The story of Manchester United’s 2008 Champions League triumph

Five forgotten men of Manchester United's 2008 Champions League ...
Tears and yells of joy, elation and relief as Manchester United win the Champions League


Perhaps the less famous of United’s recent European triumphs, our last Champions League success secured a League and Cup double. It was the club’s third European Cup win and fifth continental trophy overall, alongside success in the Super Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup at the start of the 1990s.


In this article, we will re-live the Red Devils’ European campaign, from the group stages through to the nail-biting success over Premier League rivals Chelsea in the Final. It’s a success that remains a vivid memory for any United fan who followed the club during this period.



Group stages

United automatically qualified for the group stages of the Champions League, where they were drawn against tricky opposition in the shape of Roma and Sporting Lisbon, alongside underdogs Dynamo Kyiv.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s men would face their toughest opposition in the opening two rounds, securing vital victories on each occasion. First, Cristiano Ronaldo’s 62nd-minute goal earned a win away at Sporting, before Wayne Rooney’s second-half strike secured victory at home to Roma.

The back-to-back wins put United in a strong position heading into October and November, and the wins kept coming. Rooney and Ronaldo scored five of the Red Devils’ eight-goals in home and away wins against Dynamo Kyiv, before the ever-prolific Ronaldo struck a late winner at home to Sporting to maintain a 100% record and secure passage into the knock-out stages.

A draw away at Roma would follow on matchday six, but the dropped points in Italy counted for little as United coasted through as group winners.

Knock-out stages

The round of 16 saw United drawn to face Lyon, with the away leg in France first up. Carlos Tevez’s away goal just three minutes from time secured a crucial draw to take back to Old Trafford, where a nerveless display – and yet another goal from Ronaldo – earned a 2-1 aggregate win.

A rematch with Roma awaited in the last eight, just over four months after the sides had clashed in the Italian capital. This time the away leg proved far more straightforward, with goals from Ronaldo and Rooney handing United a two-goal cushion, and a solitary strike from Tevez in the return fixture securing a handsome 3-0 aggregate triumph.

But there was nothing straightforward about the semi-final stage, with Catalonian giants Barcelona posing easily United’s biggest challenge of the campaign so far. The Red Devils were brave and honest at the Nou Camp, with the game finishing 0-0.

Paul Scholes’ spectacular 14th-minute goal saw Old Trafford erupt in the second leg and Ferguson’s men stood tall for what seemed like an eternity as they saw off the Barca threat to seal their passage into the final in Moscow, where they would meet Chelsea.

The Final

The Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital provided the perfect setting for the clash between two of England’s biggest clubs. United had beaten the Blues in the Community Shield at the start of the season, with the two sides trading victories during the league campaign.

United had finished two points clear of Avram Grant’s side in the Premier League that year, but the Blues have since then proven to be more reliable challengers for the title than the Red Devils since the departure of Ferguson.

Under new coach Frank Lampard, Chelsea have shown decent form behind pace-setters Liverpool and Manchester City. They are among the favourites in Premier League betting markets for next season considering they are at odds of 14/1 to outright win the 2020/2021 Premier League. However, United's recent resurgence means they are valued at the same price.

The breakthrough was a trademark goal for Ronaldo as Wes Brown whipped in a great left-footed cross to the far post and who else but United's first Portuguese magnifico who headed into the near post, Cech totally beaten and scored his 42nd goal of the campaign. Lampard had a key role as a player in this fixture as well, cancelling out Ronaldo's 26th-minute strike after a pinball in the box. With neither side able to find a winner in the 45 minutes that followed and when extra time also failed to produce a decisive strike, the two sides faced up to the nerve-racking prospect of penalties.


Ironically, United’s only miss in the shoot-out came from Ronaldo, the man whose goals had played a huge role in the team’s success in the competition, but CR7’s blushes were spared as John Terry lost his footing while taking his penalty and to make matters more tense, hit the woodwork as Captain Fantastic kept United in the shootout to sudden death. 

Owen Hargreaves, Nani, Anderson, and Ryan Giggs all fulfilled their obligations following Ronaldo’s miss, but Nicolas Anelka was denied by Edwin van der Sar, securing the trophy for United and sparking celebrations still fondly remembered to this day.

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