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Forget the Nou Camp, THIS was Manchester United’s greatest comeback

Bring up Manchester United’s Treble in 1999 and thoughts spring towards the crowning glory of it all with that one Champions League night inside the Nou Camp.

No, not the 3-3 draw with Barcelona in the group stage, but the final itself. More specifically those crazy last few seconds against Bayern Munich that saw Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turn a heartbreaking defeat into one of the all-time dramatic wins and climaxes to any football match.

But you need to go back to the previous match in the competition to see why United were the greatest team in the world at the time, with what is also arguably their best ever performance in Europe.

(From left) Andy Cole, Jesper Blomqvist, Dwight Yorke, Nicky Butt, Ronny Johnsen, Jaap Stam, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Denis Irwin, Peter Schmeichel and Roy Keane line up ahead of the second leg of Manchester United’s Champions League semi-final at Juventus

United had been on the back foot in the tie ever since Antonio Conte fired the Italian champions into a 25th-minute lead in the first leg at Old Trafford

United had been on the back foot in the tie ever since Antonio Conte fired the Italian champions into a 25th-minute lead in the first leg at Old Trafford

Ryan Giggs hit a stoppage-time equaliser on home soil but United still had to score in Turin

Ryan Giggs hit a stoppage-time equaliser on home soil but United still had to score in Turin

Twenty years ago, on April 21 1999, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had their work cut out when they travelled to Juventus for the second leg of their semi-final, having only drawn the Old Trafford clash 1-1 – Ryan Giggs netting in stoppage-time following Antonio Conte’s first-half strike.

Juventus had Carlo Ancelotti as manager

Juventus had Carlo Ancelotti as manager

About the only positive for the Red Devils heading into the game was they were facing a Juventus side who were on course to finish a disastrous seventh in Serie A and record their worst top-flight placing since 1962.

But no-one really took that statistic at face value and it was easy to see why when the Bianconeri, who had featured in the three previous Champions League finals, named a starting line-up featuring Zinedine Zidane, Edgar Davids, Filippo Inzaghi and Conte – all managed by Carlo Ancelotti. 

United needed to win – or at least secure a high-scoring draw – to progress but would have to do so without key man Giggs.

The first-leg saviour had picked up a knock in his side’s other incredible ’99 semi-final a week earlier when the Welsh wizard scored one of the greatest FA Cup goals to dump out Arsenal.

Edgar Davids was part of a star-studded Juve side

Zinedine Zidane was also a key member for the team

Juve had a star-studded squad including Edgar Davids (left) and Zinedine Zidane

Ferguson made few errors inside the Stadio delle Alpi but one glaring one came in the form of being complacent in dealing with Juventus’s main attacking threat, Inzaghi.

The United boss once described the striker as ‘born offside’ yet the Italian poacher had the hosts 2-0 up inside 11 minutes, showing typically predatory instincts to tap home following a far-post cross, then having a little fortune after seeing a shot deflect off Jaap Stam over Peter Schmeichel.

United suddenly were 3-1 down on aggregate, shown to be struggling defensively and needing two goals against a side who were not afraid to rough up the visitors with a few questionable challenges – even by 1990s standards.

Filippo Inzaghi got Juventus off to a perfect start when he scored after just six minutes

Filippo Inzaghi got Juventus off to a perfect start when he scored after just six minutes

The Italy striker then doubled Juventus's lead to give them a 3-1 aggregate advantage

The Italy striker then doubled Juventus’s lead to give them a 3-1 aggregate advantage

But United ignored being drawn into needless scraps off the ball, kept their composure and soon dominated proceedings. 

David Beckham in particular looked to have been identified as a target by the Italian side as a weak link mentally, with this match coming less than a year after his petulance saw him sent off for England against Argentina at the World Cup.

The late challenges on the midfielder went ‘unrewarded’ for the hosts. The midfielder had gained maturity throughout the campaign and refused to react to the roughhousing as his focus was more on starting United’s comeback. 

