In part four of our series on the best away performances by English sides in Europe, we look at Man United’s famous 3-2 win in the Stadio Delle Alpi against Juventus in 1999. This result is arguably the finest secured by an English side in the history of the UEFA Champions League as Man United came from 2-0 down to shock the Italian giants.
The game is remembered for many reasons, but the performance of Roy Keane is still fondly recalled by Manchester United supporters to this day. The Irishman produced a near faultless performance as he manned the midfield against Zinedine Zidane and co. Despite receiving a yellow card in the 32nd minute that ruled him out of the final, Keane still provided the foundations for ‘United’ to complete a remarkable comeback.
The ‘Red Devils’ were in the midst of trying to secure an historic treble as they defeated arch-rivals Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final in a famous encounter with Ryan Giggs scoring a superb individual goal to send Alex Ferguson’s side through to the showpiece event. Meanwhile Manchester United beat Sheffield Wednesday in the league prior to this game as they went top of the pile with Arsenal breathing down their necks.
Meanwhile Juventus had experienced a tumultuous season as they were in the midst of a miserable attempt to defend their Serie A title while in February the Italian giants sacked their head coach Marcelo Lippi. Carlo Ancelloti took charge of the Turin side and he helped to steady the ship.
Juventus suffered a Champions League final defeat the previous season but their form in the 1998/1999 competition was much different. Juventus won only one game in the group after drawing their opening five group games with their attacking threat diminshed due to Alessandro Del Piero’s serious knee injury suffered the previous November. Their defence looked shaky throughout the season although given the 1-1 draw they secured at Old Trafford, the men in black and white were favourites to reach the final in Barcelona.
As the away side Man United knew they needed a strong start but instead it was Juventus who struck first. A short corner was worked to Zidane with the Frenchman’s whipped ball finding Filippo Inzaghi who took advantage of lax marking by Gary Neville to tap home. The Juventus number nine then doubled his sides advantage when his effort deflected off Jaap Stam before looping over the head of Peter Schmeichel in the United goal.
Alex Ferguson’s United side needed to respond after their nightmare start and they gradually began to settle into the contest. Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole combined after 19 minutes to carve out a chance but the former blazed his effort over the bar from a tricky angle. The problem for United was that they were facing a Juventus side who aside from Zidane and Inzaghi had little attacking threat but the Italians were willing to soak up pressure and play on the counter.
The men in red and white continued to press the action and a Schmeichel kickout found Yorke with the Trinidad and Tobago striker being cynically hauled down by Ciro Ferrara, when through on goal. The Juventus defender was lucky to escape without a red card for the foul but David Beckham’s freekick only found the wall. However, United kept attacking and they found their reward on 24 minutes.
Andy Cole, who proved a thorn in the side of the Juventus defence, won his side a corner which was whipped in by Beckham. Roy Keane timed his run perfectly as he headed beyond Angelo Peruzzi in the Juventus goal. Keane’s passing had helped United gain the ascendancy and he capped a strong opening to the game with a goal. However, Juventus still possessed Zidane and an innocuous looking cross by him on the 30th minute found Antonio Conte, whose header looped over the onrushing Schmeichel but Stam headed the ball off the line to prevent another goal.
In the 32nd minute, Blomqvist played a slow, square pass to Keane with the centre midfielder miscontrolling it on the run. Zidane nipped in to win the ball with Keane trying to reclaim possession with a lunging tackle. Instead the Cork native caught Zidane and he received a yellow card for his troubles which ruled him out of the final. Despite this, he and United continued to control the game and they struck a decisive blow shortly afterwards.
Two minutes after Keane’s booking, Gary Neville won possession before he fed Beckham who in turn found Andy Cole in space. The England player floated an excellent cross into the box to Yorke who slammed a diving header past Peruzzi. In the space of less than 25 minutes, United had gone from the brink of elimination to leading on the away goal rule. The Red Devils continued to attack a Juventus side that had retreated into its shell. The reliable Denis Irwin produced a low cross that found Andy Cole but the striker’s snapshot was straight at Peruzzi.
