It's comingggg!!!!!

By Ken Ferris

LONDON, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Manchester United face AC Milan at Old Trafford on Wednesday hoping to get past the Italians in the European Cup for the first time.

The Old Trafford club have not had many opportunities to beat the team from the San Siro, but their two encounters in the competition were both memorable.

The first clash was in May 1958 after the Munich air disaster had ripped the heart out of the Busby Babes, the exciting young side named after manager Matt Busby.

Eight players were among the 23 people killed in Munich when United's plane crashed on take-off after a refuelling stop on the way back from their quarter-final tie in Belgrade.

United had no choice but to soldier on and a patched-up team reached the FA Cup final, losing 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers. Just a few weeks before the crash, United had thrashed Bolton 7-2.

Busby's players had one final commitment to fulfil after the disappointment of their FA Cup final defeat. They still had to play a European Cup semi-final against AC Milan.

United put up a fight in the first leg at Old Trafford and came back from a goal down to win 2-1 with a goal from Dennis Viollet and an Ernie Taylor penalty.

However, United's season caught up with them in the return six days later in Milan. They had the support of every neutral in world football but it was asking too much of their players to overcome such experienced opponents. They lost 4-0.

The brave attempt to pursue their European dream in such a traumatic season was over but Busby's quest to win the European Cup in memory of those who had lost their lives had just begun.


Ten years later an exciting team including the triumvirate of George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law achieved what many thought was United's destiny by lifting the European Cup with a 4-1 extra-time victory over Eusebio's Benfica at Wembley.

The following season, United reached the semi-final again only to face Milan 11 years after their defeat at the same stage of the competition in very different circumstances.

The holders did not fare well in the first leg at the San Siro, losing 2-0 after John Fitzpatrick was sent off. However, they had players with flair and imagination who could contrive goals out of nothing and believed they could still go through.

Charlton, a survivor of the Munich crash, took a pass from Best to score after 70 minutes of a tense return leg at Old Trafford and United thought they had equalised on aggregate 13 minutes from time through predatory Scottish striker Law.

However, French referee Marcel Machin did not signal a goal, despite Law's frantic claims that the ball had crossed the line following a goalmouth melee and United lost their trophy.

"The goal at Old Trafford was over the line by a yard and their defender dragged the ball back," recalls United's Pat Crerand. "If it wasn't a goal, it should have been a penalty."

Milan, coached by Nereo Rocco and captained by the great Gianni Rivera, were helped at Old Trafford by a brilliant performance from keeper Fabio Cudicini, father of Chelsea's Carlo, who played on after being knocked out by a missile.

Milan beat Ajax Amsterdam 4-1 in the Madrid final but United's defeat in Busby's last European tie was followed by a decline that saw them relegated from the top flight in 1974.

Best, just 22 when United lifted the European Cup in 1968, had already foreseen the troubles ahead.

"For Matt and Bobby Charlton, for Bill Foulkes, for Denis Law... they'd done it," he said. "Then they sat back and could almost hear the energy and ambition sighing out of the club."

United's ambition will not be lacking against the six-times winners of the trophy at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.
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Anonymous said...

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Elf said...

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Anonymous said...

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- srox