It's not the first time that Sporting faces Manchester United in the European Cups. The only other time that that happened will stay forever marked in the history of our club. Not only because it was part of that epic victory on our only European trophy conquered so far but mainly on the manner in which our victory over United was obtained.
Here's a special report on that tie that I've translated from today's edition of O Jogo...
The great adventure of the Famous Five
by Filipe Alexandre Dias
Translated from O Jogo
"There is a hurricane passing through Lisbon!" - this was what the stunned BBC radio reporter shouted at his microphone at the old José Alvalade stadium on that magic night of 18 March 1964. The best ever European Sporting crushed the superfavourites Manchester United in the quarter finals of the now extinct Cup Winners' Cup, that the Lions would end up winning. The 5-0 rout cancelled the 1-4 defeat suffered in England on the first leg. Before the first official reunion of the two clubs, now in the Champions League, O Jogo brought together, in Alvalade, Fernando Mendes, Hilário and Carvalho, three of the heroes of that epic episode.
Fernando Mendes starts unleashing the memories: "That Manchester United team that, four years later, would become European champions, was the reconstruction of the famous "Busby Babes", after the Munich plane crash, in 1958. The 1-4 defeat of the first leg in England was "a lie" and did not reveal the true difference between the two teams." On the return to Portugal, an added motivation appeared, according to the former captain: "On the return trip, some of the most wealthy Sporting supporters offered a prize of 40 thousand escudos to each player, in case we would pass the qualifier. It was a fortune."
In Alvalade, the Lions devoured the Manchester Devils, but the start of the match was thrilling. Carvalho says: "We went into the game very concentrated, but right at the start Denis Law hit the crossbar of the goal situated on the North side of the old stadium, and soon afterwards Hilário saved a ball on the goal line. From then on, we've made almost everything perfectly, we didn't miss a pass, scored in the right moments and went on believing. The English could only look at each other in disbelief." Fernando Mendes reminded the arrogance of the "Red Devils" as a decisive factor, but he clarified: "They thought it was won, but they didn't go to the beach, as it was said. This was in March, and the weather was not good for it. The game was a sum up of positive situations. That prize money unfortunately never showed up."
Hilário adds: "We were harmed by the referee in Manchester, as two of the goals came from dubious penalties. Nobody believed that we could turn the tie around, but we have proved that even the wildest dreams can become reality."
The magic squad of 1963/64
An irresistible 4x2x4
With nothing to lose, Anselmo Fernandez' Sporting, in the famous turnaround of 1963/64, faced United on a 4x2x4 very much build upon the herculean work of the two central midfielders, Fernando Mendes and Geo, that played like allrounders. On the goal, Carvalho was the undisputed starter, leading a backline that would conquer the experts, with World Cup 66 players: Pedro Gomes, Alexandre Baptista, José Carlos and Hilário. Upfront, Figueiredo, Osvaldo Silva, Mascarenhas and Morais were very mobile, with the first and the last being forced to go backwards to close the midfield. This system triumphed over the classic 4x4x2. Sporting reached half time winning 2-0, with Osvaldo Silva scoring both. On the second half, it only needed nine minutes to make history. Geo made the third (47'), Morais the 4-0 (52') and Osvaldo closed the score (54'). And there's the "famous five"!
Osvaldo Silva and George Best were brilliant in both legs
Osvaldo Silva was, against Manchester United, the great star of the Lions. On the other side, a 17 year old kid called George Best was starting to build the legend. They were real artists, each one at his own dimension, and today, after having both left us, they live in the memories of those that had the priviledge of watching them playing. The former captain recalls Osvaldo with warmth: "He was a friend. When he was in a good mood, he was hilarious. He was a superb player."
The superb Osvaldo Silva
Carvalho still suffered facing the mythical number seven of the "Red Devils", known by his excesses. "Their players smoke and drank beer in the locker room. We couldn't even think about it. Best was the Ronaldo of those times. In the game in England, that bloke sat Pedro Gomes on the floor and came towards me. I covered the angle and he immediately made me a lob. I jumped backwards, but the ball hit the crossbar. He did all the measuring, but he was unlucky. The bastard was a kid, but he was already fantastic."
Touring Lisbon with Bobby Charlton
On the day after the rout, Lions and Red Devils created friendship amongst them. Fernando Mendes will never forget a certain walk: "Alexandre Baptista and me took Bobby Charlton and other colleagues for a tour around Lisbon. From there we went to the Seteais Palace in Sintra for a friendship dinner amongst the two Boards of Directors."
Studying through film
Between the two ties, Anselmo Fernandez replaced Gentil Cardoso at the command of the team. The architect that took Sporting to their biggest trophy in football is considered to be a visionary. Hilário explains: "It was him that introduced the study of our opponents through film. We went to the film room at the club's headquarters and saw United's film."
A new victory, again.
About the reunion of tomorrow, more than 43 years after the famous 5-0, Fernando Mendes does not feel overly optimistic, but he firmly believes in the victory. Talking like a "Lion", the former number 6, just like his former colleagues, will be at the stadium as a fan and he anticipates: "Sporting is in a prestigious group in the Champions League, but I should recall that we've been having some luck against the English. I would be more worried if it was a club from a country without much name in football. The concentration will be doubled, and, due to that, I believe on a new victory over Manchester United."
The man that kept the Lions' goal during 12 seasons believes that, at least, the green and whites will not leave their stadium defeated: "We have a strong word to say. Manchester United is not at their best, whereas Sporting already showed some of the football showed during the last season. We will not lose, but it is possible to win." In what concerns Hilário, the progress registered in our football and the form with which the Lions normally deal with the open football of the British creates optimism. "We fit well with the English football. Before, their physical preparation used to be better, but today that doesn't happen. Sporting have all the chances to win, because United seems not to have found their peak during this season yet."