Solskjaer has last word on treble

As mentioned in my “Name on the Trophy” blog on 21st September last year, where I’d recently discovered three e-mails from 26th May 2004 from my old work e-mail address in London to my hotmail account. It was something that I had completely forgotten I’d done, but now I’m glad I did as it’s been a fascinating read that I’d like to share with you.

The e-mails were entitled “Name on the Trophy!!! 26/05/1999 (1), (2) and (3)” and it was a load of quotes from the world of TV commentary from the day, as well as various newspaper reports from the days after the event. Below is another one of those reports and I have many more to come, enjoy reading them. I certainly have.

MANCHESTER United last night sated the magnificent obsession that has inspired their strivings these past 31 years when they pulled off one of the most astonishing victories in the history of the European Cup and finally emulated the great team of Sir Matt Busby.

In the end, it hardly seemed to matter that they had won the treble. That was almost forgotten in the incredible drama of a match that seemed to have been lost, of a triumph so sudden and shocking that it almost defied belief.

It had seemed that United’s attempt to win the trophy for the first time in 31 years had slipped to an anticlimactic failure, that they had fallen to a sixth-minute free kick from Mario Basler, that Bayern Munich had maintained the hold that German football seemed to have established over its English counterpart.

But as the red digital clocks at either end of the Nou Camp here showed that 90 minutes were up and Alex Ferguson began to prepare for the misery of defeat and the brave words of congratulation for the Germans, the unbelievable, the unthinkable, began to unfold before his eyes.

United’s desperation had already forced them to rely on a huge chunk of good fortune as they saw shots from Carsten Jancker and Mehmet Scholl rebound off the woodwork. With injury time beckoning, Peter Schmeichel joined the rest of the United team in the penalty area as Beckham prepared to take a corner.

It was cleared only to the edge of the box and when Ryan Giggs volleyed it back in, Teddy Sheringham, a second-half substitute, side-footed it into the corner of the net. United went wild; Bayern could not believe it.

Yet two minutes later, the match lapsed into surreality. Beckham took another corner, Sheringham flicked it on and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had been on the pitch for only eight minutes, hooked it into the roof of the net.

The Bayern players stood disbelieving as United fell into ecstasy. A few seconds later, the final whistle went, the Germans flung themselves to the floor in utter despair and the victory was complete.

Even United could scarcely believe it, but, when they wake this morning, they will know that they are the first English team for 15 years to lift the European Cup and that they have finally dragged themselves out of the shadow of Busby, George Best and Sir Bobby Charlton.

They are their own men, now, they have gone from excellence to greatness, they will be fêted as the most resilient, adventurous English side of all time. They have developed a reputation for coming back from the dead, but this was beyond anything we could have expected.

Now, we will talk about the moment when Sheringham scored, about the disbelief at Solskjaer’s strike in the same breath as we talk about Best’s goal against Benfica at Wembley all those years ago. Nothing could equal the drama of what United achieved here.

From before the start, the atmosphere surrounding the game had been laden with the weight of history and expectation. Eric Cantona sauntered around the white marquees that ringed the stadium, Charlton sat nervously in the stands with the rest of the United directors.

In the opening minutes, in particular, it all seemed like a crushing burden on Alex Ferguson’s players. They looked as though they were frozen with tension, with the realisation of how close they suddenly were to the prize that they had sought for so long. Schmeichel, playing in his last game for the club, appeared to be particularly badly affected. Usually the epitome of decisiveness and urgency, he twice fell into the grip of hesitation before his team had had time to settle and was forced into hasty, inelegant clearances that hinted at panic.

The United goalkeeper was also partly to blame when Bayern took the lead in the sixth minute. Passes from Jens Jeremies and Michael Tarnat had split the United defence and forced Ronny Johnsen into making a clumsy foul on Carsten Jancker, but Schmeichel arranged a long wall of red shirts on the edge of the area that should have been unbreachable.

Basler took the kick. He did not do anything fancy or attempt to bend the ball over the wall and under the crossbar. Instead, as Marcus Babbel dragged Nicky Butt out of the way, he clipped it round the side of the United players so that it arrowed straight into the right-hand corner of the net. Schmeichel stood rooted to the spot.

It was then that attention began to focus on Ferguson’s bold experiment of playing Beckham in the centre of midfield, with Ryan Giggs switched to the right wing and Jesper Blomqvist stationed on the left. In the first half, it simply did not work.

It was not Beckham’s fault. When he did get possession, he used it wisely and well, spraying passes right and left towards Andy Cole, Giggs and Blomqvist, but far from being discomfited by the sight of Beckham occupying his unfamiliar role, Bayern seemed to be encouraged by it.

When United had possession, Bayern pushed Lothar Matthäus forward into midfield, where Beckham was already facing the formidable twin obstacle of Stefan Effenberg and Jeremies.

It was simple enough, but it had the effect of swamping Butt and Beckham and denying them the time or space to operate. When the German champions chose to counter-attack, United missed the doggedness of the suspended Roy Keane and Paul Scholes and Bayern sliced through them.

Oliver Kahn was forced to make a save for the first time midway through the half, when he punched Yorke’s flick away at the near post, and Beckham nearly created a chance for Cole with a raking, 50-yard pass that split the Bayern defence.

Still Bayern seemed the more dangerous side, though, still it was their counter-attacks that carried the most penetration. From one of these on the half-hour, Jeremies burst into great expanses of space, but, when Jancker back-heeled his pass to Zickler on the edge of the box, Zickler dragged it wide.

The start of the second half did not bring any change of fortune or incisiveness for United. Nine minutes after the interval, Babbel could have put Bayern farther ahead, but, under pressure from Johnsen, he glanced his header from a corner by Basler just wide. Two minutes later, Blomqvist wasted an excellent chance when he scooped a cross from Giggs over the bar from six yards.

Nothing was working for United. Giggs tried to sell a dummy to Basler and saw it intercepted, Cole tried an audacious overhead kick and almost missed it completely. The Germans were proving far more resilient opponents than any other of the teams that United have played so far this season.

Midway through the half, Ferguson bowed to the inevitable and introduced Sheringham for Blomqvist. Yet that did not turn tide immediately, either. The more they pressed forward, the more desperate and vulnerable United became.

Football. bloody hell!

In the 73rd minute, Schmeichel made an outstanding save from Effenberg after Jancker’s first-time pass had put him clear. A few minutes later, after Basler’s run had turned Johnsen inside out, Schmeichel was powerless as he watched Mehmet Scholl’s delicate chip float over him. To the relief of the United section of the crowd, the chip rebounded off the post.

United had another lucky escape a few minutes later, when Jancker’s overhead kick crashed off the underside of the crossbar. They forced a couple of opportunities of their own through Solskjaer and Sheringham, but the Germans remained defiant and resolute – until United’s desperate last assault.

BAYERN MUNICH (3-5-2): O Kahn – T Linke, L Matthäus (sub: T Fink, 79min), S Kuffour – M Babbel, J Jeremies, S Effenberg, M Basler (sub: H Salihamidzic, 89), M Tarnat – C Jancker, A Zickler (sub: M Scholl, 70).

MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): P Schmeichel – G Neville, R Johnsen, J Stam, D Irwin – R Giggs, D Beckham, N Butt, J Blomqvist (sub: E Sheringham, 67) – A Cole (sub: O G Solskjaer, 81), D Yorke.
Referee: P Collina (Italy).

#6 Solskjaer has last word on treble – THE TIMES

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