Sunday, 6 September 2015

Great Penalties: Peter Schmeichel saves against Dennis Bergkamp in the 1999 FA Cup semi final replay

The first of a very occasional series on great penalties features Dennis Bergkamp v Peter Schmeichel in the 1999 FA Cup semi final replay between Arsenal and Manchester United.


This match took place on 14 April 1999 and was televised live on Sky Sports. The commentator, Martin Tyler, made a barbed remark about the "European tail waging the domestic dog." He was referring to the fact that this match was to be the final FA Cup semi-final replay. From the following season all semis would be settled after one game, by penalties if required.

The reason for this was the Champions League which was putting the domestic fixtures under strain. Tyler's remark was a thinly veiled criticism of the decision. A few years later Sky would acquire the right to transmit the Champions League and stopped transmitting the FA Cup.

After a goalless draw the teams reconvened, again at Villa Park, to have another go. While the Reds were the dominant force in England in the 90s, Arsenal had won the Premier League and FA Cup double the season before.

There was a cigarette paper between the two teams in terms of quality and both were packed with quality outfield players including Giggs (who started this game from the bench), Roy Keane, David Beckham, Jaap Stam, Nicolas Anelka, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Viera and Emmanuel Petit.

That being said, United boss, Alex Ferguson, had rotated some players, mindful of their upcoming Champions League semi-final against Juventus. United would go on to win the Premier League, the FA Cup and the Champions League by the end of the season.

The Match

The result was decided in extra time by a sensational goal by Ryan Giggs. But part of what made that goal so dramatic was what had gone before.

The game finished 1-1 with two goals that would now be described as "thunderbastards". Beckham and Teddy Sheringham combined for the former to curl a long range shot from 22 yards. It was the first goal Arsenal had conceded in 690 minutes.

Bergkamp scored the equaliser from more or less the same range. But the Dutchman's strike was helped by a wicked deflection off Jaap Stam. Anelka was convinced he'd won the tie after latching onto a through pass and scoring a second. But after a brief confab, the referee David Elleray backed up the linesman's decision and ruled the goal out as offside.

Then disaster struck for United when Roy Keane was sent off for two yellow cards. The first was for a foul on Bergkamp, the second for another on substitute Marc Overmars.

United tried to keep the Gunners at bay but just as the game was set for extra time, Phil Neville made a puzzling decision and brought down Ray Parlour in the area. As Neville rose to his feet, convinced he'd blown his club's chance of a domestic and European treble, Dennis Bergkamp prepared himself to settle the game and move on, to the Final.

The Penalty

Among his many virtues, the United 'keeper Schmeichel was excellent at "making himself big" to use 90s commentator parlance. He had the frame and positional sense to provide a significant obstacle when one on one with an attacking player. Also,  in the intense bear pit that was Villa park under the floodlights and with so much at stake, the ball probably looked twice its size.

The big Dane stood in the middle of the goals, his eyes fixed on Bergkamp in an attempt to anticipate the Dutchman's next move. He succeeded. Bergkamp's shot may have been the proverbial "nice height" for a 'keeper but Schmeichel dived the right way and came the ball away to safety.

Allowing himself a brief moment of celebration Schmeichel ordered his team mates back into their positions. Characteristically, David Beckham was the only player to defy him and give him a quick hug. Lord Beckham was often the first to be their for the big moments.

That moment effectively decided the game. Arsenal fell to pieces and allowed Giggs to cut them open and score the winner in spectacular fashion. In fact it was Viera's cross field ball that set Giggs off on his run. If the Welshman had tried the same thing in normal time he'd have never got near the penalty area let alone the goal.

This match is rightly remembered for Gigg's wonder goal but it would not have happened without Schmeicel's penalty save. It forced extra time and destroyed the opposition's spirit.