No. 5 Manchester United Vs Arsenal – FA Cup semi-final replay, 14th April 1999
It was almost as if the two best clubs in England had pre-arranged it. The last ever FA Cup semi-final replay, staged in April 1999, was arguably the most memorable, and defined the rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United that dominated the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.
There were nights where many of the two sides’ big guns had made their name but for several of those at Villa Park that evening this game provided a defining picture of their worth to English football.
Of course, your mind will inevitably drift to Ryan Giggs’ incredible winner and equally memorable exposure of the most impressive man-rug since Tom Selleck stopped portraying Magnum PI onscreen in 1988. However, the game in its entirety was a picture of significant performances and inescapable drama.
For all the memorable elements of the meeting at Villa Park, the original clash had been the most dour of 0-0 draws. Aside from a controversially disallowed goal, the tie always seemed destined to go to a replay, and with only three days between the two clashes, hopes were not high for a classic.
A little over 72 hours later, David Beckham opened the scoring for the league leaders, hitting a Teddy Sheringham pass first time past the overstretched David Seaman. The game and tie that had threatened little was suddenly alive.
You might have been forgiven for seeing the game fizzle out as a dominant United team closed in on completing arguably the most commanding task en route to attaining their long held dream of treble glory. Not a bit of it.
As the second half began, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had a chance to put the game to bed, but after being put through one on one with Seaman, the Norwegian striker hit his finish straight at a grateful English goalkeeper.
The profligacy would prove costly. With twenty minutes remaining, Dennis Bergkamp latched onto a ball in the centre of the United half, and with a hint of a deflection, the Dutchman’s strike evaded the previously untroubled Peter Schmeichel. The goal proved a major turning point.
Nicolas Anelka fired a warning shot when he had a tap in ruled out for offside – the Arsenal fans and players taking very nearly a minute to realise that the young striker’s effort had been ruled out.
United captain, Roy Keane, who would miss United’s Champions League triumph at the Nou Camp six weeks later for further disciplinary indiscretions, failed to see out the full 90 minutes – sent off for a mindless foul on Marc Overmars. While moments such as these are deemed quirks on the most successful season in the club’s history, Keane’s conduct in defeat could have done untold damage to his reputation at Old Trafford, and he was indebted to two of his team mates for saving him from severe renouncement.
Phil Neville would later be vilified for his role in a penalty conceded against Romania in Euro 2000, but on this night, it was his clumsy tackle on Ray Parlour that would give Bergkamp the chance to set up a repeat of the 1998 final with Newcastle United.
The Dutchman, with a poor recent record from 12 yards exuded none of the confidence that he had displayed in burying his earlier chance, and his effort from the sport was well saved by the irrepressible Schmeichel.
As we moved through extra-time, the tie seemed destined for further spot-kicks. Bergkamp nearly took a great chance to atone for his earlier transgression, but saw a well worked move from the Gunners thwarted by United’s Danish wall.
With minutes remaining of extra-time, and with Bergkamp still cursing his luck, Giggs pounced on an errant pass from Patrick Vieira in the United half and history was written.
United would go on to record their long desired treble. A nervous final day of the league campaign resulted in the capture of the Premier League trophy and one more famous night on the continent would secure the most highly prized trophy in European football.
Dennis Bergkamp, who had never previously appeared in an FA Cup final had to wait two more years before his dream was finally realised. After a night of so much quality, it is hard to begrudge the Dutchman that consolation prize.
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