Manchester United had the best player in the world at the time in Cristiano Ronaldo and were playing some brilliant football with it. When the draws were made for the quarter-finals and semi-finals, the possibility of a game against Barcelona excited me. We hadn’t played them since the treble season when the two teams played out two scintillating 3-3 draws. We convincingly overcome Roma in the quarter-finals setting up the mouth watering tie against Barcelona in the semi-finals.
The two teams played out a goalless draw in the first leg at the Camp Nou. Man United managed to hold on to a draw, but the thought of not having an away goal was concerning a few people especially when we were given a glorious opportunity as early as the third minute. Ronaldo unfortunately missed that penalty, so the second leg at Old Trafford was all set for a nervy affair. We were still without Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney suffered an injury while scoring a goal against Chelsea at the weekend. Wes Brown deputised for Vidic alongside Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves played at right-back. If we won this game and reached the final, Sir Alex promised that Paul Scholes would be the first name on the teamsheet for the final because he had missed out on the 1999 Champions League final through suspension.
Finally, it was kickoff. With not even a minute on the clock, Messi was brought down by a ‘typical Scholes’ challenge right on the edge of the box. I was certain that was a penalty at first sight, but thankfully the referee awarded a free-kick just outside the box. It was an escape for United. The game wore on and Barcelona, like they always do, started seeing more of the ball than United, who hadn’t settled yet. Thirteen minutes on the clock and Milito tried to find Eto’o, but his pass was collected by van der Sar. United started from the back and after a clever one-two with Carrick, Ferdinand found Ronaldo. Ronaldo tried to dribble past Zambrotta but he was unable to skip by the Italian. Zambrotta cleared the ball but only into the path of Paul Scholes, who from 35 yards out and with no one around him hit an absolute screamer from long range. Everyone in the pub went bonkers. The effort was our first of the game and to this day I can watch the goal over and over again.
After the goal, United started to enjoy a greater share of possession and missed a couple of chances to double the lead and consequently lowering the blood pressure of the most laid back United supporter. We knew as did Barcelona they only needed to draw the game to progress on the away goal rule and they threatened. Deco missed two good chances to draw level and there was an element of concern (for me) whenever Patrice Evra surged forward allowing Messi greater freedom. Thankfully he only had one shot on goal which was brilliantly saved by van der Sar. The first half was over and yet, despite having the lead, we all could sense that this could be one of those long nights.
The second half began in the same manner as the first. Ten minutes had lapsed when Ronaldo and Tevez enjoyed a great little one-two which put the Argentine clear, but Valdes saved the effort to keep the visitors in the tie. A few minutes later, from a Barcelona short corner, Messi nut-megged Scholes but the Argentine was unable to find a team-mate allowing United the opportunity to counter. Nani received the ball in his own half and went on and beat three Barca players but blazed his shot over. The move had everything but the finish. Minute by minute the nerves were steadily increasing for every United fan inside the pub and all over the world.
Henry came on as a sub for Iniesta and, not surprisingly, was booed! He had two shots from close range saved by van der Sar. Even after that, Barcelona were trying to create chances but our defence was brilliant. I’d never seen Brown play better than he did that night. He was a rock at the back.
Ninety minutes were up on the clock and we were all very anxious about what time will be added on. It was heart-in-mouth time. Never had I witnessed a game so nervy. The referee added four more minutes of stoppage time. Just as we’re about to enter stoppage time, Evra picked up an injury that meant more added minutes. I just couldn’t take it anymore. Ninety –six minutes were up on the clock and Xavi was about to take the free-kick. That was surely going to be the last action of the game. If Barca scored then they were going to Moscow. But gladly, the free-kick was cleared and the referee blew his whistle for the final time. We had done it. We had made it to Moscow. The whole place around me went berserk. United went to the finals and beat Chelsea in another nerve-wrecking final.
United went on to do the double that season. This game remains My Favourite Game because it was so typical United, making things difficult for themselves. They could’ve buried the chances and made life easier for themselves but they didn’t and won it by a goal which was worthy of winning any game. And that’s what we love about them!
Register with the Stretford End Arising forum.