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The finals reckoning

Manchester United and Barcelona are two of Europe's most celebrated clubs.

Yet, while both go into Wednesday's Champions League final with recent European titles to their name, these are two clubs who have suffered long waits to win the continent's greatest competition.

Both were denied triumphs in the old European Cup's formative years. United were victorious in 1968 yet had to wait 31 years to triumph again. Barcelona suffered two horrendous disappointments before finally being able to claim the crown in 1992.

Between them, they have appeared in eight finals:

1961: Benfica 3-2 Barcelona

To lose this final was as cruel a blow as Barca have suffered in their history. The previous five seasons had seen Real Madrid win consecutive European Cups at a time when confirmed Los Merengues fan Francisco Franco was Spain's dictator. Barca, champions of Spain in both 1959 and 1960, had knocked Real out of the 1960-61 European Cup in the very first round. Catalan pride swelled and the final in Berne's Wankdorf was reached via a semi-final replay with Hamburg.

Yet Benfica, coached by Bela Guttman, ended hopes of emulating the hated Castilians. The talents of Hungarian trio Zoltán Czibor, Sándor Kocsis, László Kubala, along with Brazilian Evaristo and Ballon D'Or winner Luis Suárez were bested by a team based around the creativity of Mario Coluna and a strong defence.

Barca's captain-cum-keeper Ramallets suffered a nightmare as he blew the early lead Kocsis had given Barca with two terrible errors. A Coluna volley gave the Portugese club a commanding lead. Barcelona got back into it with a Czibor strike but time ran out. A golden opportunity had gone and tears flowed in Catalonia. The Generalissimo probably allowed himself a smirk.

1968: Manchester United 4-1 Benfica (aet)

Few matches have ever been shrouded in the emotion of this May evening at Wembley Stadium. For United, this was the Holy Grail, a quest wrought with the backwash of sentiment that followed the Munich Air Crash of 1958. The eight "Busby Babes" who died on a German runway had done so after a European Cup tie. Manager Matt Busby had barely survived the crash, and to win the European Cup was a way of burying the ghost of those young men he had taken with him to the continent.

Two goals were scored by Bobby Charlton, another Munich survivor, while the other pair were scored by George Best and Brian Kidd, fittingly two products of Busby's continuing belief in young players. The scoreline looks comprehensive yet after Graça's equaliser, Benfica had pushed for a winner, with United keeper Alex Stepney having to save a Eusébio blockbuster late on in normal time. United came out of the blocks in extra-time after an on-pitch Busby sermon and the "Old Man" wept tears of joy as Charlton held aloft the trophy.

1986: Steau Bucharest 0-0 Barcelona (Steau won 2-0 on penalties)

The pain of Berne 1961 was repeated in Seville after a truly x-rated final. Terry Venables had ended 11 years of domestic misery by coaching La Blaugrana to the Spanish title. Between 1961 and 1985, they had won just one title, when inspired by Johan Cruyff in 1974. Cruyff's Barca had lost in the 1975 semi to Leeds United. Venables' first move had been to sell Diego Maradona to Napoli and replace him with Scottish striker Steve Archibald, a gamble that paid off in their first season together.

"El Tel" and team reached the final at Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán via away-goal wins against Sparta Prague and FC Porto, deposing defending champions Juventus and, in the semi-final, an improbable comeback against IFK Gothenburg. Their Romanian opponents looked to pose few problems. Yet lines were fluffed once again.

A half-fit Archibald played instead of semi-final hero Pichi Alonso and offered little. Steau came to defend, making their game plan of spot-kicks evermore plain as the game went on.

Archibald and Bernd Schuster were both subbed as the inevitable arrived. A chanceless game was echoed by all of the first four penalties being missed. Marius Lacatus finally scored before Alonso had the next spotkick saved by keeper Helmuth Duckadam. Gavril Balint scored before Marcos' kick was again saved by Duckadam, making him the hero of Romania. Twenty-five years on, Barca were miserable again.

1992: Barcelona 1-0 Sampdoria (aet)

Wembley again provided the venue for one of football's greatest names to end a long drought. It also provided Johan Cruyff with the ability to put an end to unfinished business from his playing career. Barca had won the Spanish league for the first time since Venables' success in 1985, the Englishman finally removed in September 1987 as another drought set in. This was the first European Cup to feature a league phase and Barca held off Sparta Prague to reach the final. Quarter-finals and semi-finals were out of vogue so Barca lined-up against the other group winners in Sampdoria, Italian champions boasting Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Mancini and Attilio Lombardo in their ranks.

Yet again, nerves wracked Barcelona, marshalled in midfield by current boss Pep Guardiola, then just 21. Goalkeepers Gianluca Pagliuca and Andoni Zubizarreta were kept busy but neither side's strikers were on form. Bulgarian firebrand Hristo Stoichkov hit a post and Vialli, later subbed, blazed over on a number of occasions.

