A roar reverberates around Old Trafford as the home supporters see who Gianluca Zambrotta’s scuffed clearance has fallen to 30 yards from goal.
Paul Scholes hasn’t scored for Manchester United in eight long months but there’s a collective intake of breath as he controls, steadies himself and allows the ball to bounce twice.
The midfielder draws back his right foot and unleashes a vicious, swerving effort on the half-volley that rips past Victor Valdes and into the top corner.
Having missed the defining moment of Manchester United’s greatest-ever season – the treble-clinching 1999 Champions League final win – Scholes is suddenly steering them back towards the promised land.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the two men who would go on to define football’s modern era, are mere sideshows as the 33-year-old takes centre stage at the Theatre of Dreams.
Sir Alex Ferguson rises out of his seat to acclaim Scholes’ moment of genius.
Fifty years on from the Munich air disaster, the United boss is aiming to surpass Sir Matt Busby’s record of a singular European Cup and cement his reputation as the club’s greatest ever manager.
His opposite number, Frank Rijkaard, is motionless. Has the death knell just sounded on his crumbling Barcelona regime?
Scholes wheels away, mouth wide open in child-like joy, before his jubilant team-mates track him down.
He checks himself and takes a deep breath. There are still 76 minutes to play.
Battle of the Bridge
April 2008. Madonna and Justin Timberlake’s Four Minutes sits top of the UK billboard charts. Romantic comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall has taken £14 million gross in its first week in the cinema.
In politics, Gordon Brown's popularity is disintegrating amid the onset of the UK recession, while Russian president Vladimir Putin agrees to become prime minister when close associate Dmitri Medvedev assumes the presidency in May.
And as the month draws to a close, a gripping Premier League title race between Manchester United and Chelsea is dominating the sporting agenda.
Chelsea have just drawn level on points with United at the top of the table with a 2-1 home victory over the defending champions – a result that keeps them below their rivals on goal difference alone.
After a run of six consecutive league victories, United have now won only once in their last four and a five-point lead from just a month earlier has completely dissipated.
Ferguson’s decision to leave Ronaldo, Scholes, Patrice Evra and Carlos Tevez out of his starting line-up at Stamford Bridge backfires.
Two key players who do feature – Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney – are forced off with broken teeth and a damaged hip respectively to add to Ferguson’s mounting problems.
“Like the leader of a marathon developing cramp, Manchester United are limping towards the finishing line and suddenly looking over their shoulder,” The Independent’s Steve Tongue writes.
Ferguson is livid with referee Alan Wiley and his match officials after Chelsea are awarded a penalty for Michael Carrick’s handball – from which Michael Ballack scores the 86th-minute winner.
“If the league is going to be decided on penalty kicks then we’ve got no chance,” Ferguson snarls in his post-match interview.
“Carrick’s not lifted his hand… it’s a disgraceful decision to give a penalty kick in a major game like that.”
Ferguson’s assistant Carlos Queiroz also chimes in on Wiley’s failure to award United a spot-kick of their own for a challenge on substitute Ronaldo.
“I think it is necessary to get a gun and shoot somebody in the box to get a penalty for our side,” he fumes.
A bad-tempered 90 minutes of action spills over into ugly scenes beyond the final whistle on an afternoon that becomes known as the ‘Battle of the Bridge’.
Both sets of players clash in the tunnel and Rio Ferdinand accidentally kicks a female steward while taking out his frustration on a nearby wall.
Still seething during their post-match warm-downs, six United players are then involved in an extraordinary altercation with Chelsea ground staff.
Evra is the ringleader and aims a punch at 23-year-old groundsman Sam Bethell, who he later accuses of racial abuse – a charge that is never proved.
After an eight-month investigation, Evra is eventually banned for four games and fined £15,000, while Chelsea are fined £25,000 for Bethell’s part in the fracas.
The negative headlines and think pieces in Sunday's newspapers and beyond are yet another unwelcome headache for Ferguson as he prepares for one of the biggest games of his managerial career.
In the balance
The positives for United still far outweigh the negatives.
