Manchester United Football Club is not just massive in England but also worldwide. The Red Devils are, in fact, one of the biggest draws around the globe when it comes to merchandise and foreign fans. The big reason for their popularity around the world is that throughout their history, they have been successful on the field, both in domestic and European competitions.
The men from Manchester have won the English top-flight title on a record 20 occasions, as well as winning the European Cup/Champions League on three occasions. That is without mentioning the other numerous trophies that United have won at home and abroad.
Non-champions in the Champions League final
By the time the 1999 Champions League final rolled around, clubs other than champions featured in Europe’s elite football competition. However, the 99’ final was the first in its history to feature two teams that hadn’t won their domestic titles in the previous season.
By the time the pair met in the final, though, both had regained their domestic titles in season 1998/99.
Busby and the boys clinch their first European win in 1968
Manchester United’s first ever European Cup triumph arrived in 1968 when Sir Matt Busby’s team saw off Benfica 4-1 after extra time at Wembley in front of over 92,000 fans, primarily supporters of the Red Devils, as the Portuguese giants were only allocated 10,000 tickets compared to United’s 30,000 allocation. The game was believed to have been watched by around 250 million people worldwide, which was a massive number for its time.
United dominated the early proceeding, but Benfica attempted to put the Red Devils off their stride through some tough tackling, with star man George Best on the receiving end of most of the Portuguese team’s aggression. However, United took the lead on 53 minutes, as Bobby Charlton headed home from a David Sadler cross. Benfica equalised with just 11 minutes left on the clock, though, as Jaime Graca scored, assisted by Jose Augusto.
The goal took the game into extra time. It didn’t take United long to regain the lead, though, as three minutes into extra-time, George Best latched on to a Brian Kidd knockdown, dribbled past a few defenders before rounding Jose Henrique and firing home into an unguarded net. Two minutes later, United doubled the lead as Kidd headed home after Henrique had saved Sadler’s effort. Charlton wrapped up the game nine minutes into extra-time from a Kidd pass.
The victory was not only United’s maiden European Cup victory, but they also became only the second British team after Celtic to win European football’s elite competition. They were the first English team to win the prestigious competition.
The miracle of the Nou Camp
It took Manchester United over 30 years to win their next European Cup, as the Red Devils triumphed 2-1 over Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp in Barcelona in the Champions League final. The game will go down in the folklore as one of the most memorable in the history of the European Cup.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s team didn’t enjoy the best of starts, as Bayern scored after just six minutes. Ronny Johnsen fouled giant striker Carsten Jancker just outside the United area, and Mario Basler placed a low free-kick beyond the reach of Peter Schmeichel in the United goal.
Both teams had first-half chances, including Ryan Giggs tamely heading straight at Oliver Kahn, while Basler and Jancker also came close to doubling Bayern’s lead at the other end of the pitch. The German giants made the brighter start to the second period, as Jancker forced Schmeichel into an early save, and Basler just missed the target from 30 yards out. Swedish winger Jasper Blomqvist fired over the bar from a Ryan Giggs cross as United searched for an equaliser.
United boss Ferguson decided to turn to his bench in search of the equaliser as Teddy Sheringham entered the field of play. However, Bayern looked more like scoring the game’s second goal. Substitute Mehmet Scholl set up Stefan Effenberg, whose effort from distance narrow went wide of Schmeichel’s goal.
With 15 minutes left on the clock, the United goalkeeper kept his team in the game by tipping over another effort from Effenberg. Scholl went even closer soon afterwards as his superb chipped effort came back of the post and into the grateful hands of Schmeichel.
With just ten minutes remaining, Ferguson once again looked for inspiration from his bench as he introduced Norwegian striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The former Molde striker almost made an immediate impact, as his header forced Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn into a diving save to maintain the Bavarian’s lead. Bayern came close to doubling their advantage as an overhead kick from Jancker came crashing off the United bar. In the dying minutes of normal time, Kahn had to produce two saves from Sheringham and Solskjaer.
As the board went up for three minutes of stoppage-time, it looked like United’s chances of winning a second European Cup were ebbing away. United were not finished, though and early in stoppage-time, they won a corner kick. David Beckham swung in a corner into the penalty area that found Dwight Yorke, who forced the ball back into the box. Bayern defender Thomas Fink’s weak clearance landed at the feet of Ryan Giggs on the edge of the area. The Welshman’s effort was poor but landed at the feet of Sheringham, whose low effort found the bottom corner of the net.
Incredibly, 30 seconds after the equaliser, United claimed the winning goal. Another Beckham corner kick found Sheringham, whose header towards goal was poked height into the roof of the Bayern net by fellow substitute Solskjaer. The effort was virtually the last kick of the game, as although Bayern restarted the game, they were too disheartened to press for an equaliser after two body blows in stoppage-time.
So surprising was United’s late comeback that Bayern Munich’s ribbons were already attached to the trophy. UEFA President Lennart Johansson left his seat early and missed the two United goals. He was surprised to be presenting the trophy to the men from Manchester, not Munich.
United win first ever all-English final in 2008
The Red Devils’ most recent Champions League victory came in 2008 when their opponents were Premier League rivals, Chelsea. The match finished 1-1 after normal and extra-time, with United winning the penalty shootout 6-5. The clash was the first-ever all-English European Cup final.
The game started in a pretty cautious manner, although the opening goal arrived on 26 minutes. United’s versatile Wes Brown produced a superb cross, and star man Cristiano Ronaldo rose highest to head past Petr Cech. Chelsea came close to restoring parity on 33 minutes, as Didier Drogba headed back across goal from a Frank Lampard centre.
There was nearly disaster for United, as Edwin van der Sar had to keep out a header from his own player Rio Ferdinand, with the defender under pressure from Michael Ballack. Ferguson’s team pushed for a second goal, but Cech was in fine form, saving from both Carlos Tevez and Michael Carrick in the same attack.
Chelsea equalised just before half-time, though, as Lampard finished from close range after Michael Essien’s long-range effort had deflected off both Nemanja Vidic and Ferdinand, deceiving Van Der Sar in the United goal.
The equaliser so late in the first half seemed to galvanise the Blues. Essien curled a 54th-minute effort well over the goal before Drogba struck the post from 25 yards out. The Ivorian international also fired wide of goal 81 minutes. Neither team could find a winning goal, so the final went to extra time.
Extra time produced a lively encounter. Lampard hit the underside of the crossbar before Ryan Giggs saw an under-hit effort cleared off the Chelsea goalline by John Terry. With players struggling with cramp late in extra-time, an incident involving Carlos Tevez caused a fracas, which resulted in Chelsea striker Drogba’s dismissal.
The game’s penalty shootout created nearly as much drama as the game itself. At 4-3 to Chelsea, Blues captain John Terry stepped up to score what would have been the winning goal. However, the defender lost his footing on his run-up, with his resulting spot-kick hitting the outside of the right post.
Substitute Anderson and Giggs scored their penalties, as did Chelsea’s Salomon Kalou. Van der Sar then saved Nicolas Anelka’s low penalty to the right to win his team their European Cup.
Manchester United in transition stage after Ferguson’s exit
Since the 2013 retirement of legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United have seemingly been in a permanent state of transition. Many top bosses and players have been and gone, but 2008 remains the Red Devils’ final Champions League triumph.
Although the men from Manchester may not have won the Champions League in recent years, their three European Cup wins will go down in history as some of the most memorable in the competition.