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Where does Manchester United's Champions League victory rank amongst the famous Old Trafford nights?

By: James Fenton 20 Mar 2014 15:47:49

Where does Manchester United's Champions League victory rank amongst the famous Old Trafford nights?

'The Chosen One'. Words that have been displayed on a banner hanging from Old Trafford's Stretford End since the start of the season. Last night, before kick-off, much of the talk was of whether the banner should come down in protest at the apparent failure of David Moyes to live up to that title. Sir Alex Ferguson, the man who chose him, was in the crowd last night and nobody would have had a bigger grin on their face at the final whistle than the legendary Manchester United manager. Except maybe (no, definitely) the current incumbent of the Old Trafford hot seat.

Memories of wondrous European nights at Old Trafford would have came flooding back to Ferguson at full-time as he had just witnessed his successor's finest hour of a season that has, until last night, been draped in mediocrity.

For Manchester United to overcome a 2-0 first leg deficit to Olympiacos, Old Trafford had to produce one of it's greatest ever European nights. The team needed to produce their most committed performance of a lacklustre season. To a man, they did just that. Robin Van Persie helped himself to a splendid hat-trick. Goalkeeper David de Gea produced a number of world-class saves to keep the dangerous Olympiacos at bay. And 40-year-old Ryan Giggs blew off the cobwebs with a tremendous performance in the middle of the park.

The fans knew they had to deliver too. They duly obliged as they sang their hearts out for 90 minutes. They were rewarded with the feeling of leaving the stadium with their heads held higher than they have been since United clinched their 20th league title last season.

Last night will live long in the memory but where does it rank among the great European nights at Old Trafford? Here, we look at five other memorable evenings at the Theatre of Dreams:

5. March 5th 1997 - Manchester United 4-0 FC Porto

Having brought three of the first four Premier League titles to Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson's eyes were now firmly fixed on conquering Europe.

Porto came to town for the first leg of a quarter-final and United needed to ensure that they travelled to Portugal two weeks later with a positive result in the bag. They did just that, in front of a raucous home support, as goals from David May, Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, and Andy Cole gave them a 4-0 first leg lead.

A 0-0 draw in the return saw United qualify for a first semi-final in 29 years where they were defeated 2-0 on aggregate by eventual champions Borussia Dortmund.

The victory against Porto gave United belief that they could blow away strong European opposition and set the momentum for the Treble they would win two years later.

4. April 23rd 2003 - Manchester United 4-3 Real Madrid

With David Beckham watching on from the bench and speculation over his future mounting, United needed to overturn a 3-1 first leg deficit in order to qualify for the semi-final.

The final was due to be played at Old Trafford that season and Ferguson was desperate to lift the trophy in Manchester.

The ground was rocking in anticipation of a most unlikely of turnarounds. It wasn't to be however, as Zidane and Co. essentially put the tie to bed early on. A superb hat-trick from the 'Brazilian Ronaldo' (known at the time as plain old 'Ronaldo') ensured he received a standing ovation from United's appreciative supporters upon being substituted.

Two goals from Beckham after he came on, along with a Ruud Van Nistelrooy strike and an Ivan Helguera own goal gave United a 4-3 victory on the night but sadly it wasn't to be as the comeback kings fell to 6-5 aggregate defeat.

3. March 21st 1984 - Manchester United 3-0 Barcelona

With trophies hard to come by in the barren years between the glittering reigns of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson, United fans knew that a victory in the European Cup-Winners Cup would constitute success as the shadow of Liverpool's trophy-laden side towered over them.

Ron Atkinson was in charge and Bryan Robson was the star of the show. Trailing 2-0 from the first leg to a Barcelona team containing a 23-year-old Diego Maradona, Robson gave the supporters hope by converting a diving header in the first half. 'Captain Marvel' produced one of his greatest performances in a United shirt as he added another goal in the second half before Frank Stapleton sealed a 3-2 aggregate victory.

After the final whistle sounded, fans poured onto the pitch to celebrate reaching a semi-final where United would come unstuck against Juventus.

2. April 10th 2007 - Manchester United 7-1 Roma

Roma's Daniele De Rossi may have scored arguably the goal of the night but he had plenty of competition from the team dressed in red.

In the season where Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney came into their own, Roma travelled to Manchester leading 2-1 from the first leg of this quarter-final.

What followed was an absolute annihilation, with the atmosphere electric throughout. United were leading 4-0 (5-2 on aggregate) by half-time thanks to superb strikes from Michael Carrick, Alan Smith, Rooney, and Ronaldo. Carrick and Ronaldo added another goal each in the the second half while emerging fans' favourite Patrice Evra completed the rout.

United went onto face Italian opposition again in the semi-final but failed to get past A.C. Milan. They would win their third European Cup 13 months later in a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea in Moscow. The defeat of Roma set a precedent and prompted Europe to sit up and take notice of the talents Ronaldo and Rooney, amongst others.

1. April 29th 2008 - Manchester United 1-0 Barcelona.

If ever there was evidence that goals are not needed to make great spectacles, than this game was it.

The semi-final was finely poised after a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp. Before kick-off, the teams were greeted by the sight of the word 'BELIEVE' spelt out in huge letters by the home crowd. The two giants of late-2000's European football poked and prodded at each other for 90 minutes, both desperate to go on and win a third European crown.

United's supporters, still feeling lumps in their throats from marking the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster that February, sang their lungs out throughout in an attempt to drag their club over the finish line.

It was Paul Scholes who scored the only goal of the game in the 14th minute with a sublime swerving drive from outside the box. Barcelona had a number of opportunities to clinch a crucial away goal but not one of United's players gave them an inch. The central defensive duo of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were impenetrable as they blocked late shots from Thierry Henry and Deco.

The final whistle was met with a euphoric release of emotion as Ferguson reached his second European Cup final and United's third. The Moscow victory over Chelsea three weeks later meant United were crowned kings of Europe for the third time, in a fitting tribute to their predecessors who lost their lives so tragically 50 years previously.

Whether or not David Moyes is around to witness many more nights quite like the 19th of March 2014, he can take great pride in his team selection and the way he set his side up. If the result proves to be another false dawn, and the Scot's contract is dispensed with in the near future, he will always have the memory of Olympiakos. Good on ya, Dave.


DSG

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