A 23-year-old Ronaldo is enjoying a record-breaking campaign with 38 goals scored already across all competitions.
Along with Rooney and Tevez, Ronaldo forms part of a fearsome attacking trio that has so far netted 70 per cent of the Reds’ goals in 2007/08.
United also boast one of the greatest centre-back pairings the Premier League has seen in Vidic and Ferdinand.
Behind them, the legendary Edwin van der Sar provides a formidable last line of defence.
Ferguson goes so far as to label his squad the “most complete team” he’s managed during his 22 years at the club.
But after sitting pretty at the summit for so long, United must now win both their remaining Premier League matches to be sure of the title.
“The pressure is on them because last week they looked like champions,” says Ballack.
“Chelsea have come from nowhere and now United are under pressure,” Blues manager Avram Grant adds.
It is ‘squeaky bum time’ for Ferguson and his post-match rant in west London indicates the cracks are starting to show.
“It’s extraordinary how quickly the mask slips,” The Irish Independent’s Paul Hyland writes.
“Smooth, confident and patriarchal one moment but coarse, jittery and parochial when the pressure comes on.
“Ferguson and his players are two bad results away from humiliation or two good results away from glory.”
United’s next match is three days later - a Champions League semi-final second leg against Barcelona at Old Trafford.
They laboured in the first meeting at Camp Nou but still emerged with a creditable 0-0 draw, despite Ronaldo missing a third-minute penalty.
Yet there are concerning parallels with their semi-final tie against AC Milan 12 months earlier.
On that occasion, United won 3-2 at Old Trafford but then, exhausted after a marathon season, succumbed to the Italians’ superior fitness in a 3-0 away defeat.
Ahead of the first leg against Barcelona, Ferguson recalled facing “a fantastic Milan team who’d rested eight players the Saturday before they played us… if we’d had better energy we would have been through”.
Ferguson is desperate not to make the same mistake again and the AC Milan experience informs his decision to rest star man Ronaldo against Chelsea to ensure his freshness for Tuesday.
Forty years have passed since Busby’s United won the club’s first European Cup, remarkably just a decade on from the Munich air disaster, which wiped out the majority of his squad.
After United’s dramatic Champions League final win over Bayern Munich in 1999, Ferguson is now within touching distance of overtaking the legendary Busby with a second European Cup.
But in the aftermath of Saturday’s loss at Chelsea, there are fears that his obsessive pursuit of the Champions League is damaging United's chances of retaining the title.
With a maximum of four games left and the two biggest trophies on the line, striking the right balance could be the difference between glory and failure.
Can an increasingly edgy Ferguson rise to the task?
Now or never?
There is relative calm initially at Monday's pre-Barcelona press conference at Carrington as Ferguson, clad in a beige-coloured suit jacket alongside Ryan Giggs, jokes with the media in attendance.
He seems relieved to announce United have filed their report to the FA on the Stamford Bridge brawl and is keen to draw a line under the incident.
But when it is suggested his team selection for Chelsea was a failed gamble, when it’s put to him that he’s mismanaged his squad’s fitness heading into the season’s defining stretch, the veneer of calm instantly shatters.
"I am not concerned the season is beginning to affect the team,” Ferguson snaps.
“When we started out the season last August it was to win the league. We signed up to play 38 league matches and we are going to play 38 league matches.
“And if it means we have to win the last two games to win the league, then so be it.”
Ferguson thumps the desk for emphasis.
“It doesn't matter if we've had 50 penalty kicks turned down, or 50 given to us, or terrible performances, or great performances,” he continues.
"We have a semi-final, a home game on Saturday (against West Ham) and a game against Wigan. Disaster.”
“Ferguson held forth on the form of his Manchester United team with the passion and rage of the Ferguson of old,” writes The Telegraph’s Sam Wallace.
“Angry, defiant and sure of his own decisions, he exhorted his players to seize the moment.
“It sounded like a speech that Ferguson had rehearsed once in front of his players, possibly even in the aftermath of defeat at Stamford Bridge.”
Ferguson’s rant distracts from the daunting immediate task at hand for his side.
