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Six of One - Iconic Manchester derby pictures ... and the stories behind them

Welcome to Six of One, our series in which we pick six of the best examples of a theme and contrast them with half a dozen others. This episode's theme is inspired by the Manchester derby and its rich history. Instead of the usual format of taking six outstanding things and balancing them with six execrable ones, here we have opted for six great photographs centred on United and six on City and try to tell the stories behind them.  As in the past it is obviously very much a subjective evaluation so please feel free to nominate your own favourites in either category in the comments section or tell your own stand-out derby stories.  Manchester United photographs 1. Alex Dawson 1960-61 Manchester United endured a torrid start to the 1960-61 season, losing 10 of their first 18 matches including defeats by Everton, Arsenal, Cardiff City and Aston Villa. It is often forgotten that they finished second in 1958-59, the season after the Munich Disaster, and seventh in 1959-60 but by mid-November 1960 they were 17th and looking in desperate need of fresh blood. That month Matt Busby bought the stylish Noel Cantwell from West Ham for £29,500, a record fee for a full-back, and the charming, erudite Irishman would go on to captain United and become a profound influence in the club's renaissance over the next eight years. His immediate impact was none too shabby and United swept through December, defeating Preston, drawing 4-4 with Fulham and beating Blackburn. The Christmas double header against Chelsea was overcome with a 2-0 away victory on Christmas Eve followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on Boxing Day in which Alex Dawson scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Nicholson two goals and Bobby Charlton one. By the time of the home derby on New Year's Eve 1960, United were in far ruder health and had climbed to 11th while City, eighth six weeks earlier, were on a dreadful run of six defeats in seven games. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images That's Dawson in the dark shirt in the picture, framed against the Stretford sky, arching his body to flick the ball on and captured by the photographer dead in the middle of the floodlight pylon on the left corner of the Scoreboard End. Romantics can imagine the smoke from a passing steam train adding to the hazy ambience but the season and hour are likely to be more responsible for the oystery murk. Dawson scored his second hat-trick in successive matches in this game and Charlton, from the left-wing, hit two more past Bert Trautmann. Only Colin Barlow could reply for Manchester City and any Blues would be excused by the 5-1 defeat for telling first-footers' calling on them later that night to stuff their lump of coal where the sun doesn't shine. Dawson was a broad bullock of a centre-forward who had unforgettably scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham in 1958 during United's emotional charge to Wembley. He scored 45 league goals in 80 appearances and suffered City fans adopting the Camptown Races melody to assail him thus: "Who's that fella with the big fat a---? Dawson, Dawson." He had many qualities but not the exhilarating flair that Busby coveted so highly and he was sold to Preston in 1961 where he became known as 'The Black Prince of Deepdale' and bagged more than a hundred goals over six seasons of frisky service. Deliciously, to the right of the photograph in the City No10 shirt and adjusting his body perhaps to launch himself acrobatically at the ball, is Denis Law, a forward with all the class and spirit Busby desired. It would take the United manager another 20 months to get his man.   2. Eric Cantona 1994 On March 19 1994 Manchester United, the champions and league leaders went to the County Ground to play their only top-flight match against Swindon Town who were 47 points below them and not so much at the foot of the Premiership but at the bottom of its Mariana Trench. But Swindon, by virtue of two equalisers, held on for a point and United were left with 10 men when Eric Cantona was sent off for stamping on John Moncur's solar plexus. A little over 72 hours later on March 22, United were again pegged back after twice taking the lead at Arsenal and Cantona was sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Ian Selley, the second two minutes later for wild swipes at Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams. For his sins Cantona was given a five-match suspension and defeats by second-placed Blackburn and Wimbledon in his absence left United still leading Rovers at the top of the table but solely on goal difference though they had played one match fewer. Cantona returned for their 38th game of the 42-match season, the Manchester derby on St George's Day and may have read, on the morning of the match, a warning from City's full-back Terry Phelan, who pledged that his team-mates would "wind Eric up left, right and centre" and rotate the opportunity to "take a bite out of him" because he "doesn't like it when you get him at it" which must rank as one of the worst psychological assessments in recent memory.  Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT/Getty Images In the end Phelan did not make the starting XI and City's attempts to rile the Player of the Year were faced, at least initially, by the rarely seen "other cheek" of United's No7. In the five minutes before half-time he scored twice, tapping in an Andrei Kanchelskis centre from a yard and then sweeping a right-foot shot under Andy Dibble when the keeper thought he was going to be chipped. Kanchelskis had a peculiar way of using his arms when running that suggested forgetting to extract the coathanger before putting his shirt on but was devastatingly direct and quick and he stands in the background, about to be embraced by Lee Sharpe, one winger acutely aware that the other deserves most praise for the opening goal. Yet it's the central figure of Cantona that dominates and by contrast to the near identical pose of Michel Vonk, appealing vainly for offside, he smiles with something of the radiant pleasure he could still demonstrate. For the remaining three seasons of his career, more so after Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona sometimes seemed to be wedded to an image of himself wearing a crown of thorns and often posed messianically after scoring, not so much in 'redemption' mode as with a confrontational attitude of there-will-be-a-reckoning-for those-who doubted-me.   Here, though, there is joy still unconfined, an elation that burgeoned over the next three weeks after United's 2-0 victory. In their five remaining games they wrapped up the Premier League title by eight points and defeated Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their debut Double.  "No matter what the tempo is Eric's got the ability to compose himself on the ball," said Alex Ferguson after the match, burnishing the divine mystique. "In the maelstrom of League football that in itself is a miracle."  3. Roy Keane 2001  One should not forget that Roy Keane’s vendetta against Alfie Haaland was provoked by a word not a deed. In September 1997 at Elland Road, Keane injured himself fouling Haaland, then playing for Leeds, severing his own cruciate ligament when his studs caught in the turf and put himself out of the game for 11 months’ of gruelling rehabilitation. In his first autobiography Keane claims that Haaland and his team-mate David Wetherall stood over him and accused him of faking the injury, an act of slander so defamatory to his professional code, so uncharitable, that Keane stoked the embers of his grudge for almost four years. The fact that Haaland may have been responding in the moment after 85 minutes of rancour between the two, that Keane’s fall was in the penalty area at the end of a game Manchester United were losing 1-0, or that he could be excused of savouring the irony that someone who had tried to hurt him had succeeded only in hurting himself did not diminish Keane’s festering resentment. Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien In Keane’s absence, Manchester United eventually blew an 11-point lead in the championship race and Arsenal won the Double but by April 2001 and the Old Trafford derby, Keane was well on course to raise his third successive Premier League title as club captain. It was a drab match - Steve Howey had scored the equaliser with seven minutes to go after Paul Scholes had missed a penalty before Teddy Sheringham converted one - until Keane exploited the proximity of Haaland in the 86th minute to lunge right-foot first, studs up, into the side of the City midfielder’s knee. Haaland had just executed a forceful clearance and had his leg off the turf in his followthrough when Keane hit him with the full weight of his body driven through his lunge, tipping his victim up so that he slammed shoulder-first into the grass. Paul Hayward, who was there for The Telegraph, takes the story up in his live report: Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. In his 2002 autobiography Keane revealed the key message he delivered was two letters shorter than ‘Gotcha’. "I'd waited long enough. I f------ hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c---. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there's some for him as well." While there is no denying that it’s precisely what he meant, he would have had to rattle through it like Michael O’Hehir on amphetamine sulphate to deliver it verbally in the two seconds he spoke before leaving the pitch. Ever since, seemingly depending on the likelihood of legal repercussions for his words, Keane revels in it but see-saws on whether he meant irreparably to harm Haaland, who would play only 48 minutes more in his professional career during various comebacks but retired mainly because of an injury to his left knee. Some Manchester United fans see Keane at this moment as a kind of warrior avenging angel and his critics as a mad dog but the stark beauty of the photograph captures a man chillingly in control achieving, in his eyes, brutal restitution for a violation of his honour. It’s how Keyser Soze must have looked when wiping out one of the Hungarian mafia. 4. Michael Owen 2009 United had all but thrown away the home derby in September 2009 when they conceded three equalisers, the last in the 90th minute when the quicksilver Craig Bellamy made Rio Ferdinand look like a carthorse after the England centre-back played a casual pass straight to Martin Petrov. Carlos Tevez’s transfer to City in July provoked the summer of “the noisy neighbours” and Ferdinand’s posture after being gulled by Bellamy, head in hands behind the shaky Ben Foster and muttering expletives, betrayed his concern about letting his team-mates down and the wrath from a volcanic Sir Alex Ferguson that was about to engulf him. But he was about to be saved by the free transfer signing Ferguson had brought in to replace Tevez, the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner, Michael Owen, whose giddy progress had been hobbled at Newcastle United by a cruciate-ligament injury and recurring hamstring, thigh and groin problems. Owen was a serious, dedicated professional yet Newcastle fans had not taken to him, finding it difficult to embrace someone who was frequently absent from the field and refused to live among them. It is fair to say that United fans were barely exhilarated by his signing either. They had completed a hat-trick of titles the previous May but had been forced to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and decided to let Tevez go in the summer without reinvesting a credible portion of the profits. Credit: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images But cometh the hour or, as City fans would put it, ‘cometh the sixth minute of Fergie time’, cometh the substitute Owen to sidle behind Micah Richards. It took a cute pass from Ryan Giggs to find him and even after so many injuries Owen plus space plus a gap between him and the goalkeeper was an equation with only one likely outcome. Shay Given spread himself as best he could without reward. Owen took a touch then dinked the ball into the far corner with an expert flick of the toes. The special thing about the photograph is how it destroys the perception of Owen as the dull master of his emotions and by that stage of his career as someone who cared more about thoroughbreds than goals. “Just look at his face”, as Barry Davies once instructed the audience when Frannie Lee scored against City after leaving Maine Road to win the title with Derby, and his delight is palpable. For City there was a sense of being mugged again in the familiar fishy circumstances by Ferguson, the Time Lord, yet the picture of Owen resonates more than the ones of desolate and angry players in blue. It conveys his elation but also his optimism, like someone who has emerged from a long nightmare. 5. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes 2010 Once you know that 1950’s ‘Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville’ by Robert Doisneau was staged, it removes some of the sheen from the quintessential Parisian portrait of uninhibited young love. One trusts, for Paul Scholes’ sake, that the photograph taken during the April 2010 Etihad derby, was a more spontaneous ‘Kiss’ that required no laborious and possibly unsavoury rehearsal. United were second, trailing Chelsea by four points with four matches to go and City fifth, two points behind Spurs in the last Champions League qualifying plce, as they embarked on their game in hand at Eastlands. Sadly the game was nothing like the firecracker at Old Trafford earlier in the season and was littered with anxiety-ridden wayward passes, midfield stagnation, shouts for penalties from both sides and all too rare opportunities that were squandered. Once again the clock had passed 90 minutes when Gabriel Obertan slipped past Patrick Vieira, rolled the ball down the left for Patrice Evra to cross and Scholes met it before the penalty spot and cushioned an unstoppable header inside the far post. Like Owen across the city seven months earlier, Scholes ran behind the goal but by contrast threw himself into the arms of United fans. Credit: AP Photo/Tim Hales When he extricated himself from the melee he was approached by his captain and friend, Gary Neville, who held him tenderly by the cheeks, puckered up and kissed him on the lips, at that moment finding him irresistible like a young Mel Smith with Griff Rhys Jones. “A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City,” said Scholes. “Gary’s emotional and it was an important goal. Gary’s kissed a few in his time. David [Beckham] was probably his favourite but that’s the way Gary is.” John O’Shea had a more arresting interpretation, one that perhaps explains the nakedly theatrical exaggeration of the gesture with the placement of his hands. “I don’t think it was for Scholesy’s benefit,” he said. “I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier.” United won their last three games and so did Chelsea which left them runners-up by a point while this loss followed by the home defeat by Tottenham kept City out of the Champions League for one last year. For Neville it would be his last derby and one sealed with a loving kiss. 6. Wayne Rooney 2011 After missing out on the league title in 2010 despite a hat-trick that preceded it, Sir Alex Ferguson announced the following October that Wayne Rooney had asked for a transfer because he felt that the club’s investment in new players was inadequate and he wanted to play for a club that matched his ambitions. It did not take long for Ferguson to knock him back nor for whispers to emerge that he was trying to engineer a move to City. “I met with David Gill [United chief executive] last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney confirmed when outed by Ferguson. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.” Because he was articulating some of the suspicions of United supporters that the demands of the Glazer family’s leveraged buy-out of the club had restricted its scope in the market, Rooney was not as vituperatively condemned as an everyday ‘wantaway’ player. Nonetheless he did alienate many United fans among them a balaclava-clad posse who protested outside his home in Prestbury with a banner that read, “If you join City you are dead”. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super One suspects Fergsuon’s dead body would have had to be surmounted for any deal to go through and the manager played hardball in public while the Glazers eventually enticed him to stay with a staggering new offer. It took Rooney more than a year publicly to express his regrets and claim that he would never have joined City. Ferguson welcomed him back into the fold much sooner and United’s title campaign gathered momentum through the winter though Rooney scored only three goals in 11 Premier League matches after signing his new contract. United took the lead in February’s Old Trafford derby through Nani before David Silva equalised jammily when hit on the back by Edin Dzeko’s shot 20 minutes into the second-half. Rooney, toiling alone up front, could not get into the game yet continued to run the channels hard to try to elude the irritatingly adhesive Vincent Kompany. In the 78th minute Nani floated a cross into the box that was behind Rooney. He had stationed himself by the penalty spot with the intention of sowing doubt about which post he would attack but the trajectory of the centre forced an adjustment. He swivelled and jumped horizontally, back to the floor, head down and thumped a bicycle-kick volley past Hart whose mouth flapped agape in surprise. It was a classic wonder goal, one that made you appreciate the extraordinary agility, anticipation and execution of a world-class player. He is commonly derided now after five years of slow decline from his 2011-12 peak but back then Rooney’s outstanding talent was in full bloom. Which is why Ferguson fought so hard to keep him, why United’s fans embraced him again and forgave his rebellion. And half a dozen of the other ... Manchester City images 1. Matt Busby and Joe Mercer 1939 This photograph, taken shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, shows three sergeants of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Joe Mercer on the left, Matt Busby in the middle and Charlton Athletic and England’s Don Welsh. Mercer, then of Everton and England, went on to manager City for six thrilling seasons from 1965 while Busby, then of Liverpool and Scotland, had played for City from the age of 18 in 1928 for eight seasons, winning the FA Cup in sky blue in 1934. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images What’s terrific about this picture is that it shows a fine City player and a great City manager, one with his City days behind him, the other with them many years ahead in the future. At the time of the photograph they were cross-city rivals as players and 26 years on would become cross-city rivals as managers but as is plain to see by the smiles, they never let partisan hostility infect their outlook. Their sense of duty and gentlemanly warmth is the foundation of what is best about both clubs and City were blessed to be served and influenced by the two of them.   2. Two Georges 1968 On the morning of the midweek Old Trafford derby on March 27 1968, United were second behind Leeds in the table on goal average and City two points back in third. United took the lead in the first minute through George Best but City gradually built momentum to dominate the match, equalising with a Colin Bell goal on 16 minutes. Bell was mesmerising that day, thrashing the ball past Stepney then giving United’s midfield the runaround. John Hollins of Chelsea says that Bell’s stamina made him seem as if he had an extra lung and he used his physical dynamism and acute positional sense to cause havoc. Francis Burns fouled him to concede the free-kick from which George Heslop headed City ahead and the raw United full-back hit him with another dreadful tackle late on when Bell was rounding the keeper and sure to roll in the third. That honour was left to Francis Lee from the penalty spot while Bell was being stretchered down the touchline and City wrapped up a convincing and deserved victory to put them level with United and Leeds on 45 points.   Credit: Derek Preston/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images For Malcolm Allison, Mercer’s assistant and the Puckish strategist behind City’s rise, everything panned out as he had envisioned it. Before the game he had told the City players to walk to the Stretford End to applaud the United fans, knowing it would needle them and sharpen the atmosphere. Best, brilliant, sometimes unstoppable, scored though it did not puncture City’s confidence and here in this photograph we see George Heslop, City’s centre-half, time a sliding tackle to perfection and rob Best in full flight. Heslop, his blond combover a match for Bobby Charlton’s, was the pivot in City’s defensive system who allowed Tommy Booth and Mike Doyle the positional flexibility to support and switch with Tony Coleman, Bell and Mike Summerbee. Here, momentarily left exposed, and confronted by the greatest player in Europe in his mercurial, high summer peak, Heslop uses his experience and skill to stymie all that talent. It’s one of the standout action shots of the Sixties, the expanse of vacant green grass around them is where Best thrived but Heslop, his gigantic thighs a contrast to the sleek, supple Best’s, fairly and elegantly bars his way. “Years of humiliation had been, if not wiped away, at least eased,” Allison later wrote. “It was one of the great nights of my life.” Greater still were to come. Although they lost at Leicester the following week, City won five of their next seven games before victory at St James’ Park on the final day earned them their first title for 31 years by two points from United.  “I think we will be the first team to play on Mars,” Allison said on the morning after winning the title following only an hour’s sleep. "We have had more courage than the majority of teams in the League. The courage to play this game.” Mars would prove to be a stretch too far, but who needs Mars when you’ve been taken to heaven?   3. Denis Law 1974 Maxwell Scott’s advice from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has proved seductive over the years for those writing about Denis Law’s backheel in the 83rd minute of the derby at Old Trafford in April 1974. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Scott, appropriately enough a newspaper editor. And so the myth that Law, a year after leaving United to return to City on a free transfer, sent United down took flight. In truth, though, Birmingham City in 19th held their fate in their own hands. Victory for them over Norwich, who had already been relegated, and United were down come what may. United fans knew what was happening at St Andrew’s and invaded the pitch at Old Trafford both before and after the news that Bob Hatton had put Birmingham ahead. The third and final invasion came four minutes from the end, three minutes after Law had put City in front with a larcenous, impulsive backheel. Sir Matt Busby addressed the crowd over the Tannoy in an attempt to persuade them to retreat “for the sake of the club” to no avail and the match was abandoned as a City victory. Birmingham’s 2-1 win rendered the last four minutes inconsequential. Credit: PA Before all that, though, Law had gone off, looking utterly disconsolate, even though City fans then and during the drawn-out melee were eagerly attempting to corral him into their celebrations. Look at his face and you see a perfect definition of “crestfallen”, a bigamist unmasked and tormented by the consequences. Law’s 37th and final goal for City (to add to his 237 for United) may not have relegated the neighbours at all but the legend endures because the twist of the player’s identity and allegiance enhance the element of City supporters’ schadenfreude to an exquisite pinnacle. “In that moment you saw the two sides of his character,” the City winger Dennis Tueart told the Daily Mail in 2012. “You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then - when he realised what he had done - you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.” 4. Ian Bishop and Paul Lake 1989 The 6-1 thrashing of the champions at Old Trafford in 2011 takes some beating but for City fans of a certain age the 5-1 victory at Maine Road in September 1989 will always be an imperishable memory. Because of City’s relegation, derbies in the Eighties were rare and City had not won one since February 1981 when Alex Ferguson took his beleaguered, expensive United team to Moss Side. It was the season of Michael Knighton in replica kit juggling the ball on the Old Trafford pitch to advertise his impending takeover before the opening match - a slick 4-1 victory over the champions Arsenal. The bloom of a summer spree - Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince snapped up for a staggering outlay of £6.25m - wilted as quickly as Knighton’s credibility when United were beaten by Derby, Norwich and Everton in successive matches. Beating Millwall 5-1 before the trip across town was trumpeted as the end of the teething troubles but they left Maine Road looking toothless and covered in bite marks. Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images City were a vibrant, young team, newly promoted and built around a core of five special homegrown players - Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White and Ian Brightwell - who seemed to personify the city’s youth culture that was in the midst of a glorious, hedonistic ascendancy. Just after kick-off a fight on the terraces escalated into a mass brawl that spread so quickly that some supporters understandably climbed over the perimeter fences to avoid a braying or an even worse fate. The referee suspended the game for eight minutes and on resumption City tore into United, scoring twice in the 12th minute after a mistake by Pallister, Britain’s most expensive defender, let in David Oldfield and another lax response to a developing crisis left Jim Leighton exposed after an impressive double save - and Trevor Morley rammed the ball past him. In the 36th minute Oldfield skinned Pallister and crossed for Ian Bishop to score with a diving header. He is the subject of our image, caught in the arms of Paul Lake as they celebrate City’s third. The photographer freezes them in a moment of ecstatic revelry with just a hint of charming disbelief in Lake’s eyes, fixed on the lens. It’s a great shot of City’s blend of youth - Lake - and the more experienced Bishop, a cut-price playmaker with cheek, vision and an inventive pass, the kind of player that always steals supporters’ hearts. Mark Hughes grabbed one back with a wonderful scissors kick that would be better known but for the result before Lake ripped United apart down the right to set up Oldfield’s fourth and Hinchcliffe made it five on the end of a slippery, sweeping move. Chants of “Ferguson out” from Reds were answered in raucous glee by the Blues with “Fergie must stay”. He did stay, of course, and recovered from a defeat he called “the most embarrassing of my career” while the terminally myopic Peter Swales, City's chairman, sacked Mel Machin in November and appointed Howard Kendall. Nothing wrong with that, City were bottom after all, but allowing him to dismantle such a promising squad, fill it full of Evertonians and sell many of the heroes of that day makes the 5-1 somewhat bittersweet. 5. Shaun Goater and Gary Neville 2002 A companion to No5 in the United section, this photograph shows Gary Neville at his greatest moment of derby despair. The elder Neville brother saw himself as more than a symbol for United fans, more the embodiment of their deepest desires and prejudices so there was no stopping City fans basking in his moment of nemesis in the last match at Maine Road. Credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images The score was 1-1 when Eyal Berkovic swept a pass from right to the left of the United penalty area over Neville’s head. He turned, with Shaun Goater in pursuit, and first tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick but changed tack when he realised it lacked the momentum. He hesitated for a moment and then attempted to pass it back to Fabien Barthez instead. Whether he didn’t see Goater between him and the keeper until it was too late or whether he had the chutzpah to think he could nutmeg the City forward is not known. Either way he fed the Goat who indeed scored, having careered in from the touchline and arrowed the ball around Barthez to score his 99th City goal. Credit:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images For the rest of the match the England right-back  was serenaded by “Gary Neville is a blue, is a blue, is a blue” and it followed him around for a fair few months. Goater went on to bring up his century in the second-half with a wonderful chip over Barthez and ended Maine Road’s days as a derby venue in appropriately carnival mood.   6. Mario Balotelli 2011 The first derby of the 2011-12 season took place on Sunday, October 23, 13 days before Guy Fawkes’ Night, not that anyone needs an excuse for a fireworks party any more: over the past 15 years the UK has turned positively Cantonese in its embrace of pyrotechnics. On the Friday before the match, Mario Balotelli and four friends were together at his new house in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire when one or more of them - the number is still in dispute - decided to treat the neighbours to an early morning chorus of explosions and illuminate the sky over their houses with fireworks. Perhaps it was cold outside or maybe just tired but someone decreed that the launch pad should be Balotelli’s bathroom. Someone got their calculations wrong as well as their aim and set fire first to some towels and then the house. One of them raised the alarm, neighbouring properties were evacuated and the fire service eventually extinguished the blaze. Balotelli checked into a city centre hotel, arrived on time for training the next morning and went into conclave with the kit man before returning to his hotel. Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images The story hit the newspapers on the morning of the match though Roberto Mancini still named Balotelli, who had scored in the three preceding games, in his starting XI. He rewarded his manager with an excellent performance, scoring twice, the first a deftly-placed side-foot shot from 16 yards. As soon as the ball went past David De Gea, Balotelli lifted his shirt over his head to reveal ‘Why always me?’ written on his vest. It earned him a booking and it might well have been worse if Les Chapman, City’s kit man, hadn’t dissuaded him from his other two ideas for slogans, both of them provocations to United fans. In addition to his two goals in the 6-1 victory, he elicited a foul from Jonny Evans that had the United defender sent off and he provides us with an image of engaging, prodigal insouciance. “That day it was as if Mario was great, an adult amongst children,” said Roberto Mancini. “I would have loved to have always seen him like he was at that derby.” Routine was never for Mario. He would not be half as frustrating without his uncommon skill nor half as endearing without his unaffected nonchalance.

