Manchester United lifted the European Cup for the fourth time by defeating arch-rivals Manchester City in a thrilling Champions League Final at the Millennium Stadium. In a match that will surely go down as one of the greatest major cup finals in football history, two last minute equalisers sent the match first to extra time and then to a penalty shootout, while three players were sent off for picking up two yellow cards, including England’s Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere.
The match began badly for United as they lost key striker Robin van Persie to injury after just 15 minutes. However, his home-grown replacement would make an almost-instant impact – on a night where some of the biggest names in world football were going head to head, it was Manchester-born striker Danny Welbeck who opened the scoring, tapping in a Xherdan Shaqiri cross from the right after 33 minutes. It is another big goal for Welbeck, who scored 2 of United’s 5 in their second leg turn-around against Olympique Marseille in the semi-final
But this lead was cast into doubt just before half time. In the 39th minute, Welbeck won the ball with a clean tackle from Vincent Kompany, sending Marek Hamsik away down the left. The Slovakian’s cross was met at the far post by Shaqiri, but the Switzerland international’s diving header was deflected by Kompany, before Darren Fletcher scrambled the ball into the net. It was seemingly 2-0, but referee Circhetta ruled the goal out for a foul on City goalkeeper Joe Hart. Rooney’s characteristic protests earned him a booking, and seconds later, he lashed out on City’s Brazilian midfielder Sandro, sending him to the floor with a crunching tackle. Two yellow cards in less than a minute for Rooney, who headed for an early bath in the biggest game in club football before the half was even over.
City controlled the second half, and eventually switched formation to try and exploit their advantage, bringing on Spanish playmaker David Silva to add a man to the attack. But it took until the very end for them to find the crucial equaliser. In the end, it inevitably came from the one man United fans did not want to see on the scoresheet – the former United striker Carlos Tevez. Wilshere acted as the creator, charging down the right flank before cutting it back inside for Tevez, who won the Champions League with United in the other all-English final against Chelsea in 2008, to tap it into the net and send the blue half of the crowd wild.
The first period of extra time exploded into life in the 103rd minute when Sandro hacked down Hamsik from behind to earn his second yellow card and level the teams at 10 men each. But this didn’t hinder City immediately, as moments later City moved forward quickly. Silva played a beautiful through-ball to split the United defenders, and he found Tevez, who buried his shot past David de Gea into the corner of the net. After scoring 2 against Tottenham in the semi-final, it looked as if the pantomime villain had had the last laugh with a further 2 on the biggest stage of all.
But there was yet more drama to come. Wilshere was the third and final player to receive his marching orders 3 minutes into the second half of extra time, unnecessarily clattering Fletcher from behind. United were a man up for the first time in the game, but couldn’t take advantage of it until the dying moments of the game. Throwing everything at a City backline that was holding firm in stoppage time after 120 minutes were up, defender Phil Jones, now operating as a midfielder, lunged in to win the ball from Pablo Zabaleta on the edge of the box, knocking it into the path of Welbeck. He slipped it to Hamsik, who was waiting on the left flank and knocked it back in to Brazilian substitute Bernard, who wrote his name into United folklore by volleying in the most dramatic of equalisers.
After that, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you had seen enough heart-stopping moments for one evening, but there was still time for more drama in the penalty shootout. City won the right to take the first penalty, which Tevez buried. Further penalties from Fletcher, Silva and David Alaba were similarly dispatched, but Miralem Pjanic sent his high and wide. Hamsik converted his penalty to give United a 3-2 lead, but Thomas Muller, who had already experienced shootout heartache in the 2012 final against Chelsea while playing for Bayern Munich, equalised. Jones stepped up and hit the post, but it bounced away from Hart and into the net to make it 4-3, meaning that City captain Kompany had to score to keep them in contention. But, as in 2008, it was the captain of United’s opponents who made the crucial error, as De Gea dived to his right to comfortably save the tame effort.
And so, another triumph for United, with the famous trophy lifted by Nemanja Vidic, who has already lifted the Premier League trophy for them this season. It is also a historic triumph for United manager Jose Mourinho, who has equalled Bob Paisley’s three European Cup victories as manager, but, unlike Paisley, has now won with three different clubs. He can now surely lay claim to being perhaps the greatest football manager of all time – retaining the Champions League next year would surely seal that mantle.
Man Utd: De Gea; Rafael, Vidic (c), Jones, Alaba; Nainggolan (Evans 88), Fletcher; Shaqiri (Bernard 101), Rooney, Hamsik; Van Persie (Welbeck 15)
Goals: Welbeck (33); Bernard (120+1)
Yellow cards: Nainggolan (31); Rooney (40); Jones (76); Fletcher (112); Rafael (114)
Sent off: Rooney (41)
Man City: Hart; Richards (Silva 74), Kompany (c), Nastasic, Baines (Lescott 74); Sandro, Wilshere; Muller, Tevez, Pjanic; Aguero (Zabaleta 88)
Goals: Tevez (88, 103)
Yellow cards: Sandro (2); Wilshere (3); Muller (12); Aguero (36); Kompany (94)
Sent off: Sandro (103); Wilshere (108)