Belgrade evokes the toughest of MUFC memories

We'll meet again,
Don't know where, don't know when,
But we know we'll meet again
some sunny day...

So Roger Byrne led his team mates to sing when the waiters brought sweat meats to end the meal at a banquet in Majestic Hotel, Belgrade. MUFC beat Red Star Belgrade 5-4 on aggregate in the 1958 European Cup quarter-finals and drew 3-3 in Belgrade on their last match on 5th February before heading for fateful refueling stop at Munich. That last match was played at the present Partizan stadium due to lack of floodlights at the old Avala which was rebuilt in 1963 into a new Red Star stadium later renamed in 2014 to honour club legend Rajko Mitic.

Cruelty of English Football Association was exposed when they snatched Sir Bobby Charlton for a friendly against Portugal while MUFC ravaged by Munich disaster played AC Milan in the semi-finals. Charlton was absent for the 2nd leg as he was picked by the FA to play Yugoslavia and in Belgrade! Sir Bobby Charlton was selected for 1958 World Cup with England having lost Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor and Duncan Edwards at Munich, but was never played!! Pele was 3 years younger to Charlton at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden where he burst on the scene!!!

MUFC came up against Partizan Belgrade in the 1966 semi-finals of the European Cup and lost 1-2 on aggregate. Partizan showed tremendous resistance true to their name to hold on to their 2-0 win at home with 0-1 loss at Old Trafford. George Best had his delayed cartilage operation immediately after the match. Losing this opportunity to win the European Cup Sir Matt Busby called it "my lowest ebb since Munich." MUFC finished fourth that season and out of European competition hence concentrated solely on winning back the league in 1967 to be in Europe for one last attempt at scaling the European peak to avenge the loss of Babes at Munich, and yes they did it in 1968.

MUFC won their second European trophy the Cup Winners Cup in 1991 by beating Barcelona and faced Red Star Belgrade the winners of European Cup in the curtain raiser of the European campaign the Super Cup. This two legged tie was reduced to a single leg at Old Trafford due to civil war in Yugoslavia. Brian McClair scored the only goal in an MUFC win.

Serbian Nemanja Matic will miss this tie with an injury. He refused to wear Remembrance poppy for a Premier League match against AFC Bournemouth in 2018 as NATO had bombed his native village Vrelo in 1999.

Luke Shaw, Axel Tuanzebe and Paul Pogba are the other main absentees. Tonight's Europa League tie away at Partizan is probably the toughest of the group. Victory today might clinch qualification with home games coming up next. Injury hit MUFC have taken academy players Ethan Laird, Brandon Williams, James Garner and goalie Matej Kovar. Jesse Lingard is back while David de Gea is being rested for the crucial fixture at Norwich.

Harry Maguire will make his European debut for MUFC after having missed the AZ Alkamaar game and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might again opt for three at the back with either of Lindelof, Rojo and Jones. Scott McTominay might have to put another shift in with Fred and Pereira after they out ran Liverpool midfield last Sunday due to thread bare squad. All eyes will be on James Garner who has been in great form for the reserves scoring five times from midfield and the amount of game time he gets based on the context of the match. Jesse Lingard will be able to provide much needed rest for Daniel James who can come on as a substitute if MUFC need to get cracking, while Mason Greenwood might cover for Marcus Rashford with Anthony Martial set to start.

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