United as one: Schmeichel and Kahn

Champions Matchday looks at two goalkeepers who led from the back, continuing the series when legends of the game came together in European Cup finals.

Peter Schmeichel holds the UEFA Champions League trophy after the 1999 final
Peter Schmeichel holds the UEFA Champions League trophy after the 1999 final ©Getty Images

It was no great shock that Manchester United FC and FC Bayern München met in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final. That both teams were captained by goalkeepers, however, was something of a surprise.

Ottmar Hitzfeld's Bayern favoured a sweeper system in Europe, with Lothar Matthäus playing slightly behind central defenders Samuel Kuffour and Thomas Linke. This meant there was no place for club captain Thomas Helmer, who was on the bench for the final.

In a team of strong personalities from Matthäus to Stefan Effenberg, one player stood out: inspirational goalkeeper and future Germany captain Oliver Kahn. "An amazing personality and such a strong goalkeeper. He gave 200%, even in training," remembered Kuffour.

United reached the final by virtue of a heroic semi-final win against Juventus, despite being 3-1 down after 20 minutes in the return leg in Turin. Yet victory came at a cost, as Roy Keane and Paul Scholes were suspended for the final.

United had leaders in Gary Neville, Ronny Johnsen and Jaap Stam but, in Keane's absence, goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel (also known as 'The Great Dane') was the most influential. The final was to be his last game for the club.

Kahn and Schmeichel had much in common. Both were world-class talents, physically imposing and extremely vocal – Kahn was even occasionally nicknamed 'Volkahno'.

Mario Basler's free-kick that edged Bayern ahead at Camp Nou won't feature in a showreel of Schmeichel's finest moments and, when Kahn tipped over Ole Gunnar Solskjær's header, the Roten's ascendency seemed confirmed.

In retrospect, the turning point came early in the second half when Schmeichel saved from Carsten Jancker. The Dane said: "Two-nil would have been more difficult, but I had the feeling – I've had it many times in my career – that that's the end of them scoring; now it's down to us."

On what would have been the 90th birthday of Sir Matt Busby, the manager who won United's first European Cup in 1968, the Red Devils won the final with the greatest late, late show in the competition's history.

Kahn was helpless for United's goals, but Schmeichel's rampage into the Bayern box was a distraction as Teddy Sheringham equalised. As Sir Alex Ferguson said, Solskjaer's winner meant Schmeichel "could not go out in a better way".

Afterwards, some Bayern players went to bed, others went to a club party, which had become more of a wake. Kahn sat in silence with his parents. "We had one hand on the cup and suddenly something happened we could not have imagined," he lamented.

United's departing captain lifted the trophy with his manager: "I wanted Alex to be there, because he gave everyone in the team the chance. Sometimes he drove us insane with his demands, but he always made sure we never left the pitch without having given 100%. To lift it with him was paramount."

As Kahn brooded over what so nearly was, Schmeichel declared: "Not even Hans Christian Andersen could have written a fairy tale like that. I never stopped believing we had a chance, although, I admit, not much of one. The late goals exemplified our team spirit. One thing I have learnt at United is that we never give up."

Effenberg and Kahn taste victory in 2001
Effenberg and Kahn taste victory in 2001©Getty Images

Kahn returned from Barcelona more determined than ever. Two years later, he achieved the ultimate redemption when he saved from Mauricio Pellegrino in the final shoot-out to give Bayern victory against Valencia CF.

The captain that night in San Siro was Stefan Effenberg, but after the Roten had secured their fourth European Cup in 2001, Kahn's thoughts drifted back to Camp Nou in 1999: "When we won the shoot-out, Santiago Cañizares lay down on the goal line and started to cry. I could feel for him as I experienced something similar in 1999."

Champions Matchday is the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League and is available in print or free to download in digital format. You can follow the magazine on Twitter @ChampionsMag.

Top