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14 May 2008 08:41
It could hardly be more fitting. Fifty years after the Munich air disaster that killed 23 people and rocked a city, Manchester United stand on the brink of a European
triumph, something that means so much to the local people and to the club itself.
Eight United players died in the crash in 1958, wiping out many footballers who experts believed could go on to dominate Europe for many years to come.
That United eventually rebuilt and became the first English club to win the European Cup, 10 years later, was a huge testament to their strength.
Forty years on, United, also champions in 1999, stand one match away from a third victory in Europe’s most prestigious cup competition.
Victory in Moscow would put them above Nottingham Forest, second only behind Liverpool (five) in terms of European Cups won, a fantastic achievement.
Only Chelsea stand in the way and though the two were neck and neck throughout the league season before last weekend’s 2-0 win at Wigan Athletic sealed a 17th league title for Alex Ferguson’s side, United will hope their greater experience in Europe can help them to victory.
Captain Gary Neville, who has missed most of the season through injury but is back available for the final, praised his team’s efforts.
“It is a fantastic achievement to get to the Champions League final,” the full back said.
“We have talked over the last seven or eight years how we have not been quite ready at times.
We have maybe lacked assuredness in the defensive side of things and conceded goals.
“But over two games in the semifinal we stopped Barcelona scoring.
To win 1-0 shows the team have matured.
“We are still capable of producing fantastic football but it is capable of digging in and showing a level of concentration that is needed against some of the best attacking players in the world.
“The lads worked so hard, every single one of them with their defensive duties and the amount of work they put in was incredible.
“We thoroughly deserved to get to the final. We have been unbeaten in the competition and our form in Europe has been fantastic.”
The legendary team that won the trophy in 1968 will never be forgotten in Manchester, but the team that Ferguson has taken to the final in 2008 cannot be too far behind, in terms of talent, at least.
Wayne Rooney, who seems to have overcome a hip problem, is a world-class striker and their defence, marshalled by Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, is much improved.
The midfield has that perfect blend of youth and experience, with the likes of Nani to provide the pace and exuberance, while the signing of Owen Hargreaves added to the understanding already enjoyed through the evergreen Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
Carlos Tevez has been another success in attack, but it is the efforts of Cristiano Ronaldo that have taken United up to the next level.
The Portugal forward, nominally a winger but in action every bit a forward, has scored a phenomenal 41 goals in all competitions this season.
England manager Fabio Capello singled him out as arguably the English league’s best player, and if he is allowed time on the ball in the final, Chelsea are likely to pay a heavy price.
And if they do win it, then the five surviving players from 1958 could well be there to see it.
United plan to invite Bobby Charlton, Harry Gregg, Bill Foulkes, Kenny Morgans and Albert Scanlon to the final in Moscow.
It could hardly be more fitting. - Sapa-DPA
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