click to go to homepage
Gordon Strachan and Jesper Olsen pose with a replica of the World Cup.

United players in World Cup combat

Share With

There have been very few occasions where Manchester United players have met on the field in the World Cup finals.

England's clash with Belgium on Thursday, which pitted Phil Jones and Marcus Rashford against Marouane Fellaini, was the first time it had happened at Russia 2018.

And remarkably, Old Trafford stars have only been in direct opposition in six previous games during the entire history of the biggest tournament on the planet.

Nicky Butt keeps Juan Sebastian Veron in check.
Nicky Butt keeps a close watch on Juan Sebastian Veron in 2002.

The first occurrence came in 1986, when wingers Gordon Strachan and Jesper Olsen met as Denmark beat Scotland 1-0 in the Estadio Neza. Strachan was substituted moments before another United colleague, John Sivebaek, was introduced for the Danes, with Olsen going off soon afterwards. Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge of the Scots and saw Preben Elkjaer hit a 58th-minute winner.

In 2002, four Reds midfielders started the game in Sapporo as England defeated Argentina 1-0 in the group stages. David Beckham captained his country and slammed in the only goal from the penalty spot as he took on the South Americans alongside Nicky Butt and Paul ScholesJuan Sebastian Veron was the rival skipper but was withdrawn at half-time after being superbly marshalled by Butt.

Cristiano Ronaldo receives treatment.
Cristiano Ronaldo receives treatment for his thigh injury in 2006.

Four years later, three of the nations in Group C contained United players but there were no confrontations on the pitch, largely because of Nemanja Vidic's absence for Serbia and Montenegro. When Dutch duo Edwin van der Sar and Ruud van Nistelrooy took on Argentina, Gabriel Heinze was not involved. 

Similarly, Mikael Silvestre and Louis Saha watched on when Ji-sung Park helped South Korea draw with France in Leipzig, equalising Thierry Henry's opener by beating Fabien Barthez, who was then with Marseille.

It was left to Cristiano Ronaldo to tackle his Old Trafford pals as Portugal defeated the Netherlands 1-0 in the second round in Nuremberg. The exciting prospect lasted only 34 minutes of a stormy encounter that saw four players sent off, two from each side, after injuring his thigh. Maniche grabbed the only goal past Dutch captain van der Sar but van Nistelrooy was left on the bench, with Marco van Basten preferring Dirk Kuyt's industry instead.

Wayne Rooney is sent off against Portugal.
Wayne Rooney is sent off against Portugal as England crash out on penalties.

Portugal progressed to the last eight to face England in surely the most memorable battle between Reds colleagues at a World Cup. Wayne Rooney was sent off on 62 minutes for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho and Ronaldo famously winked towards his country's bench to provoke fury from the English press afterwards.

The two may have clashed during that incident but, despite suggestions to the contrary, they quickly put it behind them and there was never any question of it affecting their friendship. A defence containing Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville held out for penalties but Ronaldo calmly netted the final spot-kick to ensure a 3-1 shoot-out win for his country. France's Saha did come on for the last five minutes of the semi-final to have a brief encounter with Ronaldo later in the tournament.

Louis Saha came up against Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2006 semi-finals.

In Brazil four years ago, United players were on the pitch in rival teams for only a single minute! The Netherlands beat Mexico 2-1 with Javier Hernandez introduced for El Tri on 75 minutes and, straight after Louis van Gaal’s Dutch side missed a chance, Robin van Persie made way for matchwinner Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

David De Gea and Juan Mata were on the bench in Spain’s 5-1 thrashing by Holland in the group stages, while Patrice Evra and Antonio Valencia did not meet despite France facing Ecuador.

Robin van Persie is substituted for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Robin van Persie goes off barely a minute after Chicharito came on for Mexico.