Manchester United attempt to try and take a big step towards Champions League qualification on Wednesday night.
It is the 26th time that an English club attempts to navigate the final qualifying round, with Club Brugge standing between Louis Van Gaal and potential disaster if the reds fail to qualify for the group stages.
The first English team to ever play at this qualifying stage was Newcastle United, the 1996/97 Premier League season being the first one where the second placed club would get a chance of taking place in the Champions League, IF they got through the qualifier.
United were drawn against Dinamo Zagreb and in the first leg at St James Park, Newcastle won 2-1 (when I checked I couldn’t believe it was John Beresford who scored both goals – would never have guessed, though I well remember him scoring both against Dynamo Kiev in the group match later).
The second leg was unbelievably tense with Faustino Asprilla seemingly guaranteeing Newcastle progress with a penalty just before half-time and Dinamo Zagreb’s Goran Juric sent off (Also surprised to find out that playing for Dinamo that night was a certain Mark Viduka).
However, on 58 minutes the home side equalised on the night and in the final minute scored again, meaning 2-1 at 90 minutes and 3-3 on aggregate.
With extra time coming to an end, substitute Temuri Ketsbaia produced the most dramatic of winners to send United through 4-3 and prevent the horror of penalties.
Newcastle lined up against Dinamo with:
Given, Barton, Pearce (Howey 30), Pistone, Beresford (Gillespie 83), Watson, Batty, Albert, Lee, Tomasson (Ketsbaia 102), Asprilla
The English clubs have an excellent record over the course of the 25 attempts in this final qualifying round, only twice has the Premier League club failed to progress.
In 2005 it was Everton who fell at this final hurdle against Villarreal.
As for the other club to fail…I take you back to 2003 and a certain Newcastle United. After winning 1-0 away at Partizan Belgrade, United were expected to easily wrap up the second leg.
However, a rare Jonathan Woodgate error saw Partizan race away and score, to put the scores level on aggregate and that is how it finished.
The penalty shootout is the cause of nightmares, the image of Alan Shearer blazing the ball high over the bar will be etched on my brain forever: Dyer, Woodgate and Hughes also missing as Newcastle crashed out.
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