Wednesday April 9 signalled an end to a glittering European run from the red half of Manchester. A forgone conclusion perhaps, when United drew Europe's best Bayern Munich several weeks ago, that the Reds would bow out of the Champions League, it all became very real after the final whistle in Munich.
Forget the Premier League for a moment, forget the struggles of this season, even forget David Moyes (as hard as it may be), for now let's just reflect on Europe's elite competition and Manchester United's glorious history in it.
For the first time in nearly two decades, us United fans will not hear that monumental theme tune burst out as our lads in red strut out in front of the best fans in the world, home or away. But let's focus on the memories, for now. An 18-year long love affair with the big eared cup has brought us two spectacular nights and a whole load of drama.
Let's start with the big one - 1999. Regardless of the other two titles at hand and hunting for a treble for the first time in English history - it was a hugely important night. Building up to the final United hadn't exactly been an efficient machine in the competition, runners up in a Group D they had scored 20 goals in, they met Inter Milan in the knockout stage.
Two-nil in the first leg and a 1-1 draw in the second led them to another Italian outfit - Juventus. A close tie that in the end finished 4-3 on aggregate, United passed Zidane's men which led them to the Nou Camp to meet Bayern Munich in the final.
With midfield duo Paul Scholes and Roy Keane suspended, the teams lined up fairly well matched. A sixth minute goal from Mario Basler led the reds for another 86 minutes until, as I'm sure you know, Manchester United happened. Teddy Sheringham levelled before, with the final kick of the game, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer won the Champions League for United for the first time in 31 years. Magic, pure magic.
After that, it was not until 2002 that United would reach the semi final of the Cup again, where they cruelly bowed out to Bayer Leverkusen on away goals, though they reached the knockout stages every year up until the 2005-06 season.
After that though, United came back stronger, reaching the semi final the next year only to be outdone 3-0 by AC Milan in Italy after a 3-2 win in Manchester. A huge leap forward from the year previous, but still disappointing.
The year after presented a 3rd and most recent European Cup to Manchester United. Winning all but one of their group games, a 1-1 draw against Roma, United met Lyon in the first round. A slender 1-0 victory at Old Trafford after 1-1 draw in France was enough to see United through to Roma again.
A comprehensive 3-0 aggregate victory over the Italians saw United meet Barcelona, a team that would inflict several beatings in the coming years. Old Trafford roared as Paul Scholes smashed a rocket of a shot past Victor Valdes that led United to Moscow against domestic rivals Chelsea.
A game that saw Owen Hargreaves on the right wing ended 1-1 after extra time, leading to the most nerve wrecking lottery in sport - a penalty shootout in a Cup final. John Terry lines up a spot kick, chance to win it, for the European crown hungry Chelsea and Roman Abramhovic. Wide. Anderson fires home next and Nicolas Anelka places down the ball.
One on one with Edwin van der Sar, he had it saved before he even kicked the ball, it was written. Palmed away by the Dutchman sent United into ecstasy. We'd done it. European glory was ours again and one of the defining moments in every United fan's life appeared before Russia.
The next three years saw us meet Barcelona twice in the final - 2009 and 2011. We were comprehensively outplayed each time, 2-0 and 3-1 in the games respectively. Sir Alex even labelled it as the best side he had ever played against, he was right - every part of that Catalan side was unstoppable.2012 was one to forget after an embarrassing knockout in the group stages, 2013 brought us Real Madrid and the return of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Harshly eliminated in the first round thanks to an unjust Nani red card, Jose Mourinho even admitted 'the best side lost'. And then 2014, the red curtain for the time being. Winning the group comprehensively, including a 5-0 away mauling of Leverkusen, United overturned a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 on aggregate thanks to a Robin van Persie hat-trick.
Then came Europe's best - Bayern Munich. 1-1 at Old Trafford set us up nicely for the trip to Germany, even with advantage Guardiola. Opening the scoring again in the Allianz Arena, the lead lasted for just 22 seconds until Mario Mandzuzic led Bayern to a 3-1 win on the night. Admirable but overpowered, United exited the Champions League against the same team Ole sank all those years ago.
So this is farewell Europe (the real Europe). As I write this an overwhelming sense of both sadness and acceptance overrides me. We may meet again in 17 months, we may not, but in any case, we thank you for all the memories, drama and those two glorious nights.
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