Six memorable European openers at home
Manchester United begin our 2019/20 Europa League campaign on Thursday, when we welcome Astana to Old Trafford.
The clash against the opponents from Kazakhstan will mark our 42nd season competing in a European tournament, the first of which took place in 1956/57.
Over the years, we’ve enjoyed some special opening nights in Europe, especially under the lights at Old Trafford. Here are a few of the more memorable clashes from yesteryear…
1967: United 4-0 Hibernians
The Reds began our 1967/68 European campaign with a four-goal mauling of Maltese side Hibernians. David Sadler and Denis Law both grabbed braces in the first-round home leg, which also featured the likes of Alex Stepney, Paddy Crerand, George Best and Bobby Charlton. The Reds drew the away leg 0-0 in Malta a week later and progressed to the next round. The Reds would, of course, end up lifting silverware at the end of that season, when we won the European Cup for the first time in our history.
Fast-forward 27 years and, again, United grabbed four goals at Old Trafford in our first European game of the season. The Reds actually went behind in the clash but responded through Ryan Giggs, who bagged his first-ever goal in European football. After the break, Andrei Kanchelskis netted a fantastic effort from outside the area, before the visitors pulled level for the second time on the night via a deflected free-kick. Again, Giggs was the man to put us back into the lead, when he reacted quickest when Paul Ince’s strike came back off the crossbar. Lee Sharpe then wrapped things up for the Reds when he pounced on a goalkeeping error to grab the final goal of the game.
1998: United 3-3 Barcelona
Alex Ferguson’s Reds began the Champions League group stage with a six-goal thriller at Old Trafford. Strikes from Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes ensured we went into the break two goals ahead, before a Barcelona fightback in the second period saw them claw their way back to 2-2 by the hour mark. David Beckham then netted a trademark free-kick soon after, but that lead only lasted seven minutes until Nicky Butt was adjudged to have handled in the area, resulting in a red card for the midfielder and penalty for the visitors. Luis Enrique converted the spot-kick to set up a nervous end to the game, which saw us ultimately emerge with a point. That season did, of course, end with a trip to Barcelona, when the Reds beat Bayern Munich in the final of the Champions League and wrapped up an unprecedented Treble.
An Andy Cole hat-trick helped us kick off the 2000/01 Champions League campaign in style. The striker opened the scoring after 15 minutes, with Denis Irwin and Teddy Sheringham also netting before the interval. The Anderlecht defence gifted Cole his second just after break and he grabbed a third 20 minutes from the end. The only blot on United’s copybook was the Belgian side’s solitary goal, which came courtesy of Jan Koller in the 55th minute. Somewhat surprisingly, Anderlecht actually finished above the Reds in the group, with Sir Alex’s men progressing to the next phase in second place.
A man renowned for netting decisive European goals bagged a vital winner for the Reds 13 years ago. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had netted his first Premier League goal in over three years, due to spells out with injury, just a few weeks prior, but his winning goal against Celtic was a memorable moment. Louis Saha had scored twice for United in the first half at Old Trafford that night in 2006, while Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Shunsuke Nakamura found the back of the net for the Scottish side. We ultimately topped our Champions League group and made it to the semi-finals that season, where we were beaten over two legs by AC Milan, who went on to the win the competition.
Of our more recent opening-night successes in Europe came two years ago, when we put three past Swiss side Basel. Marouane Fellaini kicked things off for the Reds, after he replaced an injured Paul Pogba in the first half. The Belgian headed home from Ashely Young’s cross 10 minutes before the interval and his international colleague, Romelu Lukaku, doubled our advantage in the second half. Marcus Rashford then completed a memorable night at the Theatre of Dreams when he scored his first Champions League goal in his debut game in Europe’s premier tournament.
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