They face European royalty in Barcelona – Champions League winners two years previously - and the tie sits on a knife-edge.
Ronaldo is once again the centre of attention.
Just a few hours before Ferguson’s press conference, the Portuguese superstar scoops the PFA’s Player of the Year award for the second year in succession.
But despite his individual honours, doubts remain over whether he can deliver on the biggest stage.
His penalty miss against Barcelona is greeted with the sneering suggestion that he is not a ‘big-game player’.
“I didn’t score but no problem,” Ronaldo insists. “I will score in Manchester.”
It’s a narrative first forged when the flamboyant Ronaldo arrived in England five years earlier and, by his own admission, “still had the Portuguese mentality of too many step-overs and bad decision-making”.
“He was a show pony who loved his skills,” Ferdinand recalls.
It doesn’t help that, off the pitch, he is often pictured driving expensive sports cars and attending exclusive nightclubs.
But it’s a narrative that persists despite Ronaldo emphatically adding end product to his game over the past two seasons.
In the current campaign he has already netted against title rivals Arsenal (twice) and Liverpool, scored decisive goals against 11 further opponents and hit the target in both of the previous Champions League knockout rounds.
Yet in the eyes of many, Ronaldo is still style over substance, a player destined to let his team down in the season’s decisive moments.
“With Ferguson’s two best players [Vidic and Rooney] crocked, he has to rely on a show-pony - a very talented show-pony, it must be said - to shake off his big game blues and put Barcelona to the sword,” writes Hyland.
Training alongside Ronaldo at Carrington that Monday is Scholes, who represents the antithesis of the man ten years his junior.
He is the media-shy veteran who quietly progressed from the club’s academy to become one of the world’s finest midfielders and a linchpin of United’s success under Ferguson.
Scholes is enduring his least productive season in a United shirt, with just one goal to his name, and has recently been left out of Ferguson’s XI in favour of Anderson and Carrick.
But having missed out on the 1999 final through suspension, he has been guaranteed a starting spot should United make it to this year’s showpiece in Moscow.
Tuesday’s tie will be used to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster and Ferguson urges fans to bring banners paying tribute to the Busby Babes.
“You can imagine Scholes in their company,” Tim Rich writes in The Independent.
“An Oldham lad whose idea of a good time does not involve the Sugar Lounge club or an advertising shoot in Indonesia but picking up the kids and dinner in front of the television. A life more ordinary.”
The implication in Rich's piece is clear: Ronaldo symbolises the flashy, modern footballer, while Scholes is the embodiment of the game’s traditions of yesteryear.
Ferguson knows he will need both to be at their best if he is to overcome Barcelona and keep his goal of surpassing the Busby Babes alive.
The pressure of history weighs heavy on the Scotsman's shoulders and he feels the burden acutely at Monday’s press conference.
“Time and time again I said this club should have more success in Europe and I wanted to give them the very best team to pick on Saturday. At the end of the day I’ve called it correctly,” he says, as if trying to convince himself.
“Ferguson is rarely so anxious as when the Champions League final is within reach as it is tonight against Barcelona,” writes Wallace.
“He is two games away from an achievement that would put him way beyond Busby or any of his managerial contemporaries of this generation.
“The question, should United fail tonight, is where they go from here.
"They seem to have been building towards this moment to reassert themselves since the dynamic changed in English football in 2003… if it is not to be this season for the Champions League, then when?”
United have successfully seen off Arsenal’s Invincibles and are holding off the Roman Abramovich-backed Chelsea again after winning their first Premier League title for four years in 2006/07.
They are on course to retain their crown for the first time since 2001 - yet that second Champions League trophy remains elusive.
Ferguson may well believe the current squad is his strongest ever, but there’s the inescapable feeling that it could be now or never for United in Europe.
Crisis in Catalonia
While United supporters prepare banners to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster, Barcelona fans plan to bring their own ones calling for the resignation of club president Joan Laporta.
The Catalans have won just twice - a pair of Champions League quarter-final victories over Schalke - in their last eight matches and are beaten 2-0 at Deportivo La Coruna ahead of their trip to Manchester.
