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Champions League Re-cap: Our Journey to Rome…

48315The dust has just about settled following our magnificent victory over Arsenal that has booked us a place in Rome to face Barcelona in the Champions League final.

I wouldn’t say I’m relieved to be playing the Catalans but having lost the trophy in the manner that Chelsea did last season, revenge would have been very much on the agenda for Terry et al so in a way I’m glad we’re avoiding them. With the news that a Fletcher appeal may just be on the cards too, well it doesn’t get much better than this does it?

So what better way to celebrate than to have a re-cap of our tremendous run to the Stadio Olimpico which has comprised of twelve games and eighteen goals. Enjoy!

0-0 vs Villarreal at Old Trafford (Opening Group E fixture) – 17th September 2008

Having just succumbed to Liverpool at Anfield the previous weekend and thrown away the chance of silverware in the Super Cup prior to that, the defence of our Champions League crown started as frustration personified.

Despite this particular fixture yielding the return of Ronaldo, we failed to break through the resilient Yellow Submarine with both sides striking the upright during the 90 minutes.

Team: Van der Sar; Neville, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Park (Ronaldo 62), Fletcher, Hargreaves (Anderson 62), Nani; Tevez (Giggs 81), Rooney.

3-0 vs Aalborg at the Aalborg Stadium (2nd Group E Fixture) – 30th September 2008

Rooney 22, Berbatov 55, 79

I think we all remember this match as the evening that Dimitar Berbatov announced himself in a Manchester United shirt. There was also a debut for a once little-known Brazilian Rafael Da Silva too.

After Rooney gave us the lead in the first-half we kicked on after half-time and Berbatov atlast silenced some of his critics to score two goals, taking us to the top of the Group E table.

Team: Van der Sar; Rafael (Brown 66), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Ronaldo, Scholes (Giggs 16), O’Shea, Nani; Rooney (Tevez 59), Berbatov.

3-0 vs Celtic at Old Trafford (3rd Group E Fixture) – 21st October 2008

Berbatov 30, 51, Rooney 76

The Battle of Britain, or so it was billed, saw us ease past Celtic as a brace for Berbatov and a fantastic strike from Rooney handed us all three points.

Although with Villarreal beating Aalborg, only goal difference separated us from the La Liga side going into the fourth round of group matches.

Team: Van der Sar; Neville (Brown 60), Vidic, Evans, O’Shea; Ronaldo (Park 82), Anderson, Fletcher, Nani; Berbatov (Tevez 60), Rooney.

1-1 vs Celtic at Celtic Park (4th Group E Fixture) – 5th November 2008

McDonald 13, Giggs 84

It was always going to tough facing Celtic in Scotland and with Scott McDonald opening the scoring after 13 minutes, we knew we had a game on our hands.

On a night when Fergie opted to give Ben Foster his European debut fortunately Ryan Giggs came up trumps to head home late on following Boruc’s failure to deal with Ronaldo’s swerving effort.

Team: Foster; Rafael (Evra 66), Ferdinand, Vidic, O’Shea; Ronaldo, Fletcher, Carrick, Nani (Berbatov 46); Giggs, Tevez (Rooney 71)

0-0 vs Villarreal at El Madrigal (5th Group E Fixture) – 25th November 2008

Another meeting with Villarreal produced yet another stalemate but it mattered not as we secured our passage into the knockout stages of the competition.

The talking points from this one? Well a certain Italian referee that we’re all too familiar with took centre stage as he dished out a red card for Villarreal’s Spanish full-back Joan Capdevila (and rightly so too it should be noted).

Team: Kuszczak; O’Shea, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Ronaldo, Fletcher (Gibson, 80), Anderson, Carrick (Tevez, 86), Nani (Park, 84); Rooney.

2-2 vs Aalborg at Old Trafford (6th Group E Fixture) – 10th December 2008

Tevez 3, Jakonbsen 31, Curth 45, Rooney 52

With qualification already secure the final group game against Aalborg presented Ferguson with the perfect chance to rest some first-team regulars including Ronaldo, VDS, Vidic, Fletcher and Berbatov.

Celtic’s victory over Villarreal afforded us the luxury to be able to draw this one and still finish top of the group and with goals from Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney that is exactly what happened.

Team: Kuszczak; Neville (Rafael 76), Ferdinand, Evans, O’Shea; Nani, Gibson (Park 46), Anderson, Giggs (Scholes 46); Rooney, Tevez.

0-0 vs Inter Milan at the San Siro (First knockout round first leg) – 24th February 2009

It certainly looked a daunting task on paper. With no Vida and Wayne Rooney not included in the starting line-up we were facing an inform Inter Milan who were more than capable of causing us problems on the night.