Six of One - Iconic Manchester derby pictures ... and the stories behind them

Welcome to Six of One, our series in which we pick six of the best examples of a theme and contrast them with half a dozen others. This episode's theme is inspired by the Manchester derby and its rich history. Instead of the usual format of taking six outstanding things and balancing them with six execrable ones, here we have opted for six great photographs centred on United and six on City and try to tell the stories behind them.  As in the past it is obviously very much a subjective evaluation so please feel free to nominate your own favourites in either category in the comments section or tell your own stand-out derby stories.  Manchester United photographs 1. Alex Dawson 1960-61 Manchester United endured a torrid start to the 1960-61 season, losing 10 of their first 18 matches including defeats by Everton, Arsenal, Cardiff City and Aston Villa. It is often forgotten that they finished second in 1958-59, the season after the Munich Disaster, and seventh in 1959-60 but by mid-November 1960 they were 17th and looking in desperate need of fresh blood. That month Matt Busby bought the stylish Noel Cantwell from West Ham for £29,500, a record fee for a full-back, and the charming, erudite Irishman would go on to captain United and become a profound influence in the club's renaissance over the next eight years. His immediate impact was none too shabby and United swept through December, defeating Preston, drawing 4-4 with Fulham and beating Blackburn. The Christmas double header against Chelsea was overcome with a 2-0 away victory on Christmas Eve followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on Boxing Day in which Alex Dawson scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Nicholson two goals and Bobby Charlton one. By the time of the home derby on New Year's Eve 1960, United were in far ruder health and had climbed to 11th while City, eighth six weeks earlier, were on a dreadful run of six defeats in seven games. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images That's Dawson in the dark shirt in the picture, framed against the Stretford sky, arching his body to flick the ball on and captured by the photographer dead in the middle of the floodlight pylon on the left corner of the Scoreboard End. Romantics can imagine the smoke from a passing steam train adding to the hazy ambience but the season and hour are likely to be more responsible for the oystery murk. Dawson scored his second hat-trick in successive matches in this game and Charlton, from the left-wing, hit two more past Bert Trautmann. Only Colin Barlow could reply for Manchester City and any Blues would be excused by the 5-1 defeat for telling first-footers' calling on them later that night to stuff their lump of coal where the sun doesn't shine. Dawson was a broad bullock of a centre-forward who had unforgettably scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham in 1958 during United's emotional charge to Wembley. He scored 45 league goals in 80 appearances and suffered City fans adopting the Camptown Races melody to assail him thus: "Who's that fella with the big fat a---? Dawson, Dawson." He had many qualities but not the exhilarating flair that Busby coveted so highly and he was sold to Preston in 1961 where he became known as 'The Black Prince of Deepdale' and bagged more than a hundred goals over six seasons of frisky service. Deliciously, to the right of the photograph in the City No10 shirt and adjusting his body perhaps to launch himself acrobatically at the ball, is Denis Law, a forward with all the class and spirit Busby desired. It would take the United manager another 20 months to get his man.   2. Eric Cantona 1994 On March 19 1994 Manchester United, the champions and league leaders went to the County Ground to play their only top-flight match against Swindon Town who were 47 points below them and not so much at the foot of the Premiership but at the bottom of its Mariana Trench. But Swindon, by virtue of two equalisers, held on for a point and United were left with 10 men when Eric Cantona was sent off for stamping on John Moncur's solar plexus. A little over 72 hours later on March 22, United were again pegged back after twice taking the lead at Arsenal and Cantona was sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Ian Selley, the second two minutes later for wild swipes at Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams. For his sins Cantona was given a five-match suspension and defeats by second-placed Blackburn and Wimbledon in his absence left United still leading Rovers at the top of the table but solely on goal difference though they had played one match fewer. Cantona returned for their 38th game of the 42-match season, the Manchester derby on St George's Day and may have read, on the morning of the match, a warning from City's full-back Terry Phelan, who pledged that his team-mates would "wind Eric up left, right and centre" and rotate the opportunity to "take a bite out of him" because he "doesn't like it when you get him at it" which must rank as one of the worst psychological assessments in recent memory.  Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT/Getty Images In the end Phelan did not make the starting XI and City's attempts to rile the Player of the Year were faced, at least initially, by the rarely seen "other cheek" of United's No7. In the five minutes before half-time he scored twice, tapping in an Andrei Kanchelskis centre from a yard and then sweeping a right-foot shot under Andy Dibble when the keeper thought he was going to be chipped. Kanchelskis had a peculiar way of using his arms when running that suggested forgetting to extract the coathanger before putting his shirt on but was devastatingly direct and quick and he stands in the background, about to be embraced by Lee Sharpe, one winger acutely aware that the other deserves most praise for the opening goal. Yet it's the central figure of Cantona that dominates and by contrast to the near identical pose of Michel Vonk, appealing vainly for offside, he smiles with something of the radiant pleasure he could still demonstrate. For the remaining three seasons of his career, more so after Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona sometimes seemed to be wedded to an image of himself wearing a crown of thorns and often posed messianically after scoring, not so much in 'redemption' mode as with a confrontational attitude of there-will-be-a-reckoning-for those-who doubted-me.   Here, though, there is joy still unconfined, an elation that burgeoned over the next three weeks after United's 2-0 victory. In their five remaining games they wrapped up the Premier League title by eight points and defeated Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their debut Double.  "No matter what the tempo is Eric's got the ability to compose himself on the ball," said Alex Ferguson after the match, burnishing the divine mystique. "In the maelstrom of League football that in itself is a miracle."  3. Roy Keane 2001  One should not forget that Roy Keane’s vendetta against Alfie Haaland was provoked by a word not a deed. In September 1997 at Elland Road, Keane injured himself fouling Haaland, then playing for Leeds, severing his own cruciate ligament when his studs caught in the turf and put himself out of the game for 11 months’ of gruelling rehabilitation. In his first autobiography Keane claims that Haaland and his team-mate David Wetherall stood over him and accused him of faking the injury, an act of slander so defamatory to his professional code, so uncharitable, that Keane stoked the embers of his grudge for almost four years. The fact that Haaland may have been responding in the moment after 85 minutes of rancour between the two, that Keane’s fall was in the penalty area at the end of a game Manchester United were losing 1-0, or that he could be excused of savouring the irony that someone who had tried to hurt him had succeeded only in hurting himself did not diminish Keane’s festering resentment. Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien In Keane’s absence, Manchester United eventually blew an 11-point lead in the championship race and Arsenal won the Double but by April 2001 and the Old Trafford derby, Keane was well on course to raise his third successive Premier League title as club captain. It was a drab match - Steve Howey had scored the equaliser with seven minutes to go after Paul Scholes had missed a penalty before Teddy Sheringham converted one - until Keane exploited the proximity of Haaland in the 86th minute to lunge right-foot first, studs up, into the side of the City midfielder’s knee. Haaland had just executed a forceful clearance and had his leg off the turf in his followthrough when Keane hit him with the full weight of his body driven through his lunge, tipping his victim up so that he slammed shoulder-first into the grass. Paul Hayward, who was there for The Telegraph, takes the story up in his live report: Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. In his 2002 autobiography Keane revealed the key message he delivered was two letters shorter than ‘Gotcha’. "I'd waited long enough. I f------ hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c---. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there's some for him as well." While there is no denying that it’s precisely what he meant, he would have had to rattle through it like Michael O’Hehir on amphetamine sulphate to deliver it verbally in the two seconds he spoke before leaving the pitch. Ever since, seemingly depending on the likelihood of legal repercussions for his words, Keane revels in it but see-saws on whether he meant irreparably to harm Haaland, who would play only 48 minutes more in his professional career during various comebacks but retired mainly because of an injury to his left knee. Some Manchester United fans see Keane at this moment as a kind of warrior avenging angel and his critics as a mad dog but the stark beauty of the photograph captures a man chillingly in control achieving, in his eyes, brutal restitution for a violation of his honour. It’s how Keyser Soze must have looked when wiping out one of the Hungarian mafia. 4. Michael Owen 2009 United had all but thrown away the home derby in September 2009 when they conceded three equalisers, the last in the 90th minute when the quicksilver Craig Bellamy made Rio Ferdinand look like a carthorse after the England centre-back played a casual pass straight to Martin Petrov. Carlos Tevez’s transfer to City in July provoked the summer of “the noisy neighbours” and Ferdinand’s posture after being gulled by Bellamy, head in hands behind the shaky Ben Foster and muttering expletives, betrayed his concern about letting his team-mates down and the wrath from a volcanic Sir Alex Ferguson that was about to engulf him. But he was about to be saved by the free transfer signing Ferguson had brought in to replace Tevez, the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner, Michael Owen, whose giddy progress had been hobbled at Newcastle United by a cruciate-ligament injury and recurring hamstring, thigh and groin problems. Owen was a serious, dedicated professional yet Newcastle fans had not taken to him, finding it difficult to embrace someone who was frequently absent from the field and refused to live among them. It is fair to say that United fans were barely exhilarated by his signing either. They had completed a hat-trick of titles the previous May but had been forced to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and decided to let Tevez go in the summer without reinvesting a credible portion of the profits. Credit: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images But cometh the hour or, as City fans would put it, ‘cometh the sixth minute of Fergie time’, cometh the substitute Owen to sidle behind Micah Richards. It took a cute pass from Ryan Giggs to find him and even after so many injuries Owen plus space plus a gap between him and the goalkeeper was an equation with only one likely outcome. Shay Given spread himself as best he could without reward. Owen took a touch then dinked the ball into the far corner with an expert flick of the toes. The special thing about the photograph is how it destroys the perception of Owen as the dull master of his emotions and by that stage of his career as someone who cared more about thoroughbreds than goals. “Just look at his face”, as Barry Davies once instructed the audience when Frannie Lee scored against City after leaving Maine Road to win the title with Derby, and his delight is palpable. For City there was a sense of being mugged again in the familiar fishy circumstances by Ferguson, the Time Lord, yet the picture of Owen resonates more than the ones of desolate and angry players in blue. It conveys his elation but also his optimism, like someone who has emerged from a long nightmare. 5. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes 2010 Once you know that 1950’s ‘Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville’ by Robert Doisneau was staged, it removes some of the sheen from the quintessential Parisian portrait of uninhibited young love. One trusts, for Paul Scholes’ sake, that the photograph taken during the April 2010 Etihad derby, was a more spontaneous ‘Kiss’ that required no laborious and possibly unsavoury rehearsal. United were second, trailing Chelsea by four points with four matches to go and City fifth, two points behind Spurs in the last Champions League qualifying plce, as they embarked on their game in hand at Eastlands. Sadly the game was nothing like the firecracker at Old Trafford earlier in the season and was littered with anxiety-ridden wayward passes, midfield stagnation, shouts for penalties from both sides and all too rare opportunities that were squandered. Once again the clock had passed 90 minutes when Gabriel Obertan slipped past Patrick Vieira, rolled the ball down the left for Patrice Evra to cross and Scholes met it before the penalty spot and cushioned an unstoppable header inside the far post. Like Owen across the city seven months earlier, Scholes ran behind the goal but by contrast threw himself into the arms of United fans. Credit: AP Photo/Tim Hales When he extricated himself from the melee he was approached by his captain and friend, Gary Neville, who held him tenderly by the cheeks, puckered up and kissed him on the lips, at that moment finding him irresistible like a young Mel Smith with Griff Rhys Jones. “A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City,” said Scholes. “Gary’s emotional and it was an important goal. Gary’s kissed a few in his time. David [Beckham] was probably his favourite but that’s the way Gary is.” John O’Shea had a more arresting interpretation, one that perhaps explains the nakedly theatrical exaggeration of the gesture with the placement of his hands. “I don’t think it was for Scholesy’s benefit,” he said. “I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier.” United won their last three games and so did Chelsea which left them runners-up by a point while this loss followed by the home defeat by Tottenham kept City out of the Champions League for one last year. For Neville it would be his last derby and one sealed with a loving kiss. 6. Wayne Rooney 2011 After missing out on the league title in 2010 despite a hat-trick that preceded it, Sir Alex Ferguson announced the following October that Wayne Rooney had asked for a transfer because he felt that the club’s investment in new players was inadequate and he wanted to play for a club that matched his ambitions. It did not take long for Ferguson to knock him back nor for whispers to emerge that he was trying to engineer a move to City. “I met with David Gill [United chief executive] last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney confirmed when outed by Ferguson. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.” Because he was articulating some of the suspicions of United supporters that the demands of the Glazer family’s leveraged buy-out of the club had restricted its scope in the market, Rooney was not as vituperatively condemned as an everyday ‘wantaway’ player. Nonetheless he did alienate many United fans among them a balaclava-clad posse who protested outside his home in Prestbury with a banner that read, “If you join City you are dead”. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super One suspects Fergsuon’s dead body would have had to be surmounted for any deal to go through and the manager played hardball in public while the Glazers eventually enticed him to stay with a staggering new offer. It took Rooney more than a year publicly to express his regrets and claim that he would never have joined City. Ferguson welcomed him back into the fold much sooner and United’s title campaign gathered momentum through the winter though Rooney scored only three goals in 11 Premier League matches after signing his new contract. United took the lead in February’s Old Trafford derby through Nani before David Silva equalised jammily when hit on the back by Edin Dzeko’s shot 20 minutes into the second-half. Rooney, toiling alone up front, could not get into the game yet continued to run the channels hard to try to elude the irritatingly adhesive Vincent Kompany. In the 78th minute Nani floated a cross into the box that was behind Rooney. He had stationed himself by the penalty spot with the intention of sowing doubt about which post he would attack but the trajectory of the centre forced an adjustment. He swivelled and jumped horizontally, back to the floor, head down and thumped a bicycle-kick volley past Hart whose mouth flapped agape in surprise. It was a classic wonder goal, one that made you appreciate the extraordinary agility, anticipation and execution of a world-class player. He is commonly derided now after five years of slow decline from his 2011-12 peak but back then Rooney’s outstanding talent was in full bloom. Which is why Ferguson fought so hard to keep him, why United’s fans embraced him again and forgave his rebellion. And half a dozen of the other ... Manchester City images 1. Matt Busby and Joe Mercer 1939 This photograph, taken shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, shows three sergeants of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Joe Mercer on the left, Matt Busby in the middle and Charlton Athletic and England’s Don Welsh. Mercer, then of Everton and England, went on to manager City for six thrilling seasons from 1965 while Busby, then of Liverpool and Scotland, had played for City from the age of 18 in 1928 for eight seasons, winning the FA Cup in sky blue in 1934. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images What’s terrific about this picture is that it shows a fine City player and a great City manager, one with his City days behind him, the other with them many years ahead in the future. At the time of the photograph they were cross-city rivals as players and 26 years on would become cross-city rivals as managers but as is plain to see by the smiles, they never let partisan hostility infect their outlook. Their sense of duty and gentlemanly warmth is the foundation of what is best about both clubs and City were blessed to be served and influenced by the two of them.   2. Two Georges 1968 On the morning of the midweek Old Trafford derby on March 27 1968, United were second behind Leeds in the table on goal average and City two points back in third. United took the lead in the first minute through George Best but City gradually built momentum to dominate the match, equalising with a Colin Bell goal on 16 minutes. Bell was mesmerising that day, thrashing the ball past Stepney then giving United’s midfield the runaround. John Hollins of Chelsea says that Bell’s stamina made him seem as if he had an extra lung and he used his physical dynamism and acute positional sense to cause havoc. Francis Burns fouled him to concede the free-kick from which George Heslop headed City ahead and the raw United full-back hit him with another dreadful tackle late on when Bell was rounding the keeper and sure to roll in the third. That honour was left to Francis Lee from the penalty spot while Bell was being stretchered down the touchline and City wrapped up a convincing and deserved victory to put them level with United and Leeds on 45 points.   Credit: Derek Preston/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images For Malcolm Allison, Mercer’s assistant and the Puckish strategist behind City’s rise, everything panned out as he had envisioned it. Before the game he had told the City players to walk to the Stretford End to applaud the United fans, knowing it would needle them and sharpen the atmosphere. Best, brilliant, sometimes unstoppable, scored though it did not puncture City’s confidence and here in this photograph we see George Heslop, City’s centre-half, time a sliding tackle to perfection and rob Best in full flight. Heslop, his blond combover a match for Bobby Charlton’s, was the pivot in City’s defensive system who allowed Tommy Booth and Mike Doyle the positional flexibility to support and switch with Tony Coleman, Bell and Mike Summerbee. Here, momentarily left exposed, and confronted by the greatest player in Europe in his mercurial, high summer peak, Heslop uses his experience and skill to stymie all that talent. It’s one of the standout action shots of the Sixties, the expanse of vacant green grass around them is where Best thrived but Heslop, his gigantic thighs a contrast to the sleek, supple Best’s, fairly and elegantly bars his way. “Years of humiliation had been, if not wiped away, at least eased,” Allison later wrote. “It was one of the great nights of my life.” Greater still were to come. Although they lost at Leicester the following week, City won five of their next seven games before victory at St James’ Park on the final day earned them their first title for 31 years by two points from United.  “I think we will be the first team to play on Mars,” Allison said on the morning after winning the title following only an hour’s sleep. "We have had more courage than the majority of teams in the League. The courage to play this game.” Mars would prove to be a stretch too far, but who needs Mars when you’ve been taken to heaven?   3. Denis Law 1974 Maxwell Scott’s advice from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has proved seductive over the years for those writing about Denis Law’s backheel in the 83rd minute of the derby at Old Trafford in April 1974. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Scott, appropriately enough a newspaper editor. And so the myth that Law, a year after leaving United to return to City on a free transfer, sent United down took flight. In truth, though, Birmingham City in 19th held their fate in their own hands. Victory for them over Norwich, who had already been relegated, and United were down come what may. United fans knew what was happening at St Andrew’s and invaded the pitch at Old Trafford both before and after the news that Bob Hatton had put Birmingham ahead. The third and final invasion came four minutes from the end, three minutes after Law had put City in front with a larcenous, impulsive backheel. Sir Matt Busby addressed the crowd over the Tannoy in an attempt to persuade them to retreat “for the sake of the club” to no avail and the match was abandoned as a City victory. Birmingham’s 2-1 win rendered the last four minutes inconsequential. Credit: PA Before all that, though, Law had gone off, looking utterly disconsolate, even though City fans then and during the drawn-out melee were eagerly attempting to corral him into their celebrations. Look at his face and you see a perfect definition of “crestfallen”, a bigamist unmasked and tormented by the consequences. Law’s 37th and final goal for City (to add to his 237 for United) may not have relegated the neighbours at all but the legend endures because the twist of the player’s identity and allegiance enhance the element of City supporters’ schadenfreude to an exquisite pinnacle. “In that moment you saw the two sides of his character,” the City winger Dennis Tueart told the Daily Mail in 2012. “You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then - when he realised what he had done - you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.” 