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Friday, May 6, 2011

Manchester United-Barcelona: The 10 Times They Previously Met

What a cracker of a game we are expecting to see in the Champions League final at Wembley stadium.

On the one side, we have arguably the best club in the world, Barcelona, and on the other, the indomitable spirit of Alex Ferguson’s selection.

The two clubs are no strangers to each other.

They have met 10 times before, sharing the spoils with three wins each and four draws. The goal ratio is slightly in favor of Barcelona with 17 goals against 14.

The Catalans finished top of their group with relative ease and eliminated Arsenal (1-2, 3-1), Shakthar Donesk (5-1, 1-0) and arch-rivals Real Madrid (2-0, 1-1) to reach their second Champions League final in three years.

Manchester United also topped their group and went on to eliminate Olympique de Marseille (0-0, 2-1), English rivals Chelsea (1-0, 2-1) and Shalke (2-0, 4-1) to play in the Champions League Final for the third time in four years.

If history is to play a role in the build-up of this game, here is how it will:

1984 European’s Cup Winners Cup, Q/f, Barcelona: Manchester United (2-0, 0-3)


On the day Mathew Flamini was born, two of the clubs he will never play for met at the magnificent Nou Camp. It was to be their first ever encounter in history.

The intimidating atmosphere of the stadium and the presence of Diego Maradona in the Barcelona squad proved too much for the Red Devils, and they were already trailing 2-0 prior to the second leg.

But on the night of March 21, miracles existed outside of fairy tales. A shrilling noise filled the air of the 58350 Old Trafford to rival that of the magnificent Nou Camp.

If the Red Devils had not believed they could overcome the deficit from the first leg, then it was all surely forgotten when they heard the will of the people on that stadium and taken by the initial euphoria they lurched at Barcelona.

The Catalans held until Ray Wilkins found Bryan Robson inside the 6-yard box from a corner. From a close range Robson duly converted, sending the crowd into frenzy, 1-0 to United.

In the second half, it only took two minutes to crush the mighty Catalans. After a careless back-pass by Vitto, Barcelona defender, the ball rolled in no man’s land. A cross caused a melee near the box which somehow gave the chance for Ray Wilkins to shoot. He took it unsuccessfully, but the rebounded ball was blasted into the net by Bryan Robson for the second time, 2-0 to United.

Two minutes later, the momentum led to another goal. A cross from the left side landed on the head of a United player, his shot inaccurate, sending the ball to the far post where Frank Stapleton had the easiest of nudges to do, 3-0 to United.

The crowd went ballistic.

The Red Devils overcame a deficit of 2-0 to win 3-2 over two legs against Barcelona.

1991 European’s Cup Winners Cup Final, Manchester United – Barcelona (2-1)


A year after the lifting of the ban on English teams to participate in European competitions, Manchester United met Barcelona for the third time.

They had already inflicted a wound on them seven years earlier, after eliminating them in the quarterfinals of the very same European’s Cup Winners Cup.

On the night, Barcelona suffered the absence of key players—first-choice goalkeeper Andoni Zubizaretta, influential midfielder Guillermo Amor and efficient striker Hristo Stoichkov.

After 66 minutes of goal drought, the Catalans had to relive the nightmare of 1984. Bryan Robson, which to them might have become the Boogeyman after that match, lobbed the ball from a free-kick, and the attempted header left Mark Hughes alone against the goal on the far post, 1-0.

But Robson’s looming figure had not had its last word. A through ball by him released Mark Hughes into one-on-one with the Barcelona goal keeper. Hughes went around him and scored his second.

It was clear United were going to inflict further damage on their Spanish counterparts. Nonetheless, Barcelona walked out with their heads up. Ronald Koeman reminded of his shot power materializing a 30-yard free-kick.

It ended 2-1 to Manchester United as they became the first English club to win a European trophy after the lifting of the ban.

1994 Champions League Group Stage, Manchester United – Barcelona (2-2, 0-4)


Barcelona had suffered a devastating 4-0 defeat at the hand of Milan in the League’s final of the previous year. Motivated to the limit and against a crippled by the new foreigners rule side (only a limited number of foreigners allowed), the Catalans destroyed the Red Devils 4-0 in front of 117,000 people at the Nou Camp.

United managed to get a draw at home through goals by Mark Hughes and Lee Sharpe, but without their goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, their defense was ripped apart by the deadly attacking duo Romario-Stoichkov in the second leg.

Two goals by the Bulgarian, one by the Brazilian and one more by Albert Ferrer served cold revenge on United for past crimes.

