The Champions League is the ultimate club prize in European football. United have won the trophy three times, in 1968, 1999 and 2008. Real Madrid have the record number of wins, with nine European Cups to their name.
United first played in the European Cup in 1956. The decision did not go down well with the Football League due to the fear that it would affect the quality of domestic competitions. This was quickly quashed as the competition helped raise standards in the English game.
United’s first match in the competition was a 10-0 win against Belgian Champions Anderlecht. The Reds reached the semi-finals in both 1956-57 and 1957-58 seasons, but the club’s involvement in the 1957-58 competition, however, will be forever linked to the Munich air disaster. United’s draw in Belgrade and subsequent semi-final defeat against AC Milan were overshadowed by the tragic death of eight United players.
From tragedy came hope as Sir Matt Busby built a new team. Another semi-final in 1965-66 was followed by the club’s first European Cup success in 1967-68 when Goals from Bobby Charlton (two), George Best and Brian Kidd at Wembley gave England its first European Cup winning side against Benfica.
The club had to wait a long 26 years to compete in the competition again, now expanded and renamed the Champions League. United have played in the Champions League every year since 1994 and reached the semi-finals in 1997 before winning the Cup for a second time in 1999.
The final in Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium looked all but lost as United trailed 1-0 going into the three minutes of added time at the end of the match. Goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left Bayern devastated and United's 50,000-strong throng of supporters in ecstacy. Sir Alex Ferguson had finally emulated the achievement of his predecessor Sir Matt Busby.
European glory proved elusive for United in the following seasons. Their defence of the trophy in 1999/00 was ended by a 3-2 home defeat by eventual winners Real Madrid in the quarter-finals, while two semi-final appearances (2001/02 against Bayer Leverkusen and 2006/07 against AC Milan) ultimately ended in elimination despite United holding the lead in both ties.
In May 2008, in Moscow, the Reds sealed their third European Cup triumph - 50 years after the Munich air disaster and 40 years since the Reds' first win in '68 - with a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea. Ryan Giggs, making his 759th appearance in a red shirt, thus breaking Sir Bobby Charlton's all-time record, scored what turned out to be United's winning penalty. Edwin van der Sar confirmed United as Kings of Europe with his subsequent penalty save from Nicolas Anelka and sealed a historic double for the Reds.