Despite Juventus almost solely relying on Zidane, who at the time was suffering with recurring knee problems, the men in black and white were still dangerous as Inzaghi managed to escape the attention of Stam before firing a low effort that Schmeichel blocked. The Italian sent the rebound into the side netting but it was clear that United could not get carried away and neglect their defensive duties.
Whilst Inzaghi continued to trouble the United defence, Yorke and Cole continued to create havoc for their opponents. A long Gary Neville pass was cleared only to Yorke with his 25 yard effort beating the goalkeeper but not the post. Both sides continued to attack in what was an exhilarating opening half of football but neither side found a breakthrough before the break.
Juventus knew they needed to gain the upper hand at the start of the second half and they almost beat Schmeichel for a third time when Zidane and Gianluca Pessotto combined with the later arcing a cross towards Inzaghi. The striker’s first time effort was kicked away at the near post by Schmeichel. Despite Juventus dominating at the start of the second half it was United who carved out a golden opportunity after 55 minutes.
Yorke flicked on a long delivery to free Beckham before the winger’s pinpoint first time ball found Cole but the striker tried to control the ball on the stretch and watched in horror as it ran away from him and out for a goalkick. A first time strike looked the better option.
United began to settle after a nervy start to the second half and on the hour mark Beckham’s smart reverse pass found Keane but Ferrara produced an excellent block to prevent Keane grabbing his second of the night. However, Juventus were still dangerous and they thought they had moved ahead in the tie on the 63rd minute. Blomqvist dithered on the ball near his own box and he was robbed by Didier Deschamps who in turn fed Conte. The Italian’s slipped when shooting before Inzaghi tapped in, although he was clearly offside with the linesman not hesitating in raising his flag.
Juventus began to gain the upper hand with Zidane finding himself in threatening positions. The Frenchman skipped past Keane, Irwin and Butt before pickout out Conte who in turn played Amoruso through on goal. Before the half time sub could get his shot off, Stam produced a crucial interception to relieve the danger. Inzaghi almost got in again when both Ronny Johnsen and Neville failed to deal with a Juventus kickout with the striker nipping in. However, an unusually poor touch allowed Johnsen to recover and the chance went abegging.
The game began to open up with fatigue setting in and this time it was United who almost scored. Irwin skipped past Deschamps and Di Livio with his effort crashing off the post. The left back’s effort rebounded all the way across goal and fell to him again but his second effort only found the side netting. The tension began to increase with Keane producing stirring tackles on Edgar Davids and Deschamps before Ferrara put his hand into Cole’s face after a coming together.
Juventus tried to carve United open but Beckham produced a timely intervention to prevent Conte breaking through before Scholes and Deschamps went for a 50-50 challenge but referee Urs Meier decided the English man committed a foul. He booked Scholes who was on the pitch for less than ten minutes. This ruled him out of the final due to a booking received earlier in the campaign.
Carlo Ancelloti brought on Daniel Fonseca as a last roll of the dice with ten minutes remaining as they sought the goal needed to progress. The striker’s first contribution ended up being a vital one as he produced a goal line clearance from a Yorke header after a deep Beckham corner. Juventus carved out another chance when a Fonseca cutback almost found Inzaghi six yards from goal but he was crowded out by Stam and Schmeichel.
This near miss proved to be costly as United sealed their progression when a Schmeichel goalkick was headed down to Yorke who sprinted past Montero and Ferrara before he tried to round Peruzzi. Despite the Juventus goalkepper tripping him up, Andy Cole was on hand to turn the ball home from an acute angle. All of a sudden, Man United, who had never won a European game in Italy, had come from 2-0 down to lead 3-2.
Juventus now needed two goals, but it was United who continued to control the game. Irwin skipped past three would be challengers before his cross found Beckham who flashed a volley wide. Stam produced a late block on Amoruso as Juventus ran out of time. United became the first side to knock two Italian teams out of the European Cup in the same season after beating Inter Milan in the round previous.
Man United went on to complete the treble as they secured an even more dramatic win in the final against Bayern Munich. This performance against Juventus set the standard for all time great away performances in the Champions League. United defied the odds at the foothills of the Alps where they scaled their highest summit under Sir Alex Ferguson.