By Thomas Bowen.
Having lost three times to Juventus in the two previous Champion’s League campaigns and only managing a 1-1 draw at home in the first leg – to say that I was worried in the build up to game would have been an understatement. Manchester United had never beaten an Italian side away from home and whilst the team was performing at an extremely high level, their hunt for silverware on three fronts meant that in the week leading up to the game United had played out an exhausting extra time victory over Arsenal and a Premier League match against Sheffield Wednesday.
My concerns seemed justified after two goals in the opening 11 minutes left the team needing three goals to progress to the final. An exquisite cross from Zinedine Zidane allowed Fillipo Inzaghi to bundle the ball past a helpless Peter Schmeichel to give the Turin side the lead. Moments later the Italian sides lead was doubled after a fierce Inzaghi shot took was deflected off Jaap Stam and found its way into the United net.
With hopes of a first Champions League victory fast dissolving, Man United’s resolve shone through. Content with their 2 goal lead Juventus foolishly allowed United to attack and it did not take long for Ferguson’s team to capitalise. A trademark David Beckham corner found the head of Roy Keane and the United midfielder guided it past Peruzzi and into the Juventus goal.
Next it was the turn of Dwight Yorke and Andrew Cole. Having formed one of the most feared and formidable strike partnerships in the premier league, the two combined brilliantly to draw United level. After working his way into space Cole turned and crossed the ball knowing instinctively where his strike partner would be. Yorke met the ball with a superbly timed diving header to score his 27th and arguably most important goal of the season.
With four goals in the opening 34 minutes this game was always going to be a classic and continued in the same vein with both teams having chances to take the lead. United twice hit the post and Inzaghi was denied his hat-trick only by a perfectly timed tackle by Jaap Stam.
United’s two away goals meant Juventus needed to score a third in order to stay in the competition, but it was the Manchester side who found a winner. With only 6 minutes of the game remaining and Juventus pushing body’s forwards, Dwight Yorke found himself with only the keeper to beat. As he attempted to make his way around the keeper he was brought down clumsily. As the 4000 travelling United fans screamed for a penalty, Andrew Cole heeded the referees advantage call and capitalised by rolled the ball into an empty net to give United a 3-2 victory and a place in the final.
Despite yellow cards for Paul Scholes and Roy Keane ruling them out of the final in Barcelona, the night was one of the greatest in the history of the football club. The performance demonstrated the passion and quality of English football while allowing United to progress to their first European Cup final in over thirty years.
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