Football: When Big Bill saved United

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The Independent Online
JUVENTUS supporters will have to pay three times as much as the visiting Manchester United fans to see the second instalment of the European Cup semi-final. This is because there will be singing and dancing in the Juventus sections of the ground. (Variation of an old joke, which Paddy Crerand used to relate about Celtic v Rangers).

United are relieved to have a leg to stand on after being bewildered by the technique of their opponents for much of the match at Old Trafford. Not for the first time, impressive domestic form has been undermined by Continentals, in spite of the integration which has taken place in the English game since the days when a cosmopolitan was thought to be an ice cream.

Real Madrid were awesome during the formative years of European competition. Matt Busby, returning from a scouting trip to Spain prior to the first leg of the 1957 semi-final, was unable to resist calling them "great", even within the hearing of his United players. Turning to his right back, Bill Foulkes, a tough, no-nonsense ex-miner, Busby warned him about Real's left-winger, Gento. "He can run, Bill, he can run." There was also an Argentinian, Di Stefano, who ran the whole show.

Foulkes was fairly pleased with his marking of Gento in the Bernabeu Stadium, where Real won 3-1. United drew the return match 2-2, although Foulkes recalled that Di Stefano and Co "played us off the park".

The Munich air disaster came between United and a possible meeting with Real Madrid in 1958. Foulkes climbed out of the wreckage and went on to complete 35 European Cup ties, a club record due to be equalled by Peter Schmeichel in Turin in nine days' time.

Foulkes, converted to centre- half, was a pillar of the United team propelled by Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best in the 1960s, and in 1968 he demonstrated that inspiration is not exclusive to artists. Drawn against Real Madrid in the European Cup semi-finals, United arrived at the Bernabeu with a 1-0 lead from the first leg. But by half time in the return match Real were leading, 3-1.

Busby emphasised that the score was only 3-2 on aggregate and that a goal would force a replay in Lisbon because extra time was not scheduled. Real seemed content to keep possession without pressing in the second half, until David Sadler put the ball in their net off a knee.

With a place in the final in the balance, Crerand prepared to take a throw, looking for options. Foulkes jogged out of defence and called for the ball. Crerand, shaping to make a throw to Foulkes, noticed that Best's marker had moved slightly and delivered the ball to the winger.

Foulkes continued to jog forward as Best beat his man, moved to the line, and prepared to cross the ball. The near post was heavily protected, so Best cut the ball back for Foulkes. "I wouldn't say I shot the ball," Foulkes recounted, "but as it came across I could see the target clearly, about two-thirds of the goal. I sort of passed the ball in the direction of the target, striking it firmly with the inside of my right boot. It went into the net beautifully - the best sidefoot pass I ever made." United defeated Benfica in the final at Wembley, 4-1 after extra time. "I had no doubts about us winning," Foulkes said, "even when it was 1-1 at the end of normal time."

Now the scene is set for an extraordinary night in Turin. Juventus are strongly placed, having scored at Old Trafford. They would have felt more secure had their first-half superiority produced more than one goal, and they saw how heartened United were by a spirited second-half performance and Ryan Giggs' late equaliser.

Juventus will not play for a goalless draw, although it would see them into the final. Imagine that neither side's defence has yielded and the seconds are ticking away. Schmeichel has made his quota of last-ditch saves, and is as restless as Alex Ferguson. So be prepared for a dramatic finish. Schmeichel jogs upfield and heads the winner from a David Beckham corner. The singing and dancing is at the United end. And then we wake up.

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