The former Bayern Munich defender believes the final 15 years ago turned as a result of Lothar Matthaus’s withdrawal with 10 minutes remaining
By Juliet Bawuah
Bayern Munich and Manchester United go head to head in the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Tuesday night in a tie that brings back memories of the famous 1999 final between the two sides.
Late goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cancelled out Mario Basler’s early opener and handed United the most dramatic of victories.
Sammy Kuffour – who was named man-of-the-match on the night – still believes the game in Barcelona turned on one late substitution by coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.
Lothar Matthaus, who had enjoyed one of his finest evenings despite his advancing years, was replaced by Thorsten Fink with 10 minutes remaining as Bayern headed towards a 1-0 win.
“If I was Matthaus, I would have played that game till the last drop of my blood,” says Kuffour. “It was a Uefa Champions League final and everyone wants to get the glory and his stay on the field would have changed our game.
“Matthaus came to my room the night before the final and said to me: “If we handle [Andy] Cole and [Dwight] Yorke then we have won this game.” Then they changed him in the 80th minute.
“People were just asking “why did Lothar Matthaus go out in the 80th minute?” Because that was our plan. He was getting older at that time – he was 38-years-old – so he played to that standard. We brought in Thorsten Fink to come and hold in the midfield for us because that’s what we were doing throughout the season.
“Things didn’t go as planned.”
The rest as they say is history, with the late drama proving all too much for Kuffour, who was pictured beating the turf in frustration following Solskjaer’s late winner.
“To this day, I haven’t watched the game. Everybody tried to pick themselves up afterwards. It wasn’t easy at all when we went to the dressing room knowing we blew our chance to get our hands on the medal. Nobody could believe what had just happened. It was a very, very sad moment in the dressing room.
“It was the fans I was worried about because they believed in us so much and although I won the man-of-the-match award it meant nothing to me. Seeing our fans cry was heartbreaking for the team.”
Bayern were back in the semi-finals in 2000 and went one step further a year later, beating Valencia on penalties in the final after gaining revenge on United at the quarter-final stage. It was particularly sweet for Kuffour.
“We couldn’t accept that defeat again so the vengeance was really huge for me personally because I had a lot at stake with friends teasing me. So after that game I called up my Manchester United friends to ask them what it felt like. It was a really good thing.”
Kuffour was one of a band of players who survived the 1999 heartache to bounce back and win two years later, with captain Stefan Effenberg lifting the cup.
“I have seen and played with great players but Effenberg has a different character,” Kuffour says. “He came to my room a night before the game and told me Sammy if we don’t win this cup that will be the end of us.”