United win treble with miracle double

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The Independent Online
AFTER WAITING 31 years to regain the European Cup first won by the team of Bobby Charlton and George Best, the current players of Manchester United decided that they could wait a little longer - longer, in fact, than the 90 minutes allotted to the final in Barcelona last night. Having gone behind after only five minutes, United left it until injury time to score the two goals that brought them the trophy.

An explosion of joy greeted a victory which, thanks to their conquest of the Premiership and the FA Cup in the past fortnight, completes a unique English treble that will put them among the immortals of football.

It was a victory achieved in the face of opponents convinced they had done enough to win. Bayern Munich's players will be asking themselves this morning whether they relaxed too much in the final stages, or whether they were simply beaten by a team that does not know how to lose - and, in fact, has not lost a match of any kind since before Christmas.

As United's efforts to draw level became increasingly frantic in the second half, it seemed that Europe's premier club competition was going to prove a trophy too far. But two late corner-kicks by David Beckham caused the first panic of the night in the German defence and brought goals for Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, both of whom had come on as substitutes in the closing stages. Now their names will live with those of Bobby Charlton, George Best, Denis Law and the rest of the gallery of heroes at a club that is famous for cherishing its own extraordinary legend.

As the second United goal went in, Bayern's players fell to the ground in the knowledge that there was no time to reply. Half of the 90,000 people in the stadium joined them in the silence of sudden and total dismay. The other half simply went crazy as the United players flung themselves upon each other, celebrating a victory that had looked impossible.

Until the moment that Sheringham forced home the equaliser, it looked as though United's manager, Alex Ferguson, had defeated himself by a surprise tactical switch, sending his team on to the field with both the glamour- boy wingers, Beckham and Ryan Giggs, in unfamiliar positions.

But there was always the memory of how United had fallen behind in the semi-final, giving away two goals to Juventus in Turin before overwhelming the formidable Italian team to take a unlikely victory. After that, it was clear that a special resilience born of remarkable self-belief was the hallmark of Ferguson's latest team.

For half an hour after the final whistle, not a soul departed from the half of the vast Nou Camp stadium populated by United's fans. They applauded Ferguson, the architect of their modern glories, who now stands alongside the late Matt Busby, his great predecessor.

They chanted for Roy Keane, the Irishman whose booking in the Champions League semi-final had cost him the chance of pulling on the red shirt and the captain's armband on this night of nights. Then they went off to party the night away, up and down Barcelona's celebrated promenade, the Ramblas.

United, it was announced last week, had decided not to stage the usual parade in an open-topped bus through the streets of Manchester to celebrate the season's unprecedented achievements. The expense and difficulty of arranging adequate security was given as the reason.

It may have seemed reasonable then, but the heroes of Barcelona and their supporters can surely not be denied one last rendezvous to welcome back the trophy that means more to their club than anything, and which was regained last night in the sort of battle that made victory seem all the sweeter.

Historic triumph, page 3;

Ken Jones, page 31; match report, page 32