Just once, in 33 years and 11 matches, have an English club beaten Juventus in Turin. Arsenal did so, 18 seasons ago, when a Paul Vaessen goal provoked bonfires on the terraces. Manchester United, after being held by Juventus in the first leg of their Champions' Cup semi-final at Old Trafford last night, will probably have to repeat this achievement if they are to reach next month's final in Barcelona.
The only alternatives are a high-scoring draw, which would put them through, or another 1-1. It would then come down to penalties in 13 days' time in the same stadium, the Stadio Delle Alpi, where England lost from the spot against Germany in the 1990 World Cup. At least the Italians are as hapless at penalties as the English.
It could have been worse, much worse. For 45 minutes Juventus utterly outplayed United at Old Trafford last night. However, their only reward was a 25th-minute goal from Antonio Conte. It may yet win the tie but it was not enough to win the match. United, so subdued in the first half, gradually regained their fire to subject Juventus to an intense bombardment which culminated with Ryan Giggs lashing in a close-range shot to the unbridled delight of the Old Trafford masses.
The dream lives on but, while United are bidding to reach their second final, for Juventus the target is a fourth in succession and seventh in all. Such a pedigree is not lightly discarded and it was quickly apparent that reports of their poor form were greatly exaggerated. Zinedine Zidane, too, was clearly in better shape than we had been led to believe. Though strapped up like an Egyptian mummy he twisted, tackled and, most of all, passed with the same verve and imagination he showed in the World Cup. With Edgar Davids and Didier Deschamps in support, Juve's midfield easily eclipsed United's famous four despite the endeavours of Roy Keane.
Zidane it was who had the first effort on goal, a chip that sailed over. Soon after Filippo Inzaghi turned Henning Berg and brought a brilliant save, low to his right, from Peter Schmeichel. The warning went unheeded and, 10 minutes later, a bewitching spell of interplay opened United's defence up. Angelo Di Livio, on the left flank, bamboozled two defenders with a clever back-heel. As they scurried to recover Zidane fed Davids, who slipped a pass through a thicket of legs to Conte. The Juventus captain, who had scored against Schmeichel for Italy last week, repeated the trick.
For the the most part, the Juventus defenders were so quick in thought and deed they stifled United and their flicks and tricks, so fundamental to their high-tempo passing game, went astray. Just briefly, immediately after the goal, did United threaten in the first period. Cole flashed a near-post header wide from a Giggs cross then a Keane shot, from 20 yards, skimmed just over the bar.
In the event United were grateful to only go in one down, Gianluca Pessotto having missed a shimmering opportunity after Davids had picked him out unmarked on the left.
The half-time address would have been one of the most important in Ferguson's career, for United's confidence appeared shattered. Slowly, however, it became apparent that the Scot's restorative words had had the desired effect, for United created a series of half-chances. Ronny Johnsen, on for Berg, headed over from a Beckham free-kick while Cole, twice, and Scholes shot over from open play.
Just before the hour Angelo Peruzzi was finally tested, flinging his hand up to palm away a sharp near-post header from Giggs. Soon afterwards Keane brought him to his knees with a strong shot.
With 16 minutes left United's pressure almost brought reward. Cole, on the left, tricked his way to the byline before whipping in a low cross. There was a blur of shirts and legs as each side fought for a clear strike at the ball, to shoot for goal or thrash to safety. It fell to Giggs to shoot, the ball was blocked, probably by a hand, then Scholes shot, and the ball flew wide. At least United gained one small victory when Zoran Mirkovic, the Juventus right-back, received a booking which will rule him out of the second leg.
In a final fling Teddy Sheringham was thrown in to the fray. He thought he had gained an equaliser when, with four minutes left, he steered Keane's shot past Peruzzi with a flying header. The linesman, correctly, thought otherwise but United's sense of injustice fired them anew and, after Peruzzi had clutched a Scholes' header on the line the assault bore fruit when Giggs thrashed a loose ball, from a Beckham cross, into the net.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; G Neville, Stam, Berg (Johnsen, h-t), Irwin; Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs; Cole, Yorke (Sheringham, 78). Substitutes not used: Van der Gouw (gk), Butt, P Neville, Blomqvist, Solskjaer.
Juventus (4-4-1-1): Peruzzi; Mirkovic, Iuliano, Montero (Ferrara, 68), Pessotto; Conte, Deschamps, Davids, Di Livio (Tacchinardi, 77); Zidane; Inzaghi (Esnaider, 88). Substitutes not used: Rampulla (gk), Birindelli, Amoruso, Tudor.
Referee: M Diaz Vega (Spain).
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