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European Stories: Manchester United, 1999

Throughout the 2018/19 Premier League season and beyond, 90MAAT will be running a regular series looking back on some of the most memorable runs in European competitions by Premier League clubs.

There is hardly a more fitting run to begin with than Manchester United’s iconic treble-clinching Champions League triumph of 1999.

How it started

Having failed to win the Premier League for just the second time since 1992 (finishing second), Alex Ferguson’s side entered at the second and final round of Champions League qualification.

Captained by Roy Keane and backed up by the class of 92 (David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs), the red half of Manchester had dominated the Premier League since its inception six years prior, but were pipped to the title in 1997/98 by Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, who claimed their and his first title in the process.

Brain McClair and Gary Pallister left in the summer, while Dwight Yorke, Jesper Blomqvist and record signing Jaap Stam joined. The rest of the squad was made up by Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Ronny Johnsen, Andrew Cole, Teddy Sheringham, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Henning Berg, Wes Brown and several other fringe players.

In 1997/98, United were eliminated in the Quarter-finals by Monaco on away goals, while they lost in the semi-finals to eventual Champions Borussia Dortmund in 1997. The Premier League was not a powerhouse in the Champions League during this time.

The Run

Picture this. 12th August 1998. The Spice Girls were top of the charts, France were celebrating their first World Cup victory and Manchester City had just begun their league season in the third tier.

Crosstown rivals United were visited by Polish champions LKS Lodz for the for the first leg of the second round of Champions League Qualifying. The Red Devils progressed 2-0 on aggregate, getting past their stubborn opponents thanks to home goals from Ryan Giggs and Andrew Cole.

That result ensured the Red Devils joined Arsenal among 24 sides in the Group stage of the Champions League that season. These teams were drawn into six groups of four, with only the group winners and two best placed runners-up advancing to the Quarter-finals.

As the draw was made, Mancunian heads dropped as they were tasked with escaping a Group containing Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Brondby. This outlook was made worse by Arsenal’s group of Dynamo Kiev, Lens and Panathinaikos appearing much easier on paper.

Football is not played on paper – as we know – and fate soon lifted those Mancunian chins from the floor.

They first faced Barcelona at Old Trafford, squandering a two-goal lead in drawing 3-3 (Nicky Butt getting sent off in the process).

Two weeks later they travelled to Bavaria to face German giants Bayern, and were again left ruing what could have been as an 90th minute own goal by Teddy Sheringham left the scores tied at 2-2.

Two must-win clashes with Brondby beckoned, and the Red Devils rose to the occasion. A 6-2 victory in Denmark was followed by a 5-0 thrashing in Manchester, putting United on top of the group with two games left.

A trip to Camp Nou followed, and another classic match unfolded. The game finished 3-3 yet again, with United both behind and ahead in a game for the ages. United’s second goal (and the game’s third) was scored by Andrew Cole after brilliant build-up play involving Dwight Yorke. It is often cited as an example of a strike partnership working in perfect unison.

That draw left the door open to Bayern, who duly kicked it down and moved top of the group with a victory over Brondby.

One game to go.  The German side travelled to Manchester in a winner-takes-all crunch match. The Germans would also progress with a draw, while United knew that a draw would give them a strong chance of progressing as one of the best runners-up, though this was far from certain.

A draw it was. A header from captain Roy Keane was cancelled out by Hasan Salihamidzic as Bayern topped the group. It was also enough for the Red Devils to join them, finishing as the second-best runners-up through the six groups.

Remember Arsenal? Arsene Wenger’s Champions of England finished an embarrassing third in their group, behind Dynamo Kiev and Lens.

Five games now stood between Manchester United and the Champions League trophy.

The Quarter-finals pitted the Red Devils against Internazionale of Italy, and also brought together David Beckham and Diego Simeone for the first time since their clash at the World Cup the summer before.

It was Beckham who would come out on top. Two trademark Beckham crosses being converted by almost identical headers from Dwight Yorke giving United a 2-0 cushion after the first leg in Manchester.

The scoreline fails to tell the storyline of what was a fantastic match. Diego Simeone had a goal disallowed, while only incredible goalkeeping and defending on both sides (including a masterclass from Henning Berg) prevented a rugby score.

The tie was far from over however, and the cauldron of noise that is the San Siro conjured an inspired performance from the Milan outfit. A second half goal from Nicola Ventola made for an incredibly cagey final half hour, but Paul Scholes popped up two minutes from time to settle the tie and send the Red Devils into the last four.

Another Italian team awaited in the last four. Italian Champions Juventus were bidding to reach a fourth consecutive final, and boasted a plethora of world class talent including Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps, Filippo Inzaghi, Alessandro Del Piero, Edgar Davids and a young Thierry Henry.

The Old Lady’s class shone in the first leg; once again at Old Trafford. Juventus led through a first half strike from a diminutive midfielder named Antonio Conte, and soaked the pressure comfortably for the best part of an hour.

With minutes to go, United turned the screw. A deflected goal from Teddy Sheringham was harshly ruled out for offside, but the pressure finally told in injury time with a scrappy goal from Ryan Giggs.

That meant they travelled to Turin knowing at the very least that they had to score. Their task grew bigger as things began to go very badly wrong.

