United kids show no respect to Porto elders

Old Trafford, Manchester – 05/03/1997 – Quarter-finals
Man. United
Man. United
May 22 Cantona 34 Giggs 61 Cole 80
4 - 0
Porto
Porto
Edge of the seat

"I was already on the floor but managed to volley it in – my first goal in Europe. Brilliant." David May

1996/97

• Borussia Dortmund registered nine victories from 11 games in the competition, losing once against Club Atlético de Madrid. No other UEFA Champions League winners have had such a high win ratio.

• The 1996/97 season brought a new innovation as squad numbers were introduced, although Walter Smith fielded 1-11 for Rangers FC's group stage opener, a 3-0 defeat away to Grasshopper-Club.

• The competition witnessed its first period of extra time in a two-legged tie as AFC Ajax and Spanish Liga outfit Atlético contested a thrilling quarter-final, the Dutch side winning 4-3 on aggregate.

The reputation of Sir Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United FC dynasty was founded on nights like these: attacking, fearless and splendid to watch. FC Porto arrived in the quarter-finals having dropped just two points in a group which included AC Milan, but Sir Alex's fledglings did not bow to reputation.

Without the likes of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, the presence of David Beckham and Ryan Giggs on the flanks – with Eric Cantona, Andrew Cole and Ole Gunnar Solskjær also starting – set a distinct tone: United wanted to grab this tie by the scruff of the neck.

Cole's powerful header would have given them the perfect start had it not been for Hilário's athletic tip over, but United did not have to wait long for their opener. Gary Pallister climbed highest to meet a hopeful cross from the left, the Porto keeper fumbled and David May reacted first to bundle in the rebound.

Next it was the turn of the visiting defence to dally and Cantona to seize upon a poor clearance before sweeping past Hilário in unforgiving fashion. Half-time did little to halt the hosts' momentum and they were 3-0 to the good just after the hour. Cantona had well and truly joined the party by now and his exquisite pass out of defence was the catalyst for the goal of the game, Cole playing in the gallivanting Giggs to fire in without breaking stride after a lung-busting run.

United's mercurial No7 was also at the heart of their fourth, laying on Cole with a delightfully weighted pass which the England striker dinked in with aplomb. It was a fitting finish to what Ferguson described as a "fantastic performance". The benchmark had been set – Old Trafford would witness many more nights like this.

Star players

  • Cantona

    Manchester United FC's player of the century. United had not won the title in 25 years when the playmaker arrived in November 1992 yet 'King Eric' departed five seasons later with four Premier League winners' medals and two FA Cups. Not a bad return on the €2m it cost Sir Alex Ferguson to sign the flamboyant Frenchman from Leeds United AFC.

  • Giggs

    The most decorated player in English football, Giggs is the only man with 12 Premier League titles. A pacy, skilful left winger, he made his debut for both Manchester United FC and Wales at 17 but it is his longevity that set him apart; he overtook Sir Bobby Charlton's record of 758 United appearances in the 2008 UEFA Champions League final. A 22-year service has also brought four FA Cups, four League Cups and two UEFA Champions League titles.

  • Zahovič

    A tricky left winger with an eye for goal, Zahovič emerged at FK Partizan before moving to Vitória SC and then FC Porto where he won three titles. Brief spells at Olympiacos FC and Valencia FC, with whom he lost the 2001 UEFA Champions League final on penalties to FC Bayern München, preceded a return to Portugal with SL Benfica and another Liga winners' medal. Zahovič scored 35 goals in 80 games for Slovenia, both national records.

What happened next?

• A goalless draw in Portugal took United through to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, where they suffered a 2-0 aggregate loss to eventual winners Borussia Dortmund.

• Sir Alex Ferguson's side did, however, enjoy more success on the domestic front by successfully defending their Premier League crown – their fourth title in five seasons.

• FC Porto also bounced back from their European disappointment to win the Portuguese Liga for the fifth time in six years, finishing 13 points clear of Sporting Clube de Portugal.

• The mercurial Eric Cantona announced his retirement aged 30 at the end of the season after securing iconic status at Old Trafford. He went on to enjoy a successful acting career.

• Sir Alex finally lifted the UEFA Champions League trophy in 1999, United ending their 31-year wait for European Cup glory with a last-gasp 2-1 win against FC Bayern München.

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