“Beating Manchester United was awesome,” Rowen Fernandez reflects on Kaizer Chiefs’ historic victory over the English Premier League side in the 2006 Vodacom Challenge final.
Amakhosi had started their Vodacom Challenge run that year with a 1-0 loss to Manchester United, followed by a 2-0 win over Orlando Pirates.
The results meant that Chiefs were going to meet the Red Devils again, this time in the final, with the match taking place at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, 22 July 2006. It was Amakhosi’s seventh successive Vodacom Challenge final.
“The atmosphere was great,” Fabian McCarthy looks back, “although it was probably the only time that we didn’t have the majority of the crowd behind us. There were so many red jerseys in the stadium, especially on the stand opposite the tunnel.
“We were certainly the underdogs against one of the best teams I ever played against.”
“Knowing the caliber of the opponents,” adds Fernandez, Chiefs’ goalkeeper in that match, “their legendary coach, Alex Ferguson, on the sideline and with players like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes featuring, it was important to focus on our first objective, which was not to concede a goal” .
McCarthy played at the centre-back position. He points out how Chiefs had won back-to-back league titles in the previous two seasons, while only conceding a total of 37 goals in 60 matches.
“We had a strong defence,” the defender explains. “Cyril Nzama, myself and whoever was playing in the backline, we would always tell each other, ‘let’s not concede a goal.’ It became our motto.”
The match turned out to be a joy to watch with end-to-end football and with Fernandez managing to keep a clean-sheet in regulation time. The game had finished in a goalless draw, which meant that a penalty shoot-out loomed.
“Nobody really wanted to go to penalties,” McCarthy says, “but when it came to it, we felt confident. Our keepers always did well in saving at least one penalty, irrespective of who was in goal, Brian Baloyi or Rowen.”
United’s goalkeeper Ben Foster missed the first kick from the spot, hitting the crossbar, after which Shaun Bartlett netted for Amakhosi. Thereafter both sides scored.
After Patrice Evra put the ball in the back of the net for the Red Devils, it was McCarthy’s turn.
“I always raised my hand when there was a penalty shoot-out,” he says, “Patrick Mabedi and Thabo Mooki were usually number one and two with spot-kicks, even though Patrick had left by then, but you need at least five players for a shoot-out.”
McCarthy walked to the spot, heard all the noise and… hit the upright. “I felt really bad,” the defender remembers, “but I tried not to show too much emotion. Rowen came to me and tried to cheer me up, while I told him, ‘you have to save me now’.”
United scored the next one, followed by Kaizer Motaung Jr slotting the ball home. “Junior’s penalty was the best,” McCarthy comments, “he picked his spot – the technique, the placement… It was brilliantly taken, and it got our supporters back in the right mood.”
Fernandez saved the kick from Chris Eagles and then it was the goalkeeper’s turn to take a penalty himself.
“Stopping the penalty was important,” he looks back, “but to then go on to score the winning penalty was even better. For sure, I was nervous having to take the final kick, but I just picked my spot and hit the ball as hard as I could. The ball went in!”
The Chiefs supporters went wild. For the first time an African side had beaten the English giants, Manchester United. The 4-3 win on penalties also resulted in Amakhosi taking their fifth Vodacom Challenge title.
McCarthy, a die-hard Red Devils supporter, was the happiest man on the field. “I knew Rowen would save me. He was just brilliant with penalty shoot-outs.”
He swapped jerseys with United’s Evra. “It was such a good feeling to beat them,” McCarthy comments, before pointing out that the match was recently re-broadcasted again in full on Manchester United TV (MUTV). “People were calling me, highlighting how I missed that spot-kick. I just reacted, ‘I will take a penalty any time, I have the guts to do that’.”
Fernandez feels that the game going to penalties definitely favoured Chiefs: “At the time, we felt so confident in our penalty taking abilities. I had saved at least two penalties in each of the shoot-outs we had taken part in previous competitions.
“As a team, we were really a family. To beat a big team like Manchester United with my football family was something truly wonderful.”