With the FA Cup semi-finals upon us again, we we take a look at five of the best in the long and illustrious history of the world’s greatest domestic cup competition.
5 best FA Cup semi-finals ever
Fulham 3-5 Manchester United, 1958
The 1957/58 season was the most tragic in Manchester United’s history, as eight players and three club officials were killed in the Munich air disaster. Remarkably, United were back on the pitch for a first-team fixture just 13 days after the tragedy, as a patched-up side beat Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup.
With Jimmy Murphy serving as temporary manager, while Matt Busby recovered from his injuries, United then battled past West Bromwich Albion to reach the FA Cup semi-finals.
Bobby Charlton scored twice in a 2-2 draw with Fulham, which forced a replay held at Highbury to be held four days later. Fulham and United served up an eight-goal thriller at Arsenal’s home ground, with hat-trick hero Alex Dawson outshining the Cottagers’ Johnny Haynes. It was tense right until the end, with United only earning some breathing space after Charlton made it 5-3 in the last minute.
“Of course I’d have loved to have reached the final with Fulham,” Haynes said. “But in light of what’s happened, there can’t be a football fan alive who can begrudge United getting to Wembley.”
Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United, 1999
This was not just one of the best FA Cup semi-finals ever but also one of the best in English football history. After the first game between the sides ended goalless, Arsenal and Manchester United played out a sensational, breathless replay under the floodlights at Villa Park.
David Beckham opened the scoring with an excellent 30-yard strike and United held a 1-0 lead until Dennis Bergkamp’s deflected shot beat Peter Schmeichel in the 69th minute. Arsenal then had a Nicolas Anelka goal disallowed, but the sending-off of Roy Keane looked to have swung the pendulum in the Gunners’ direction.
Arsene Wenger’s side did indeed have a golden opportunity to win the game late on, but Schmeichel saved Bergkamp’s penalty. Then, in extra time, Ryan Giggs ran past four Arsenal players to score a stunning goal that sent United’s 10 men to Wembley.
“It was the best game of football I have ever played in,” Gary Neville said in 2019. “Peter Schmeichel had done his thigh in so I was taking the goal-kicks. I walked towards the fans to take one and smiled, thinking: ‘This is unbelievable this.’ You know when you just feel: ‘This is something special.’”
Crystal Palace 4-3 Liverpool, 1990
The most entertaining day in FA Cup history was undoubtedly 8 April 1990. The second match of that afternoon saw Oldham Athletic and Manchester United play out a thrilling 3-3 draw, but even that could not match the drama and excitement on display at Villa Park a few hours earlier.
Liverpool had beaten Crystal Palace 9-0 in the league earlier in the season and were expected to once again make light work of Steve Coppell’s side. Ian Rush duly edged them ahead in the 14th minute, but a spirited Palace team levelled through Mark Bright just after half-time.
The final 20 minutes were extraordinary. Palace went ahead via a Gary O’Reilly goal, but Steve McMahon and John Barnes then struck to put Liverpool 3-2 up.
Palace were not done yet, though, and Andy Gray restored parity by nodding home from close-range. The stage was set for someone to make themselves a hero, and up popped Alan Pardew to convert a front-post flick-on in the 90th minute. Palace were through to their first FA Cup final after one of the best FA Cup semi-finals in history.
Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Arsenal, 1991
Every FA Cup semi-final is held at Wembley these days, but the first last-four tie to be staged at the national stadium was Tottenham and Arsenal’s clash in 1991. The FA, deploying uncharacteristic logic, decided that it made little sense for fans of both north London clubs to head up to Birmingham, Sheffield or Manchester for the day.
Arsenal were on their way to winning the First Division title for the second time in three years, while Tottenham were competing for a top-half finish. It was the underdogs who triumphed at Wembley, though, with Paul Gascoigne setting them on their way with a superb free-kick in the fifth minute.
Gary Lineker put Spurs 2-0 up soon after, but Alan Smith set up a nervy second half for Terry Venables’ side when he halved the deficit on the stroke of half-time. In the end it was Tottenham who grabbed the all-important fourth goal, as Lineker made it 3-1 with 12 minutes left to play.
Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Manchester United, 1962
Tottenham won the Double in 1960/61 and were looking to defend both the First Division and the FA Cup the following season. They missed out on the league title, finishing four points behind Alf Ramsey’s Ipswich Town and one adrift of runners-up Burnley, but they did manage to retain the cup after coming through one of the best FA Cup semi-finals of all time.
Some expected Manchester United, who were still in the rebuilding process following the Munich air disaster four years earlier, to pose a stern test in the semi-finals, but Tottenham outclassed Matt Busby’s men on the day.
Jimmy Greaves opened the scoring in the fourth minute, before Cliff Jones doubled their lead midway through the first half. David Herd pulled one back for United in the 85th minute, but the holders put the game beyond their opponents when Terry Medwin restored Tottenham’s two-goal cushion soon after.
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