That Night in Barcelona

It’s amazing what procrastination can yield. Here I am, no more than three weeks away from finishing my master’s…but instead of spending the afternoon plugging the considerable holes in my major research paper, I’ve instead spent it searching Splitting Images Lookalike Agency’s website and trawling Limewire for the series finale of Dawson’s Creek (mission accomplished, by the way). In the process I also stumbled across a true video gem: the goals from Manchester United’s famous 2-1 Champions League win over Bayern Munich. My life as a sports fan has been chequered, to say the least, but United’s victory in Barcelona stands as a prominent, glorious exception.

Last season Liverpool clinched the Champions League in equally dramatic fashion by coming back from 3-0 down again A.C. Milan, having their ‘keeper pull off not one but two of the greatest saves in the history of soccer and then scoring an improbable win in the shootout. But rewatching the last two minutes from Barcelona reminded me exactly of why that final is–for me, anyway–the most dramatic sporting victory I’ve ever witnessed.

How can I forget…

  • Feeling disconsolate as the referee’s assistant showed three minutes of added time
  • David Beckham, ostensibly making up for the absent Roy Keane and Paul Scholes (both suspended for the final), exerting unusual influence in midfield.
  • Beckham rampaging Stevie Gerrard style through the Bayern defense…honestly, why wasn’t he deployed in central midfield more often?
  • Gary Neville’s cross being cut out for a corner. The crowd roars as Beckham races to take it. Clyde Tyldsley: “Can Manchester United score? They always score!”
  • Beckham swings the ball into the Bayern penalty area, aiming in the general direction of Peter Schmeichel. After a few seconds the ball lands at the feet of Ryan Giggs, whose misguided shot is turned into the net by Teddy Sheringham. Pandemonium. Clock shows 90:35. (And while we’re talking about it, how close was that goal to being offside? Another step and history probably rewrites itself.)
  • Immediately after the restart a long ball gets pumped up to Ole Gunnar Soskjaer. I feel as though people forget just how good he was in this game…which makes sense, really, considering what happens next. But once Solskjaer was introduced, Bayern always looked the weaker side; he had at least two excellent stops stopped by Oliver Kahn. At any rate, he wins United another corner. Once again, the crowd roars; once again, Beckham races to take it. Tyldsley: “Is this their moment?”
  • Beckham swings in another ball, Sheringham flicks it forward and Solskjaer stabs the ball into the roof of the net. Absolute chaos; Solskjaer gets mobbed by his teammates, while the Bayern players collapse in disbelief.
  • Clock shows 92:17; unless I’m totally wrong, United scored twice in 1:42. Of injury time.
  • The face of German misery was, without question, that guy who looked exactly like Manuel from Fawlty Towers–just a total combination of shock, sadness, sorrow and other adjectives that don’t necessarily being with the letter “s”.
  • Raymond van der Gouw is a Champions League winner?
  • I love that Phil Neville led the charge of the substitutes after Solskajer’s goal…seriously, how weird must it have been for him last weekend? (Neville got sold to Everton, who opened the season by losing 2-0 to United.)
  • Sir Alex Ferguson’s immortal post-game comment: “Football–bloody hell!”
  • Schmeichel hoisting the Champions League trophy as the Nou Camp goes mental. Somehow, David May deigned himself worthy of standing atop the podium, even though he played (as far as I can recall) a single first team game all year long. In the process he became an icon for party crashers the world over.

And that was it. Honestly, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to find a copy of the goals; I can finally replace the silent versions I’ve had kicking around my hard drive for the past few years. In the end, you can’t really compare United and Liverpool’s wins…and therein lies the beauty of sports: there’s no right or wrong answers, just as there’s no sense in arguing over whether Rachel Bilson is more attractive than Mischa Barton. For us argumentative types, sports gives us a forum to be at our belligerent best, but also provides a safety net: ultimately, nobody’s more right than anybody else. In that spirit, the ’99 Champions League final is still the greatest sporting victory I’ve ever experienced. Until the Vikings or the Leafs win a championship I don’t see that changing.

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