4. Ian Bishop and Paul Lake 1989 The 6-1 thrashing of the champions at Old Trafford in 2011 takes some beating but for City fans of a certain age the 5-1 victory at Maine Road in September 1989 will always be an imperishable memory. Because of City’s relegation, derbies in the Eighties were rare and City had not won one since February 1981 when Alex Ferguson took his beleaguered, expensive United team to Moss Side. It was the season of Michael Knighton in replica kit juggling the ball on the Old Trafford pitch to advertise his impending takeover before the opening match - a slick 4-1 victory over the champions Arsenal. The bloom of a summer spree - Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince snapped up for a staggering outlay of £6.25m - wilted as quickly as Knighton’s credibility when United were beaten by Derby, Norwich and Everton in successive matches. Beating Millwall 5-1 before the trip across town was trumpeted as the end of the teething troubles but they left Maine Road looking toothless and covered in bite marks. Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images City were a vibrant, young team, newly promoted and built around a core of five special homegrown players - Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White and Ian Brightwell - who seemed to personify the city’s youth culture that was in the midst of a glorious, hedonistic ascendancy. Just after kick-off a fight on the terraces escalated into a mass brawl that spread so quickly that some supporters understandably climbed over the perimeter fences to avoid a braying or an even worse fate. The referee suspended the game for eight minutes and on resumption City tore into United, scoring twice in the 12th minute after a mistake by Pallister, Britain’s most expensive defender, let in David Oldfield and another lax response to a developing crisis left Jim Leighton exposed after an impressive double save - and Trevor Morley rammed the ball past him. In the 36th minute Oldfield skinned Pallister and crossed for Ian Bishop to score with a diving header. He is the subject of our image, caught in the arms of Paul Lake as they celebrate City’s third. The photographer freezes them in a moment of ecstatic revelry with just a hint of charming disbelief in Lake’s eyes, fixed on the lens. It’s a great shot of City’s blend of youth - Lake - and the more experienced Bishop, a cut-price playmaker with cheek, vision and an inventive pass, the kind of player that always steals supporters’ hearts. Mark Hughes grabbed one back with a wonderful scissors kick that would be better known but for the result before Lake ripped United apart down the right to set up Oldfield’s fourth and Hinchcliffe made it five on the end of a slippery, sweeping move. Chants of “Ferguson out” from Reds were answered in raucous glee by the Blues with “Fergie must stay”. He did stay, of course, and recovered from a defeat he called “the most embarrassing of my career” while the terminally myopic Peter Swales, City's chairman, sacked Mel Machin in November and appointed Howard Kendall. Nothing wrong with that, City were bottom after all, but allowing him to dismantle such a promising squad, fill it full of Evertonians and sell many of the heroes of that day makes the 5-1 somewhat bittersweet. 5. Shaun Goater and Gary Neville 2002 A companion to No5 in the United section, this photograph shows Gary Neville at his greatest moment of derby despair. The elder Neville brother saw himself as more than a symbol for United fans, more the embodiment of their deepest desires and prejudices so there was no stopping City fans basking in his moment of nemesis in the last match at Maine Road. Credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images The score was 1-1 when Eyal Berkovic swept a pass from right to the left of the United penalty area over Neville’s head. He turned, with Shaun Goater in pursuit, and first tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick but changed tack when he realised it lacked the momentum. He hesitated for a moment and then attempted to pass it back to Fabien Barthez instead. Whether he didn’t see Goater between him and the keeper until it was too late or whether he had the chutzpah to think he could nutmeg the City forward is not known. Either way he fed the Goat who indeed scored, having careered in from the touchline and arrowed the ball around Barthez to score his 99th City goal. Credit:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images For the rest of the match the England right-back  was serenaded by “Gary Neville is a blue, is a blue, is a blue” and it followed him around for a fair few months. Goater went on to bring up his century in the second-half with a wonderful chip over Barthez and ended Maine Road’s days as a derby venue in appropriately carnival mood.   6. Mario Balotelli 2011 The first derby of the 2011-12 season took place on Sunday, October 23, 13 days before Guy Fawkes’ Night, not that anyone needs an excuse for a fireworks party any more: over the past 15 years the UK has turned positively Cantonese in its embrace of pyrotechnics. On the Friday before the match, Mario Balotelli and four friends were together at his new house in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire when one or more of them - the number is still in dispute - decided to treat the neighbours to an early morning chorus of explosions and illuminate the sky over their houses with fireworks. Perhaps it was cold outside or maybe just tired but someone decreed that the launch pad should be Balotelli’s bathroom. Someone got their calculations wrong as well as their aim and set fire first to some towels and then the house. One of them raised the alarm, neighbouring properties were evacuated and the fire service eventually extinguished the blaze. Balotelli checked into a city centre hotel, arrived on time for training the next morning and went into conclave with the kit man before returning to his hotel. Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images The story hit the newspapers on the morning of the match though Roberto Mancini still named Balotelli, who had scored in the three preceding games, in his starting XI. He rewarded his manager with an excellent performance, scoring twice, the first a deftly-placed side-foot shot from 16 yards. As soon as the ball went past David De Gea, Balotelli lifted his shirt over his head to reveal ‘Why always me?’ written on his vest. It earned him a booking and it might well have been worse if Les Chapman, City’s kit man, hadn’t dissuaded him from his other two ideas for slogans, both of them provocations to United fans. In addition to his two goals in the 6-1 victory, he elicited a foul from Jonny Evans that had the United defender sent off and he provides us with an image of engaging, prodigal insouciance. “That day it was as if Mario was great, an adult amongst children,” said Roberto Mancini. “I would have loved to have always seen him like he was at that derby.” Routine was never for Mario. He would not be half as frustrating without his uncommon skill nor half as endearing without his unaffected nonchalance.

Six of One - Iconic Manchester derby pictures ... and the stories behind them

Welcome to Six of One, our series in which we pick six of the best examples of a theme and contrast them with half a dozen others. This episode's theme is inspired by the Manchester derby and its rich history. Instead of the usual format of taking six outstanding things and balancing them with six execrable ones, here we have opted for six great photographs centred on United and six on City and try to tell the stories behind them.  As in the past it is obviously very much a subjective evaluation so please feel free to nominate your own favourites in either category in the comments section or tell your own stand-out derby stories.  Manchester United photographs 1. Alex Dawson 1960-61 Manchester United endured a torrid start to the 1960-61 season, losing 10 of their first 18 matches including defeats by Everton, Arsenal, Cardiff City and Aston Villa. It is often forgotten that they finished second in 1958-59, the season after the Munich Disaster, and seventh in 1959-60 but by mid-November 1960 they were 17th and looking in desperate need of fresh blood. That month Matt Busby bought the stylish Noel Cantwell from West Ham for £29,500, a record fee for a full-back, and the charming, erudite Irishman would go on to captain United and become a profound influence in the club's renaissance over the next eight years. His immediate impact was none too shabby and United swept through December, defeating Preston, drawing 4-4 with Fulham and beating Blackburn. The Christmas double header against Chelsea was overcome with a 2-0 away victory on Christmas Eve followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on Boxing Day in which Alex Dawson scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Nicholson two goals and Bobby Charlton one. By the time of the home derby on New Year's Eve 1960, United were in far ruder health and had climbed to 11th while City, eighth six weeks earlier, were on a dreadful run of six defeats in seven games. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images That's Dawson in the dark shirt in the picture, framed against the Stretford sky, arching his body to flick the ball on and captured by the photographer dead in the middle of the floodlight pylon on the left corner of the Scoreboard End. Romantics can imagine the smoke from a passing steam train adding to the hazy ambience but the season and hour are likely to be more responsible for the oystery murk. Dawson scored his second hat-trick in successive matches in this game and Charlton, from the left-wing, hit two more past Bert Trautmann. Only Colin Barlow could reply for Manchester City and any Blues would be excused by the 5-1 defeat for telling first-footers' calling on them later that night to stuff their lump of coal where the sun doesn't shine. Dawson was a broad bullock of a centre-forward who had unforgettably scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham in 1958 during United's emotional charge to Wembley. He scored 45 league goals in 80 appearances and suffered City fans adopting the Camptown Races melody to assail him thus: "Who's that fella with the big fat a---? Dawson, Dawson." He had many qualities but not the exhilarating flair that Busby coveted so highly and he was sold to Preston in 1961 where he became known as 'The Black Prince of Deepdale' and bagged more than a hundred goals over six seasons of frisky service. Deliciously, to the right of the photograph in the City No10 shirt and adjusting his body perhaps to launch himself acrobatically at the ball, is Denis Law, a forward with all the class and spirit Busby desired. It would take the United manager another 20 months to get his man.   2. Eric Cantona 1994 On March 19 1994 Manchester United, the champions and league leaders went to the County Ground to play their only top-flight match against Swindon Town who were 47 points below them and not so much at the foot of the Premiership but at the bottom of its Mariana Trench. But Swindon, by virtue of two equalisers, held on for a point and United were left with 10 men when Eric Cantona was sent off for stamping on John Moncur's solar plexus. A little over 72 hours later on March 22, United were again pegged back after twice taking the lead at Arsenal and Cantona was sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Ian Selley, the second two minutes later for wild swipes at Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams. For his sins Cantona was given a five-match suspension and defeats by second-placed Blackburn and Wimbledon in his absence left United still leading Rovers at the top of the table but solely on goal difference though they had played one match fewer. Cantona returned for their 38th game of the 42-match season, the Manchester derby on St George's Day and may have read, on the morning of the match, a warning from City's full-back Terry Phelan, who pledged that his team-mates would "wind Eric up left, right and centre" and rotate the opportunity to "take a bite out of him" because he "doesn't like it when you get him at it" which must rank as one of the worst psychological assessments in recent memory.  Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT/Getty Images In the end Phelan did not make the starting XI and City's attempts to rile the Player of the Year were faced, at least initially, by the rarely seen "other cheek" of United's No7. In the five minutes before half-time he scored twice, tapping in an Andrei Kanchelskis centre from a yard and then sweeping a right-foot shot under Andy Dibble when the keeper thought he was going to be chipped. Kanchelskis had a peculiar way of using his arms when running that suggested forgetting to extract the coathanger before putting his shirt on but was devastatingly direct and quick and he stands in the background, about to be embraced by Lee Sharpe, one winger acutely aware that the other deserves most praise for the opening goal. Yet it's the central figure of Cantona that dominates and by contrast to the near identical pose of Michel Vonk, appealing vainly for offside, he smiles with something of the radiant pleasure he could still demonstrate. For the remaining three seasons of his career, more so after Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona sometimes seemed to be wedded to an image of himself wearing a crown of thorns and often posed messianically after scoring, not so much in 'redemption' mode as with a confrontational attitude of there-will-be-a-reckoning-for those-who doubted-me.   Here, though, there is joy still unconfined, an elation that burgeoned over the next three weeks after United's 2-0 victory. In their five remaining games they wrapped up the Premier League title by eight points and defeated Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their debut Double.  "No matter what the tempo is Eric's got the ability to compose himself on the ball," said Alex Ferguson after the match, burnishing the divine mystique. "In the maelstrom of League football that in itself is a miracle."  3. Roy Keane 2001  One should not forget that Roy Keane’s vendetta against Alfie Haaland was provoked by a word not a deed. In September 1997 at Elland Road, Keane injured himself fouling Haaland, then playing for Leeds, severing his own cruciate ligament when his studs caught in the turf and put himself out of the game for 11 months’ of gruelling rehabilitation. In his first autobiography Keane claims that Haaland and his team-mate David Wetherall stood over him and accused him of faking the injury, an act of slander so defamatory to his professional code, so uncharitable, that Keane stoked the embers of his grudge for almost four years. The fact that Haaland may have been responding in the moment after 85 minutes of rancour between the two, that Keane’s fall was in the penalty area at the end of a game Manchester United were losing 1-0, or that he could be excused of savouring the irony that someone who had tried to hurt him had succeeded only in hurting himself did not diminish Keane’s festering resentment. Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien In Keane’s absence, Manchester United eventually blew an 11-point lead in the championship race and Arsenal won the Double but by April 2001 and the Old Trafford derby, Keane was well on course to raise his third successive Premier League title as club captain. It was a drab match - Steve Howey had scored the equaliser with seven minutes to go after Paul Scholes had missed a penalty before Teddy Sheringham converted one - until Keane exploited the proximity of Haaland in the 86th minute to lunge right-foot first, studs up, into the side of the City midfielder’s knee. Haaland had just executed a forceful clearance and had his leg off the turf in his followthrough when Keane hit him with the full weight of his body driven through his lunge, tipping his victim up so that he slammed shoulder-first into the grass. Paul Hayward, who was there for The Telegraph, takes the story up in his live report: Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. In his 2002 autobiography Keane revealed the key message he delivered was two letters shorter than ‘Gotcha’. "I'd waited long enough. I f------ hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c---. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there's some for him as well." While there is no denying that it’s precisely what he meant, he would have had to rattle through it like Michael O’Hehir on amphetamine sulphate to deliver it verbally in the two seconds he spoke before leaving the pitch. Ever since, seemingly depending on the likelihood of legal repercussions for his words, Keane revels in it but see-saws on whether he meant irreparably to harm Haaland, who would play only 48 minutes more in his professional career during various comebacks but retired mainly because of an injury to his left knee. Some Manchester United fans see Keane at this moment as a kind of warrior avenging angel and his critics as a mad dog but the stark beauty of the photograph captures a man chillingly in control achieving, in his eyes, brutal restitution for a violation of his honour. It’s how Keyser Soze must have looked when wiping out one of the Hungarian mafia. 4. Michael Owen 2009 United had all but thrown away the home derby in September 2009 when they conceded three equalisers, the last in the 90th minute when the quicksilver Craig Bellamy made Rio Ferdinand look like a carthorse after the England centre-back played a casual pass straight to Martin Petrov. Carlos Tevez’s transfer to City in July provoked the summer of “the noisy neighbours” and Ferdinand’s posture after being gulled by Bellamy, head in hands behind the shaky Ben Foster and muttering expletives, betrayed his concern about letting his team-mates down and the wrath from a volcanic Sir Alex Ferguson that was about to engulf him. But he was about to be saved by the free transfer signing Ferguson had brought in to replace Tevez, the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner, Michael Owen, whose giddy progress had been hobbled at Newcastle United by a cruciate-ligament injury and recurring hamstring, thigh and groin problems. Owen was a serious, dedicated professional yet Newcastle fans had not taken to him, finding it difficult to embrace someone who was frequently absent from the field and refused to live among them. It is fair to say that United fans were barely exhilarated by his signing either. They had completed a hat-trick of titles the previous May but had been forced to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and decided to let Tevez go in the summer without reinvesting a credible portion of the profits. Credit: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images But cometh the hour or, as City fans would put it, ‘cometh the sixth minute of Fergie time’, cometh the substitute Owen to sidle behind Micah Richards. It took a cute pass from Ryan Giggs to find him and even after so many injuries Owen plus space plus a gap between him and the goalkeeper was an equation with only one likely outcome. Shay Given spread himself as best he could without reward. Owen took a touch then dinked the ball into the far corner with an expert flick of the toes. The special thing about the photograph is how it destroys the perception of Owen as the dull master of his emotions and by that stage of his career as someone who cared more about thoroughbreds than goals. “Just look at his face”, as Barry Davies once instructed the audience when Frannie Lee scored against City after leaving Maine Road to win the title with Derby, and his delight is palpable. For City there was a sense of being mugged again in the familiar fishy circumstances by Ferguson, the Time Lord, yet the picture of Owen resonates more than the ones of desolate and angry players in blue. It conveys his elation but also his optimism, like someone who has emerged from a long nightmare. 5. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes 2010 Once you know that 1950’s ‘Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville’ by Robert Doisneau was staged, it removes some of the sheen from the quintessential Parisian portrait of uninhibited young love. One trusts, for Paul Scholes’ sake, that the photograph taken during the April 2010 Etihad derby, was a more spontaneous ‘Kiss’ that required no laborious and possibly unsavoury rehearsal. United were second, trailing Chelsea by four points with four matches to go and City fifth, two points behind Spurs in the last Champions League qualifying plce, as they embarked on their game in hand at Eastlands. Sadly the game was nothing like the firecracker at Old Trafford earlier in the season and was littered with anxiety-ridden wayward passes, midfield stagnation, shouts for penalties from both sides and all too rare opportunities that were squandered. Once again the clock had passed 90 minutes when Gabriel Obertan slipped past Patrick Vieira, rolled the ball down the left for Patrice Evra to cross and Scholes met it before the penalty spot and cushioned an unstoppable header inside the far post. Like Owen across the city seven months earlier, Scholes ran behind the goal but by contrast threw himself into the arms of United fans. Credit: AP Photo/Tim Hales When he extricated himself from the melee he was approached by his captain and friend, Gary Neville, who held him tenderly by the cheeks, puckered up and kissed him on the lips, at that moment finding him irresistible like a young Mel Smith with Griff Rhys Jones. “A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City,” said Scholes. “Gary’s emotional and it was an important goal. Gary’s kissed a few in his time. David [Beckham] was probably his favourite but that’s the way Gary is.” John O’Shea had a more arresting interpretation, one that perhaps explains the nakedly theatrical exaggeration of the gesture with the placement of his hands. “I don’t think it was for Scholesy’s benefit,” he said. “I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier.” United won their last three games and so did Chelsea which left them runners-up by a point while this loss followed by the home defeat by Tottenham kept City out of the Champions League for one last year. For Neville it would be his last derby and one sealed with a loving kiss. 6. Wayne Rooney 2011 After missing out on the league title in 2010 despite a hat-trick that preceded it, Sir Alex Ferguson announced the following October that Wayne Rooney had asked for a transfer because he felt that the club’s investment in new players was inadequate and he wanted to play for a club that matched his ambitions. It did not take long for Ferguson to knock him back nor for whispers to emerge that he was trying to engineer a move to City. “I met with David Gill [United chief executive] last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney confirmed when outed by Ferguson. