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Why Manchester United’s 2008 Champions League triumph was as good as it gets for English football

The 2008 Champions League final remains the high-water mark of the Premier League.

The only all-English clash in Europe’s showpiece match saw Manchester United take on Chelsea in the rain in ­Moscow’s Luzhniki ­Stadium.

It was the fourth ­successive year that an English club had reached the final – and Liverpool had lost to Chelsea in the semis, underlining the power of the ­Premier League.

United manager Alex Ferguson ’s memories of that penalty shoot-out success ­centre on being drenched – first by the rain and then by something masquerading as ­champagne in the post-match ­celebrations.

“In no sense was this a conventional European final,” he said. “The time-zone was the first quirk, which meant the game had kicked off at 10.45pm.

The fact Chelsea beat Liverpool in the semis emphasised the Premier League’s strength in those days

“I always remember, too, that the rain had drenched me and ruined my shoes, so I attended the victory party in trainers – for which I took plenty of stick from the players.

“And in our moment of ­triumph, there was no champagne to be found at the Luzhniki Stadium. In the absence of the real stuff, staff were ­dispatched to a bar to buy some kind of fizzy liquid. Heaven knows what it was.

“‘I can’t even offer you a glass of champagne,’ I ­apologised to Andy ­Roxburgh, who came into our dressing room to ­congratulate us. Whatever was in those bottles, we shook it about and made a fuss. There was a lot of hilarity and nonsense, with the ­players giving each other stick.”

That season also saw Cristiano Ronaldo at his zenith for United.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo soared to head United into the lead that night in Moscow…

….it was his 42nd goal of the season — amazing as he was still a wide-man back then

His headed opener, when ­Fergie cleverly put him up against Chelsea’s makeshift right-back Michael Essien on the left wing, was the 42nd of his remarkable ­season. He was voted FIFA’s Player of the Year for that campaign and was the first Premier League player to lift the Ballon d’Or since Michael Owen seven years earlier.

“What a season Ronaldo had in that European Cup-winning campaign,” said Ferguson. “Forty-two goals for a winger? In some games he played centre-forward, but he was ­essentially a wide man in our system. In every game he would create three chances for ­himself.”

Ironically, Ronaldo missed his spot-kick in the shoot-out — the only United player to do so.

He lay ­crying on the pitch as John Terry slipped when missing his kick and then when Edwin van der Sar saved from Nicolas ­Anelka to give the Reds victory.

John Terry had a chance to win the final but famously slipped as he took his penalty…

John Terry is consoled by Frank Lampard after he missed his penalty and Chelsea went on to lose the penalty shoot-out against Manchester United in the Champions League Final on 21 May, 2008
…leaving him in tears when Edwin van der Sar then saved to secure the trophy

Ferguson took several seconds to react, ­because he could not take in the fact that United had won.

“When Van der Sar saved from ­Anelka to win the ­trophy for us, I hardly made it off my seat ­—ecause I could barely ­believe we had won,” he said. “I stayed ­motionless for several moments.”

It was a sweet ­moment for Fergie after he had waited nine years since the historic 1999 Treble success to get his hands on the Champions League ­trophy again.

He felt a club of ­United’s standing should at least match ­Liverpool’s five wins, ­although that 2008 ­triumph remains their last. “Moscow was a ­relief, because I always said ­United ought to be achieving more in ­Europe,” he said.

“It was our third ­European Cup and took us closer to Liverpool’s five.”


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