Football: United stage ultimate fightback

European Cup: Ferguson's men defy two-goal deficit but face Bayern Munich in final without Keane and Scholes
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The Independent Online
Juventus 2 Inzaghi 6, 11

Manchester United 3

Keane 24, Yorke 34, Cole 84

Manchester United win 4-3 on aggregate

Attendance: 60,806

MANCHESTER UNITED last night wrote a new chapter in the gilded history of the European Champions' Cup with a performance as great as any in the competition's illustrious past.

Two goals down in 10 minutes to a Juventus team playing football so brilliant it was intoxicating, they showed their unquenchable spirit to wrest the tie away from the Italian champions and gain a victory which will go down in Old Trafford legend.

It earned United their first appearance in a European Cup final since the team of George Best and Bobby Charlton beat Benfica at Wembley in 1968. This time their opponents, in Barcelona on 26 May, will be Bayern Munich.

It will not be easy. United have twice been held to a draw by the German champions-elect this season and will be without Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, who were both booked last night and will be suspended. But, as Alex Ferguson often remarks, United have a habit of making things hard for themselves.

It has rarely been more difficult than last night - beating Arsenal with 10 men was a cakewalk compared to giving Juventus a two-goal start at home.

When Filippo Inzaghi took advantage of slack defending and good fortune to put Juventus two up the game seemed over, especially as United were missing Ryan Giggs, whose ankle injury prevented him even taking a place on the bench.

As well as that goal in the FA Cup semi-final replay, Giggs had scored United's equaliser in the drawn first-leg against Juventus at Old Trafford but, in their hour of need, United found other heroes.

Keane, after 23 minutes, and Dwight Yorke, with his first goal in more than 11 hours, pulled them level after 33 minutes and Andy Cole, six minutes from time, sealed a remarkable win.

With Giggs absent, United played Jesper Blomqvist on the left and Nicky Butt was chosen ahead of Scholes in central midfield. Juventus had left the injured Paolo Montero on the bench and were without the suspended Zoran Mirkovic.

Zinedine Zidane, however, had been allowed out to play by his missus and quickly showed why, troublesome wife or not, every major club in Europe will be chasing his signature this summer.

Zidane had already created a good chance for Inzaghi, blocked by Jaap Stam, when he worked a short-corner routine with Angelo Di Livio before chipping to the far post where Inzaghi got in front of Gary Neville to squeeze the ball in.

Five minutes later Inzaghi ran on to a pass from Edgar Davids before hitting a shot which struck Stam before looping agonisingly over Peter Schmeichel. The Stadio Delle Alpi, which was already throbbing with noise, now became a tumult with the senses assailed by the sound of drums and the acrid smell and bright colours of flares.

As their fans celebrated, Juventus visibly eased up. It was a foolish policy - United may have their weaknesses but lack of spirit is not one of them. They threw men forward and Yorke shot over after a one-two with Cole, then appeared to be pulled down on the edge of the area by Ciro Ferrara.

Juventus were looking vulnerable and, after Cole won a corner, they were pierced as Keane rose to head Beckham's cross in.

Now we had a match, and what a match. In a four-minute spell around the half-hour the outstanding Stam cleared off the line after Inzaghi had beaten Schmeichel to a left-wing cross, Keane was booked for a foul on Zidane, and Yorke scored.

The goal, beautifully headed in from a Cole cross, was his first in 11 hours, three minutes. But the celebrations must have been mixed for Keane, who berated Blomqvist for the poor pass which had left him exposed.

Not that either player let the incident unsettle them as, with Juventus finding it impossible to re-establish command, United continued to attack. Yorke, confidence flooding back into his veins, brought a good save from Peruzzi and then hit the post.

Carlo Ancelotti re-jigged his side at half-time, bringing on Nicola Amoruso to partner Inzaghi in attack and Paolo Montero, who had not played since being injured at Old Trafford, to strengthen the defence. He had also clearly had strong words with his side, as they quickly went on to the attack.

The philosophy almost bore fruit, with Inzaghi breaking clear only to be denied by a fine save from Schmeichel.

United, though aware that they would go through if no more goals were conceded, wisely refused to sit back and, 10 minutes into the half, might have scored on the counter- attack had Cole been able to control a wonderful cross from Beckham.

The tie continued at a frantic pace. Inzaghi netted an offside goal at one end and Denis Irwin hit the post at the other. Davids was booked for fouling Beckham and Scholes, on for Blomqvist, for a lunging tackle on Didier Deschamps.

Ancelotti played his last card, bringing on Daniel Fonseca. With 10 minutes left the Uruguayan opened United up and squared for Inzaghi. The striker was six yards out, but missed his kick.

It was the home side's last chance. Six minutes later, Yorke burst through two challenges and, though he was brought down by Peruzzi, Urs Meier waved play on, allowing Cole to tap the loose ball in. As the stadium began to empty, the United fans began a party that will last until they return to Manchester and beyond.

Juventus (4-4-2): Peruzzi; Birindelli (Amoruso, h-t), Iuliano (Montero, h-t), Ferrara, Pessotto; Conte, Deschamps, Davids, Di Livio (Fonseca, 79); Zidane; Inzaghi. Substitutes not used: Rampulla (gk), Tudor, Esnaider, Tacchinardi.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; G Neville, Stam, Johnsen, Irwin; Beckham, Keane, Butt, Blomqvist (Scholes, 67); Cole, Yorke. Substitutes not used: Van der Gouw (gk), May, Sheringham, P Neville, Solskjaer, Brown.

Referee: U Meier (Switzerland).