1998 Champions League Group Stage, Manchester United – Barcelona (3-3)


Two of the best games in the history of football happened as Barcelona and Manchester United exchanged blow after blow over the length of two legs in 1998.

At the prime of his career, David Beckham’s crossing might have served as a tutorial for army sharpshooters. A pin-point accurate cross from the right made it the easiest thing in the world for Ryan Giggs to head the ball home.

Another one found Dwight Yorke, who attempted a spectacular scissors kick only to be parried by the goalkeeper. The rebounded ball, though, was found by Paul Scholes who doubled United’s lead.

The Catalans responded: First, through Sonny Aderson, and then through Giovanni from a penalty.
Not long after, the ubiquitous David Beckham curved in a trademark free-kick of his, 3-2. Just like that, he became a megastar overnight.

Twenty minutes from the end, a great melee inside United’s box culminated in a one-handed save by Nicky Butt—a penalty and a red card resulted. Luis Enrique duly converted putting an end one of the most spectacular matches in some time.

1998 Champions League Group Stage, Barcelona – Manchester United (3-3)


Four words could describe this match: Rivaldo, Yorke, Cole, Brilliant!

If there was a partnership that could rival the one of Hristo Stoichkov and Romario, it was undoubtedly the one of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole.

Their communication was on another level on that night.

But not before Barcelona opened their tally inside the first minute through Sonny Anderson.

It was United’s turn. In their very first attack, Dwight Yorke received the ball from the left and with a calculated beautiful, low shot made it 1-1.

One more golden opportunity Barca had in the first half, saved by a terrific Peter Schmeichel.

Eight minutes from the renewal of the game, the telepathic conversation between Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke happened.  A pass from Roy Keane was destined to Yorke, but he let the ball roll to Cole; Cole passed it back to Yorke; Yorke flicked it back to Cole; Cole scored. Wicked.

The defense was left standing in amazement. 2-1.

And then the brilliance of Rivaldo came to ruin the perfect evening clad in white (away shirts). A perfect free-kick made it 2-2.

United kept on pushing. A wonderful chance presented itself to Yorke after a cross from David Beckham. He wasted it.

A bit later, another cross came from the same man, and Yorke did not ask if he could score this time. 3-2.

Insistent Rivaldo came knocking at the door for the second time. He received a cross from the left and, in a moment of pure brilliance, tamed the ball with his head and made a spectacular over-head kick. The Brazilian in him spoke in poetry.

It finished 3-3, but no one in his sane mind wanted this match to ever finish.

2008 Champions League Semifinal, Barcelona – Manchester United (0-0, 0-1)


Not many teams go to Nou Camp and manage to leave without conceding a goal.

The Red Devils did that in 2008 gifting themselves a chance to proceed to the final if they beat Barcelona at their own Old Trafford.

Only 14 minutes since the first whistle, Paul Scholes found himself facing the goal from 25 yards with ball comfortably in front of him and no Barcelona player near him— the ingredients of beauty. A long drive, rivaled only by few others for beauty, sent the ball into the upper left corner of Victor Valdes’ goal.

One goal was a fragile lead as the outcome of the match was to show.

United pushed on to score a second but missed many golden chances. Barcelona was also very close on several occasions, but once again, they were left with a bitter taste in their mouths as the Red Devils proceeded to the final and eventually won the tournament.

2009 Champions League Final, Barcelona – Manchester United (2-0)


Another titanic clash in 2009 did not disappoint. Chances flew from one side to the other.

Manchester United started strongly with Christiano Ronaldo fired up to the maximum. He missed several good chances to score before Samuel Eto’o came out of nowhere to shock Alex Ferguson’s boys in the ninth minute with a powerful shot that went underneath the arm of Edwin van der Saar.

Barcelona could have added a second in the first half, but the shots of Messi and later Xavi whiskered over the bar.

In the second half, Xavi hit the post from a free-kick, further asserting the will of Barcelona to put an end the match.

Just three minutes later, Ji Sung Park was an inch away from connecting with a rebounded ball a couple of meters away from the goal line.

Then, Thierry Henry changed direction several times inside the box and produced a shot which proved to be easy prey for the experienced Van der Saar.

In the 69th minute, it was all over. Messi, left unmarked inside the box, elegantly deflected the ball over Van der Saar and doubled the lead of his team, sending the big-wigs in the boxes in a delightful mode.
United worked their way to a couple of more fruitless chances, and, soon after, there was already a scent of fiestas in the air.

Barcelona was crowned champions at the expense of the team that eliminated them from the tournament a year earlier.







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