to score goals after having all that
possession," he said. "Somebody just had to do it!"
As everybody tried to take in what they had just witnessed, the proud United manager Alex
Ferguson had this to say:
"The players are incredible human beings. Tonight they just never gave in, and we got
the reward in the end."
"After ninety minutes, I
kept saying to myself that I should keep my dignity and accept defeat, but football's a
funny game," said an elated Ferguson. "It was a fantastic finish - almost
unbelievable. I really thought we were beaten with two minutes left, especially as Bayern
had chances to score further goals. But we showed the values of keeping going and never
giving up. We threw everything into the final stages. That's football - the game is never
over until the final whistle."
Bayern Munich coach Hitzfeld commented "Losing like this is tragic. But I think we'll
get over it, we can't change anything. I congratulate Manchester United for winning the
trophy. They never gave up and they deserved to win the Champions League. I feel very
sorry for my team, but the players can still go home with their heads held high because of
what they have achieved this season."
Sympathy was also extended to the Bayern players by the United manager. "I feel
extremely sorry for Bayern. They have a great coach, and I've experienced myself what
happened to them tonight. I can understand how they must feel."
The last word on a great night for the Manchester United coaching staff had to be for the
man who laid the foundations for the modern era, and who first brought home the European
Cup in 1968.
"As today is Sir Matt's birthday," said Fergie, "maybe he was doing a lot
of kicking up there for us."