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.” Because he was articulating some of the suspicions of United supporters that the demands of the Glazer family’s leveraged buy-out of the club had restricted its scope in the market, Rooney was not as vituperatively condemned as an everyday ‘wantaway’ player. Nonetheless he did alienate many United fans among them a balaclava-clad posse who protested outside his home in Prestbury with a banner that read, “If you join City you are dead”. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super One suspects Fergsuon’s dead body would have had to be surmounted for any deal to go through and the manager played hardball in public while the Glazers eventually enticed him to stay with a staggering new offer. It took Rooney more than a year publicly to express his regrets and claim that he would never have joined City. Ferguson welcomed him back into the fold much sooner and United’s title campaign gathered momentum through the winter though Rooney scored only three goals in 11 Premier League matches after signing his new contract. United took the lead in February’s Old Trafford derby through Nani before David Silva equalised jammily when hit on the back by Edin Dzeko’s shot 20 minutes into the second-half. Rooney, toiling alone up front, could not get into the game yet continued to run the channels hard to try to elude the irritatingly adhesive Vincent Kompany. In the 78th minute Nani floated a cross into the box that was behind Rooney. He had stationed himself by the penalty spot with the intention of sowing doubt about which post he would attack but the trajectory of the centre forced an adjustment. He swivelled and jumped horizontally, back to the floor, head down and thumped a bicycle-kick volley past Hart whose mouth flapped agape in surprise. It was a classic wonder goal, one that made you appreciate the extraordinary agility, anticipation and execution of a world-class player. He is commonly derided now after five years of slow decline from his 2011-12 peak but back then Rooney’s outstanding talent was in full bloom. Which is why Ferguson fought so hard to keep him, why United’s fans embraced him again and forgave his rebellion. And half a dozen of the other ... Manchester City images 1. Matt Busby and Joe Mercer 1939 This photograph, taken shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, shows three sergeants of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Joe Mercer on the left, Matt Busby in the middle and Charlton Athletic and England’s Don Welsh. Mercer, then of Everton and England, went on to manager City for six thrilling seasons from 1965 while Busby, then of Liverpool and Scotland, had played for City from the age of 18 in 1928 for eight seasons, winning the FA Cup in sky blue in 1934. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images What’s terrific about this picture is that it shows a fine City player and a great City manager, one with his City days behind him, the other with them many years ahead in the future. At the time of the photograph they were cross-city rivals as players and 26 years on would become cross-city rivals as managers but as is plain to see by the smiles, they never let partisan hostility infect their outlook. Their sense of duty and gentlemanly warmth is the foundation of what is best about both clubs and City were blessed to be served and influenced by the two of them.   2. Two Georges 1968 On the morning of the midweek Old Trafford derby on March 27 1968, United were second behind Leeds in the table on goal average and City two points back in third. United took the lead in the first minute through George Best but City gradually built momentum to dominate the match, equalising with a Colin Bell goal on 16 minutes. Bell was mesmerising that day, thrashing the ball past Stepney then giving United’s midfield the runaround. John Hollins of Chelsea says that Bell’s stamina made him seem as if he had an extra lung and he used his physical dynamism and acute positional sense to cause havoc. Francis Burns fouled him to concede the free-kick from which George Heslop headed City ahead and the raw United full-back hit him with another dreadful tackle late on when Bell was rounding the keeper and sure to roll in the third. That honour was left to Francis Lee from the penalty spot while Bell was being stretchered down the touchline and City wrapped up a convincing and deserved victory to put them level with United and Leeds on 45 points.   Credit: Derek Preston/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images For Malcolm Allison, Mercer’s assistant and the Puckish strategist behind City’s rise, everything panned out as he had envisioned it. Before the game he had told the City players to walk to the Stretford End to applaud the United fans, knowing it would needle them and sharpen the atmosphere. Best, brilliant, sometimes unstoppable, scored though it did not puncture City’s confidence and here in this photograph we see George Heslop, City’s centre-half, time a sliding tackle to perfection and rob Best in full flight. Heslop, his blond combover a match for Bobby Charlton’s, was the pivot in City’s defensive system who allowed Tommy Booth and Mike Doyle the positional flexibility to support and switch with Tony Coleman, Bell and Mike Summerbee. Here, momentarily left exposed, and confronted by the greatest player in Europe in his mercurial, high summer peak, Heslop uses his experience and skill to stymie all that talent. It’s one of the standout action shots of the Sixties, the expanse of vacant green grass around them is where Best thrived but Heslop, his gigantic thighs a contrast to the sleek, supple Best’s, fairly and elegantly bars his way. “Years of humiliation had been, if not wiped away, at least eased,” Allison later wrote. “It was one of the great nights of my life.” Greater still were to come. Although they lost at Leicester the following week, City won five of their next seven games before victory at St James’ Park on the final day earned them their first title for 31 years by two points from United.  “I think we will be the first team to play on Mars,” Allison said on the morning after winning the title following only an hour’s sleep. "We have had more courage than the majority of teams in the League. The courage to play this game.” Mars would prove to be a stretch too far, but who needs Mars when you’ve been taken to heaven?   3. Denis Law 1974 Maxwell Scott’s advice from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has proved seductive over the years for those writing about Denis Law’s backheel in the 83rd minute of the derby at Old Trafford in April 1974. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Scott, appropriately enough a newspaper editor. And so the myth that Law, a year after leaving United to return to City on a free transfer, sent United down took flight. In truth, though, Birmingham City in 19th held their fate in their own hands. Victory for them over Norwich, who had already been relegated, and United were down come what may. United fans knew what was happening at St Andrew’s and invaded the pitch at Old Trafford both before and after the news that Bob Hatton had put Birmingham ahead. The third and final invasion came four minutes from the end, three minutes after Law had put City in front with a larcenous, impulsive backheel. Sir Matt Busby addressed the crowd over the Tannoy in an attempt to persuade them to retreat “for the sake of the club” to no avail and the match was abandoned as a City victory. Birmingham’s 2-1 win rendered the last four minutes inconsequential. Credit: PA Before all that, though, Law had gone off, looking utterly disconsolate, even though City fans then and during the drawn-out melee were eagerly attempting to corral him into their celebrations. Look at his face and you see a perfect definition of “crestfallen”, a bigamist unmasked and tormented by the consequences. Law’s 37th and final goal for City (to add to his 237 for United) may not have relegated the neighbours at all but the legend endures because the twist of the player’s identity and allegiance enhance the element of City supporters’ schadenfreude to an exquisite pinnacle. “In that moment you saw the two sides of his character,” the City winger Dennis Tueart told the Daily Mail in 2012. “You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then - when he realised what he had done - you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.” 4. Ian Bishop and Paul Lake 1989 The 6-1 thrashing of the champions at Old Trafford in 2011 takes some beating but for City fans of a certain age the 5-1 victory at Maine Road in September 1989 will always be an imperishable memory. Because of City’s relegation, derbies in the Eighties were rare and City had not won one since February 1981 when Alex Ferguson took his beleaguered, expensive United team to Moss Side. It was the season of Michael Knighton in replica kit juggling the ball on the Old Trafford pitch to advertise his impending takeover before the opening match - a slick 4-1 victory over the champions Arsenal. The bloom of a summer spree - Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince snapped up for a staggering outlay of £6.25m - wilted as quickly as Knighton’s credibility when United were beaten by Derby, Norwich and Everton in successive matches. Beating Millwall 5-1 before the trip across town was trumpeted as the end of the teething troubles but they left Maine Road looking toothless and covered in bite marks. Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images City were a vibrant, young team, newly promoted and built around a core of five special homegrown players - Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White and Ian Brightwell - who seemed to personify the city’s youth culture that was in the midst of a glorious, hedonistic ascendancy. Just after kick-off a fight on the terraces escalated into a mass brawl that spread so quickly that some supporters understandably climbed over the perimeter fences to avoid a braying or an even worse fate. The referee suspended the game for eight minutes and on resumption City tore into United, scoring twice in the 12th minute after a mistake by Pallister, Britain’s most expensive defender, let in David Oldfield and another lax response to a developing crisis left Jim Leighton exposed after an impressive double save - and Trevor Morley rammed the ball past him. In the 36th minute Oldfield skinned Pallister and crossed for Ian Bishop to score with a diving header. He is the subject of our image, caught in the arms of Paul Lake as they celebrate City’s third. The photographer freezes them in a moment of ecstatic revelry with just a hint of charming disbelief in Lake’s eyes, fixed on the lens. It’s a great shot of City’s blend of youth - Lake - and the more experienced Bishop, a cut-price playmaker with cheek, vision and an inventive pass, the kind of player that always steals supporters’ hearts. Mark Hughes grabbed one back with a wonderful scissors kick that would be better known but for the result before Lake ripped United apart down the right to set up Oldfield’s fourth and Hinchcliffe made it five on the end of a slippery, sweeping move. Chants of “Ferguson out” from Reds were answered in raucous glee by the Blues with “Fergie must stay”. He did stay, of course, and recovered from a defeat he called “the most embarrassing of my career” while the terminally myopic Peter Swales, City's chairman, sacked Mel Machin in November and appointed Howard Kendall. Nothing wrong with that, City were bottom after all, but allowing him to dismantle such a promising squad, fill it full of Evertonians and sell many of the heroes of that day makes the 5-1 somewhat bittersweet. 5. Shaun Goater and Gary Neville 2002 A companion to No5 in the United section, this photograph shows Gary Neville at his greatest moment of derby despair. The elder Neville brother saw himself as more than a symbol for United fans, more the embodiment of their deepest desires and prejudices so there was no stopping City fans basking in his moment of nemesis in the last match at Maine Road. Credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images The score was 1-1 when Eyal Berkovic swept a pass from right to the left of the United penalty area over Neville’s head. He turned, with Shaun Goater in pursuit, and first tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick but changed tack when he realised it lacked the momentum. He hesitated for a moment and then attempted to pass it back to Fabien Barthez instead. Whether he didn’t see Goater between him and the keeper until it was too late or whether he had the chutzpah to think he could nutmeg the City forward is not known. Either way he fed the Goat who indeed scored, having careered in from the touchline and arrowed the ball around Barthez to score his 99th City goal. Credit:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images For the rest of the match the England right-back  was serenaded by “Gary Neville is a blue, is a blue, is a blue” and it followed him around for a fair few months. Goater went on to bring up his century in the second-half with a wonderful chip over Barthez and ended Maine Road’s days as a derby venue in appropriately carnival mood.   6. Mario Balotelli 2011 The first derby of the 2011-12 season took place on Sunday, October 23, 13 days before Guy Fawkes’ Night, not that anyone needs an excuse for a fireworks party any more: over the past 15 years the UK has turned positively Cantonese in its embrace of pyrotechnics. On the Friday before the match, Mario Balotelli and four friends were together at his new house in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire when one or more of them - the number is still in dispute - decided to treat the neighbours to an early morning chorus of explosions and illuminate the sky over their houses with fireworks. Perhaps it was cold outside or maybe just tired but someone decreed that the launch pad should be Balotelli’s bathroom. Someone got their calculations wrong as well as their aim and set fire first to some towels and then the house. One of them raised the alarm, neighbouring properties were evacuated and the fire service eventually extinguished the blaze. Balotelli checked into a city centre hotel, arrived on time for training the next morning and went into conclave with the kit man before returning to his hotel. Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images The story hit the newspapers on the morning of the match though Roberto Mancini still named Balotelli, who had scored in the three preceding games, in his starting XI. He rewarded his manager with an excellent performance, scoring twice, the first a deftly-placed side-foot shot from 16 yards. As soon as the ball went past David De Gea, Balotelli lifted his shirt over his head to reveal ‘Why always me?’ written on his vest. It earned him a booking and it might well have been worse if Les Chapman, City’s kit man, hadn’t dissuaded him from his other two ideas for slogans, both of them provocations to United fans. In addition to his two goals in the 6-1 victory, he elicited a foul from Jonny Evans that had the United defender sent off and he provides us with an image of engaging, prodigal insouciance. “That day it was as if Mario was great, an adult amongst children,” said Roberto Mancini. “I would have loved to have always seen him like he was at that derby.” Routine was never for Mario. He would not be half as frustrating without his uncommon skill nor half as endearing without his unaffected nonchalance.

Six of One - Iconic Manchester derby pictures ... and the stories behind them

Welcome to Six of One, our series in which we pick six of the best examples of a theme and contrast them with half a dozen others. This episode's theme is inspired by the Manchester derby and its rich history. Instead of the usual format of taking six outstanding things and balancing them with six execrable ones, here we have opted for six great photographs centred on United and six on City and try to tell the stories behind them.  As in the past it is obviously very much a subjective evaluation so please feel free to nominate your own favourites in either category in the comments section or tell your own stand-out derby stories.  Manchester United photographs 1. Alex Dawson 1960-61 Manchester United endured a torrid start to the 1960-61 season, losing 10 of their first 18 matches including defeats by Everton, Arsenal, Cardiff City and Aston Villa. It is often forgotten that they finished second in 1958-59, the season after the Munich Disaster, and seventh in 1959-60 but by mid-November 1960 they were 17th and looking in desperate need of fresh blood. That month Matt Busby bought the stylish Noel Cantwell from West Ham for £29,500, a record fee for a full-back, and the charming, erudite Irishman would go on to captain United and become a profound influence in the club's renaissance over the next eight years. His immediate impact was none too shabby and United swept through December, defeating Preston, drawing 4-4 with Fulham and beating Blackburn. The Christmas double header against Chelsea was overcome with a 2-0 away victory on Christmas Eve followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on Boxing Day in which Alex Dawson scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Nicholson two goals and Bobby Charlton one. By the time of the home derby on New Year's Eve 1960, United were in far ruder health and had climbed to 11th while City, eighth six weeks earlier, were on a dreadful run of six defeats in seven games. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images That's Dawson in the dark shirt in the picture, framed against the Stretford sky, arching his body to flick the ball on and captured by the photographer dead in the middle of the floodlight pylon on the left corner of the Scoreboard End. Romantics can imagine the smoke from a passing steam train adding to the hazy ambience but the season and hour are likely to be more responsible for the oystery murk. Dawson scored his second hat-trick in successive matches in this game and Charlton, from the left-wing, hit two more past Bert Trautmann. Only Colin Barlow could reply for Manchester City and any Blues would be excused by the 5-1 defeat for telling first-footers' calling on them later that night to stuff their lump of coal where the sun doesn't shine. Dawson was a broad bullock of a centre-forward who had unforgettably scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham in 1958 during United's emotional charge to Wembley. He scored 45 league goals in 80 appearances and suffered City fans adopting the Camptown Races melody to assail him thus: "Who's that fella with the big fat a---? Dawson, Dawson." He had many qualities but not the exhilarating flair that Busby coveted so highly and he was sold to Preston in 1961 where he became known as 'The Black Prince of Deepdale' and bagged more than a hundred goals over six seasons of frisky service. Deliciously, to the right of the photograph in the City No10 shirt and adjusting his body perhaps to launch himself acrobatically at the ball, is Denis Law, a forward with all the class and spirit Busby desired. It would take the United manager another 20 months to get his man.   2. Eric Cantona 1994 On March 19 1994 Manchester United, the champions and league leaders went to the County Ground to play their only top-flight match against Swindon Town who were 47 points below them and not so much at the foot of the Premiership but at the bottom of its Mariana Trench. But Swindon, by virtue of two equalisers, held on for a point and United were left with 10 men when Eric Cantona was sent off for stamping on John Moncur's solar plexus. A little over 72 hours later on March 22, United were again pegged back after twice taking the lead at Arsenal and Cantona was sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Ian Selley, the second two minutes later for wild swipes at Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams. For his sins Cantona was given a five-match suspension and defeats by second-placed Blackburn and Wimbledon in his absence left United still leading Rovers at the top of the table but solely on goal difference though they had played one match fewer. Cantona returned for their 38th game of the 42-match season, the Manchester derby on St George's Day and may have read, on the morning of the match, a warning from City's full-back Terry Phelan, who pledged that his team-mates would "wind Eric up left, right and centre" and rotate the opportunity to "take a bite out of him" because he "doesn't like it when you get him at it" which must rank as one of the worst psychological assessments in recent memory.  Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT/Getty Images In the end Phelan did not make the starting XI and City's attempts to rile the Player of the Year were faced, at least initially, by the rarely seen "other cheek" of United's No7. In the five minutes before half-time he scored twice, tapping in an Andrei Kanchelskis centre from a yard and then sweeping a right-foot shot under Andy Dibble when the keeper thought he was going to be chipped. Kanchelskis had a peculiar way of using his arms when running that suggested forgetting to extract the coathanger before putting his shirt on but was devastatingly direct and quick and he stands in the background, about to be embraced by Lee Sharpe, one winger acutely aware that the other deserves most praise for the opening goal. Yet it's the central figure of Cantona that dominates and by contrast to the near identical pose of Michel Vonk, appealing vainly for offside, he smiles with something of the radiant pleasure he could still demonstrate. For the remaining three seasons of his career, more so after Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona sometimes seemed to be wedded to an image of himself wearing a crown of thorns and often posed messianically after scoring, not so much in 'redemption' mode as with a confrontational attitude of there-will-be-a-reckoning-for those-who doubted-me.   Here, though, there is joy still unconfined, an elation that burgeoned over the next three weeks after United's 2-0 victory. In their five remaining games they wrapped up the Premier League title by eight points and defeated Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their debut Double.  "No matter what the tempo is Eric's got the ability to compose himself on the ball," said Alex Ferguson after the match, burnishing the divine mystique. "In the maelstrom of League football that in itself is a miracle."  3. Roy Keane 2001  One should not forget that Roy Keane’s vendetta against Alfie Haaland was provoked by a word not a deed. In September 1997 at Elland Road, Keane injured himself fouling Haaland, then playing for Leeds, severing his own cruciate ligament when his studs caught in the turf and put himself out of the game for 11 months’ of gruelling rehabilitation. In his first autobiography Keane claims that Haaland and his team-mate David Wetherall stood over him and accused him of faking the injury, an act of slander so defamatory to his professional code, so uncharitable, that Keane stoked the embers of his grudge for almost four years. The fact that Haaland may have been responding in the moment after 85 minutes of rancour between the two, that Keane’s fall was in the penalty area at the end of a game Manchester United were losing 1-0, or that he could be excused of savouring the irony that someone who had tried to hurt him had succeeded only in hurting himself did not diminish Keane’s festering resentment. Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien In Keane’s absence, Manchester United eventually blew an 11-point lead in the championship race and Arsenal won the Double but by April 2001 and the Old Trafford derby, Keane was well on course to raise his third successive Premier League title as club captain. It was a drab match - Steve Howey had scored the equaliser with seven minutes to go after Paul Scholes had missed a penalty before Teddy Sheringham converted one - until Keane exploited the proximity of Haaland in the 86th minute to lunge right-foot first, studs up, into the side of the City midfielder’s knee. Haaland had just executed a forceful clearance and had his leg off the turf in his followthrough when Keane hit him with the full weight of his body driven through his lunge, tipping his victim up so that he slammed shoulder-first into the grass. Paul Hayward, who was there for The Telegraph, takes the story up in his live report: Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. In his 2002 autobiography Keane revealed the key message he delivered was two letters shorter than ‘Gotcha’. "I'd waited long enough. I f------ hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c---. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there's some for him as well." While there is no denying that it’s precisely what he meant, he would have had to rattle through it like Michael O’Hehir on amphetamine sulphate to deliver it verbally in the two seconds he spoke before leaving the pitch. Ever since, seemingly depending on the likelihood of legal repercussions for his words, Keane revels in it but see-saws on whether he meant irreparably to harm Haaland, who would play only 48 minutes more in his professional career during various comebacks but retired mainly because of an injury to his left knee. Some Manchester United fans see Keane at this moment as a kind of warrior avenging angel and his critics as a mad dog but the stark beauty of the photograph captures a man chillingly in control achieving, in his eyes, brutal restitution for a violation of his honour. It’s how Keyser Soze must have looked when wiping out one of the Hungarian mafia. 4. Michael Owen 2009 United had all but thrown away the home derby in September 2009 when they conceded three equalisers, the last in the 90th minute when the quicksilver Craig Bellamy made Rio Ferdinand look like a carthorse after the England centre-back played a casual pass straight to Martin Petrov. Carlos Tevez’s transfer to City in July provoked the summer of “the noisy neighbours” and Ferdinand’s posture after being gulled by Bellamy, head in hands behind the shaky Ben Foster and muttering expletives, betrayed his concern about letting his team-mates down and the wrath from a volcanic Sir Alex Ferguson that was about to engulf him. But he was about to be saved by the free transfer signing Ferguson had brought in to replace Tevez, the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner, Michael Owen, whose giddy progress had been hobbled at Newcastle United by a cruciate-ligament injury and recurring hamstring, thigh and groin problems. Owen was a serious, dedicated professional yet Newcastle fans had not taken to him, finding it difficult to embrace someone who was frequently absent from the field and refused to live among them. It is fair to say that United fans were barely exhilarated by his signing either. They had completed a hat-trick of titles the previous May but had been forced to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and decided to let Tevez go in the summer without reinvesting a credible portion of the profits. Credit: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images But cometh the hour or, as City fans would put it, ‘cometh the sixth minute of Fergie time’, cometh the substitute Owen to sidle behind Micah Richards. It took a cute pass from Ryan Giggs to find him and even after so many injuries Owen plus space plus a gap between him and the goalkeeper was an equation with only one likely outcome. Shay Given spread himself as best he could without reward. Owen took a touch then dinked the ball into the far corner with an expert flick of the toes. The special thing about the photograph is how it destroys the perception of Owen as the dull master of his emotions and by that stage of his career as someone who cared more about thoroughbreds than goals. “Just look at his face”, as Barry Davies once instructed the audience when Frannie Lee scored against City after leaving Maine Road to win the title with Derby, and his delight is palpable. For City there was a sense of being mugged again in the familiar fishy circumstances by Ferguson, the Time Lord, yet the picture of Owen resonates more than the ones of desolate and angry players in blue. It conveys his elation but also his optimism, like someone who has emerged from a long nightmare. 5. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes 2010 Once you know that 1950’s ‘Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville’ by Robert Doisneau was staged, it removes some of the sheen from the quintessential Parisian portrait of uninhibited young love. One trusts, for Paul Scholes’ sake, that the photograph taken during the April 2010 Etihad derby, was a more spontaneous ‘Kiss’ that required no laborious and possibly unsavoury rehearsal. United were second, trailing Chelsea by four points with four matches to go and City fifth, two points behind Spurs in the last Champions League qualifying plce, as they embarked on their game in hand at Eastlands. Sadly the game was nothing like the firecracker at Old Trafford earlier in the season and was littered with anxiety-ridden wayward passes, midfield stagnation, shouts for penalties from both sides and all too rare opportunities that were squandered. Once again the clock had passed 90 minutes when Gabriel Obertan slipped past Patrick Vieira, rolled the ball down the left for Patrice Evra to cross and Scholes met it before the penalty spot and cushioned an unstoppable header inside the far post. Like Owen across the city seven months earlier, Scholes ran behind the goal but by contrast threw himself into the arms of United fans. Credit: AP Photo/Tim Hales When he extricated himself from the melee he was approached by his captain and friend, Gary Neville, who held him tenderly by the cheeks, puckered up and kissed him on the lips, at that moment finding him irresistible like a young Mel Smith with Griff Rhys Jones. “A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City,” said Scholes. “Gary’s emotional and it was an important goal. Gary’s kissed a few in his time. David [Beckham] was probably his favourite but that’s the way Gary is.” John O’Shea had a more arresting interpretation, one that perhaps explains the nakedly theatrical exaggeration of the gesture with the placement of his hands. “I don’t think it was for Scholesy’s benefit,” he said. “I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier.” United won their last three games and so did Chelsea which left them runners-up by a point while this loss followed by the home defeat by Tottenham kept City out of the Champions League for one last year. For Neville it would be his last derby and one sealed with a loving kiss. 6. Wayne Rooney 2011 After missing out on the league title in 2010 despite a hat-trick that preceded it, Sir Alex Ferguson announced the following October that Wayne Rooney had asked for a transfer because he felt that the club’s investment in new players was inadequate and he wanted to play for a club that matched his ambitions. It did not take long for Ferguson to knock him back nor for whispers to emerge that he was trying to engineer a move to City. “I met with David Gill [United chief executive] last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney confirmed when outed by Ferguson. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.” Because he was articulating some of the suspicions of United supporters that the demands of the Glazer family’s leveraged buy-out of the club had restricted its scope in the market, Rooney was not as vituperatively condemned as an everyday ‘wantaway’ player. Nonetheless he did alienate many United fans among them a balaclava-clad posse who protested outside his home in Prestbury with a banner that read, “If you join City you are dead”. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super One suspects Fergsuon’s dead body would have had to be surmounted for any deal to go through and the manager played hardball in public while the Glazers eventually enticed him to stay with a staggering new offer. It took Rooney more than a year publicly to express his regrets and claim that he would never have joined City. Ferguson welcomed him back into the fold much sooner and United’s title campaign gathered momentum through the winter though Rooney scored only three goals in 11 Premier League matches after signing his new contract. United took the lead in February’s Old Trafford derby through Nani before David Silva equalised jammily when hit on the back by Edin Dzeko’s shot 20 minutes into the second-half. Rooney, toiling alone up front, could not get into the game yet continued to run the channels hard to try to elude the irritatingly adhesive Vincent Kompany. In the 78th minute Nani floated a cross into the box that was behind Rooney. He had stationed himself by the penalty spot with the intention of sowing doubt about which post he would attack but the trajectory of the centre forced an adjustment. He swivelled and jumped horizontally, back to the floor, head down and thumped a bicycle-kick volley past Hart whose mouth flapped agape in surprise. It was a classic wonder goal, one that made you appreciate the extraordinary agility, anticipation and execution of a world-class player. He is commonly derided now after five years of slow decline from his 2011-12 peak but back then Rooney’s outstanding talent was in full bloom. Which is why Ferguson fought so hard to keep him, why United’s fans embraced him again and forgave his rebellion. And half a dozen of the other ... Manchester City images 1. Matt Busby and Joe Mercer 1939 This photograph, taken shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, shows three sergeants of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Joe Mercer on the left, Matt Busby in the middle and Charlton Athletic and England’s Don Welsh. Mercer, then of Everton and England, went on to manager City for six thrilling seasons from 1965 while Busby, then of Liverpool and Scotland, had played for City from the age of 18 in 1928 for eight seasons, winning the FA Cup in sky blue in 1934. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images What’s terrific about this picture is that it shows a fine City player and a great City manager, one with his City days behind him, the other with them many years ahead in the future. At the time of the photograph they were cross-city rivals as players and 26 years on would become cross-city rivals as managers but as is plain to see by the smiles, they never let partisan hostility infect their outlook. Their sense of duty and gentlemanly warmth is the foundation of what is best about both clubs and City were blessed to be served and influenced by the two of them.   2. Two Georges 1968 On the morning of the midweek Old Trafford derby on March 27 1968, United were second behind Leeds in the table on goal average and City two points back in third. United took the lead in the first minute through George Best but City gradually built momentum to dominate the match, equalising with a Colin Bell goal on 16 minutes. Bell was mesmerising that day, thrashing the ball past Stepney then giving United’s midfield the runaround. John Hollins of Chelsea says that Bell’s stamina made him seem as if he had an extra lung and he used his physical dynamism and acute positional sense to cause havoc. Francis Burns fouled him to concede the free-kick from which George Heslop headed City ahead and the raw United full-back hit him with another dreadful tackle late on when Bell was rounding the keeper and sure to roll in the third. That honour was left to Francis Lee from the penalty spot while Bell was being stretchered down the touchline and City wrapped up a convincing and deserved victory to put them level with United and Leeds on 45 points.   Credit: Derek Preston/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images For Malcolm Allison, Mercer’s assistant and the Puckish strategist behind City’s rise, everything panned out as he had envisioned it. Before the game he had told the City players to walk to the Stretford End to applaud the United fans, knowing it would needle them and sharpen the atmosphere. Best, brilliant, sometimes unstoppable, scored though it did not puncture City’s confidence and here in this photograph we see George Heslop, City’s centre-half, time a sliding tackle to perfection and rob Best in full flight. Heslop, his blond combover a match for Bobby Charlton’s, was the pivot in City’s defensive system who allowed Tommy Booth and Mike Doyle the positional flexibility to support and switch with Tony Coleman, Bell and Mike Summerbee. Here, momentarily left exposed, and confronted by the greatest player in Europe in his mercurial, high summer peak, Heslop uses his experience and skill to stymie all that talent. It’s one of the standout action shots of the Sixties, the expanse of vacant green grass around them is where Best thrived but Heslop, his gigantic thighs a contrast to the sleek, supple Best’s, fairly and elegantly bars his way. “Years of humiliation had been, if not wiped away, at least eased,” Allison later wrote. “It was one of the great nights of my life.” Greater still were to come. Although they lost at Leicester the following week, City won five of their next seven games before victory at St James’ Park on the final day earned them their first title for 31 years by two points from United.  “I think we will be the first team to play on Mars,” Allison said on the morning after winning the title following only an hour’s sleep. "We have had more courage than the majority of teams in the League. The courage to play this game.” Mars would prove to be a stretch too far, but who needs Mars when you’ve been taken to heaven?   3. Denis Law 1974 Maxwell Scott’s advice from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has proved seductive over the years for those writing about Denis Law’s backheel in the 83rd minute of the derby at Old Trafford in April 1974. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Scott, appropriately enough a newspaper editor. And so the myth that Law, a year after leaving United to return to City on a free transfer, sent United down took flight. In truth, though, Birmingham City in 19th held their fate in their own hands. Victory for them over Norwich, who had already been relegated, and United were down come what may. United fans knew what was happening at St Andrew’s and invaded the pitch at Old Trafford both before and after the news that Bob Hatton had put Birmingham ahead. The third and final invasion came four minutes from the end, three minutes after Law had put City in front with a larcenous, impulsive backheel. Sir Matt Busby addressed the crowd over the Tannoy in an attempt to persuade them to retreat “for the sake of the club” to no avail and the match was abandoned as a City victory. Birmingham’s 2-1 win rendered the last four minutes inconsequential. Credit: PA Before all that, though, Law had gone off, looking utterly disconsolate, even though City fans then and during the drawn-out melee were eagerly attempting to corral him into their celebrations. Look at his face and you see a perfect definition of “crestfallen”, a bigamist unmasked and tormented by the consequences. Law’s 37th and final goal for City (to add to his 237 for United) may not have relegated the neighbours at all but the legend endures because the twist of the player’s identity and allegiance enhance the element of City supporters’ schadenfreude to an exquisite pinnacle. “In that moment you saw the two sides of his character,” the City winger Dennis Tueart told the Daily Mail in 2012. “You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then - when he realised what he had done - you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.” 4. Ian Bishop and Paul Lake 1989 The 6-1 thrashing of the champions at Old Trafford in 2011 takes some beating but for City fans of a certain age the 5-1 victory at Maine Road in September 1989 will always be an imperishable memory. Because of City’s relegation, derbies in the Eighties were rare and City had not won one since February 1981 when Alex Ferguson took his beleaguered, expensive United team to Moss Side. It was the season of Michael Knighton in replica kit juggling the ball on the Old Trafford pitch to advertise his impending takeover before the opening match - a slick 4-1 victory over the champions Arsenal. The bloom of a summer spree - Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince snapped up for a staggering outlay of £6.25m - wilted as quickly as Knighton’s credibility when United were beaten by Derby, Norwich and Everton in successive matches. Beating Millwall 5-1 before the trip across town was trumpeted as the end of the teething troubles but they left Maine Road looking toothless and covered in bite marks. Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images City were a vibrant, young team, newly promoted and built around a core of five special homegrown players - Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White and Ian Brightwell - who seemed to personify the city’s youth culture that was in the midst of a glorious, hedonistic ascendancy. Just after kick-off a fight on the terraces escalated into a mass brawl that spread so quickly that some supporters understandably climbed over the perimeter fences to avoid a braying or an even worse fate. The referee suspended the game for eight minutes and on resumption City tore into United, scoring twice in the 12th minute after a mistake by Pallister, Britain’s most expensive defender, let in David Oldfield and another lax response to a developing crisis left Jim Leighton exposed after an impressive double save - and Trevor Morley rammed the ball past him. In the 36th minute Oldfield skinned Pallister and crossed for Ian Bishop to score with a diving header. He is the subject of our image, caught in the arms of Paul Lake as they celebrate City’s third. The photographer freezes them in a moment of ecstatic revelry with just a hint of charming disbelief in Lake’s eyes, fixed on the lens. It’s a great shot of City’s blend of youth - Lake - and the more experienced Bishop, a cut-price playmaker with cheek, vision and an inventive pass, the kind of player that always steals supporters’ hearts. Mark Hughes grabbed one back with a wonderful scissors kick that would be better known but for the result before Lake ripped United apart down the right to set up Oldfield’s fourth and Hinchcliffe made it five on the end of a slippery, sweeping move. Chants of “Ferguson out” from Reds were answered in raucous glee by the Blues with “Fergie must stay”. He did stay, of course, and recovered from a defeat he called “the most embarrassing of my career” while the terminally myopic Peter Swales, City's chairman, sacked Mel Machin in November and appointed Howard Kendall. Nothing wrong with that, City were bottom after all, but allowing him to dismantle such a promising squad, fill it full of Evertonians and sell many of the heroes of that day makes the 5-1 somewhat bittersweet. 5. Shaun Goater and Gary Neville 2002 A companion to No5 in the United section, this photograph shows Gary Neville at his greatest moment of derby despair. The elder Neville brother saw himself as more than a symbol for United fans, more the embodiment of their deepest desires and prejudices so there was no stopping City fans basking in his moment of nemesis in the last match at Maine Road. Credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images The score was 1-1 when Eyal Berkovic swept a pass from right to the left of the United penalty area over Neville’s head. He turned, with Shaun Goater in pursuit, and first tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick but changed tack when he realised it lacked the momentum. He hesitated for a moment and then attempted to pass it back to Fabien Barthez instead. Whether he didn’t see Goater between him and the keeper until it was too late or whether he had the chutzpah to think he could nutmeg the City forward is not known. Either way he fed the Goat who indeed scored, having careered in from the touchline and arrowed the ball around Barthez to score his 99th City goal. Credit:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images For the rest of the match the England right-back  was serenaded by “Gary Neville is a blue, is a blue, is a blue” and it followed him around for a fair few months. Goater went on to bring up his century in the second-half with a wonderful chip over Barthez and ended Maine Road’s days as a derby venue in appropriately carnival mood.   6. Mario Balotelli 2011 The first derby of the 2011-12 season took place on Sunday, October 23, 13 days before Guy Fawkes’ Night, not that anyone needs an excuse for a fireworks party any more: over the past 15 years the UK has turned positively Cantonese in its embrace of pyrotechnics. On the Friday before the match, Mario Balotelli and four friends were together at his new house in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire when one or more of them - the number is still in dispute - decided to treat the neighbours to an early morning chorus of explosions and illuminate the sky over their houses with fireworks. Perhaps it was cold outside or maybe just tired but someone decreed that the launch pad should be Balotelli’s bathroom. Someone got their calculations wrong as well as their aim and set fire first to some towels and then the house. One of them raised the alarm, neighbouring properties were evacuated and the fire service eventually extinguished the blaze. Balotelli checked into a city centre hotel, arrived on time for training the next morning and went into conclave with the kit man before returning to his hotel. Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images The story hit the newspapers on the morning of the match though Roberto Mancini still named Balotelli, who had scored in the three preceding games, in his starting XI. He rewarded his manager with an excellent performance, scoring twice, the first a deftly-placed side-foot shot from 16 yards. As soon as the ball went past David De Gea, Balotelli lifted his shirt over his head to reveal ‘Why always me?’ written on his vest. It earned him a booking and it might well have been worse if Les Chapman, City’s kit man, hadn’t dissuaded him from his other two ideas for slogans, both of them provocations to United fans. In addition to his two goals in the 6-1 victory, he elicited a foul from Jonny Evans that had the United defender sent off and he provides us with an image of engaging, prodigal insouciance. “That day it was as if Mario was great, an adult amongst children,” said Roberto Mancini. “I would have loved to have always seen him like he was at that derby.” Routine was never for Mario. He would not be half as frustrating without his uncommon skill nor half as endearing without his unaffected nonchalance.