The influential Ryan Giggs was ruled out just before the action started and after only 11 minutes of the second leg, Filippo Inzaghi had bagged a brace and suddenly the deficit was two. Clive Tyldesley said United needed a minor miracle.

A brilliant header from captain Roy Keane just thirteen minutes later left United needing only one more to progress on away goals, but they were dealt a blow when the Irishman was shown a yellow card, ruling him out of the final should the Red Devils make it.

The English side did not stop. Beckham, Cole and Yorke combined for a brilliant second. The tie was level, Juventus were behind on away goals.

Half time was a welcome sight for the black and White of Juventus. After scoring two early goals, they had been deservedly pegged back by United’s brilliance in attack.

The Old Lady began the second half strongly having made a substitution and thought they had regained the lead through Inzaghi. “Pippo” was offside on this occasion (as he was on so many, Sir Alex Ferguson going as far as to say, “that lad must have been born offside”), much to the relief of the travelling fans.

It remained 2-2 on the night, 3-3 on aggregate. Juventus pressed frantically for another goal.

Another blow for United, Paul Scholes joined Roy Keane in the book and would also miss the final. Still they led.

With just six minutes to go, the Old Lady’s midfield was non-existent. A hopeful long ball forward from United was knocked lazily forward by the Juventus defence. With no midfield in sight, Yorke picked it up and drove at the tiring defenders.

With a lucky ricochet, he was in. He bore down on goal before knocking the ball past goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi. The Trinidadian looked certain to score, but was scythed down by the Italian. A penalty looked imminent, but Andrew Cole strode forward and tapped the ball into the empty net to cap one of the best nights in United’s history, earning Manchester United’s first ever win in Italy in the process.

One more opponent stood in their way. Incredibly, Group Stage rivals Bayern Munich were to play the Red Devils for the third time in the tournament. And for the second time in the tournament, each of Bayern and United would play at the Nou Camp.

26th May 1999, what would have been Sir Matt Busby’s 90th birthday. The stage was set.

Without Keane and Scholes, Manchester United lined up with Schmeichel in goal, Denis Irwin, Ronny Johnsen, Jaap Stam and Gary Neville in defence, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Jesper Blomqvist in midfield and the formidable Andrew Cole and Dwight Yorke in attack.

Bayern were without star players also. World Cup Winner Bixente Lizarazu and Brazilian Giovane Elber missed out with knee injuries. The Bavarians started with Oliver Kahn, Marcus Babbel, Thomas Linke, Lothar Matthaus, Samuel Kuffour, Michael Tarnat, Stefan Effenberg, Jens Jeremies, Mario Basler, Carsten Jancker and Alexander Zickler. Down as the away team on the night, Bayern played in their grey away strip.

As in the second leg of their semi-final, United fell behind early. On this occasion Mario Basler guided a freekick around the wall and into Peter Schmeichel’s upright after only six minutes.

United gained control of the game, but rarely looked like scoring. Jancker and Zickler looked threatening on the break, but the game laboured to half-time.

The lightning pace from the start of the match was present again in the second half, and the men in red were putting in an incredible shift. Giggs created a chance for Blomqvist not long after the restart, but the Swede could not trouble Kahn.

That pattern continued as the game began to open up, and United looked increasingly vulnerable on the counter attack. Something had to change.

Jesper Blomqvist was sacrificed, with Ferguson choosing to shuffle his pack. Teddy Sheringham was brought into a three-man attack, but had a quiet first few minutes.

Bayern responded with a change of their own, Mehmet Scholl replacing Zinckler. Scholl dazzled in his cameo, hitting the post with an outrageous chip and he nearly struck from range in a ferocious attacking display.

The game continued as it had before, United with the ball but few clear chances, Bayern with the incisive counter attacks.

The Germans hit the woodwork twice more, but could not find a second that would surely have killed the game.

As the legs inevitably grew weary, United began to look dangerous again. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was introduced with 10 minutes to go and almost headed home with his first touch.

And then it came. 90 minutes were on the clock when a United corner was poorly cleared. Ryan Giggs scuffed a shot towards goal, Teddy Sheringham spun and turned it home. 1-1.

Jubilant scenes, Manchester United had surely forced extra-time! Not exactly, they went on the attack straight from Bayern’s restart, another corner.

Beckham. In to Sheringham. AND SOLSKJAER HAS WON IT.

Football eh?

The Aftermath

In defeating Bayern, Manchester United became the first English team to win the European Cup in 15 years. Alex Ferguson became Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United became the world’s richest football club and David Beckham narrowly missed out on the European and World Footballer of the Year, to Barcelona’s Rivaldo.

The game proved to be Peter Schmeichel’s last in a United shirt, as he moved to Sporting Lisbon in the summer. The club made just three signings during the summer, goalkeeper Massimo Taibi, defender Mikael Silvestre and midfielder Quinton Fortune.

Not including the qualifiers against Lodz, United played 11 games, which involved an incredible 45 goals. Dwight Yorke bagged eight of them, and finished joint top scorer in the tournament with Andriy Shevchenko, then of Dynamo Kiev.

The Red Devils won the Premier League and FA Cup also, and lost only five times all season as they cemented their place in the history books. They remain the only English team to have won the Premier League, FA Cup and European Cup treble.

Sam Hanys

A miserable Ipswich Town fan.

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