It happens in the game, people slip
- Carlton Palmer. Actual quote in the halftime show.
Beckham… into Sheringham… and Solskjær has won it!
- Clive Tyldesley. That unforgettable night
Football is called Jogo Bonito because of its very split-second game-changing characteristics. Most other games have a degree of predictability, or a slightly lesser significance attached to individual/single moments of brilliance. In football, done at the right time, such moments can end a game. This image, etched in every Manc’s memory and echoing in his head every time the video is played, is a brilliant example of such a game-ending moment. It’s like the crescendo in the 1812 Overture. It takes nothing away from the brilliance of the game, but it’s only at the crescendo that the spine truly tingles. Here come the cannons…
When we drew Bayern in the Quarters and got put in the same side of the draw as the Lyon-Bordeaux tie, most ‘purists’ immediately bemoaned our easy path to the final and the cancelling out of each other by the game’s most ‘aesthetic’ sides. Admittedly, I felt a bit relieved myself. Our molestation by Barca at Rome is still too fresh in the memory and frankly, I’m bored of pulling down Arsenal’s pants again and again and again. Inter was one to avoid as well, but only because that had all the likelihood of turning into a chess game between the most succesful manager in United’s history and the man quite likely to succeed him. That left only Bayern to make it an interesting tie. Throw in the ’99 final history and it’s all very well set up for clever newspaper headlines and sweeping pop-culture quotes.
It was to be United’s irresistible force against Bayern’s immovable object. It was practically a given that we were going to score on the night, and when Nani got kicked in the shin by Demichelis and Rooney ran free in the 6-yard box after a slip by, again, Demichelis, it wasn’t unfair that images of AC and the San Siro flashed through my head. That point forward though, United were anything but an irresisitible force and Bayern were anything but immovable. The next 70 minutes were about Bayern knocking on the door and United’s back door keeping it firmly shut. When it was not shut enough, VDS stepped up with an age-defying performance, keeping the harrying Bayern forward line at bay.
Bayern’s equaliser was almost unfair to the quality of the game the two sides had shown. For most parts, it was attack vs defence, as waves of red kept pouring ahead and crashing into waves of white. Mark van Bommel particularly stood out, quite literally as well, but simply by the amount of space he found for himself while reducing the total time and space that Scholes found to zero. Lahm was rampant on the right, with Nani having one of his petulant nights and Evra being uncharactersitically out of it. Ribery was shackled, and yet managed to break free enough times to get in a few of the zillion Bayern shots that VDS collected. Eventually, it was him. It had to be him, in the absence of Robben. As his freekick deflected in off our Golden Boy leaving the excellent VDS for dead, the script had already headed towards being filed under the genre ‘Poetic Justice’. CL ’99, Bayern take the lead, courtesy a deflected freekick against the best goalkeeper of that time. Not to sound Nostradamus, but that was the moment where I empathised with all the passengers of the Titanic for that feeling they had…
Wayne Rooney. Golden Boy. Sure favourite for all the awards. Best striker on form/goals scored. England’s great big World Cup hope. Scorer of the sub-minute goal on the night. Zoned out, frustrated and again uncharacteristically off colour for the rest of the night. When Fletcher’s ball form the left fell for him perfectly as Demichelis completely missed it’s flight again, you would think he would have put it in with his eyes closed. Strangely, he took a needless extra touch, transferred it on to his weaker foot, and waited till there were 3 Bayern bodies between him and the goal. Spurned chance No. 1. As a lone striker, and with no person playing beihnd him as Park had in the AC game, Rooney was an out-jumped, outnumbered figure throughout the game. It’s come down to that now for us hasn’t it? If he’s not in the mood, we might as well forget it.
I have no words to describe Olic recreating our Ole moment. I had settled for the 1-1, and yet when Olic cut straight across our back four who had all gathered around Gomez like pins to a magnet, there was no wild hammering in the heart. Maybe because it was always coming, and when Vidic had practically destroyed the Bayern goal’s crossbar, maybe I just knew it wasn’t going to be our night. Maybe it was the knowledge that 2-1 in a first leg is still very decent going to Old T. Or maybe it was ‘Screw all this shit, why the heck is Wayne on the ground?!’ I think it was the last one. At the time this is written, we’re still on ‘why’s he on the ground’ and very very restless about it. Looks like the Chelsea game is a sure no no though. Bloody f***ing hell.
Are we going to go through? Definitely think so, yes. Could we have done any better on the night? I think we all know the answer to that one. Did Fergie have one of his rare nights of tactical failure as our midfield simply got sat on? That’s tending well towards the ‘Yes’. Is this the end of the season? My left butt cheek.