They are 14 points adrift of champions-elect Real Madrid in La Liga and face a battle to secure fourth place and Champions League qualification.
For a club of Barcelona’s stature, it constitutes a crisis.
Rijkaard won back-to-back La Liga titles in his second and third seasons in charge (2004/05 and 2005/06) and lifted the Champions League in the latter campaign.
But the spectre of a second successive season without silverware now looms large.
“It’s not for nothing that they say it's easier to get to the top than to stay at the top,” Rijkaard reflects in an interview with The Telegraph ahead of the United tie.
The Dutchman is struggling to galvanise a squad filled with superstars entering the twilight of their careers.
Thierry Henry, Lilian Thuram, Edmilson, Zambrotta and Eidur Gudjohnsen are among those who look past their best.
“The squad is overloaded with overloaded stars who have grown too comfortable and too complacent,” The Guardian’s Sid Lowe writes.
The shining light in an otherwise dismal season is Messi, who has netted 16 goals during an injury-ravaged year.
At just 20 years old, he’s already being hailed as the messiah by the Spanish media.
Once again he was Barcelona’s most dangerous player in the first leg against United – a match that had been billed in part as the maiden meeting between Ronaldo and Messi.
Ronaldo had talked up the similarities between the pair before the game but Messi sought to play down the burgeoning rivalry, saying: “The game is between two great teams, not two players.”
But aside from Ronaldo’s penalty miss and some tantalising flashes from Messi, they were unable to leave a lasting mark on proceedings at Camp Nou.
“If we manage to go through, I think we will probably hear a lot about the missed penalty,” Rijkaard says at his press conference in a calculated attempt to unsettle the opposition’s star man.
“It will be all or nothing for Ronaldo. If we go through the pressure will all be on him.”
“Ronaldo did not exist in our stadium,” adds Barcelona captain Carles Puyol. “Apart from the penalty he did not get a kick.”
Rijkaard admits the 0-0 draw is “not a good result” but is adamant his side are “well capable” of scoring at Old Trafford.
The 45-year-old has one major selection headache. Top scorer Henry has been struggling with back and pelvic issues all season and only resumes training a day before the match.
There are strong calls for Rijkaard to replace Henry with 17-year-old sensation Bojan Krkic.
In October he broke Messi’s record to become the club’s youngest-ever La Liga scorer.
He has since netted ten times in 18 games at a ratio of a goal every 138 minutes, compared with Henry's one in every 271.
During the home leg against Schalke, Rijkaard’s decision to substitute Bojan rather than Henry is greeted with a chorus of boos and whistles.
Rijkaard describes him as “a treasure” but playing him in a game of such magnitude would heap immense pressure on the youngster’s narrow shoulders.
Only two months earlier, Bojan pulled out of Spain’s senior squad following his first ever call-up amid reports that he’d suffered a panic attack.
But Rijkaard has few other cards left to play: he knows nothing less than progression against United will keep him in the job.
The United tie, he admits, “represents our whole season”.
He Scores Goals
Match day. Ferguson’s worst fears are confirmed as Vidic and Rooney both miss out through injury.
“It is such an important game that if there is any chance of them playing, they will,” Ferguson had said.
No such luck. In total he makes six changes from the team that lost to Chelsea.
Owen Hargreaves starts at right-back, Wes Brown partners Ferdinand in central defence and Evra replaces Mikael Silvestre at left-back.
Anderson is replaced in midfield by Scholes, who lines up alongside Carrick. Park Ji-sung is on the right, Nani is on the left and Ronaldo features just behind Tevez in attack.
Rijkaard chooses to play neither Bojan nor Henry, while unsettled star man Ronaldinho misses out through injury.
Yaya Toure, Deco and Xavi form the midfield trident in a 4-3-3 behind Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Andres Iniesta.
Puyol returns from suspension to replace Rafael Marquez at centre-back.
“I don’t envy Evra tonight,” writes The Guardian’s Barry Glendenning.
“As if being a full-back who’s just one yellow card away from missing the Champions League final isn’t enough, the poor sod has to mark Messi.”
