When Yorke took centre stage in Europe

Sunday 03 March 2024 07:00

Twenty-five years ago, Manchester United had escaped the Group of Death and were handed a tough quarter-final tie in the UEFA Champions League with the impressive Italian side Internazionale.

Much of the pre-match hype centred around David Beckham's reunion with Diego Simeone after the spat at the previous year's World Cup finals, which led to the England midfielder being vilified and abused for much of the campaign by opposing fans. It may be fair to say most Reds were not too concerned with this sideshow, for all of the attention, but more focused on United proving we were capable of winning the trophy for the first time since 1968.

Inter arrived with a formidable reputation, having been runners-up in Serie A, and would be tough nuts to crack but Old Trafford was bouncing for the occasion. I was in the Stretford End and can remember the way any nerves were swiftly settled by the seventh minute as Alex Ferguson's men made the perfect start.

Beckham's cushioned cross into the danger zone was clever and accurate, and Dwight Yorke did the rest, heading gleefully past Gianluca Pagliuca.

Watch the highlights from United's win over Internazionale in 1999.

Yorke was enjoying a stellar maiden season at United, following his switch from Aston Villa, and this was the game that really cemented his position as one of Europe's hottest strikers.

Starting alongside Andy Cole, he caused problems for the Neroazzurri defence all night and looked a class act. Cole, meanwhile, forced a good save out of Pagliuca after more fine work by Beckham and, as the half grew to a close, the Reds took a stranglehold on the tie.

Beckham allowed Gary Neville's pass to run into his path and hit a teasing first-time centre that exposed Pagliuca, Italy's number one keeper at the previous World Cup, and encouraged Yorke to simply nod into the net to spark further celebrations in front of the ecstatic home supporters.

Inter would not go down without a fight, knowing the second leg was still to come, and would have pulled a goal back but for one of Peter Schmeichel's very best saves, as the Great Dane somehow pawed away Ivan Zamorano's effort.

When Schmeichel was beaten, after an initial stop to deny Nicola Ventola, Henning Berg came to the rescue with a brilliant goalline clearance from Francesco Colonnese. There was still work to do in Milan but this was a huge statement by the Reds, and an accomplished performance in Europe's top competition. A two-goal margin and clean sheet were more than anyone could ask for.

For some reason, one of my abiding memories of it was seeing photos in the newspaper on the following day, showing that Yorke had celebrating his heroics by spending a night out in Manchester, and being impressed by his energy. I was exhausted from just watching it!

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.