Date:Wednesday April 23 2008
I'm unbelievably nervous ahead of tonight's big game at Barcelona. Coming so close only to fail dismally again - it would be only too painful to bear.
It's often said that United underachieved in the European Cup and it's true: we've got the the semi-final nine times which is good - we've progressed to the final two times which is abysmal.
I decided to have a look at the defeats of recent history to remind everyone of the disappointments of these years.
Borussia Dortmund, 1997
For me, easily the most painful. It was King Eric's last chance to win the ol' big ears with us and our semi-final opponents did not seem unbeatable at all. They weren't: but quite simply, we could not put the ball into the net. The Germans won both legs 1-0 but it was far from straightforward: especially at Old Trafford, we spurned chance after chance. I think they're still wondering how they emerged unscathed from these two games.
A creditable 0-0 draw away in a little, soulless stadium set us up nicely for a second leg of this quarter-final. However, they took the lead through that Trezeguet chap - you might have heard of him, won the Euro 2000 for the French... - and though Solskjaer equalised we could not muster another, winnig goal. So close, again...
Real Madrid, 2000
Oh my god. Andy Cole missed the mother of all chances in the first leg but a 0-0 draw seemed acceptable, especially considering the heroics Mark Bosnich had to perform to achieve it. But it all fell apart at Old Trafford: we battered them from start to finish but Iker Casillas was like some demon or more aptly, the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to Hades... A Roy Keane own goal and two lightning counters and that was it. We lost only 3-2 in the end but never had a chance after going three down.
Bayern Munich, 2001
A very dire game and a very ineffective United performance at Old Trafford, combined with a late sucker punch did not bode well. In Germany, they were 2-0 up quickly and though Giggs scored right at the beginning of the first half, our siege afterwards came to nothing but another exit.
Bayer Leverkusen, 2002
Second on my list of terrible Champs League memories. We defended like headless chickens in the first leg and could not gain an advantage and the 2-2 scoreline was really like a dream for the visitors. In the second leg, we had Roy Keane back and he played magnificently, putting us in front in the first half. However, in injury time Barthez failed to deal with Oliver Neuville's shot and though we battered them in the second half - misses from Forlan and Solskjaer were particularly painful - we went out once again to an inferior team.
Real Madrid, 2003
The least painful of all. Two wonderful games of football, played with skill, grace and desire. Real deserved to go through but this game really should have been the final.
We've lost to the eventual champions in sickening fashion. After going 2-1 down in the first leg, we took the lead through Scholes and should have doubled it but for a bad offside call. It shouldn't have mattered in the end but for Howard: he palmed a free-kick right into the path of Costinha who scored the equaliser - and we had to witness Mourinho running all the way to the byline in front of the South Stand...
Quinton Fortune and Paul Scholes missed great chances to put us in front in the first leg. After the first 20 minutes, Milan were in total control of the game at Old Trafford and scored due to a Carroll blunder. In the second leg, Giggs hit the post early on but that was all as Milan once again took control and finally, in the second half, converted one of their numerous chances to really put us out of our misery.
I mean, come on! We've scored THREE goals in six group games. Awful. We took the lead in the Stadium of Light (no, not Sunderland but Lisbon) then could not hold onto it though the result in Villarreal (a home win over Lille) meant that even a draw would have been enough. Embarassing.
And of course we all remember last season when an injury-ravaged defence could not cope with the freshness of Milan's rested stars and we ended up being well beaten. Time for a change of fortunes methinks.
Date:Wednesday April 23 2008
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