Old Trafford is already packed and Queen’s “Can’t Stop Me Now” blasts out from the loudspeaker.
"We are depending on the team to take us to Moscow, but equally the team are depending on you to help them get there,” United’s pitch-side announcer calls out.
“This could be one of those magical European nights and you can all play your part.”
Former United player and manager Wilf McGuinness issues a rallying cry to the supporters.
“I want to hear everybody shouting,” he yells. A thunderous roar is the response from the stands.
As “Glory, Glory Man United” rings out, home supporters in the east and west stands create shimmering mosaics: one reading ‘BELIEVE’, the other commemorating Busby’s 1968 European Cup win.
A banner reading ‘LAPORTA FORA (‘LAPORTA OUT’)’ is unveiled in the away end.
The players are led on to the pitch by captains Ferdinand and Puyol - United in red and white, Barcelona in their garish turquoise away kit.
The Champions League theme blares into the Manchester night sky and the camera pans slowly across the players and officials, lingering deliberately on Ronaldo’s tanned face, hair clad in gel, at the end of United’s line-up.
“The stage is set for the second and final act. We will get something to remember the semi-final by before the night is up,” introduces Clive Tyldesley on the ITV commentary.
“Questions, questions… have Man United hit the wall in this marathon season? Is all the talk of a Barcelona crisis just idle gossip? Just how much will United miss Rooney and Vidic?”
“We definitely believed we could do it,” United supporter Mick Thorne, in attendance, remembers. “We came out OK from the first leg and I thought we had a really good chance.”
Tevez gets the match under way and the sound of Herbert Fandel’s whistle prompts another deafening roar from the 75,000 gathered inside the Theatre of Dreams.
Just a minute in, they are almost silenced. Messi seizes upon a loose ball, evades Silvestre’s challenge and is brought down by a clumsy challenge from Scholes, right on the edge of the United penalty area.
“Oh dear me,” gasps MUTV co-commentator and ex-United star Paddy Crerand. “Was that inside the box?”
Replays show it wasn’t. Just.
German referee Fandel correctly signals for a free-kick and when Messi drills his effort straight into the wall, the stadium breathes a collective sigh of relief.
Ferguson watches on nervously, standing up in the bricked Old Trafford dugout as Barcelona’s midfielders begin controlling possession.
Ronaldo’s first real chance to run at the visitors’ defence arrrives 14 minutes in.
United’s number seven is played through by Ferdinand and feints inside Toure, only for a covering Zambrotta to clear.
The ball falls into a vast expanse of turf around 30 yards out from goal. Scholes is alive to it. He darts in front of a static Messi and seizes upon the loose ball.
He is without a goal since a 20-yard effort against Portsmouth back in August and after averaging 12 a season in his first ten years at United, he has managed just 11 in the last three.
Still, Old Trafford has seen enough spectacular Scholes strikes down the years to know the ball has fallen to the right man.
He takes a touch and time seems to stand still for a split-second as he steadies himself.
After a pair of bobbles, Scholes lets rip with his right foot, cutting across the ball and imparting so much power that it launches both his feet off the ground.
The ball explodes goalwards and bends sharply away from Valdes, who dives to his left but cannot get close.
By the time it has flashed past him and into the top corner, the keeper has already retracted his arm, comprehensively beaten.
“What about that!” screams Tyldesley. “What about that!
"Fourteen minutes gone and breakthrough for Manchester United. An unstoppable shot from Paul Scholes!”
The stadium, a bubbling cauldron of nerves, excitement and anticipation before kick-off, explodes.
There’s pandemonium in the stands. Fans embrace, jumping on top of each other amid a cacophony of noise and activity.
“It just erupted,” Thorne recalls.
Scholes sets off running, his mouth agape, eyes bulging wide in ecstasy before he leaps into the outstretched arms of Ferdinand.
On the touchline, Ferguson raises his fists in the air and embraces his coaching staff.
Celebrations continue in the stands as the game resumes but Messi almost silences them immediately with another awe-inspiring show of brilliance.
He collects the ball deep inside his own half, nips past Scholes and takes on a back-pedalling Brown.
