When it comes to drama and excitement Manchester United’s 2008 semi-final meeting with Barcelona was somewhat tame, but in terms of significance it was huge.
Man Utd 1-0 Barcelona: Champions League, April 29, 2008
There have been many epic encounters between Manchester United and Barcelona down the years with late goals, controversial incidents and dramatic comebacks; but in all honesty their 2008 Champions League semi-final meeting was not the most dramatic.
With title rivals Chelsea and old adversaries Liverpool contesting an all-English semi-final in the other half of the draw, United knew that in order to meet fellow Premier League opposition in Moscow they’d have to overcome Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona if they were to complete a domestic and European double.
On course for another domestic league title Alex Ferguson’s men were ready to make it a season to remember as they chased their third victory in Europe’s elite competition but in order to do so they would have to overcome one of the most formidable sides on the continent.
In the first-leg at the Nou Camp United had tried to negate Barcelona’s free-flowing passing game by deploying an unusually defensive approach but had the chance to score a vital away goal with an early penalty, only for Cristiano Ronaldo to blast his spot-kick over the bar with the Reds spending the remainder of the tie looking to repel their opponents, eventually holding out for a 0-0 draw.
The result meant there was all to play for when the two sides met again at Old Trafford with a place in the Champions League final at stake and with no away goal to provide any level of comfort United knew they would have to be more ambitious than they were in Spain the first time around.
Alex Ferguson was dealt a double blow prior to kick-off when Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic were both ruled out with injuries picked up in a Premier League clash with Chelsea just a matter of days before
Conscious that a strike for their opponents would see them requiring two goals themselves in order to progress United started on the front foot and applied plenty of pressure in the early stages which eventually culminated in Paul Scholes, who had missed the 1999 final through suspension providing the difference.
Just 14 minutes were on the clock when Gianluca Zambrotta’s poor defensive clearance landed at the feet of Scholes and he delivered a trademark rising drive from 25 yards that flew high into the net beyond the outstretched hands of Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes to send the home fans wild.
With any early nerves forgotten about for the time being the 75,000 crowd, as well as the players, were more than aware that a Barcelona reply could easily see them exit the competition and looked for a second goal but try as they might it never came while Ferguson’s side were forced to endure a late onslaught with both Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry going close in the final five minutes.
But United managed to hold on and the final whistle sparked wild scenes of celebration as that solitary strike from Scholes ensured United would meet Avram Grant’s Chelsea in the first ever all-English Champions League final which United eventually won on penalties in the rain of Moscow to lift the famous trophy for the first time in nine years.
* Odds subject to change