Keane started the comeback for United when he headed home a Beckham corner

Keane started the comeback for United when he headed home a Beckham corner

But the midfielder was then booked for a foul on Zidane, causing him to miss the final

But the midfielder was then booked for a foul on Zidane, causing him to miss the final

Scholes would later suffer the same fate as he is given a yellow card by referee Urs Meier

Scholes would later suffer the same fate as he is given a yellow card by referee Urs Meier

MATCH FACTS

 Juventus: Peruzzi, Ferrara, Iuliano (Montero 46), Birindelli (Amoruso 46), Pessotto, Di Livio (Fonseca 80), Conte, Davids, Deschamps, Zidane, Inzaghi

Subs not used: Rampulla, Tudor, Tacchinardi, Esnaider

Manager: Carlo Ancelotti

Booked: Davids

Goals: Inzaghi 6, 11

Manchester United: Schmeichel, G. Neville, Johnsen, Stam, Irwin, Beckham, Butt, Keane, Blomqvist (Scholes 68), Cole, Yorke

Subs not used: Van der Gouw, May, P. Neville, Brown, Sheringham, Solskjaer

Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson 

Goals: Keane 24, Yorke 34, Cole 83

Booked: Keane, Scholes

Referee: Urs Meier (Switzerland)

Attendance: 60,806

Beckham soon got that going in the 24th minute when his typically pinpoint corner delivery found Roy Keane attacking the near post and glancing a header across goal to make it 2-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate.

The dream of a Champions League final was back on for United but soon over for Keane, whose late sliding tackle on Zidane earned him a booking and a suspension for the final.

It was perhaps typical of the Irishman’s application that he showed minimal reaction to being ruled out the biggest game of his career and would go on to be United’s star man in Turin. 

Sheringham and Solskjaer were the heroes in the final but the stand-out partnership in attack during the Treble season was the lethal combination of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole.

Juve could not cope with the duo or their link-up play, so it came as little surprise when Cole’s high cross into the box was headed home by his strike partner just 10 minutes after Keane’s equaliser. 

Despite conceding two early goals, Stam soon got to grips in dealing with Inzaghi's threat

Despite conceding two early goals, Stam soon got to grips in dealing with Inzaghi’s threat

Yorke leaps in the air to celebrate after scoring 11 minutes before half-time, levelling the tie 3-3 on aggregate and giving the Red Devils the overall lead on away goals

Yorke leaps in the air to celebrate after scoring 11 minutes before half-time, levelling the tie 3-3 on aggregate and giving the Red Devils the overall lead on away goals

Cole wrapped up victory on the night seven minutes from time at the Stadio delle Alpi

Cole wrapped up victory on the night seven minutes from time at the Stadio delle Alpi

United, now leading the tie on away goals, still kept on attacking as Cole and Yorke ran rings around the hosts, with the latter hitting the post before half-time.

So rattled was Ancelotti by the hammering his team were taking on home soil, he made two half-time changes, albeit one of them enforced with Mark Iuliano departing injured.

Now it was Juve attacking for much of the second half, but ‘Operation Beckham’ was still in force judging by a terrible lunge from Davids on the midfielder, which earned him a booking, but one he could have been sent off for.

Substitute Paolo Montero later narrowly escaped a booking for just as reckless a lunge on Beckham. Frustration was growing at both ends of the pitch for the hosts, with Stam marshalling United’s defence to deal with Juve’s probes for an equaliser.

Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates with coaching staff on the bench following their comeback win

Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates with coaching staff on the bench following their comeback win

Unused substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer salutes the United fans along with Cole and Butt

Unused substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer salutes the United fans along with Cole and Butt

Keane’s booking was evidence that within limits United were still willing to dish out a few bruises and it was perhaps little surprise that in a game with a number of poor challenges, Paul Scholes would come on and get booked for a terrible studs-up tackle on Didier Deschamps.

He too would miss the final and bad blood between the teams was increasing when Ciro Ferrara was incredibly lucky to stay on the pitch when he pushed Cole in the face following a tussle on the ball.

The amount of poor challenges and confrontations would be enough to ruin any match – or at least stunt the flow. Yet incredibly it was all just a background feature to an incredible match of end-to-end attacking.

Inzaghi had a goal disallowed (yes, it was for a blatant offside) while United went close to a third at the other end with Denis Irwin hitting the post. 

Cole and Yorke's partnership was crucial - here they pose for the camera in the changing room

Cole and Yorke’s partnership was crucial – here they pose for the camera in the changing room

Butt, Teddy Sheringham, Beckham and David May mark United reaching the final

Butt, Teddy Sheringham, Beckham and David May mark United reaching the final

Time ticked away but United landed the hammer blow with seven minutes left when Yorke broke through on goal before being hauled down by Angelo Peruzzi. It looked a certain penalty but play continued as Cole was on hand to slot in the resulting loose ball to seal a famous victory.

Changing-room footage after the game showed just what it meant to the players, with Dwight Yorke high-fiving all his team-mates – as well as Sir Bobby Charlton. Even a suited and booted Giggs enjoyed the occasion.

