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Champions League Classics: Juventus 2-3 United

Read this, then watch an inspirational 1999 semi-final performance on UEFA.tv.

United celebrate after Andy Cole scores in the second half
United celebrate after Andy Cole scores in the second half

A booking in Turin meant Roy Keane would miss out on the UEFA Champions League final – if United got there. Watch a famously gutsy comeback.

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Context

First leg highlights: Man. United 1-1 Juventus
First leg highlights: Man. United 1-1 Juventus

Having drawn a complete blank the previous season, United were aiming for an unprecedented trophy treble in 1998/99 – though their hopes dwindled a little after a 1-1 home draw with Juventus in their UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg. No English side had reached the final since 1985, and with star winger Ryan Giggs ruled out at the last minute, the Red Devils' chances looked slender.

Key players

Roy Keane: The fiercest of all the tigerish midfielders, the Irishman was the snapping, snarling heart of Sir Alex Ferguson’s great United teams. His ferocity was well known, and evidence of an astonishing level of commitment – as he would show in extremis in Turin.

Filippo Inzaghi: It was a measure of Super Pippo’s goalscoring acumen that his final tally of 20 strikes in all competitions for Juve in 1998/99 was something of a letdown. His ruthless finishing against United should have fast-tracked his side to the final.

Andrew Cole: A high-profile signing from Newcastle in 1995, Cole faced fierce competition for a place at United but his instincts and fine array of finishes helped him cement his position – and establish a seemingly-telepathic partnership with Dwight Yorke.

What happened

Great Champions League goals from 1998/99
Great Champions League goals from 1998/99

Inzaghi struck twice inside the first 11 minutes to turn United's mission from an arduous one into a seemingly-impossible one, but Sir Alex's men displayed immense resilience. Keane got them back in contention with a header from a corner, and then kept his head after being booked for a challenge on Zinédine Zidane which would cause him to be suspended for any final.

Yorke levelled matters before half-time to put United ahead on away goals, but while Carlo Ancelotti rejigged his team to give the hosts more bite, Ronny Johnsen and Jaap Stam held firm at the back for the Reds. And if United were hanging on at times, they still found space on the break, Yorke ultimately slipping the ball through for Cole to round Angelo Peruzzi and confirm an astonishing win.

Reaction

Roy Keane, United midfielder: "[Dismissing talk of his selfless performance] It's like praising the postman for delivering letters."

Legendary Moments: Sir Alex on '99 glory
Legendary Moments: Sir Alex on '99 glory

Sir Alex Ferguson, United manager: "[Keane's] was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing as if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player."

Jesper Blomqvist, United midfielder: "Instead of being depressed, [Keane] used that booking as motivation because he wanted to make sure we got to the final. The way he played, flying into tackles, made it easier because, if he was not the first one doing that, you can't really ask anyone else to do it. But the way he played inspired you and meant you were ready to do the same."

Elsewhere that night

Both semi-finals were played simultaneously. Bayern München had struck twice late on to earn a 3-3 draw in the first leg of their encounter with Dynamo Kyiv, and booked their place in the Camp Nou decider with a 1-0 home success, Mario Basler on target in the first half. Paul Scholes and Keane had scored against Bayern in the group stage, but both would be absent for the final. "It's a tragedy," said Sir Alex.

Aftermath

Manchester United v Bayern: The full story of the 1999 final
Manchester United v Bayern: The full story of the 1999 final

The 1999 UEFA Champions League final had perhaps the most dramatic ending of them all. Trailing to Basler's early goal, United sent goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel up for a late corner, but it was Teddy Sheringham who equalised for them in the first minute of added time. Ole Gunnar Solskjær then made it 2-1 before the final whistle. Sir Alex's much-quoted post-match reaction: "Football, bloody hell."

While United celebrated a Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble, Juventus attempted to put a disappointing campaign behind them, a seventh-placed Serie A finish sending them into the UEFA Intertoto Cup. They have lost both subsequent home matches against the Reds: 3-0 in 2003 and 2-1 in 2018.

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