By George Hartrey.
There’s plenty of games to pick from when someone asks me what my favourite Manchester United games is, but there’s one that really stands out for me. 21st May 2008. That’s right, the Champions League final played in the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow. We played a great game right through until the final whistle, and then carried on playing great right in to the penalty shootout. In front of 67,000 fans, the United boys really impressed all of them, and the millions sat eagerly in front of their television set.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored a great header to put us ahead in the 26th minute, and we were pushing for a second right until the 45th minute, when on the verve of half time, Lampard coolly slipped it past Edwin van der Sar. All through the second half we dominated, and by the end of extra time, we had 58% possession. The UEFA Man Of The Match and the Fans Man Of The Match were both United players, the first being van der Sar, and the latter being Ronaldo. Chelsea got a lot more shots away then our lads did, but van der Sar was on top form to keep them out, and keep us in the game.
Since Didier Drogba was sent off 4 minutes from the end of extra time, Chelsea had lost a key penalty taker, who was inevitably going to be needed. Had he have still been in the shoot out, maybe John Terry wouldn’t have been selected, however he was chosen. He proceeded to commit one of the funniest moments for a Man United fan. He ran up to the ball, set his standing foot next to the ball, and as he struck the ball, his standing football slid from underneath him, he slipped, and the rest as they say is history. It was game on.
Tevez and Carrick put our first to penalties away, but they were equaled by Ballack and Belletti. Next, it was Ronaldo to stand up to the mark. His fancy run up, featuring an unneeded stutter, did him no favours. He made it an easy save for Cech. Lampard and Cole scored theirs, and Hargreaves and Nani scored theirs, but we were behind. I can quite easily call this the most tense moment in my life. Now it was John Terry’s turn, who quite humorously missed the net, and the ball smacked the outside of the post. Anderson, who in my opinion is one of the coolest penalty takers in the land, scored his along with Mr. Manchester United himself, Ryan Giggs. Salomon Kalou slotted his past van der Sar. Now, it was time for Anelka to take his penalty.
This, was so very tense, but so very exciting for me. I was 11 at the time, and a goalkeeper myself, but I still had no idea of the pressure that would indefinitely have been going through van der Sar’s mind. Now I’m older, I realise what pressure he had to overcome, to stay cool in between the sticks. What was about to happen is one of the most fond goalkeeping memories in my mind, and whenever I face a penalty myself, this moment comes in to my mind. That’s right, he saved it. Unbelievable. Diving to his right, he tipped Anelka’s attempt round the post. We had done it. We had become the greatest team in Europe for the third time in the clubs history.
Some interesting things went on before and after the game. Firstly, straight after we qualified for the final, beating Barcelona 1-0, Sir Alex told Paul Scholes he had a guaranteed place in the starting XI for the final, after he missed the 1999 Final via suspension. Another thing that went on, that confused most United fans, was Sir Alex leaving Ji Sung Park out of the final squad. For me, being a big fan of Park, it was disappointing. Seeing as Sir Alex had announced he was a massive fan of Park’s playing ability, so leaving him out boggled the minds of many United fans. After the match, he regretted leaving him out, and apologised to Park himself. Another was Ronaldo uttering two words in a post match interview, ‘I Stay’. Which of course, he didn’t.
Anyway, this was without a doubt the favourite night of my life. The flow in which United passed the ball and moved around, still amazes me to this day. And that night, van der Sar played the game of his life, one of which I will never forget, and I’m sure he won’t either. He played with such confidence and great prowess. He greatly resembled the Great Dane Peter Schmeichel. This was the greatest match in my life time, well, that I can remember. I’m sure the 1999 Champions League final was just as good, if not better, however I don’t recall this. But again, a great game, completed and won by 14 world class players (starting 11 and subs).
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