Perhaps more noticeably was the visual disappointment from Keane and Scholes. Having played such a crucial role in getting United to the final, not even they could hide a crestfallen look having now had time to digest they would not play the final.

United assistant Steve McClaren is flanked by Blomqvist and Yorke in the celebrations

United assistant Steve McClaren is flanked by Blomqvist and Yorke in the celebrations

United boss Ferguson toasts United reaching the Champions League final on the flight home

United boss Ferguson toasts United reaching the Champions League final on the flight home

It was not just the impressive nature of United’s comeback to win the tie that made this match so memorable – it was the non-stop mix of attacking football, aggression and talent which exploded on the Turin pitch that night.

The late 1990s was a blessed era in football. ‘Parking the bus’ was yet to drive its way into the football lexicon and it was still just about honest enough to have a few robust challenges that did not lead to the victim rolling around to make the most of it at every opportunity.

It was also starting to breed a generation of many highly-technical footballers who could ride such challenges but also display admirable skill. Some of Zidane’s touches in this game had United’s defence bamboozled.

The combination led to many attacking games, with a healthy dose of highly-skilled players and aggressive defensive strategies, all helping generate an atmosphere within the crowd which further sparked events on the pitch. Football has never had it so good and this game was the advertisement for it.

HOW SPORTSMAIL’S JEFF POWELL REPORTED UNITED’S VICTORY

The miracle worker of Turin has his European Cup Final at last. Alex Ferguson, manager beyond peer and now the messiah of Manchester, left his players to receive the acclamation of Englishmen and Italians alike for this astonishing act of resurrection.

Ferguson, the great conductor in this grand opera, was already moving on in his mind. The positively Final performance of this season of soaring achievement will be in Barcelona on May 26, when United will share the vaulting stage of the Nou Camp with the German technocrats of Bayern Munich.

But for all its triumphal importance and potential for jubilation it is hard to conceive of that May night surpassing the drama here. Whenever football lovers gather to reflect on the beauty of their game they will talk of the night Manchester United gave Juventus a two-goal start before calmly proceeding to place a shroud over Turin. This will rank forever among the most magnificent comebacks in the annals of the European game. The first Manchester goal in this city for 15 years was of itself a small miracle so when the second and third came down from the gods they made believers of us all.

How Sportsmail reported Manchester United's semi-final win at Juventus in 1999

How Sportsmail reported Manchester United’s semi-final win at Juventus in 1999

The gospel according to St Fergie ordained this as United’s long-awaited season in the European sun and the recovery from two down brought a Nostradamus quality to his prediction.

The forces of destiny were indeed at work in the Stadio delle Alpi and the only pity was that the first of the Ferguson disciples who turned the water into wine then eliminated himself from the final.

Roy Keane struck where every United footballer since Norman Whiteside in 1984 had failed. Without this man and his lunging goal this task would have been beyond them and Ferguson will have cursed the foul on Zinedine Zidane which resulted in Keane’s second yellow card in the Champions League. To his own enormous credit the true competitor put the premature end of his Barcelona dream to the back of his mind and kept driving his team-mates onwards.

It was always going to take courage of a self-sacrificial order as well as a measure of brilliance if United were to redeem the hesitant performance in the first leg in Manchester which had almost put Juventus beyond them.

When they compounded that flimsy home draw by conceding twice in the first 10 minutes the scale of the achievement required of them was as towering as the mountains behind the stadium.

Ferguson had preached the need for absolute concentration as well as total commitment from his players and in that context the first lapse was unforgivable.

Not only was Zidane left in space to take a return pass from his own short corner but Peter Schmeichel failed to react to the cross which was met by Filippo Inzaghi at the far post. Add to that the fluke of Inzaghi’s ensuing deflection off Jaap Stam and the stage was set for one of the most astonishing transformations in the 31 years since United’s only win in Europe’s cup of champions.

Ferguson had thought long and hard about whether to complicate the tactical issue for the Italians, who traditionally prefer to play against two orthodox strikers, by replacing either Cole or Yorke with the linking football of Sheringham.

His instinct persuaded him to go with his expensive duo despite their recent goal shortage and once again the pre-eminent manager in the British game was proved right, Yorke equalising before creating the chance for Cole to claim the Final glory.

Not until much later, after the Italians had gone home, did Ferguson return to the scene of his masterpiece. The United fans were still awaiting release from the stadium and their roaring response paid private homage to their spiritual leader.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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