Six of One - Iconic Manchester derby pictures ... and the stories behind them

Welcome to Six of One, our series in which we pick six of the best examples of a theme and contrast them with half a dozen others. This episode's theme is inspired by the Manchester derby and its rich history. Instead of the usual format of taking six outstanding things and balancing them with six execrable ones, here we have opted for six great photographs centred on United and six on City and try to tell the stories behind them.  As in the past it is obviously very much a subjective evaluation so please feel free to nominate your own favourites in either category in the comments section or tell your own stand-out derby stories.  Manchester United photographs 1. Alex Dawson 1960-61 Manchester United endured a torrid start to the 1960-61 season, losing 10 of their first 18 matches including defeats by Everton, Arsenal, Cardiff City and Aston Villa. It is often forgotten that they finished second in 1958-59, the season after the Munich Disaster, and seventh in 1959-60 but by mid-November 1960 they were 17th and looking in desperate need of fresh blood. That month Matt Busby bought the stylish Noel Cantwell from West Ham for £29,500, a record fee for a full-back, and the charming, erudite Irishman would go on to captain United and become a profound influence in the club's renaissance over the next eight years. His immediate impact was none too shabby and United swept through December, defeating Preston, drawing 4-4 with Fulham and beating Blackburn. The Christmas double header against Chelsea was overcome with a 2-0 away victory on Christmas Eve followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on Boxing Day in which Alex Dawson scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Nicholson two goals and Bobby Charlton one. By the time of the home derby on New Year's Eve 1960, United were in far ruder health and had climbed to 11th while City, eighth six weeks earlier, were on a dreadful run of six defeats in seven games. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images That's Dawson in the dark shirt in the picture, framed against the Stretford sky, arching his body to flick the ball on and captured by the photographer dead in the middle of the floodlight pylon on the left corner of the Scoreboard End. Romantics can imagine the smoke from a passing steam train adding to the hazy ambience but the season and hour are likely to be more responsible for the oystery murk. Dawson scored his second hat-trick in successive matches in this game and Charlton, from the left-wing, hit two more past Bert Trautmann. Only Colin Barlow could reply for Manchester City and any Blues would be excused by the 5-1 defeat for telling first-footers' calling on them later that night to stuff their lump of coal where the sun doesn't shine. Dawson was a broad bullock of a centre-forward who had unforgettably scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham in 1958 during United's emotional charge to Wembley. He scored 45 league goals in 80 appearances and suffered City fans adopting the Camptown Races melody to assail him thus: "Who's that fella with the big fat a---? Dawson, Dawson." He had many qualities but not the exhilarating flair that Busby coveted so highly and he was sold to Preston in 1961 where he became known as 'The Black Prince of Deepdale' and bagged more than a hundred goals over six seasons of frisky service. Deliciously, to the right of the photograph in the City No10 shirt and adjusting his body perhaps to launch himself acrobatically at the ball, is Denis Law, a forward with all the class and spirit Busby desired. It would take the United manager another 20 months to get his man.   2. Eric Cantona 1994 On March 19 1994 Manchester United, the champions and league leaders went to the County Ground to play their only top-flight match against Swindon Town who were 47 points below them and not so much at the foot of the Premiership but at the bottom of its Mariana Trench. But Swindon, by virtue of two equalisers, held on for a point and United were left with 10 men when Eric Cantona was sent off for stamping on John Moncur's solar plexus. A little over 72 hours later on March 22, United were again pegged back after twice taking the lead at Arsenal and Cantona was sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Ian Selley, the second two minutes later for wild swipes at Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams. For his sins Cantona was given a five-match suspension and defeats by second-placed Blackburn and Wimbledon in his absence left United still leading Rovers at the top of the table but solely on goal difference though they had played one match fewer. Cantona returned for their 38th game of the 42-match season, the Manchester derby on St George's Day and may have read, on the morning of the match, a warning from City's full-back Terry Phelan, who pledged that his team-mates would "wind Eric up left, right and centre" and rotate the opportunity to "take a bite out of him" because he "doesn't like it when you get him at it" which must rank as one of the worst psychological assessments in recent memory.  Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT/Getty Images In the end Phelan did not make the starting XI and City's attempts to rile the Player of the Year were faced, at least initially, by the rarely seen "other cheek" of United's No7. In the five minutes before half-time he scored twice, tapping in an Andrei Kanchelskis centre from a yard and then sweeping a right-foot shot under Andy Dibble when the keeper thought he was going to be chipped. Kanchelskis had a peculiar way of using his arms when running that suggested forgetting to extract the coathanger before putting his shirt on but was devastatingly direct and quick and he stands in the background, about to be embraced by Lee Sharpe, one winger acutely aware that the other deserves most praise for the opening goal. Yet it's the central figure of Cantona that dominates and by contrast to the near identical pose of Michel Vonk, appealing vainly for offside, he smiles with something of the radiant pleasure he could still demonstrate. For the remaining three seasons of his career, more so after Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona sometimes seemed to be wedded to an image of himself wearing a crown of thorns and often posed messianically after scoring, not so much in 'redemption' mode as with a confrontational attitude of there-will-be-a-reckoning-for those-who doubted-me.   Here, though, there is joy still unconfined, an elation that burgeoned over the next three weeks after United's 2-0 victory. In their five remaining games they wrapped up the Premier League title by eight points and defeated Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their debut Double.  "No matter what the tempo is Eric's got the ability to compose himself on the ball," said Alex Ferguson after the match, burnishing the divine mystique. "In the maelstrom of League football that in itself is a miracle."  3. Roy Keane 2001  One should not forget that Roy Keane’s vendetta against Alfie Haaland was provoked by a word not a deed. In September 1997 at Elland Road, Keane injured himself fouling Haaland, then playing for Leeds, severing his own cruciate ligament when his studs caught in the turf and put himself out of the game for 11 months’ of gruelling rehabilitation. In his first autobiography Keane claims that Haaland and his team-mate David Wetherall stood over him and accused him of faking the injury, an act of slander so defamatory to his professional code, so uncharitable, that Keane stoked the embers of his grudge for almost four years. The fact that Haaland may have been responding in the moment after 85 minutes of rancour between the two, that Keane’s fall was in the penalty area at the end of a game Manchester United were losing 1-0, or that he could be excused of savouring the irony that someone who had tried to hurt him had succeeded only in hurting himself did not diminish Keane’s festering resentment. Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien In Keane’s absence, Manchester United eventually blew an 11-point lead in the championship race and Arsenal won the Double but by April 2001 and the Old Trafford derby, Keane was well on course to raise his third successive Premier League title as club captain. It was a drab match - Steve Howey had scored the equaliser with seven minutes to go after Paul Scholes had missed a penalty before Teddy Sheringham converted one - until Keane exploited the proximity of Haaland in the 86th minute to lunge right-foot first, studs up, into the side of the City midfielder’s knee. Haaland had just executed a forceful clearance and had his leg off the turf in his followthrough when Keane hit him with the full weight of his body driven through his lunge, tipping his victim up so that he slammed shoulder-first into the grass. Paul Hayward, who was there for The Telegraph, takes the story up in his live report: Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. In his 2002 autobiography Keane revealed the key message he delivered was two letters shorter than ‘Gotcha’. "I'd waited long enough. I f------ hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c---. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there's some for him as well." While there is no denying that it’s precisely what he meant, he would have had to rattle through it like Michael O’Hehir on amphetamine sulphate to deliver it verbally in the two seconds he spoke before leaving the pitch. Ever since, seemingly depending on the likelihood of legal repercussions for his words, Keane revels in it but see-saws on whether he meant irreparably to harm Haaland, who would play only 48 minutes more in his professional career during various comebacks but retired mainly because of an injury to his left knee. Some Manchester United fans see Keane at this moment as a kind of warrior avenging angel and his critics as a mad dog but the stark beauty of the photograph captures a man chillingly in control achieving, in his eyes, brutal restitution for a violation of his honour. It’s how Keyser Soze must have looked when wiping out one of the Hungarian mafia. 4. Michael Owen 2009 United had all but thrown away the home derby in September 2009 when they conceded three equalisers, the last in the 90th minute when the quicksilver Craig Bellamy made Rio Ferdinand look like a carthorse after the England centre-back played a casual pass straight to Martin Petrov. Carlos Tevez’s transfer to City in July provoked the summer of “the noisy neighbours” and Ferdinand’s posture after being gulled by Bellamy, head in hands behind the shaky Ben Foster and muttering expletives, betrayed his concern about letting his team-mates down and the wrath from a volcanic Sir Alex Ferguson that was about to engulf him. But he was about to be saved by the free transfer signing Ferguson had brought in to replace Tevez, the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner, Michael Owen, whose giddy progress had been hobbled at Newcastle United by a cruciate-ligament injury and recurring hamstring, thigh and groin problems. Owen was a serious, dedicated professional yet Newcastle fans had not taken to him, finding it difficult to embrace someone who was frequently absent from the field and refused to live among them. It is fair to say that United fans were barely exhilarated by his signing either. They had completed a hat-trick of titles the previous May but had been forced to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and decided to let Tevez go in the summer without reinvesting a credible portion of the profits. Credit: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images But cometh the hour or, as City fans would put it, ‘cometh the sixth minute of Fergie time’, cometh the substitute Owen to sidle behind Micah Richards. It took a cute pass from Ryan Giggs to find him and even after so many injuries Owen plus space plus a gap between him and the goalkeeper was an equation with only one likely outcome. Shay Given spread himself as best he could without reward. Owen took a touch then dinked the ball into the far corner with an expert flick of the toes. The special thing about the photograph is how it destroys the perception of Owen as the dull master of his emotions and by that stage of his career as someone who cared more about thoroughbreds than goals. “Just look at his face”, as Barry Davies once instructed the audience when Frannie Lee scored against City after leaving Maine Road to win the title with Derby, and his delight is palpable. For City there was a sense of being mugged again in the familiar fishy circumstances by Ferguson, the Time Lord, yet the picture of Owen resonates more than the ones of desolate and angry players in blue. It conveys his elation but also his optimism, like someone who has emerged from a long nightmare. 5. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes 2010 Once you know that 1950’s ‘Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville’ by Robert Doisneau was staged, it removes some of the sheen from the quintessential Parisian portrait of uninhibited young love. One trusts, for Paul Scholes’ sake, that the photograph taken during the April 2010 Etihad derby, was a more spontaneous ‘Kiss’ that required no laborious and possibly unsavoury rehearsal. United were second, trailing Chelsea by four points with four matches to go and City fifth, two points behind Spurs in the last Champions League qualifying plce, as they embarked on their game in hand at Eastlands. Sadly the game was nothing like the firecracker at Old Trafford earlier in the season and was littered with anxiety-ridden wayward passes, midfield stagnation, shouts for penalties from both sides and all too rare opportunities that were squandered. Once again the clock had passed 90 minutes when Gabriel Obertan slipped past Patrick Vieira, rolled the ball down the left for Patrice Evra to cross and Scholes met it before the penalty spot and cushioned an unstoppable header inside the far post. Like Owen across the city seven months earlier, Scholes ran behind the goal but by contrast threw himself into the arms of United fans. Credit: AP Photo/Tim Hales When he extricated himself from the melee he was approached by his captain and friend, Gary Neville, who held him tenderly by the cheeks, puckered up and kissed him on the lips, at that moment finding him irresistible like a young Mel Smith with Griff Rhys Jones. “A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City,” said Scholes. “Gary’s emotional and it was an important goal. Gary’s kissed a few in his time. David [Beckham] was probably his favourite but that’s the way Gary is.” John O’Shea had a more arresting interpretation, one that perhaps explains the nakedly theatrical exaggeration of the gesture with the placement of his hands. “I don’t think it was for Scholesy’s benefit,” he said. “I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier.” United won their last three games and so did Chelsea which left them runners-up by a point while this loss followed by the home defeat by Tottenham kept City out of the Champions League for one last year. For Neville it would be his last derby and one sealed with a loving kiss. 6. Wayne Rooney 2011 After missing out on the league title in 2010 despite a hat-trick that preceded it, Sir Alex Ferguson announced the following October that Wayne Rooney had asked for a transfer because he felt that the club’s investment in new players was inadequate and he wanted to play for a club that matched his ambitions. It did not take long for Ferguson to knock him back nor for whispers to emerge that he was trying to engineer a move to City. “I met with David Gill [United chief executive] last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney confirmed when outed by Ferguson. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.” Because he was articulating some of the suspicions of United supporters that the demands of the Glazer family’s leveraged buy-out of the club had restricted its scope in the market, Rooney was not as vituperatively condemned as an everyday ‘wantaway’ player. Nonetheless he did alienate many United fans among them a balaclava-clad posse who protested outside his home in Prestbury with a banner that read, “If you join City you are dead”. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super One suspects Fergsuon’s dead body would have had to be surmounted for any deal to go through and the manager played hardball in public while the Glazers eventually enticed him to stay with a staggering new offer. It took Rooney more than a year publicly to express his regrets and claim that he would never have joined City. Ferguson welcomed him back into the fold much sooner and United’s title campaign gathered momentum through the winter though Rooney scored only three goals in 11 Premier League matches after signing his new contract. United took the lead in February’s Old Trafford derby through Nani before David Silva equalised jammily when hit on the back by Edin Dzeko’s shot 20 minutes into the second-half. Rooney, toiling alone up front, could not get into the game yet continued to run the channels hard to try to elude the irritatingly adhesive Vincent Kompany. In the 78th minute Nani floated a cross into the box that was behind Rooney. He had stationed himself by the penalty spot with the intention of sowing doubt about which post he would attack but the trajectory of the centre forced an adjustment. He swivelled and jumped horizontally, back to the floor, head down and thumped a bicycle-kick volley past Hart whose mouth flapped agape in surprise. It was a classic wonder goal, one that made you appreciate the extraordinary agility, anticipation and execution of a world-class player. He is commonly derided now after five years of slow decline from his 2011-12 peak but back then Rooney’s outstanding talent was in full bloom. Which is why Ferguson fought so hard to keep him, why United’s fans embraced him again and forgave his rebellion. And half a dozen of the other ... Manchester City images 1. Matt Busby and Joe Mercer 1939 This photograph, taken shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, shows three sergeants of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Joe Mercer on the left, Matt Busby in the middle and Charlton Athletic and England’s Don Welsh. Mercer, then of Everton and England, went on to manager City for six thrilling seasons from 1965 while Busby, then of Liverpool and Scotland, had played for City from the age of 18 in 1928 for eight seasons, winning the FA Cup in sky blue in 1934. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images What’s terrific about this picture is that it shows a fine City player and a great City manager, one with his City days behind him, the other with them many years ahead in the future. At the time of the photograph they were cross-city rivals as players and 26 years on would become cross-city rivals as managers but as is plain to see by the smiles, they never let partisan hostility infect their outlook. Their sense of duty and gentlemanly warmth is the foundation of what is best about both clubs and City were blessed to be served and influenced by the two of them.   2. Two Georges 1968 On the morning of the midweek Old Trafford derby on March 27 1968, United were second behind Leeds in the table on goal average and City two points back in third. United took the lead in the first minute through George Best but City gradually built momentum to dominate the match, equalising with a Colin Bell goal on 16 minutes. Bell was mesmerising that day, thrashing the ball past Stepney then giving United’s midfield the runaround. John Hollins of Chelsea says that Bell’s stamina made him seem as if he had an extra lung and he used his physical dynamism and acute positional sense to cause havoc. Francis Burns fouled him to concede the free-kick from which George Heslop headed City ahead and the raw United full-back hit him with another dreadful tackle late on when Bell was rounding the keeper and sure to roll in the third. That honour was left to Francis Lee from the penalty spot while Bell was being stretchered down the touchline and City wrapped up a convincing and deserved victory to put them level with United and Leeds on 45 points.   Credit: Derek Preston/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images For Malcolm Allison, Mercer’s assistant and the Puckish strategist behind City’s rise, everything panned out as he had envisioned it. Before the game he had told the City players to walk to the Stretford End to applaud the United fans, knowing it would needle them and sharpen the atmosphere. Best, brilliant, sometimes unstoppable, scored though it did not puncture City’s confidence and here in this photograph we see George Heslop, City’s centre-half, time a sliding tackle to perfection and rob Best in full flight. Heslop, his blond combover a match for Bobby Charlton’s, was the pivot in City’s defensive system who allowed Tommy Booth and Mike Doyle the positional flexibility to support and switch with Tony Coleman, Bell and Mike Summerbee. Here, momentarily left exposed, and confronted by the greatest player in Europe in his mercurial, high summer peak, Heslop uses his experience and skill to stymie all that talent. It’s one of the standout action shots of the Sixties, the expanse of vacant green grass around them is where Best thrived but Heslop, his gigantic thighs a contrast to the sleek, supple Best’s, fairly and elegantly bars his way. “Years of humiliation had been, if not wiped away, at least eased,” Allison later wrote. “It was one of the great nights of my life.” Greater still were to come. Although they lost at Leicester the following week, City won five of their next seven games before victory at St James’ Park on the final day earned them their first title for 31 years by two points from United.  “I think we will be the first team to play on Mars,” Allison said on the morning after winning the title following only an hour’s sleep. "We have had more courage than the majority of teams in the League. The courage to play this game.” Mars would prove to be a stretch too far, but who needs Mars when you’ve been taken to heaven?   3. Denis Law 1974 Maxwell Scott’s advice from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has proved seductive over the years for those writing about Denis Law’s backheel in the 83rd minute of the derby at Old Trafford in April 1974. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Scott, appropriately enough a newspaper editor. And so the myth that Law, a year after leaving United to return to City on a free transfer, sent United down took flight. In truth, though, Birmingham City in 19th held their fate in their own hands. Victory for them over Norwich, who had already been relegated, and United were down come what may. United fans knew what was happening at St Andrew’s and invaded the pitch at Old Trafford both before and after the news that Bob Hatton had put Birmingham ahead. The third and final invasion came four minutes from the end, three minutes after Law had put City in front with a larcenous, impulsive backheel. Sir Matt Busby addressed the crowd over the Tannoy in an attempt to persuade them to retreat “for the sake of the club” to no avail and the match was abandoned as a City victory. Birmingham’s 2-1 win rendered the last four minutes inconsequential. Credit: PA Before all that, though, Law had gone off, looking utterly disconsolate, even though City fans then and during the drawn-out melee were eagerly attempting to corral him into their celebrations. Look at his face and you see a perfect definition of “crestfallen”, a bigamist unmasked and tormented by the consequences. Law’s 37th and final goal for City (to add to his 237 for United) may not have relegated the neighbours at all but the legend endures because the twist of the player’s identity and allegiance enhance the element of City supporters’ schadenfreude to an exquisite pinnacle. “In that moment you saw the two sides of his character,” the City winger Dennis Tueart told the Daily Mail in 2012. “You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then - when he realised what he had done - you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.” 4. Ian Bishop and Paul Lake 1989 The 6-1 thrashing of the champions at Old Trafford in 2011 takes some beating but for City fans of a certain age the 5-1 victory at Maine Road in September 1989 will always be an imperishable memory. Because of City’s relegation, derbies in the Eighties were rare and City had not won one since February 1981 when Alex Ferguson took his beleaguered, expensive United team to Moss Side. It was the season of Michael Knighton in replica kit juggling the ball on the Old Trafford pitch to advertise his impending takeover before the opening match - a slick 4-1 victory over the champions Arsenal. The bloom of a summer spree - Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince snapped up for a staggering outlay of £6.25m - wilted as quickly as Knighton’s credibility when United were beaten by Derby, Norwich and Everton in successive matches. Beating Millwall 5-1 before the trip across town was trumpeted as the end of the teething troubles but they left Maine Road looking toothless and covered in bite marks. Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images City were a vibrant, young team, newly promoted and built around a core of five special homegrown players - Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White and Ian Brightwell - who seemed to personify the city’s youth culture that was in the midst of a glorious, hedonistic ascendancy. Just after kick-off a fight on the terraces escalated into a mass brawl that spread so quickly that some supporters understandably climbed over the perimeter fences to avoid a braying or an even worse fate. The referee suspended the game for eight minutes and on resumption City tore into United, scoring twice in the 12th minute after a mistake by Pallister, Britain’s most expensive defender, let in David Oldfield and another lax response to a developing crisis left Jim Leighton exposed after an impressive double save - and Trevor Morley rammed the ball past him. In the 36th minute Oldfield skinned Pallister and crossed for Ian Bishop to score with a diving header. He is the subject of our image, caught in the arms of Paul Lake as they celebrate City’s third. The photographer freezes them in a moment of ecstatic revelry with just a hint of charming disbelief in Lake’s eyes, fixed on the lens. It’s a great shot of City’s blend of youth - Lake - and the more experienced Bishop, a cut-price playmaker with cheek, vision and an inventive pass, the kind of player that always steals supporters’ hearts. Mark Hughes grabbed one back with a wonderful scissors kick that would be better known but for the result before Lake ripped United apart down the right to set up Oldfield’s fourth and Hinchcliffe made it five on the end of a slippery, sweeping move. Chants of “Ferguson out” from Reds were answered in raucous glee by the Blues with “Fergie must stay”. He did stay, of course, and recovered from a defeat he called “the most embarrassing of my career” while the terminally myopic Peter Swales, City's chairman, sacked Mel Machin in November and appointed Howard Kendall. Nothing wrong with that, City were bottom after all, but allowing him to dismantle such a promising squad, fill it full of Evertonians and sell many of the heroes of that day makes the 5-1 somewhat bittersweet. 5. Shaun Goater and Gary Neville 2002 A companion to No5 in the United section, this photograph shows Gary Neville at his greatest moment of derby despair. The elder Neville brother saw himself as more than a symbol for United fans, more the embodiment of their deepest desires and prejudices so there was no stopping City fans basking in his moment of nemesis in the last match at Maine Road. Credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images The score was 1-1 when Eyal Berkovic swept a pass from right to the left of the United penalty area over Neville’s head. He turned, with Shaun Goater in pursuit, and first tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick but changed tack when he realised it lacked the momentum. He hesitated for a moment and then attempted to pass it back to Fabien Barthez instead. Whether he didn’t see Goater between him and the keeper until it was too late or whether he had the chutzpah to think he could nutmeg the City forward is not known. Either way he fed the Goat who indeed scored, having careered in from the touchline and arrowed the ball around Barthez to score his 99th City goal. Credit:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images For the rest of the match the England right-back  was serenaded by “Gary Neville is a blue, is a blue, is a blue” and it followed him around for a fair few months. Goater went on to bring up his century in the second-half with a wonderful chip over Barthez and ended Maine Road’s days as a derby venue in appropriately carnival mood.   6. Mario Balotelli 2011 The first derby of the 2011-12 season took place on Sunday, October 23, 13 days before Guy Fawkes’ Night, not that anyone needs an excuse for a fireworks party any more: over the past 15 years the UK has turned positively Cantonese in its embrace of pyrotechnics. On the Friday before the match, Mario Balotelli and four friends were together at his new house in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire when one or more of them - the number is still in dispute - decided to treat the neighbours to an early morning chorus of explosions and illuminate the sky over their houses with fireworks. Perhaps it was cold outside or maybe just tired but someone decreed that the launch pad should be Balotelli’s bathroom. Someone got their calculations wrong as well as their aim and set fire first to some towels and then the house. One of them raised the alarm, neighbouring properties were evacuated and the fire service eventually extinguished the blaze. Balotelli checked into a city centre hotel, arrived on time for training the next morning and went into conclave with the kit man before returning to his hotel. Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images The story hit the newspapers on the morning of the match though Roberto Mancini still named Balotelli, who had scored in the three preceding games, in his starting XI. He rewarded his manager with an excellent performance, scoring twice, the first a deftly-placed side-foot shot from 16 yards. As soon as the ball went past David De Gea, Balotelli lifted his shirt over his head to reveal ‘Why always me?’ written on his vest. It earned him a booking and it might well have been worse if Les Chapman, City’s kit man, hadn’t dissuaded him from his other two ideas for slogans, both of them provocations to United fans. In addition to his two goals in the 6-1 victory, he elicited a foul from Jonny Evans that had the United defender sent off and he provides us with an image of engaging, prodigal insouciance. “That day it was as if Mario was great, an adult amongst children,” said Roberto Mancini. “I would have loved to have always seen him like he was at that derby.” Routine was never for Mario. He would not be half as frustrating without his uncommon skill nor half as endearing without his unaffected nonchalance.

