Football: A nerve-racking 1999 - the year the action went down to the wire: Solskjaer's strike ends United's European wait

European Cup final in Barcelona Bayern Munich v Manchester United
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The Independent Online
ACTION PHOTOGRAPHS of football referees usually show them blowing their whistle, waving their arms or, most often, dishing out a red or yellow card. On the front of this season's guide to Champions' League referees there is a picture with a difference. Pierluigi Collina, the Italian referee, is tending to a prone Stefan Effenberg like a doctor at a battlefield.

It is well chosen, for many neutrals the abiding memories of the European Cup final are of the vanquished rather than the victors. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's winner, and David May's orchestration of the celebrations, stick in the mind, but the sight of the Ghanaian, Samuel Kuffour, thumping the ground in anguish while Collina tries to revive his Bayern Munich team-mate, is burned into the brain.

Their despair is easily understood. For 90 minutes in the Nou Camp it had seemed that Manchester United's 61st match of the season was a match too far. Behind from the sixth minute, when Mario Basler scored from a free-kick, United had been largely outplayed with only the woodwork denying Mehmet Scholl and Carsten Jancker a conclusive second in the closing minutes.

United, with Roy Keane and Paul Scholes suspended, had moved David Beckham to central midfield and put Ryan Giggs on the right. Though Beckham played well, they looked unbalanced until, with the arrival of Teddy Sheringham, they reverted to their normal positions.

Jaap Stam, Sheringham and Solskjaer all had chances but the best ones still fell to Bayern and the match was lost when, with the stadium clocking ticking to 45:00, United won a corner. Up in the television gantry a German commentator was repeating Gary Lineker's phrase, mentioned by Lothar Matthaus before the match, that "football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and, at the end, the Germans win".

As Beckham prepared to take the corner Peter Schmeichel sprinted forward to join the fray. He wrote later that Alex Ferguson had been signalling him back as the manager was not "able to see any way in which we could get back into the game".

Schmeichel's faith in himself and his team-mates was justified as in the confusion - which included three defenders being distracted by the goalkeeper - Giggs' shot was turned in by Sheringham.

United won another corner and, with three minutes and 36 seconds of added time played, Solskjaer steered Sheringham's flick-on past Oliver Kahn. On the 90th anniversary of Sir Matt Busby's birth the European Cup, after a 31-year wait, was coming back to Old Trafford.

"Football, eh, bloody hell," was the instinctive reaction of the soon- to-be-knighted Ferguson. Lennart Johannson, the president of Uefa, was even more dumbfounded. As the final whistle approached he had turned to Sir Bobby Charlton and said, "sorry Bobby, maybe next year", before heading for the lift to go down to the pitch and present the trophy to Bayern. A roar brought him back to the directors' box where, having asked Charlton what had happened, he was busy congratulating him when the United legend leaped in the air as, behind the Swede's back, Solskjaer scored.

At least he was in the ground - George Best, like Charlton a winner in 1968, had already left to avoid being caught in the crowds. He need not have rushed, United's supporters stayed for more than a hour, drinking in the intoxicating feeling of being Europe's best.

GLENN MOORE

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