By Dermot Clarke
EC Cup Final
Manchester United 2, Bayern Munich 1
The Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen together couldn’t have concocted a fairytale to match the Manchester United escapades this season. United collected their second European Cup last Wednesday. To say they did so in dramatic fashion would be to grossly understate another heart-stopping last few minutes in a United season that was full of them.
On what would have been Matt Busby’s 90th birthday, United ran out to a 2-1 victory Bayern of Munich, a city that will henceforth be synonymous with both triumph and disaster in the annals of this great club.
Bobby Charlton was on the plane on that fateful night in ’58 when the great Busby Babes were almost wiped out. He captained the team when they first won the trophy in ’68 and he was there again last Wednesday as a director of the club.
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As a Liverpool supporter, I could empathize with the Bayern fans, after the European Cup had been stolen from them in injury time by United. Liverpool were seconds away from victory in the FA Cup fourth round at Old Trafford when United struck twice against them in the final two minutes, sending them out of the competition. Perhaps a transcript from the events of that day was all that Bayern Munich needed to enable them to plot a victory route. There was a definite sense of deja vu about last Wednesday’s game at the Nou Camp Stadium, Barcelona. Having said all that, I was glad to see United win the most coveted club trophy on the planet.
It was a nervous start for the Reds. We didn’t expect it to be, we had forgotten that this was a totally new experience for this team of much achievement. The absence of Roy Keane was evident early, Bayern swept through the midfield without much resistance, you could sense an early goal was on the cards. It came on 6 minutes. Carsten Jancker was deemed to have been fouled on the edge of the box by the excellent Italian referee Pierluigi Collina. Markus Babbel pulled away from the wall, allowing the necessary gap to appear for Mario Basler to score from the resultant free kick. It was already looking bad for United.
The game took on a familiar pattern after that. The Germans, who started with a 3-4-3 formation, seemed to switch to something similar to a 3-6-1 system, whatever that is. The chests stuck out in true who-would-dare-score-against-us Germans fashion. It was all over as far as they were concerned. When the halftime whistle sounded, it looked like they were right. United had offered little to suggest that the long year wait for a second European Cup was over.
As United went in search of an equalizer, there was always the danger of Bayern sneaking a second. This they nearly did on a few occasions. United had the woodwork and Peter Schmeichel to thank that they didn’t. Schmeichel got up high to deny Effenberg, Jancker hit the cross bar with a bicycle kick, and Mehmet Scholl’s delightful chip struck the post. The minutes were ticking away and United looked dead and buried. Ferguson had introduced Sheringham, the FA Cup hero and Ole Gunnar Solskj’r, his super-sub, in search of an equalizer. His opposite number, Ottmar Hitzveld, was doing little more than wasting time when he took off Lothar Mattheus and his most influential player on the night, Mario Basler. It didn’t seem to matter.
Solskj’r was seeing more of the ball in this 10 minutes than he did in all of the Cup final the previous Saturday. His clever back flick almost let in Sheringham, but he couldn’t get enough power into the shot to trouble Kahn in the Munich goal. The Manchester heads were down, the clock struck 90, the Bayern fans were singing as the fourth official told us that three minutes of injury time had to be played. Denis Irwin then won a corner for United on the left. Peter Schmeichel sprinted from his goal to join the attack, the Bayern defense seem bemused by this. Beckham’s corner entered a packed area, the ball, after much scrambling, found Giggs on the edge of the box, but his shot was going wide until Teddy Sheringham put it back on course and into the net. Ferguson had been telling himself to act with dignity in defeat, mentally preparing his pat on the back for Hitzveld he was. Then we saw him expressing an emotion that needed little rehearsal for him as he leapt about with his fists in the air.
Hitzveld must have been thinking, "Why did I take Basler off?" Ferguson’s assistant, Steve McLaren, offered that they revert to 4-4-2 for extra time, to which the genial Scot replied, "It’s not over yet." Denis Irwin found Solskj’r with a long ball, Solskj’r won a corner, Schmeichel stayed put this time. Beckham’s corner was flicked on by Sheringham, Solskj’r stuck out a boot, connected, and the ball hit the roof of the net. The transformation of emotions felt on both sides from those of a moment or so previous was incredible. Tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy for United fans. Elation turned to stunned belief for the Bayern faithful. The Munich players collapsed on the turf as the United team smothered Solskj’r. The game was over. Ferguson and his men had won the European Cup in dramatic fashion. Melchester, I mean, Manchester United are kings of Europe.