Six of One - Iconic Manchester derby pictures ... and the stories behind them

Welcome to Six of One, our series in which we pick six of the best examples of a theme and contrast them with half a dozen others. This episode's theme is inspired by the Manchester derby and its rich history. Instead of the usual format of taking six outstanding things and balancing them with six execrable ones, here we have opted for six great photographs centred on United and six on City and try to tell the stories behind them.  As in the past it is obviously very much a subjective evaluation so please feel free to nominate your own favourites in either category in the comments section or tell your own stand-out derby stories.  Manchester United photographs 1. Alex Dawson 1960-61 Manchester United endured a torrid start to the 1960-61 season, losing 10 of their first 18 matches including defeats by Everton, Arsenal, Cardiff City and Aston Villa. It is often forgotten that they finished second in 1958-59, the season after the Munich Disaster, and seventh in 1959-60 but by mid-November 1960 they were 17th and looking in desperate need of fresh blood. That month Matt Busby bought the stylish Noel Cantwell from West Ham for £29,500, a record fee for a full-back, and the charming, erudite Irishman would go on to captain United and become a profound influence in the club's renaissance over the next eight years. His immediate impact was none too shabby and United swept through December, defeating Preston, drawing 4-4 with Fulham and beating Blackburn. The Christmas double header against Chelsea was overcome with a 2-0 away victory on Christmas Eve followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on Boxing Day in which Alex Dawson scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Nicholson two goals and Bobby Charlton one. By the time of the home derby on New Year's Eve 1960, United were in far ruder health and had climbed to 11th while City, eighth six weeks earlier, were on a dreadful run of six defeats in seven games. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images That's Dawson in the dark shirt in the picture, framed against the Stretford sky, arching his body to flick the ball on and captured by the photographer dead in the middle of the floodlight pylon on the left corner of the Scoreboard End. Romantics can imagine the smoke from a passing steam train adding to the hazy ambience but the season and hour are likely to be more responsible for the oystery murk. Dawson scored his second hat-trick in successive matches in this game and Charlton, from the left-wing, hit two more past Bert Trautmann. Only Colin Barlow could reply for Manchester City and any Blues would be excused by the 5-1 defeat for telling first-footers' calling on them later that night to stuff their lump of coal where the sun doesn't shine. Dawson was a broad bullock of a centre-forward who had unforgettably scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham in 1958 during United's emotional charge to Wembley. He scored 45 league goals in 80 appearances and suffered City fans adopting the Camptown Races melody to assail him thus: "Who's that fella with the big fat a---? Dawson, Dawson." He had many qualities but not the exhilarating flair that Busby coveted so highly and he was sold to Preston in 1961 where he became known as 'The Black Prince of Deepdale' and bagged more than a hundred goals over six seasons of frisky service. Deliciously, to the right of the photograph in the City No10 shirt and adjusting his body perhaps to launch himself acrobatically at the ball, is Denis Law, a forward with all the class and spirit Busby desired. It would take the United manager another 20 months to get his man.   2. Eric Cantona 1994 On March 19 1994 Manchester United, the champions and league leaders went to the County Ground to play their only top-flight match against Swindon Town who were 47 points below them and not so much at the foot of the Premiership but at the bottom of its Mariana Trench. But Swindon, by virtue of two equalisers, held on for a point and United were left with 10 men when Eric Cantona was sent off for stamping on John Moncur's solar plexus. A little over 72 hours later on March 22, United were again pegged back after twice taking the lead at Arsenal and Cantona was sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Ian Selley, the second two minutes later for wild swipes at Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams. For his sins Cantona was given a five-match suspension and defeats by second-placed Blackburn and Wimbledon in his absence left United still leading Rovers at the top of the table but solely on goal difference though they had played one match fewer. Cantona returned for their 38th game of the 42-match season, the Manchester derby on St George's Day and may have read, on the morning of the match, a warning from City's full-back Terry Phelan, who pledged that his team-mates would "wind Eric up left, right and centre" and rotate the opportunity to "take a bite out of him" because he "doesn't like it when you get him at it" which must rank as one of the worst psychological assessments in recent memory.  Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT/Getty Images In the end Phelan did not make the starting XI and City's attempts to rile the Player of the Year were faced, at least initially, by the rarely seen "other cheek" of United's No7. In the five minutes before half-time he scored twice, tapping in an Andrei Kanchelskis centre from a yard and then sweeping a right-foot shot under Andy Dibble when the keeper thought he was going to be chipped. Kanchelskis had a peculiar way of using his arms when running that suggested forgetting to extract the coathanger before putting his shirt on but was devastatingly direct and quick and he stands in the background, about to be embraced by Lee Sharpe, one winger acutely aware that the other deserves most praise for the opening goal. Yet it's the central figure of Cantona that dominates and by contrast to the near identical pose of Michel Vonk, appealing vainly for offside, he smiles with something of the radiant pleasure he could still demonstrate. For the remaining three seasons of his career, more so after Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona sometimes seemed to be wedded to an image of himself wearing a crown of thorns and often posed messianically after scoring, not so much in 'redemption' mode as with a confrontational attitude of there-will-be-a-reckoning-for those-who doubted-me.   Here, though, there is joy still unconfined, an elation that burgeoned over the next three weeks after United's 2-0 victory. In their five remaining games they wrapped up the Premier League title by eight points and defeated Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their debut Double.  "No matter what the tempo is Eric's got the ability to compose himself on the ball," said Alex Ferguson after the match, burnishing the divine mystique. "In the maelstrom of League football that in itself is a miracle."  3. Roy Keane 2001  One should not forget that Roy Keane’s vendetta against Alfie Haaland was provoked by a word not a deed. In September 1997 at Elland Road, Keane injured himself fouling Haaland, then playing for Leeds, severing his own cruciate ligament when his studs caught in the turf and put himself out of the game for 11 months’ of gruelling rehabilitation. In his first autobiography Keane claims that Haaland and his team-mate David Wetherall stood over him and accused him of faking the injury, an act of slander so defamatory to his professional code, so uncharitable, that Keane stoked the embers of his grudge for almost four years. The fact that Haaland may have been responding in the moment after 85 minutes of rancour between the two, that Keane’s fall was in the penalty area at the end of a game Manchester United were losing 1-0, or that he could be excused of savouring the irony that someone who had tried to hurt him had succeeded only in hurting himself did not diminish Keane’s festering resentment. Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien In Keane’s absence, Manchester United eventually blew an 11-point lead in the championship race and Arsenal won the Double but by April 2001 and the Old Trafford derby, Keane was well on course to raise his third successive Premier League title as club captain. It was a drab match - Steve Howey had scored the equaliser with seven minutes to go after Paul Scholes had missed a penalty before Teddy Sheringham converted one - until Keane exploited the proximity of Haaland in the 86th minute to lunge right-foot first, studs up, into the side of the City midfielder’s knee. Haaland had just executed a forceful clearance and had his leg off the turf in his followthrough when Keane hit him with the full weight of his body driven through his lunge, tipping his victim up so that he slammed shoulder-first into the grass. Paul Hayward, who was there for The Telegraph, takes the story up in his live report: Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. In his 2002 autobiography Keane revealed the key message he delivered was two letters shorter than ‘Gotcha’. "I'd waited long enough. I f------ hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c---. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there's some for him as well." While there is no denying that it’s precisely what he meant, he would have had to rattle through it like Michael O’Hehir on amphetamine sulphate to deliver it verbally in the two seconds he spoke before leaving the pitch. Ever since, seemingly depending on the likelihood of legal repercussions for his words, Keane revels in it but see-saws on whether he meant irreparably to harm Haaland, who would play only 48 minutes more in his professional career during various comebacks but retired mainly because of an injury to his left knee. Some Manchester United fans see Keane at this moment as a kind of warrior avenging angel and his critics as a mad dog but the stark beauty of the photograph captures a man chillingly in control achieving, in his eyes, brutal restitution for a violation of his honour. It’s how Keyser Soze must have looked when wiping out one of the Hungarian mafia. 4. Michael Owen 2009 United had all but thrown away the home derby in September 2009 when they conceded three equalisers, the last in the 90th minute when the quicksilver Craig Bellamy made Rio Ferdinand look like a carthorse after the England centre-back played a casual pass straight to Martin Petrov. Carlos Tevez’s transfer to City in July provoked the summer of “the noisy neighbours” and Ferdinand’s posture after being gulled by Bellamy, head in hands behind the shaky Ben Foster and muttering expletives, betrayed his concern about letting his team-mates down and the wrath from a volcanic Sir Alex Ferguson that was about to engulf him. But he was about to be saved by the free transfer signing Ferguson had brought in to replace Tevez, the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner, Michael Owen, whose giddy progress had been hobbled at Newcastle United by a cruciate-ligament injury and recurring hamstring, thigh and groin problems. Owen was a serious, dedicated professional yet Newcastle fans had not taken to him, finding it difficult to embrace someone who was frequently absent from the field and refused to live among them. It is fair to say that United fans were barely exhilarated by his signing either. They had completed a hat-trick of titles the previous May but had been forced to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and decided to let Tevez go in the summer without reinvesting a credible portion of the profits. Credit: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images But cometh the hour or, as City fans would put it, ‘cometh the sixth minute of Fergie time’, cometh the substitute Owen to sidle behind Micah Richards. It took a cute pass from Ryan Giggs to find him and even after so many injuries Owen plus space plus a gap between him and the goalkeeper was an equation with only one likely outcome. Shay Given spread himself as best he could without reward. Owen took a touch then dinked the ball into the far corner with an expert flick of the toes. The special thing about the photograph is how it destroys the perception of Owen as the dull master of his emotions and by that stage of his career as someone who cared more about thoroughbreds than goals. “Just look at his face”, as Barry Davies once instructed the audience when Frannie Lee scored against City after leaving Maine Road to win the title with Derby, and his delight is palpable. For City there was a sense of being mugged again in the familiar fishy circumstances by Ferguson, the Time Lord, yet the picture of Owen resonates more than the ones of desolate and angry players in blue. It conveys his elation but also his optimism, like someone who has emerged from a long nightmare. 5. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes 2010 Once you know that 1950’s ‘Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville’ by Robert Doisneau was staged, it removes some of the sheen from the quintessential Parisian portrait of uninhibited young love. One trusts, for Paul Scholes’ sake, that the photograph taken during the April 2010 Etihad derby, was a more spontaneous ‘Kiss’ that required no laborious and possibly unsavoury rehearsal. United were second, trailing Chelsea by four points with four matches to go and City fifth, two points behind Spurs in the last Champions League qualifying plce, as they embarked on their game in hand at Eastlands. Sadly the game was nothing like the firecracker at Old Trafford earlier in the season and was littered with anxiety-ridden wayward passes, midfield stagnation, shouts for penalties from both sides and all too rare opportunities that were squandered. Once again the clock had passed 90 minutes when Gabriel Obertan slipped past Patrick Vieira, rolled the ball down the left for Patrice Evra to cross and Scholes met it before the penalty spot and cushioned an unstoppable header inside the far post. Like Owen across the city seven months earlier, Scholes ran behind the goal but by contrast threw himself into the arms of United fans. Credit: AP Photo/Tim Hales When he extricated himself from the melee he was approached by his captain and friend, Gary Neville, who held him tenderly by the cheeks, puckered up and kissed him on the lips, at that moment finding him irresistible like a young Mel Smith with Griff Rhys Jones. “A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City,” said Scholes. “Gary’s emotional and it was an important goal. Gary’s kissed a few in his time. David [Beckham] was probably his favourite but that’s the way Gary is.” John O’Shea had a more arresting interpretation, one that perhaps explains the nakedly theatrical exaggeration of the gesture with the placement of his hands. “I don’t think it was for Scholesy’s benefit,” he said. “I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier.” United won their last three games and so did Chelsea which left them runners-up by a point while this loss followed by the home defeat by Tottenham kept City out of the Champions League for one last year. For Neville it would be his last derby and one sealed with a loving kiss. 6. Wayne Rooney 2011 After missing out on the league title in 2010 despite a hat-trick that preceded it, Sir Alex Ferguson announced the following October that Wayne Rooney had asked for a transfer because he felt that the club’s investment in new players was inadequate and he wanted to play for a club that matched his ambitions. It did not take long for Ferguson to knock him back nor for whispers to emerge that he was trying to engineer a move to City. “I met with David Gill [United chief executive] last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney confirmed when outed by Ferguson. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.” Because he was articulating some of the suspicions of United supporters that the demands of the Glazer family’s leveraged buy-out of the club had restricted its scope in the market, Rooney was not as vituperatively condemned as an everyday ‘wantaway’ player. Nonetheless he did alienate many United fans among them a balaclava-clad posse who protested outside his home in Prestbury with a banner that read, “If you join City you are dead”. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super One suspects Fergsuon’s dead body would have had to be surmounted for any deal to go through and the manager played hardball in public while the Glazers eventually enticed him to stay with a staggering new offer. It took Rooney more than a year publicly to express his regrets and claim that he would never have joined City. Ferguson welcomed him back into the fold much sooner and United’s title campaign gathered momentum through the winter though Rooney scored only three goals in 11 Premier League matches after signing his new contract. United took the lead in February’s Old Trafford derby through Nani before David Silva equalised jammily when hit on the back by Edin Dzeko’s shot 20 minutes into the second-half. Rooney, toiling alone up front, could not get into the game yet continued to run the channels hard to try to elude the irritatingly adhesive Vincent Kompany. In the 78th minute Nani floated a cross into the box that was behind Rooney. He had stationed himself by the penalty spot with the intention of sowing doubt about which post he would attack but the trajectory of the centre forced an adjustment. He swivelled and jumped horizontally, back to the floor, head down and thumped a bicycle-kick volley past Hart whose mouth flapped agape in surprise. It was a classic wonder goal, one that made you appreciate the extraordinary agility, anticipation and execution of a world-class player. He is commonly derided now after five years of slow decline from his 2011-12 peak but back then Rooney’s outstanding talent was in full bloom. Which is why Ferguson fought so hard to keep him, why United’s fans embraced him again and forgave his rebellion. And half a dozen of the other ... Manchester City images 1. Matt Busby and Joe Mercer 1939 This photograph, taken shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, shows three sergeants of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Joe Mercer on the left, Matt Busby in the middle and Charlton Athletic and England’s Don Welsh. Mercer, then of Everton and England, went on to manager City for six thrilling seasons from 1965 while Busby, then of Liverpool and Scotland, had played for City from the age of 18 in 1928 for eight seasons, winning the FA Cup in sky blue in 1934. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images What’s terrific about this picture is that it shows a fine City player and a great City manager, one with his City days behind him, the other with them many years ahead in the future. At the time of the photograph they were cross-city rivals as players and 26 years on would become cross-city rivals as managers but as is plain to see by the smiles, they never let partisan hostility infect their outlook. Their sense of duty and gentlemanly warmth is the foundation of what is best about both clubs and City were blessed to be served and influenced by the two of them.   2. Two Georges 1968 On the morning of the midweek Old Trafford derby on March 27 1968, United were second behind Leeds in the table on goal average and City two points back in third. United took the lead in the first minute through George Best but City gradually built momentum to dominate the match, equalising with a Colin Bell goal on 16 minutes. Bell was mesmerising that day, thrashing the ball past Stepney then giving United’s midfield the runaround. John Hollins of Chelsea says that Bell’s stamina made him seem as if he had an extra lung and he used his physical dynamism and acute positional sense to cause havoc. Francis Burns fouled him to concede the free-kick from which George Heslop headed City ahead and the raw United full-back hit him with another dreadful tackle late on when Bell was rounding the keeper and sure to roll in the third. That honour was left to Francis Lee from the penalty spot while Bell was being stretchered down the touchline and City wrapped up a convincing and deserved victory to put them level with United and Leeds on 45 points.   Credit: Derek Preston/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images For Malcolm Allison, Mercer’s assistant and the Puckish strategist behind City’s rise, everything panned out as he had envisioned it. Before the game he had told the City players to walk to the Stretford End to applaud the United fans, knowing it would needle them and sharpen the atmosphere. Best, brilliant, sometimes unstoppable, scored though it did not puncture City’s confidence and here in this photograph we see George Heslop, City’s centre-half, time a sliding tackle to perfection and rob Best in full flight. Heslop, his blond combover a match for Bobby Charlton’s, was the pivot in City’s defensive system who allowed Tommy Booth and Mike Doyle the positional flexibility to support and switch with Tony Coleman, Bell and Mike Summerbee. Here, momentarily left exposed, and confronted by the greatest player in Europe in his mercurial, high summer peak, Heslop uses his experience and skill to stymie all that talent. It’s one of the standout action shots of the Sixties, the expanse of vacant green grass around them is where Best thrived but Heslop, his gigantic thighs a contrast to the sleek, supple Best’s, fairly and elegantly bars his way. “Years of humiliation had been, if not wiped away, at least eased,” Allison later wrote. “It was one of the great nights of my life.” Greater still were to come. Although they lost at Leicester the following week, City won five of their next seven games before victory at St James’ Park on the final day earned them their first title for 31 years by two points from United.  “I think we will be the first team to play on Mars,” Allison said on the morning after winning the title following only an hour’s sleep. "We have had more courage than the majority of teams in the League. The courage to play this game.” Mars would prove to be a stretch too far, but who needs Mars when you’ve been taken to heaven?   3. Denis Law 1974 Maxwell Scott’s advice from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has proved seductive over the years for those writing about Denis Law’s backheel in the 83rd minute of the derby at Old Trafford in April 1974. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Scott, appropriately enough a newspaper editor. And so the myth that Law, a year after leaving United to return to City on a free transfer, sent United down took flight. In truth, though, Birmingham City in 19th held their fate in their own hands. Victory for them over Norwich, who had already been relegated, and United were down come what may. United fans knew what was happening at St Andrew’s and invaded the pitch at Old Trafford both before and after the news that Bob Hatton had put Birmingham ahead. The third and final invasion came four minutes from the end, three minutes after Law had put City in front with a larcenous, impulsive backheel. Sir Matt Busby addressed the crowd over the Tannoy in an attempt to persuade them to retreat “for the sake of the club” to no avail and the match was abandoned as a City victory. Birmingham’s 2-1 win rendered the last four minutes inconsequential. Credit: PA Before all that, though, Law had gone off, looking utterly disconsolate, even though City fans then and during the drawn-out melee were eagerly attempting to corral him into their celebrations. Look at his face and you see a perfect definition of “crestfallen”, a bigamist unmasked and tormented by the consequences. Law’s 37th and final goal for City (to add to his 237 for United) may not have relegated the neighbours at all but the legend endures because the twist of the player’s identity and allegiance enhance the element of City supporters’ schadenfreude to an exquisite pinnacle. “In that moment you saw the two sides of his character,” the City winger Dennis Tueart told the Daily Mail in 2012. “You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then - when he realised what he had done - you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.” 4. Ian Bishop and Paul Lake 1989 The 6-1 thrashing of the champions at Old Trafford in 2011 takes some beating but for City fans of a certain age the 5-1 victory at Maine Road in September 1989 will always be an imperishable memory. Because of City’s relegation, derbies in the Eighties were rare and City had not won one since February 1981 when Alex Ferguson took his beleaguered, expensive United team to Moss Side. It was the season of Michael Knighton in replica kit juggling the ball on the Old Trafford pitch to advertise his impending takeover before the opening match - a slick 4-1 victory over the champions Arsenal. The bloom of a summer spree - Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince snapped up for a staggering outlay of £6.25m - wilted as quickly as Knighton’s credibility when United were beaten by Derby, Norwich and Everton in successive matches. Beating Millwall 5-1 before the trip across town was trumpeted as the end of the teething troubles but they left Maine Road looking toothless and covered in bite marks. Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images City were a vibrant, young team, newly promoted and built around a core of five special homegrown players - Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White and Ian Brightwell - who seemed to personify the city’s youth culture that was in the midst of a glorious, hedonistic ascendancy. Just after kick-off a fight on the terraces escalated into a mass brawl that spread so quickly that some supporters understandably climbed over the perimeter fences to avoid a braying or an even worse fate. The referee suspended the game for eight minutes and on resumption City tore into United, scoring twice in the 12th minute after a mistake by Pallister, Britain’s most expensive defender, let in David Oldfield and another lax response to a developing crisis left Jim Leighton exposed after an impressive double save - and Trevor Morley rammed the ball past him. In the 36th minute Oldfield skinned Pallister and crossed for Ian Bishop to score with a diving header. He is the subject of our image, caught in the arms of Paul Lake as they celebrate City’s third. The photographer freezes them in a moment of ecstatic revelry with just a hint of charming disbelief in Lake’s eyes, fixed on the lens. It’s a great shot of City’s blend of youth - Lake - and the more experienced Bishop, a cut-price playmaker with cheek, vision and an inventive pass, the kind of player that always steals supporters’ hearts. Mark Hughes grabbed one back with a wonderful scissors kick that would be better known but for the result before Lake ripped United apart down the right to set up Oldfield’s fourth and Hinchcliffe made it five on the end of a slippery, sweeping move. Chants of “Ferguson out” from Reds were answered in raucous glee by the Blues with “Fergie must stay”. He did stay, of course, and recovered from a defeat he called “the most embarrassing of my career” while the terminally myopic Peter Swales, City's chairman, sacked Mel Machin in November and appointed Howard Kendall. Nothing wrong with that, City were bottom after all, but allowing him to dismantle such a promising squad, fill it full of Evertonians and sell many of the heroes of that day makes the 5-1 somewhat bittersweet. 5. Shaun Goater and Gary Neville 2002 A companion to No5 in the United section, this photograph shows Gary Neville at his greatest moment of derby despair. The elder Neville brother saw himself as more than a symbol for United fans, more the embodiment of their deepest desires and prejudices so there was no stopping City fans basking in his moment of nemesis in the last match at Maine Road. Credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images The score was 1-1 when Eyal Berkovic swept a pass from right to the left of the United penalty area over Neville’s head. He turned, with Shaun Goater in pursuit, and first tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick but changed tack when he realised it lacked the momentum. He hesitated for a moment and then attempted to pass it back to Fabien Barthez instead. Whether he didn’t see Goater between him and the keeper until it was too late or whether he had the chutzpah to think he could nutmeg the City forward is not known. Either way he fed the Goat who indeed scored, having careered in from the touchline and arrowed the ball around Barthez to score his 99th City goal. Credit:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images For the rest of the match the England right-back  was serenaded by “Gary Neville is a blue, is a blue, is a blue” and it followed him around for a fair few months. Goater went on to bring up his century in the second-half with a wonderful chip over Barthez and ended Maine Road’s days as a derby venue in appropriately carnival mood.   6. Mario Balotelli 2011 The first derby of the 2011-12 season took place on Sunday, October 23, 13 days before Guy Fawkes’ Night, not that anyone needs an excuse for a fireworks party any more: over the past 15 years the UK has turned positively Cantonese in its embrace of pyrotechnics. On the Friday before the match, Mario Balotelli and four friends were together at his new house in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire when one or more of them - the number is still in dispute - decided to treat the neighbours to an early morning chorus of explosions and illuminate the sky over their houses with fireworks. Perhaps it was cold outside or maybe just tired but someone decreed that the launch pad should be Balotelli’s bathroom. Someone got their calculations wrong as well as their aim and set fire first to some towels and then the house. One of them raised the alarm, neighbouring properties were evacuated and the fire service eventually extinguished the blaze. Balotelli checked into a city centre hotel, arrived on time for training the next morning and went into conclave with the kit man before returning to his hotel. Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images The story hit the newspapers on the morning of the match though Roberto Mancini still named Balotelli, who had scored in the three preceding games, in his starting XI. He rewarded his manager with an excellent performance, scoring twice, the first a deftly-placed side-foot shot from 16 yards. As soon as the ball went past David De Gea, Balotelli lifted his shirt over his head to reveal ‘Why always me?’ written on his vest. It earned him a booking and it might well have been worse if Les Chapman, City’s kit man, hadn’t dissuaded him from his other two ideas for slogans, both of them provocations to United fans. In addition to his two goals in the 6-1 victory, he elicited a foul from Jonny Evans that had the United defender sent off and he provides us with an image of engaging, prodigal insouciance. “That day it was as if Mario was great, an adult amongst children,” said Roberto Mancini. “I would have loved to have always seen him like he was at that derby.” Routine was never for Mario. He would not be half as frustrating without his uncommon skill nor half as endearing without his unaffected nonchalance.

