‘And Solskjaer has won it!’
These four words uttered by Clive Tyldesley as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struck in the final seconds to secure the treble for Manchester United in 1999 will forever live in the memory of United fans.
It was a final like no other; United left it late – oh boy, did they leave it late. But in the end, two goals in injury time for the Red Devils turned things around to spark wild celebrations in the stands and on the bench.
As for Bayern Munich’s fanbase, they were left distraught, heartbroken.
It is one of the most famous and memorable nights in Man Utd’s history, so 21 years on from the final, we take a trip down memory lane by re-living United’s run on their way to Champions League glory…
United finished the 1997/98 Premier League season in second – one point behind Arsenal – meaning that while they secured qualification to the Champions League, they would still have to take part in a qualifying match.
The Red Devils were drawn against Polish side LKS Lodz, who reached the second round of qualifying after they picked up a 7-2 aggregate win in their first matches. However, United were able to find a way past Lodz, doing the damage in the first leg as they picked up a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Ryan Giggs and Andy Cole.
A 0-0 draw was played out in the second leg, a result that was enough to see the Red Devils through to the group stages.
The luck of the draw was not on Manchester United’s side as they were picked in what came to be known as the ‘Group of Death’ – or Group D.
United were drawn alongside Barcelona and Bayern Munich, as well as Danish outfit Brøndby. As far as opening group games go, they don’t come much better from a neutral’s perspective than United vs Barcelona. Six goals, a red card, stunning goals and, generally, a pulsating contest.
A header from Giggs following a typically brilliant David Beckham cross gave United the lead on 17 minutes, before Paul Scholes doubled the hosts’ lead after a near-perfect acrobatic effort from Dwight Yorke.
Not against this Barcelona side, it wasn’t. The Blaugrana pulled one back through Sonny Anderson before Giovanni levelled things up from the penalty spot.
Then it was Beckham’s turn to have his say on the game, and he produced – yep, you guessed it – a remarkable free-kick to restore the Red Devils’ lead. Curl, precision, dip – the goalkeeper had no chance. Unfortunately for United fans, the scoring wasn’t over as Barça came back to make it 3-3, while Nicky Butt also saw red.
United next faced a trip to Munich, where they took on Bayern. It appeared as though United would pick up a vital win on the road, with Yorke and Scholes’ goals giving them a 2-1 lead heading into the closing stages, but Elber grabbed a late equaliser to rescue the German giants.
For Barça, Bayern and Man Utd, the importance of a positive result against Brøndby could not be underestimated, and United recognised this as they cruised past their Danish opponents in both games. First, the Red Devils ran out 6-2 winners away from home before winning the following match 5-0 at home.
A trip to Camp Nou followed, and it was another evening of drama and pure entertainment for all football fans.
Anderson gave Barça the lead early on before Yorke equalised with a low drive. And Sir Alex’s men took the lead thanks to the telepathic understanding between Yorke and Cole. Their connection left the Barça defence without a clue how to stop them, with Cole rounding off the move clinically.
In a game of twists and turns, Rivaldo produced a moment of magic to bend the ball home from a free-kick, but United regained their lead just 11 minutes later through Yorke again.
However, when a team has a player like Rivaldo, they always have a chance.
And this is precisely what happened, with Rivaldo bringing a cross down in the air before acrobatically finishing. World class.
Honours even once again, and what a clash it was.
The sixth and final group game saw the Red Devils host Bayern, where they played out a 1-1 draw. It was a result that actually wasn’t enough to see them automatically qualify, but they did progress as results elsewhere went their way.
United may have only won two group games, but it was their resilience and never-say-die attitude that ensured they didn’t lose a single game – with each point proving to be crucial in allowing them to progress to the knockout stages.
Playing the first leg of their quarter-final clash with Inter at home, Sir Alex would have demanded a performance worthy of the occasion – one that would give his side the confidence they would need when travelling to Italy for the second leg.
Big matches require the big names to step up and deliver. In the first leg, it was Beckham and Yorke who made the difference. Two pinpoint crosses from the right boot of Beckham, and two ruthless headers from Yorke were enough for the hosts to pick up a 2-0 win.
Inter piled on the pressure in the second leg, taking the lead on the night just after the hour mark. Continuing to grow in confidence, United fans were beginning to bite their nails as the comeback was well and truly on. However, it was that Man Utd resilience and mental strength that once again carried them through, with Scholes netting two minutes before the end to settle the tie.
As far as Man Utd were concerned, it was one Italian opposition down, but another one to go as they were drawn against Juventus.
Antonio Conte did exactly what Inter couldn’t do – he gave the Bianconeri the lead on the night and on aggregate at Old Trafford. However, United kept pushing, searching for a morale-boosting equaliser. And it came in the final seconds of the game through Giggs as he rifled the ball home.
By now, it had become abundantly clear that no matter how well or poorly United played during a game, you could simply never write them off.
But this was only the beginning of the drama in this tie for United.
Juventus came flying out of the blocks in the second leg, with Filippo Inzaghi netting twice inside the opening 11 minutes to put his side in the driving seat and seemingly on their way to the final. But a truly remarkable – and somewhat under-appreciated – comeback was staged by Sir Alex’s men.
Roy Keane came up with a captain’s contribution to make it 2-1, before Yorke put United in the lead on aggregate after he found the net ten minutes before half time as the Red Devils turned on the style.
Cole sealed the win late on to send Man Utd through to the final, where another encounter with Bayern Munich awaited them….
It was a long road to Barcelona.
Comebacks. World class opponents. Late drama. You name it, Man Utd overcame countless challenges and obstacles on their way to the final. But they had made it, and they were just one win away from claiming the treble.
However, the Red Devils got off to the worst possible start, as Mario Basler struck direct from a free-kick with just over five minutes on the clock. Both sides had chances to score as the game progressed, with United notably being saved by the woodwork.
Time was running out fast though for the English side. Fans were desperate for a moment of quality, a slip, a mistake – anything.
With 91 minutes on the clock, United earned themselves a corner, which was sent straight into the middle. Yorke tried to throw himself at it, before it came out to Giggs who swiped at it but as it came back into the area, Teddy Sheringham reacted quickest to divert the ball into the bottom corner.
Was it the cleanest of connections? No, not at all.
Did Sheringham care – even one bit? No, not at all.
But this was a United team that wouldn’t just settle for grabbing an equaliser, they would push for the winner. And this is exactly what they did.
With seconds of the three additional minutes remaining, another cross from a corner came into the box, which Sheringham flicked on at the near post.
They call Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ‘the baby-faced assassin’ for a reason, and his nickname couldn’t be more applicable here, as the now-United boss showed his striking instincts by sticking out a leg to flick the ball home from close range to deliver one of the most dramatic and memorable finales to a Champions League final.
The final has, understandably, dominated the headlines even as the years have progressed considering the events that unfolded, but United’s whole 1998/99 Champions League campaign was nothing short of sensational – from start to finish.
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