Yet in a fascinating spectacle we took the game to the Italian giants and were unfortunate not to have nicked a goal, especially in the first-half.

With chances aplenty for the likes of Berbatov, Giggs and Ronaldo we were desperately unlucky not to be heading back to Old Trafford with an away goal but we were certainly in the driving seat with a draw.

Team: Van der Sar; O’Shea, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick, Giggs, Park (Rooney 83); Berbatov, Ronaldo.

2-0 vs Inter Milan at Old Trafford (First knockout round second leg) – 11th March 2009

Vidic 4, Ronaldo 49

I think everyone inside Old Trafford that night had the lingering image of Jose Mourinho sprinting down the touch-line lodged somewhere in their heads. Surely our defence of the European crown wouldn’t be brought to an abrupt end by the former Chelsea manager of all people!

Fortunately Vida gave us the perfect start and after Inter had squandered some decent chances to score that all important away goal, up popped Ronaldo to head us into the quarter-finals and send Mourinho packing.

Team: Van der Sar; O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Ronaldo, Carrick, Scholes (Anderson 70), Giggs; Rooney (Park 84), Berbatov.

2-2 vs FC Porto at Old Trafford (Quarter-final first leg) – 7th April 2009

Rodriguez 4, Rooney 15, Tevez 85, Mariano 89

I don’t know where on earth they mustered this performance from but Porto looked potent and a worryingly decent outfit in the first leg.

We can make excuses about the players being tired but credit to the Portuguese side for coming to Old Trafford and having a real good go at us.

After Rodriguez’ opener and Rooney’s leveller I think we were all just relieved when Carlos Tevez pounced and looked to have given us the win in a game where we deserved little.

But with Mariano snatching a late equaliser, the return leg in Portugal looked ominously tough even with the array of attacking talents at our disposal.

Team: Van der Sar; O’Shea, Vidic, Evans (Neville 72), Evra; Fletcher, Carrick, Scholes (Tevez 72); Park (Giggs 58), Ronaldo, Rooney.

1-0 vs FC Porto at Estadio Dragao (Quarter-final second leg) – 15th April 2009

Ronaldo 5

One magical swing of Cristiano Ronaldo’s wand of a right foot was enough to put us into an all English semi-final tie with Arsenal.

The timing of the goal was absolutely crucial and seemed to knock the stuffing out of a Porto side that had looked so threatening a week earlier in Manchester.

With Rio and Vidic in commanding form, nothing was going to stop us in Portugal as we made history by becoming the first English side to win at the Dragao.

Team: Van der Sar; O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Giggs, Carrick, Anderson (Scholes 78); Rooney, Berbatov (Nani 68), Ronaldo.

1-0 vs Arsenal at Old Trafford (Semi-final first leg) – 29th April 2009

O’Shea 17

Who would have thought it? Our only goal-scorer in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final turns out to be our versatile if not majestic defender John O’Shea!

Wenger claimed one goal wouldn’t be enough and after dominating from start to finish against the Gunners, Fergie and the lads were undoubtedly frustrated at having only beaten an in-form Almunia once.

Team: Van der Sar; O’Shea, Ferdinand (Evans 87), Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson (Giggs 66); Ronaldo, Tevez (Berbatov 66), Rooney.

3-1 vs Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium (Semi-final second leg) – 5th May 2009

Park 8, Ronaldo 11, 61, van Persie 76

Cristiano Ronaldo effectively put those ‘not a big game player’ jibes to bed in a masterful performance that booked our ticket to Rome.

In all fairness the whole team was in imperious form as we brushed Arsenal aside, running Arsene Wenger’s young guns ragged for ninety minutes without reprieve.

Park got us off to the perfect start and then Ronaldo’s thunderbolt of a free-kick put us firmly in the driving seat before his second, a superb flowing counter-attack put the icing on the cake.

The only sour point of the night arrived 14 minutes from time when Fletch was wrongly sent-off for a challenge on Cesc Fabregas but there could still be light at the end of the tunnel following today’s revelation from UEFA secretary David Taylor.

Team: Van der Sar; O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra (Rafael 65); Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson (Giggs 63); Park, Ronaldo, Rooney (Berbatov 66).

? vs Barcelona at the Stadio Olimpico (Final) – 27th May 2009

So this is it! Will we create history in Rome by becoming the first team ever to win successive Champions League titles?

Well with Abidal, Dani Alves, Milito and Marquez all unavailable, Barca will certainly have their work cut out trying to contain our frightening attacking line-up.

Photo Credit: PA

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