Extra-time came and the doom of penalties lurked in the background before a foul on Eusebio gave Ronald Koeman a free-kick chance from 25 yards out. It was a chance he took, propelling a missile past a despairing Pagliuca and thus ending over three decades of Catalan hurt.

1994: AC Milan 4-0 Barcelona

Cruyff's "Dream Team" was in its pomp and had added Romário to their arsenal while AC Milan, beaten in the previous year's final, lacked their first-choice central defence. Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta, had provided ballast to Milan's twin triumphs of 1989 and 1990 but were missing through suspension. Marco Van Basten was missing with the injury that eventually ended his career. With Wembley throwing off the curse, Barca entered the game as favourites but were massacred in Athens' Olympic Stadium.

Milan, for whom Balkan pair Zvonimir Boban and Dejan Savicevic glittered, positively destroyed them from the start. Savicevic the Montenegrin created an opener for squat striker Daniele Massaro before the Italian line-leader grabbed his second from a Roberto Donadoni cross.

Two minutes after half-time, Savicevic seized on a defensive mistake to score from an improbable angle. Barca were finished and misery was compounded when Marcel Desailly powered through a shell-shocked defence to score a fourth.

1999: Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich

Thirty-one years had passed since Busby's tears at Wembley. In fellow Scot Alex Ferguson, United finally found the man to replace their patriarch. Yet Ferguson had struggled to transfer Premier League success on to the European stage. Three early exits and the frustration of semi-final defeat to Borussia Dortmund in 1997 had seen him compared unfavourably to his predecessor and one-time mentor. Season 1998-99 was the year it all clicked for Ferguson. He achieved his European dream on the occasion of the departed Busby's 90th birthday.

Thrilling progress to the final in Barcelona's own Camp Nou came via knock-out wins of Inter Milan and Juventus. There, United were reunited with Bayern, with whom they had twice drawn in the group stages. Hopes for a European Cup to augment the league and FA Cup titles they already had in the bag looked to have fallen on stony ground when Mario Basler's free-kick evaded a raging Peter Schmeichel.

Shorn of suspended Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, United looked short on inspiration yet a Bayern storm was weathered and, as German nerves set in, United pounced in dramatic style.

Sheringham and Solskjaer wrote their name in football history and many a song with late strikes that rendered their manager all but speechless in immediate post-match. "Football, bloody hell" was the best he could muster.

2006: Barcelona 2-1 Arsenal

Paris in the springtime brought together two of European football's flair teams. Barca had rediscovered the flowing football of the Cruyff era under another Dutchman in Frank Rijkaard and possessed the world's most celebrated talent in Ronaldinho. Arsenal featured future Barca striker Thierry Henry. The Premier League's leading light had seen-off Real Madrid and Juventus before a Juan Roman Riquelme penalty miss had allowed Arsenal progress to Paris at the expense of Villarreal.

Barca had gained some revenge for 1994 in beating AC Milan in the semi-final after Chelsea were earlier despatched in the second round. In the final, the Catalans found it much more difficult against another London club.

The game had looked to be swinging their way when Gunners keeper Jens Lehmann was dismissed for up-ending Samuel Eto'o as the Cameroon striker was through on goal. Ludovic Giuly had knocked the ball in but Barca had to be content with a numerical advantage in terms of personnel rather than scoreline. That looked poor consolation when Sol Campbell headed in from a lofted free-kick.

An understandably tiring Arsenal looked to have weathered the storm until the introduction of veteran sub Henrik Larsson. The Swede first set up Eto'o for the equaliser and then played in overlapping sub full-back Juliano Belletti to score the winner. Ronaldinho had struggled all game yet that familiar toothy smile was on show after Larsson's decisive cameo.

2008: Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea (United won 6-5 on penalties)

United fans often believe that, for all their success, their team never does things the easy way. So it proved in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium. Progress from the semi-final had been made at the expense of Barca, who were defeated by a single Paul Scholes goal over two legs to set up a first all-English showpiece. Chelsea, in the home country of Roman Abramovich, had run United close in the last two domestic title races and were thus to be feared.

Rain teemed down throughout but for the first 45 minutes it did not drown United's style. Cristiano Ronaldo's headed goal was the least they deserved. Yet a defensive mix-up saw Frank Lampard steal in to equalise just before half-time. That gave Chelsea the chance to dominate but United held on. Extra-time came and fraying tempers finally snapped when Didier Drogba lost his cool with Tevez and ended up slapping Nemanja Vidic in the face. Drogba's sending off left Chelsea without an experienced penalty-taker in the shoot-out, perhaps fatally.

Ronaldo's 42-goal season ended with him missing United's second spot-kick, eventually resulting in the chance for John Terry to win the cup for Chelsea. United fans looked away but the England captain slipped at the vital time, striking a post, taking the shoot-out into sudden death. There, Edwin Van Der Sar became the hero as he confidently saved Nicolas Anelka's effort to make it three European titles for United, 50 years on from Munich and 40 on from Busby's special night.


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