Football: European Cup Final - United's will to win seals place in history

Bayern Munich 1 Basler 6 Manchester United 2 Sheringham 89, Solskjaer 90 H-T: 1-0 Attendance: 90,000; European Cup final: Solskjaer scores injury-time winner after Sheringham's late equaliser stuns Bayern Munich
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The Independent Online
FOR 10 long months Alex Ferguson has been telling the world it is a squad game. Last night he was vindicated in a climax so astonishing even Roy of the Rovers would discard it as unbelievable.

In probably the most incredible finish ever to a major football match, United won the European Cup with two goals from substitutes in 90 seconds of injury time. With the main cast of players mentally and physically exhausted, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, bit-part players on the Old Trafford stage, scored the goals that took the greatest prize in the club game back to Manchester for the first time in 31 years. It completed a unique English treble - all this on the anniversary of Sir Matt Busby's birthday.

It left Bayern Munich devastated. After Solskjaer's goal the referee, Pierluigi Collina, had to lift many of them from the turf to perform the re-start.

They were shattered and no wonder. In the last 11 minutes, with United seemingly finished, Bayern had struck the post and bar and brought two excellent saves from Peter Schmeichel. At the time the Dane must have wondered if they were going to be just a post-script to his glorious eight- year career at Old Trafford. In the event they were crucial.

Before the closing drama the biggest match of all had seemed to be a match too far for United. They had produced a performance so out of character, so bereft of their usual verve and imagination, spectators in the cavernous Nou Camp must have wished that they had binoculars with them to check if it really was Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and Ryan Giggs out there.

It was and there was one quality they had not lost, their spirit. This United, unbeaten since 13 December, do not give up and last night they were rewarded in the most incredible way imaginable.

Bayern had gone ahead after just six minutes, Mario Basler driving in a free-kick from the edge of the area after the far end of the wall appeared to melt away as he ran in.

The kick had been given away by Ronny Johnsen, whose nervous start characterised United's opening 15 minutes. Hesitant at the back and static in midfield, they did not force a save from Oliver Kahn until the 21st minute and that was a weak header from Gary Neville. The next attempt on target came 24 minutes later, an equally soft effort by Giggs.

The problem was a lack of cohesion brought about by the changes enforced on United by the suspension of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. Ferguson, true to his gambler's instinct, had chosen the boldest of the options available to him. Jesper Blomqvist was on the left flank, Giggs on the right, David Beckham in central midfield and Johnsen at the back.

It did not work. Beckham played well throughout, using the ball well and always available, but with the front pair anonymous, Giggs predictable and Blomqvist marginalised on the flanks, United had no attacking threat. They won a lot of corners but the powerful Germans were dominant in the air.

With the United defence, after allowing Alex Zickler two free headers, having tightened up, the half ended with the game needing a lift - but not as much as United did.

Having escaped when Markus Babbel wasted a free header United almost got it 10 minutes into the second period when a good spell of pressure, involving much more fluent passing than in the first period, ended with Blomqvist steering a deep cross from Giggs just over the bar.

It proved an isolated effort and, after Basler's 50-yard shot, which just dropped over a back-pedalling Schmeichel's bar, United brought Sheringham on. Blomqvist made way with Giggs going to the left, Beckham to the right and Yorke to the apex of a diamond midfield.

United looked better balanced but, as they pushed forward, Bayern moved in for the kill. Stefan Effenberg, who had earlier been the only player booked, for tripping Giggs, whipped one shot just wide, then brought a leaping save from Schmeichel with a clever chip.

Next came Basler, running 40 yards, turning United's defence in knots, before slipping the ball to Mehmet Scholl - whose chip looped over Schmeichel, struck the post, and bounced back into the grateful Dane's arms.

Sheringham twice tested Kahn but, despite the arrival of Solskjaer, Bayern remained ascendant with Schmeichel making a diving save from Scholl before Carsten Jancker hit the bar with an overhead kick.

The stadium clock had stopped at 45:00 as United desperately won a corner. Beckham took it, Schmeichel came up for it, Bayern failed to clear and, when Giggs drove the ball back into the box, Sheringham turned it in.

As Bayern crumbled United sensed they could win and, a minute later, they did, Solskjaer stabbing the ball in after Sheringham had flicked on another Beckham corner. The celebrations were loud and long, the previous 90 minutes forgotten in the ecstasy of the last 90 seconds.

United were fortunate last night but they deserve their success. They are unbeaten in 13 European ties, during which they have always sought to attack and scored 31 goals. The ghosts of '68 have been laid.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; G Neville, Stam, Johnsen, Irwin; Giggs, Beckham, Butt, Blomqvist (Sheringham, 66); Yorke, Cole (Solskjaer, 81). Substitutes not used: Van der Gouw (gk), May, P Neville, Brown, Greening.

Bayern Munich (1-2-5-2): Kahn; Matthaus (Fink, 80); Linke, Kuffour; Babbel, Basler (Salihamidzic, 89), Jeremies, Effenberg, Tarnat; Zickler (Scholl, 71), Jancker. Substitutes not used: Dreher (gk), Helmer, Strunz, Daei.

Referee: P Collina (Italy).