Carrick rushes out to cover but Messi is still able to curl an effort on goal from the edge of the box that forces Van der Sar into a sprawling save.
United, Carrick revealed later, had introduced unorthodox training drills designed to help them deny Messi, Iniesta and Eto'o space in specific areas.
“Queiroz brought two gym mats out on to the pitch and slung them down in between me and Scholes in midfield and Brown and Ferdinand in defence,” Carrick said.
“He just said ‘don’t let the ball get on those mats’. So straight away we switched on and you block that space off around the edge of the box.
"That’s where Barcelona wanted to get to. That was how they played.”
United have a long-standing reputation for fast-paced attacking football, but now Ferguson's brief is to stave off what he famously calls Barcelona's “passing carousel”.
Rijkaard had noted ahead of the tie that United can play either an “English” or a “European” style.
With a precious early goal in the bag, Ferguson shows he can happily deploy both approaches in the same game as United transition smoothly from slugger to counter-puncher.
Barcelona struggle to break through the lines and their troubles are summed up by the sight of Puyol clashing heads violently with centre-back partner Gabriel Milito.
The Catalans' gladiatorial captain lays strewn on the floor for a few seconds before finding his feet, spitting blood as a physio checks him over.
“Puyol is having to do the work of three men here,” Glendenning writes. “Valdes and Zambrotta are having shockers.”
Messi, meanwhile, is now threatening to do the work of five men.
Barcelona are a team laden with the attacking talents of Xavi, Iniesta, Deco and Eto’o but they are repeatedly deferring to their 20-year-old superstar.
The Argentine collects from Xavi and dribbles inside, leaving Park in a heap. He takes on Carrick and sends a defence-splitting pass through to Abidal, whose cross is cut out.
Messi then curls in a cross of his own and Van der Sar can’t hold on, Evra just reaching the rebound ahead of Eto’o.
The carousel is in full flow but for all their pretty passing patterns, Barcelona are yet to create a clear-cut chance.
With five minutes remaining in the half, United spurn a golden chance to double their lead as Nani glances a header agonisingly wide of the post.
“It’s just a shame it wasn’t Ronaldo coming on to that ball,” says co-commentator David Pleat on ITV’s coverage.
Barcelona continue to pass around - but not through - United and the boos and whistles raining down from the stands turn to cheers as Fandel blows for half-time.
The camera zooms in on a weary-looking Scholes as the players march off down the tunnel.
Just 45 minutes now separate United and a return to club football's showpiece game.
“We're going to need a second," summarises Ferguson bluntly in his half-time interview.
He is all too aware that a Barcelona equaliser would send United out on away goals.
The second half initially picks up where the first left off: Barcelona monopolising the ball and United happy to sit deeper and soak up the pressure.
They break through Evra but the left-back is felled by Zambrotta, who is shown the first yellow card of the night.
Nani gees up the crowd as he jogs over to take a corner and Old Trafford responds by raising the decibel levels once again.
United are soon in the ascendancy as the terrier-like Tevez plays a one-two with Ronaldo before forcing a good stop from Valdes.
Nani combines with Ronaldo and surges past two Barcelona defenders only to then blaze wildly over.
On the hour mark, Rijkaard responds, sending on Henry for the largely ineffective Iniesta.
Toure tries his luck from 35 yards but drags his shot pitifully wide to ironic cheers from United’s fans.
The Ivorian hangs his head as he trudges back to resume his position.
“Manchester United will be happy to see that,” says Tyldesley.
“It’s a desperate effort and one completely out of keeping with everything Barcelona have done.”
Toure's night takes a further turn for the worse as he fouls Park, earning a yellow card that will keep him out of the final should Barcelona advance.
Henry’s first sight of goal comes from a Xavi corner but the Frenchman can only head into the grateful arms of Van der Sar from close range.
The former Arsenal striker, who has only ever scored once at Old Trafford, stares sheepishly at the goal, both hands on his head.
“Feeble, but then heading the ball was never his strong point,” Glendenning observes wryly.
An exhausted Scholes, his influence lessening as the game wears on, is hooked for Darren Fletcher on 76 minutes. Nani is replaced by Giggs.
