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Sarajevo - Mančester (1967)

06.04.2013 at 00:20h

Following the safe score of 3:1 and the elimination of Olympiacos (Nicosia), the draw pitted Sarajevo FC against the famous Manchester United, as its next opponent, led by the legendary Matt Busby, with Bobby Charlton and George Best as its most attractive stars. The first match, scheduled for 15 November 1967, meant a genuine, unprecedented football holiday, never organized or seen before in the city on the Miljacka river. An entire staff of the most agile club officials took part in preparing every detail for the great football show.  A special program was published, as appropriate for greatest shows of this kind, banners appeared in Titova Street and shop windows were decorated for the occasion.  Sarajevo FC and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the entire football community of the former Yugoslavia,  eagerly awaited for the great match.  An encouraging fact was that our team was in full composition:

Muftić, Fazlagić, Blažević, Jesenković, Vujović, Bajić, Prodanović, Šiljkut, Musemić, Prljača, Antić.

The match was played before the audience of 40,000 spectators and the main referee was an Italian Franchescin.

Sarajevo FC started strongly against the team that included seven members of the British national football team.  Being insufficiently familiar with the opponents, Busby, the manager of the United, decided to take a defensive tactics with a reinforced defence. Our players were doing their best to secure an advantage for the return match.  Then in the 26th minute the referee made the first major injustice. Musemić found himself alone in the opponents' penalty box. Goalkeeper Stepney defended his kick but dropped the ball which crossed the goal line, but the goalkeeper with the assistance of his fullback Burns quickly and deftly threw it out of the goal mouth. The whole stadium saw the score, but not the referee Francescin. Or perhaps, such decision suited him for some reason, who knows.

Instead of deservedly winning with 1:0, in the 29 minute we were left without the right winger Prodanović, who was roughed by Folks, in a manner deserving of a sending off.  The referee failed to even caution Englishman, and Sarajevo FC, although playing with ten players (back then no replacement was allowed), endeavoured to realize its better play and superiority in the field.

The effort that our players put into the game exceeded their strength, but not their masterfulness. Especially smashing was the finish of the first half of the match and it was only a miracle that saved the net of Manchester United. In the 40th minute, Prljača unleashed a fierce shot from some twenty meters, and some time later he repeated a strike from a similar position. Musemić and Šiljkut had excellent opportunities in the same, 43rd minute. That day the chance turned its back on our brave footballers who were in no way disheartened by the reputation and greatness of the opponent.

A vigorous pace, that our team dictated during the first 45 minutes, was not mirrored during the second half.   Manchester United had the only genuine opportunity to score at the 46th minute, and then Sarajevo FC again found strength to dominate the field. This alone meant more than an achievement with ten players and this kind of opponent. However, the Englishmen did not lose their heads either, making use of their extensive international experience.  In the 59 minute, Antić found himself alone in front of the goalkeeper Stepney, but did not manage to finish the action with a score.  In the 72nd minute, Fazlagić's strong strike from distance grazes the goal post. It was becoming clear that the guests would return to Manchester undefeated, with a significant advantage given the first leg tie. Judging by the game and opportunities, the score should have been at least 2:0 for Sarajevo FC. Like this, with 0:0, all that was left was regret, but also bitterness directed at referee Francescin who took away our victory.

After the match, the then Federal Team Captain, Rajko Mitić, stated: "Although the champion of Yugoslavia had a bad luck, in my view the team of Sarajevo FC gave an excellent performance, especially in the second half. However, with ten players there was really not much more to be achieved against the experienced Manchester United."

Coach Busby on his part added: "The game was tough and hard. Combative, above all. I am very pleased with the result, although I cannot but recall that Sarajevo FC was handicapped because it was left without a player who was injured."

A large number of special press reporters from Yugoslavia and England provided coverage on the great match and Sarajevo FC's missing out on victory.

After the match on Koševo, the return leg was played at the famous Old Trafford stadium.

Fourteen days later, on 29 November 1967, our team found itself in the bubbling cauldron of emotion at the Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, before 65,000 fanatic fans of the home team. According to realistic forecasts, Manchester United had a significant advantage in terms of chances to qualify to the next round of the European Champion Clubs' Cup by winning the match.  Our players, self-confident of their real value, secretly hoped to achieve a feat and thus celebrate a coincidental holiday, the Day of the Republic. Even from this time distance it is clear that they could have made that achievement if not for the referee, who once again manipulated the game. This time it was referee Machin from France.  

In a cheering tornado the home team took the lead of 1:0 in the first half, Aston scoring the goal, but that did not mean the final outcome. The team of Sarajevo FC composed of: Muftić, Fazlagić, Blažević, Jesenković, Vujović, Prljača, Delalić, Šiljkut, Musemić, Bajić and Antić managed to set the balance, especially during the mid second half. The 63rd minute of the match was fatal for our team and shameful for the man in black. George Best was the best individual player of the game but that was not enough for him. He was provoking our players and fouled them without the ball. In the U 59th minute, Best intentionally hit je our goalkeeper Muftić (and even injured him after the game with a punch in the head!). This electrified the atmosphere, and in the 63rd minute it all looked like a burning hell. In one action of the home team attack, the ball went out of the pitch and even hit a press reporter. Surprisingly, referee Machen did not stop the game.  Best seized the ball and scored the second goal for Manchester United.

Instead of nullifying the goal, upon bitter protests of our players, the referee pointed the way to the dressing room to Prljača.  This was a double injustice, obviously possible even in Europe's biggest football competition.  Our team did not accept this, but they did not surrender, either.  Again left with ten players during the last quarter of an hour of the match, the Sarajevo FC players showed admirable grit and pressed the rival to their half of the pitch. In the 86th minute, accepting a ball from the right, Delalić headed an excellent goal, reducing the lead to 2:1. The situation again became tough for Manchester United.  However, with additional help of Mr. Machen, they managed to prevent the panic and get away with victory. The referee failed to take into account the stoppage after the second goal, but hurried to whistle the end of the match, thus damaging the heated team of Sarajevo FC.

The great matches with Manchester United unfortunately confirmed that in order to participate in biggest and most expensive competitions, skills and knowledge do not suffice. Our coach Franjo Lovrić felt and interpreted this best, declaring after the game in Manchester:

- It was not Manchester United that eliminated us, but the referees!


Table

1. FK Sarajevo 20 7 5 66:20 67
2. HŠK Zrinjski 19 7 6 46:22 64
3. NK Široki Brijeg 13 14 5 36:22 53
4. FK Željezničar 13 8 11 40:32 47
5. NK Čelik 11 9 12 29:48 42
6. FK Radnik 9 14 9 28:26 41
7. FK Mladost DK 11 7 14 33:44 40
8. FK Sloboda 10 8 14 22:30 38
9. FK Zvijezda-09 9 10 13 33:45 37
10. FK Tuzla City 9 9 14 32:41 36
11. FK Krupa 8 9 15 39:45 33
12. NK GOŠK 5 8 19 25:52 23