Then, from the few remaining Manchester United fans, came a roar that, for passion and relief, matched anything heard all night. Thanks to a victory 1,000 miles away in Turin, by United's old foes Juventus, United were through to the last eight of the European Cup.
It may be by the back door but United did not care, Juventus qualified the same way last year and reached the final. They now look forward to Wednesday's draw for the March quarter-finals. United will be at home in the first leg next March and cannot be drawn against Bayern or the other best runners-up, Real Madrid.
Alex Ferguson, who had communicated to his players with 10 minutes to go that the draw should be enough, must now decide whether to strengthen the squad before the competition resumes. Anyone who has not already played in any of the three European competitions this season would be eligible to play in the quarter-finals. "I think we have a strong squad already but I just hope they are all fit next March."
It may be required. United had chosen from a full squad last night but the team Ferguson selected rarely subjected Bayern to sustained pressure and looked more vulnerable than he would have liked. They took the lead through Roy Keane after 43 minutes but, after they were pegged back by a goal from Bayern's Bosnian international Hasan Salihami-dzic 13 minutes later, Old Trafford once again threatened to become the Theatre of Broken Dreams.
Bayern had shown such enterprise from the start the home team's first effort came from a counter-attack, launch-ed with a long pass from David Beckham. It found Ryan Giggs and, though his first touch was poor, the ball ran to Andy Cole. His shot was blocked but Dwight Yorke hit a rising drive that skimmed the crossbar.
Though Cole shot just wide following a neat turn, the best chances were made by Bayern. After 16 minutes Salihamidzic, running onto a Stefan Effenberg pass, crossed low into the box where Elber got ahead of Gary Neville to flick a header just wide. Nine minutes later Alexander Zickler rose unchallenged to an Effenberg free-kick but barely got a touch and Keane was able to clear.
The United captain led the response, having a close-range shot blocked by Strunz while Kahn had to show sharp handling after a Cole drive lifted off a divot. Yet Bayern looked a more cohesive side while United's attacking movements seemed more haphazard and less likely to unhinge their opponents' defence.
But unpredictability has its advantages. Two minutes before the break, Beckham picked out Giggs on the left but the Welshman failed to control the pass. The crowd sank back, disappointed, but he rescued the ball, beat Strunz, pondered a cross, then picked out Keane bearing down on the penalty area. The pass was perfectly weighted and so was the shot. Old Trafford exulted.
They were still bubbling as United returned from their half-time cuppa and should have been sent into raptures when a 46th-minute corner caused chaos in the German box. However, neither Giggs nor Ronnie Johnsen could take advantage.
The Germans rallied and, after Schmeichel had saved brilliantly from Samuel Kuffour, the Ghanaian was first to an Effenberg corner and, in the ensuing scramble, Salihamidzic forced the ball over the line.
United's woe deepened as Yorke, having taken a blow to his right thigh, limped off and they were relieved to see Elber volley over. At the other end Scholes and Cole went close and Bixente Lizarazu was booked for a foul on Beckham as United pressed for the winner.
It never came but, in the end, it did not matter. Their detractors will call United the double runners-up since they only qualified for the competition by coming second in the Premiership, but United will feel they did enough to deserve to go through.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Brown, G Neville, Stam, Irwin (Johnsen, h-t); Beckham, Scholes, Keane, Giggs; Cole, Yorke (Butt, 65). Substitutes not used: Van der Gouw (gk), Sheringham, P Neville, Blomqvist, Berg.
Bayern Munich (4-3-3): Kahn; Strunz, Babbel, Kuffour, Lizarazu; Effenberg, Matthaus (Linke, 62), Jeremies; Zickler (Jancker, 81) Elber (Basler, 81), Salihamidzic. Substitutes not used: Scheuer (gk), Helmer, Tarnat.
Referee: D Jol (Netherlands).
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