The game is growing increasingly stretched.
Ronaldo breezes past Milito but strikes wide, the ball smacking off the advertising hoardings.
“Not kept his promise yet,” says Tyldesley.
Two minutes of normal time remain as Gudjohnsen replaces Toure, while Bojan is on for Eto’o.
Desperation has long since set in for the away side, but United are dropping deeper and deeper.
The home fans bay for the whistle as Messi barges into Fletcher and goes to ground in the area.
Henry throws his arms up to appeal for a penalty. Fandel is unmoved. Old Trafford can breathe again.
“The referee has indicated a minimum of three minutes of added time,” says the pitch-side announcer.
Every red shirt is now back defending. The home supporters wave scarves around their heads, willing their side over the line.
Ferguson stands in the bricked dugout, pointedly checking his watch as a combination of Silvestre and Tevez repel one last Barcelona wave from Xavi's free-kick.
The final whistle sounds and with it comes the loudest cheer of the night as a mixture of relief and ecstasy wash over the crowd.
Delirious supporters attempt to grab a beaming Ferguson as he makes his way down from his technical area to embrace Queiroz.
The camera pans to Scholes, who has wandered back on to the pitch from the substitutes’ bench.
One by one he is hugged by his team-mates. He waves warmly to the crowd, grinning as he clutches his match shirt.
"SCHOLES STUNNER BURIES BARCA" and "FERGIE HAS THE FINAL SAY AGAIN" read the headlines on Wednesday morning.
“How wonderfully appropriate,” writes The Telegraph’s Henry Winter of Scholes’ screamer.
“There seemed almost nine years of hurt unleashed in his first-half strike that tore into Barcelona’s net.”
In the autumn of his career, Scholes has finally got his first crack at a Champions League final - and it could hardly taste any sweeter.
Later that evening Chelsea book their place in the final with a 3-2 second-leg win over Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.
For the first time in the European Cup’s 52-year history, two English teams will contest the final.
Rijkaard may be right about the Premier League’s supremacy but this defeat signals the end for him: a dead man walking for what remains of Barcelona’s dead rubber season.
The Dutchman’s departure paves the way for the promotion of Barcelona B team coach Pep Guardiola to the top job, setting in motion a chain of events that would eventually spawn one of club football’s greatest ever sides.
Ronaldo, for now at least, has the edge over Messi, but the rivalry forged in these two semi-final meetings spurs both men on to heights never before scaled in the history of the game.
United hold firm with a 4-1 home win over West Ham and a 2-0 away victory at Wigan on the final day of the Premier League season to retain their title, sending a rain-soaked Ferguson skipping down the touchline in jubilation.
All roads now lead to the Luzhniki Stadium and the prospect of another tempestuous clash with Chelsea.
Despite running on fumes, United’s battle-weary troops dig deeper than ever in the driving Moscow rain as they bid to avenge the previous month's fractious league defeat at Stamford Bridge.
Frank Lampard cancels out Ronaldo’s headed opener just before the interval and Blues striker Didier Drogba sees red for slapping Vidic near the end of extra-time as the game meanders towards penalties.
In a nerve-shredding shootout, Van der Sar emerges as the hero, keeping out Nicolas Anelka’s effort decisively during sudden death, just moments after John Terry spurns the chance to win it for the Blues by hitting a post.
United, against all the odds, can toast a glorious double.
Ferguson finally realises his dream of a second European Cup. The Scotsman’s legacy is now indestructible.
Scholes, meanwhile, finishes the final bloodied, booked and exhausted.
Substituted three minutes before the end of normal time, he is unable to take a penalty in the shootout.
But after sealing United's path to the final with one of the greatest strikes in Champions League history, Scholes' contribution to the triumph is not in dispute.
He patiently waits his turn to hold the trophy - for 'real' this time, with match shirt on - as the rain continues to tumble down from the Moscow night sky.
It is a moment he must have feared would never come after the personal heartbreak of missing the 1999 final.
United are kings of Europe once more and their ginger prince can finally celebrate the feat with unbridled joy.