Oh what a night! A look at Manchester United in European finals

Winning a European competition has always been the pinnacle of any manager’s career, and Manchester United know how to do a final. As another opportunity to lift a trophy against some of Europe’s best (honestly), we are here to look back at finals previous, starting with the triumphs.

Benfica, Barcelona, Bayern and, Chelsea

Benfica 1968

The Busby Babes reached the promised land finally a decade after the horrible events in Munich. United became the first English club to win the biggest trophy in Europe, and it gave fans the first taste of something they would have to wait 31 years to do again. A night of high emotion – for obvious reasons – was won by the grace and sheer ability of Sir Matt Busby’s famous side in true Manchester United fashion.

An eventless first half was immediately forgotten when Bobby Charlton (before the Sir) buried an uncharacteristic header eight minutes into the second period. Benfica equalised soon after, and neither side had an answer in regulation time, and United’s cause was aided by a phenomenal stop from Alex Stepney. Benfica tired in extra time, George Best took advantage almost immediately. Seizing on a long kick from Stepney, Best weaved in between hapless Portuguese defenders and jinked around the goalkeeper to slot into the empty net. Brian Kidd made it 3, and Charlton finished it before the 100-minute mark.

Barcelona 1991

The first of Sir Alex Ferguson’s two cups, the Cup Winners Cup victory over Barcelona in 1991, took on a similar shape to the success felt by Sir Matt Busby 23 years earlier. After a goalless first half, parity was breached by a Mark Hughes tap in from a Steve Bruce header. Hughes added a second late on before Ronald Koeman pulled a late consolation back for Barcelona, but it was not enough as a long-awaited triumph on the continent was achieved. It really kick started the period of success Manchester United had under the formidable Scot and set the precedent for what came after.

Bayern Munich 1999

Arguably the most famous of Manchester United’s victories in the European Cup. The victory against Bayern Munich in 1999 is one of the fondest memories United fans hold as a historic Treble was realised, and it happened on what would have been Sir Matt Busbys’ birthday.

“Can Manchester United score, they always score” still sends a shiver up my spine. A line that (used to at least) summed up the way United did things, back then. As per things were hard from the off, Mario Basler’s free-kick deflected in off Jaap Stam. Jan Koller hit the crossbar from six-yards out and Mehmet Scholl the post with a delightful chip. Then came the famous line. Beckham’s corner was cleared 30 seconds into added time, Ryan Giggs scuffed it goalwards and Sheringham stroked it home. 90 seconds later and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won it. The goosebumps still raise when you watch it. Euphoria was realised and the Treble was complete.

Chelsea 2008

The last of four major European titles held by Manchester United and this was won by arguably the best squad to do so in arguably the funniest circumstances. Not many remember Cristiano Ronaldo’s thumping header that gave United the lead in the first half, but it was some goal. An equaliser from Frank Lampard was enough to keep the sides deadlocked as neither could find a way to breach the other’s defence. Extra time came and went with both plugging away, but penalties was the outcome.

When Cristiano Ronaldo missed his penalty I know I’m not alone in having thought it was over. But up stepped John Terry. He’d spat at Carlos Tevez and changed the order of the penalties during the shootout so he could take what would have been the winner, then he slipped. It was a script you couldn’t have written. Edwin van der Sar walked away the hero, saving Nicholas Anelka’s penalty in sudden death to give Sir Alex Ferguson his second Champions League medal. Never the easy way when United are involved, and I expect much of the same Wednesday night.


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