By Harry Veal
“Is this their moment? Beckham… into Sheringham… and Solskjaer has won it! Manchester United have reached the Promised Land.” These immortal words of commentary from ITV’s Clive Tyldesley will stick with me forever.
As a United mad 9-year-old I was at the point of a full on tantrum with United heading into extra time 1-0 behind, but three magical minutes in which United completed a dramatic recovery sent me from agony to ecstasy and defined the fighting spirit that United are all about, meaning for me, it simply has to be my favourite game.
Mario Basler’s early 6th minute free-kick after a foul from Ronny Johnsen left United stunned and with an uphill struggle against a side that were going for a treble of their own. As the game wore on though, Man United grew in stature and started to dominate possession without creating any efforts of real note, with their play lacking a creative spark in the final third.
For all their possession though, United still looked vulnerable to Bayern’s counter attacks, with Carsten Jancker causing the back four all sorts of trouble with some intelligent running. With Basler pulling the strings in midfield, Bayern were creating what seemed like chance after chance, leaving me a bag of nerves, although thankfully failing to add to their lead.
Seeing his side failing to find a cutting edge, Alex Ferguson then made what turned out to be the first of two inspired substitutions, bringing on Teddy Sheringham. Ottmar Hitzfeld’s response was to bring on the clever German midfielder Mehmet Scholl, who made an immediate impact, setting up Stefan Effenberg, before Basler embarked on a mazy run that ended with Scholl curling a delightful chip over the helpless Peter Schmeichel, only to see his effort come back off the bar.
Cue inspired substitution number two, with super-sub Ole Gunnar Solskjaer entering the game with just ten minutes of normal time to go.
Bayern then had the chance to seal United’s fate as Jancker smashed an overhead kick against the bar with Schmeichel beaten once again.
Still scarred by seeing United crash out of Europe to Monaco the year before, I was despondent by this point, strongly refuting my Mum’s claims that “There’s always next year…” with an adamant “No there isn’t!”
With the game ticking over the 90 minute mark, United won a corner, prompting yet another memorable line of commentary from Tyldesley. “Can Manchester United score? They always score.”
In a last desperate attempt to rescue the game, United ‘keeper Peter Schmeichel, playing his last game for the club, made his way into the area hoping for a repeat of the goal he scored against Rotor Volgograd in the UEFA Cup four years previously.
David Beckham’s whipped delivery almost found ‘The Great Dane’, with the ball falling to Dwight Yorke at the back post, who managed to hook the ball back across goal. Bayern’s Thorsten Fink just about hooked the ball out of the area, with his clearance falling to Ryan Giggs. On his un-favoured right foot, Giggs scuffed a poor effort at goal. Luckily for United though, Teddy Sheringham was in the right place at the right time to sweep the ball into the bottom corner past a motionless Oliver Kahn, leaving Bayern stunned and me jumping around my living room in delight.
At this point I was psyching myself up for extra time, having managed to persuade my parents that I simply had to stay up past my bedtime to watch the rest of the game. I should really have known better.
Never a team to rest on their laurels and settle for anything less than a win, United pushed forward in pursuit of a winner, almost instantly forcing another corner. Another pinpoint delivery from David Beckham was met by a glancing header from Sheringham, sending the ball into the path of Solskjaer, who, with touch of his outstretched right leg, sent the ball into the roof of the net.
With Bayern players left stunned where they stood Solskjaer raced off towards the corner flag, sliding on his knees in celebration. At the other end of the pitch, Peter Schmeichel celebrated with his famous cartwheel.
When the celebrations eventually died down, Pierluigi Collina re-started the game. However, the Bayern players were visibly deflated, having seen their dreams of European glory turned into a nightmare in three short minutes. They were unable to muster any response to United’s comeback, and Alex Ferguson’s men held on for a famous victory.
With the game won, the trophy was presented to captain for the night, Peter Schmeichel and United boss Ferguson, prompting wild celebrations from the crowd inside the Nou Camp, and an equally enthusiastic response from me at home.
Although I have experienced many a brilliant night watching United in Europe and the league since, this game sticks out in my mind as my greatest sporting memory. I still get goosebumps watching old clips of the game, and view it as the cornerstone of my support for the club that I have grown up with my whole life.
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