The crowd’s wild celebrations, the whirling helicopter ecstasy of a shirtless wing wizard, and that oh-so-masculine exposed hairy chest – it was a wonder goal that defined a classic FA Cup encounter in April 1999.
It was a significant episode in the burgeoning acrimony between Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson and Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger – the two most eminent managers in recent English football history. Wenger’s thinly veiled post-match jibe about luck also hinted at an inferiority complex on the Frenchman’s part: “It is not easy to take a defeat, but what you can demand of a team is they give everything. I am very sad today because it was not our night and we were unlucky. That’s football.
“The two teams are very close to each other and in the end the luckiest won.”
He added: “There’s no reproach. I would just like to congratulate Manchester United. They were fantastic. I am very sad but they have shown again they are a great team.”
The Villa Park semi-final was a replay after their first meeting produced a goalless stalemate. Due to rule changes, it was the last time an FA Cup semi went to a replay. Those in attendance were treated to a tense, yet free-flowing rematch as both sides went at it.
David Beckham opened the scoring for United late in the first half with a long range curling shot that swerved beyond the desperate clawing reach of David Seaman. It was the type of strike the superstar pin-up of English football became famous for.
Both keepers were kept busy and the next to pick the ball out of the net was Peter Schmeichel mid-way through the second half as Dennis Bergkamp’s 25 yard effort took a wicked deflection off Jaap Stam to restore parity.
Nicolas Anelka thought he had put the Gunners in front following up on another Bergkamp shot that was spilled by the big Dane in United’s goal. However, he was narrowly offside.
Soon after, Roy Keane (almost inevitably) was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence leaving his team mates to battle against the odds.
Arsenal’s elegant Dutch playmaker was again instrumental in the game’s pivotal moment. Phil Neville (almost inevitably) gave away a penalty in the last minute of normal time. Bergkamp took responsibility for the spot kick, but despite a decent strike, the height and placement was ideal for Schmeichel to beat it away from goal and take the tie into an extra 30 minutes where substitute Ryan Giggs produced a piece of magic that has gone down in FA Cup folklore as possibly the competition’s greatest ever goal.
Pouncing on a slack Patrick Vieira pass in the midfield, the Welsh international drove hard into the Arsenal half, twisting his opponents this way and that before beating them all inside the penalty area. He kept his cool and smashed a shot high into the net to secure a famous win.
Ferguson’s iconic team went on to the final and comfortably defeated Newcastle United to complete a third League and Cup double in five years. They added the Champions League crown in an even more dramatic fashion when defeating Bayern Munich with two late, late goals in the Barcelona final.
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