Six of One - Iconic Manchester derby pictures ... and the stories behind them

Welcome to Six of One, our series in which we pick six of the best examples of a theme and contrast them with half a dozen others. This episode's theme is inspired by the Manchester derby and its rich history. Instead of the usual format of taking six outstanding things and balancing them with six execrable ones, here we have opted for six great photographs centred on United and six on City and try to tell the stories behind them.  As in the past it is obviously very much a subjective evaluation so please feel free to nominate your own favourites in either category in the comments section or tell your own stand-out derby stories.  Manchester United photographs 1. Alex Dawson 1960-61 Manchester United endured a torrid start to the 1960-61 season, losing 10 of their first 18 matches including defeats by Everton, Arsenal, Cardiff City and Aston Villa. It is often forgotten that they finished second in 1958-59, the season after the Munich Disaster, and seventh in 1959-60 but by mid-November 1960 they were 17th and looking in desperate need of fresh blood. That month Matt Busby bought the stylish Noel Cantwell from West Ham for £29,500, a record fee for a full-back, and the charming, erudite Irishman would go on to captain United and become a profound influence in the club's renaissance over the next eight years. His immediate impact was none too shabby and United swept through December, defeating Preston, drawing 4-4 with Fulham and beating Blackburn. The Christmas double header against Chelsea was overcome with a 2-0 away victory on Christmas Eve followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on Boxing Day in which Alex Dawson scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Nicholson two goals and Bobby Charlton one. By the time of the home derby on New Year's Eve 1960, United were in far ruder health and had climbed to 11th while City, eighth six weeks earlier, were on a dreadful run of six defeats in seven games. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images That's Dawson in the dark shirt in the picture, framed against the Stretford sky, arching his body to flick the ball on and captured by the photographer dead in the middle of the floodlight pylon on the left corner of the Scoreboard End. Romantics can imagine the smoke from a passing steam train adding to the hazy ambience but the season and hour are likely to be more responsible for the oystery murk. Dawson scored his second hat-trick in successive matches in this game and Charlton, from the left-wing, hit two more past Bert Trautmann. Only Colin Barlow could reply for Manchester City and any Blues would be excused by the 5-1 defeat for telling first-footers' calling on them later that night to stuff their lump of coal where the sun doesn't shine. Dawson was a broad bullock of a centre-forward who had unforgettably scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham in 1958 during United's emotional charge to Wembley. He scored 45 league goals in 80 appearances and suffered City fans adopting the Camptown Races melody to assail him thus: "Who's that fella with the big fat a---? Dawson, Dawson." He had many qualities but not the exhilarating flair that Busby coveted so highly and he was sold to Preston in 1961 where he became known as 'The Black Prince of Deepdale' and bagged more than a hundred goals over six seasons of frisky service. Deliciously, to the right of the photograph in the City No10 shirt and adjusting his body perhaps to launch himself acrobatically at the ball, is Denis Law, a forward with all the class and spirit Busby desired. It would take the United manager another 20 months to get his man.   2. Eric Cantona 1994 On March 19 1994 Manchester United, the champions and league leaders went to the County Ground to play their only top-flight match against Swindon Town who were 47 points below them and not so much at the foot of the Premiership but at the bottom of its Mariana Trench. But Swindon, by virtue of two equalisers, held on for a point and United were left with 10 men when Eric Cantona was sent off for stamping on John Moncur's solar plexus. A little over 72 hours later on March 22, United were again pegged back after twice taking the lead at Arsenal and Cantona was sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Ian Selley, the second two minutes later for wild swipes at Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams. For his sins Cantona was given a five-match suspension and defeats by second-placed Blackburn and Wimbledon in his absence left United still leading Rovers at the top of the table but solely on goal difference though they had played one match fewer. Cantona returned for their 38th game of the 42-match season, the Manchester derby on St George's Day and may have read, on the morning of the match, a warning from City's full-back Terry Phelan, who pledged that his team-mates would "wind Eric up left, right and centre" and rotate the opportunity to "take a bite out of him" because he "doesn't like it when you get him at it" which must rank as one of the worst psychological assessments in recent memory.  Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT/Getty Images In the end Phelan did not make the starting XI and City's attempts to rile the Player of the Year were faced, at least initially, by the rarely seen "other cheek" of United's No7. In the five minutes before half-time he scored twice, tapping in an Andrei Kanchelskis centre from a yard and then sweeping a right-foot shot under Andy Dibble when the keeper thought he was going to be chipped. Kanchelskis had a peculiar way of using his arms when running that suggested forgetting to extract the coathanger before putting his shirt on but was devastatingly direct and quick and he stands in the background, about to be embraced by Lee Sharpe, one winger acutely aware that the other deserves most praise for the opening goal. Yet it's the central figure of Cantona that dominates and by contrast to the near identical pose of Michel Vonk, appealing vainly for offside, he smiles with something of the radiant pleasure he could still demonstrate. For the remaining three seasons of his career, more so after Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona sometimes seemed to be wedded to an image of himself wearing a crown of thorns and often posed messianically after scoring, not so much in 'redemption' mode as with a confrontational attitude of there-will-be-a-reckoning-for those-who doubted-me.   Here, though, there is joy still unconfined, an elation that burgeoned over the next three weeks after United's 2-0 victory. In their five remaining games they wrapped up the Premier League title by eight points and defeated Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their debut Double.  "No matter what the tempo is Eric's got the ability to compose himself on the ball," said Alex Ferguson after the match, burnishing the divine mystique. "In the maelstrom of League football that in itself is a miracle."  3. Roy Keane 2001  One should not forget that Roy Keane’s vendetta against Alfie Haaland was provoked by a word not a deed. In September 1997 at Elland Road, Keane injured himself fouling Haaland, then playing for Leeds, severing his own cruciate ligament when his studs caught in the turf and put himself out of the game for 11 months’ of gruelling rehabilitation. In his first autobiography Keane claims that Haaland and his team-mate David Wetherall stood over him and accused him of faking the injury, an act of slander so defamatory to his professional code, so uncharitable, that Keane stoked the embers of his grudge for almost four years. The fact that Haaland may have been responding in the moment after 85 minutes of rancour between the two, that Keane’s fall was in the penalty area at the end of a game Manchester United were losing 1-0, or that he could be excused of savouring the irony that someone who had tried to hurt him had succeeded only in hurting himself did not diminish Keane’s festering resentment. Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien In Keane’s absence, Manchester United eventually blew an 11-point lead in the championship race and Arsenal won the Double but by April 2001 and the Old Trafford derby, Keane was well on course to raise his third successive Premier League title as club captain. It was a drab match - Steve Howey had scored the equaliser with seven minutes to go after Paul Scholes had missed a penalty before Teddy Sheringham converted one - until Keane exploited the proximity of Haaland in the 86th minute to lunge right-foot first, studs up, into the side of the City midfielder’s knee. Haaland had just executed a forceful clearance and had his leg off the turf in his followthrough when Keane hit him with the full weight of his body driven through his lunge, tipping his victim up so that he slammed shoulder-first into the grass. Paul Hayward, who was there for The Telegraph, takes the story up in his live report: Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. In his 2002 autobiography Keane revealed the key message he delivered was two letters shorter than ‘Gotcha’. "I'd waited long enough. I f------ hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c---. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there's some for him as well." While there is no denying that it’s precisely what he meant, he would have had to rattle through it like Michael O’Hehir on amphetamine sulphate to deliver it verbally in the two seconds he spoke before leaving the pitch. Ever since, seemingly depending on the likelihood of legal repercussions for his words, Keane revels in it but see-saws on whether he meant irreparably to harm Haaland, who would play only 48 minutes more in his professional career during various comebacks but retired mainly because of an injury to his left knee. Some Manchester United fans see Keane at this moment as a kind of warrior avenging angel and his critics as a mad dog but the stark beauty of the photograph captures a man chillingly in control achieving, in his eyes, brutal restitution for a violation of his honour. It’s how Keyser Soze must have looked when wiping out one of the Hungarian mafia. 4. Michael Owen 2009 United had all but thrown away the home derby in September 2009 when they conceded three equalisers, the last in the 90th minute when the quicksilver Craig Bellamy made Rio Ferdinand look like a carthorse after the England centre-back played a casual pass straight to Martin Petrov. Carlos Tevez’s transfer to City in July provoked the summer of “the noisy neighbours” and Ferdinand’s posture after being gulled by Bellamy, head in hands behind the shaky Ben Foster and muttering expletives, betrayed his concern about letting his team-mates down and the wrath from a volcanic Sir Alex Ferguson that was about to engulf him. But he was about to be saved by the free transfer signing Ferguson had brought in to replace Tevez, the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner, Michael Owen, whose giddy progress had been hobbled at Newcastle United by a cruciate-ligament injury and recurring hamstring, thigh and groin problems. Owen was a serious, dedicated professional yet Newcastle fans had not taken to him, finding it difficult to embrace someone who was frequently absent from the field and refused to live among them. It is fair to say that United fans were barely exhilarated by his signing either. They had completed a hat-trick of titles the previous May but had been forced to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and decided to let Tevez go in the summer without reinvesting a credible portion of the profits. Credit: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images But cometh the hour or, as City fans would put it, ‘cometh the sixth minute of Fergie time’, cometh the substitute Owen to sidle behind Micah Richards. It took a cute pass from Ryan Giggs to find him and even after so many injuries Owen plus space plus a gap between him and the goalkeeper was an equation with only one likely outcome. Shay Given spread himself as best he could without reward. Owen took a touch then dinked the ball into the far corner with an expert flick of the toes. The special thing about the photograph is how it destroys the perception of Owen as the dull master of his emotions and by that stage of his career as someone who cared more about thoroughbreds than goals. “Just look at his face”, as Barry Davies once instructed the audience when Frannie Lee scored against City after leaving Maine Road to win the title with Derby, and his delight is palpable. For City there was a sense of being mugged again in the familiar fishy circumstances by Ferguson, the Time Lord, yet the picture of Owen resonates more than the ones of desolate and angry players in blue. It conveys his elation but also his optimism, like someone who has emerged from a long nightmare. 5. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes 2010 Once you know that 1950’s ‘Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville’ by Robert Doisneau was staged, it removes some of the sheen from the quintessential Parisian portrait of uninhibited young love. One trusts, for Paul Scholes’ sake, that the photograph taken during the April 2010 Etihad derby, was a more spontaneous ‘Kiss’ that required no laborious and possibly unsavoury rehearsal. United were second, trailing Chelsea by four points with four matches to go and City fifth, two points behind Spurs in the last Champions League qualifying plce, as they embarked on their game in hand at Eastlands. Sadly the game was nothing like the firecracker at Old Trafford earlier in the season and was littered with anxiety-ridden wayward passes, midfield stagnation, shouts for penalties from both sides and all too rare opportunities that were squandered. Once again the clock had passed 90 minutes when Gabriel Obertan slipped past Patrick Vieira, rolled the ball down the left for Patrice Evra to cross and Scholes met it before the penalty spot and cushioned an unstoppable header inside the far post. Like Owen across the city seven months earlier, Scholes ran behind the goal but by contrast threw himself into the arms of United fans. Credit: AP Photo/Tim Hales When he extricated himself from the melee he was approached by his captain and friend, Gary Neville, who held him tenderly by the cheeks, puckered up and kissed him on the lips, at that moment finding him irresistible like a young Mel Smith with Griff Rhys Jones. “A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City,” said Scholes. “Gary’s emotional and it was an important goal. Gary’s kissed a few in his time. David [Beckham] was probably his favourite but that’s the way Gary is.” John O’Shea had a more arresting interpretation, one that perhaps explains the nakedly theatrical exaggeration of the gesture with the placement of his hands. “I don’t think it was for Scholesy’s benefit,” he said. “I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier.” United won their last three games and so did Chelsea which left them runners-up by a point while this loss followed by the home defeat by Tottenham kept City out of the Champions League for one last year. For Neville it would be his last derby and one sealed with a loving kiss. 6. Wayne Rooney 2011 After missing out on the league title in 2010 despite a hat-trick that preceded it, Sir Alex Ferguson announced the following October that Wayne Rooney had asked for a transfer because he felt that the club’s investment in new players was inadequate and he wanted to play for a club that matched his ambitions. It did not take long for Ferguson to knock him back nor for whispers to emerge that he was trying to engineer a move to City. “I met with David Gill [United chief executive] last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney confirmed when outed by Ferguson. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.” Because he was articulating some of the suspicions of United supporters that the demands of the Glazer family’s leveraged buy-out of the club had restricted its scope in the market, Rooney was not as vituperatively condemned as an everyday ‘wantaway’ player. Nonetheless he did alienate many United fans among them a balaclava-clad posse who protested outside his home in Prestbury with a banner that read, “If you join City you are dead”. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super One suspects Fergsuon’s dead body would have had to be surmounted for any deal to go through and the manager played hardball in public while the Glazers eventually enticed him to stay with a staggering new offer. It took Rooney more than a year publicly to express his regrets and claim that he would never have joined City. Ferguson welcomed him back into the fold much sooner and United’s title campaign gathered momentum through the winter though Rooney scored only three goals in 11 Premier League matches after signing his new contract. United took the lead in February’s Old Trafford derby through Nani before David Silva equalised jammily when hit on the back by Edin Dzeko’s shot 20 minutes into the second-half. Rooney, toiling alone up front, could not get into the game yet continued to run the channels hard to try to elude the irritatingly adhesive Vincent Kompany. In the 78th minute Nani floated a cross into the box that was behind Rooney. He had stationed himself by the penalty spot with the intention of sowing doubt about which post he would attack but the trajectory of the centre forced an adjustment. He swivelled and jumped horizontally, back to the floor, head down and thumped a bicycle-kick volley past Hart whose mouth flapped agape in surprise. It was a classic wonder goal, one that made you appreciate the extraordinary agility, anticipation and execution of a world-class player. He is commonly derided now after five years of slow decline from his 2011-12 peak but back then Rooney’s outstanding talent was in full bloom. Which is why Ferguson fought so hard to keep him, why United’s fans embraced him again and forgave his rebellion. And half a dozen of the other ... Manchester City images 1. Matt Busby and Joe Mercer 1939 This photograph, taken shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, shows three sergeants of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Joe Mercer on the left, Matt Busby in the middle and Charlton Athletic and England’s Don Welsh. Mercer, then of Everton and England, went on to manager City for six thrilling seasons from 1965 while Busby, then of Liverpool and Scotland, had played for City from the age of 18 in 1928 for eight seasons, winning the FA Cup in sky blue in 1934. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images What’s terrific about this picture is that it shows a fine City player and a great City manager, one with his City days behind him, the other with them many years ahead in the future. At the time of the photograph they were cross-city rivals as players and 26 years on would become cross-city rivals as managers but as is plain to see by the smiles, they never let partisan hostility infect their outlook. Their sense of duty and gentlemanly warmth is the foundation of what is best about both clubs and City were blessed to be served and influenced by the two of them.   2. Two Georges 1968 On the morning of the midweek Old Trafford derby on March 27 1968, United were second behind Leeds in the table on goal average and City two points back in third. United took the lead in the first minute through George Best but City gradually built momentum to dominate the match, equalising with a Colin Bell goal on 16 minutes. Bell was mesmerising that day, thrashing the ball past Stepney then giving United’s midfield the runaround. John Hollins of Chelsea says that Bell’s stamina made him seem as if he had an extra lung and he used his physical dynamism and acute positional sense to cause havoc. Francis Burns fouled him to concede the free-kick from which George Heslop headed City ahead and the raw United full-back hit him with another dreadful tackle late on when Bell was rounding the keeper and sure to roll in the third. That honour was left to Francis Lee from the penalty spot while Bell was being stretchered down the touchline and City wrapped up a convincing and deserved victory to put them level with United and Leeds on 45 points.   Credit: Derek Preston/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images For Malcolm Allison, Mercer’s assistant and the Puckish strategist behind City’s rise, everything panned out as he had envisioned it. Before the game he had told the City players to walk to the Stretford End to applaud the United fans, knowing it would needle them and sharpen the atmosphere. Best, brilliant, sometimes unstoppable, scored though it did not puncture City’s confidence and here in this photograph we see George Heslop, City’s centre-half, time a sliding tackle to perfection and rob Best in full flight. Heslop, his blond combover a match for Bobby Charlton’s, was the pivot in City’s defensive system who allowed Tommy Booth and Mike Doyle the positional flexibility to support and switch with Tony Coleman, Bell and Mike Summerbee. Here, momentarily left exposed, and confronted by the greatest player in Europe in his mercurial, high summer peak, Heslop uses his experience and skill to stymie all that talent. It’s one of the standout action shots of the Sixties, the expanse of vacant green grass around them is where Best thrived but Heslop, his gigantic thighs a contrast to the sleek, supple Best’s, fairly and elegantly bars his way. “Years of humiliation had been, if not wiped away, at least eased,” Allison later wrote. “It was one of the great nights of my life.” Greater still were to come. Although they lost at Leicester the following week, City won five of their next seven games before victory at St James’ Park on the final day earned them their first title for 31 years by two points from United.  “I think we will be the first team to play on Mars,” Allison said on the morning after winning the title following only an hour’s sleep. "We have had more courage than the majority of teams in the League. The courage to play this game.” Mars would prove to be a stretch too far, but who needs Mars when you’ve been taken to heaven?   3. Denis Law 1974 Maxwell Scott’s advice from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has proved seductive over the years for those writing about Denis Law’s backheel in the 83rd minute of the derby at Old Trafford in April 1974. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Scott, appropriately enough a newspaper editor. And so the myth that Law, a year after leaving United to return to City on a free transfer, sent United down took flight. In truth, though, Birmingham City in 19th held their fate in their own hands. Victory for them over Norwich, who had already been relegated, and United were down come what may. United fans knew what was happening at St Andrew’s and invaded the pitch at Old Trafford both before and after the news that Bob Hatton had put Birmingham ahead. The third and final invasion came four minutes from the end, three minutes after Law had put City in front with a larcenous, impulsive backheel. Sir Matt Busby addressed the crowd over the Tannoy in an attempt to persuade them to retreat “for the sake of the club” to no avail and the match was abandoned as a City victory. Birmingham’s 2-1 win rendered the last four minutes inconsequential. Credit: PA Before all that, though, Law had gone off, looking utterly disconsolate, even though City fans then and during the drawn-out melee were eagerly attempting to corral him into their celebrations. Look at his face and you see a perfect definition of “crestfallen”, a bigamist unmasked and tormented by the consequences. Law’s 37th and final goal for City (to add to his 237 for United) may not have relegated the neighbours at all but the legend endures because the twist of the player’s identity and allegiance enhance the element of City supporters’ schadenfreude to an exquisite pinnacle. “In that moment you saw the two sides of his character,” the City winger Dennis Tueart told the Daily Mail in 2012. “You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then - when he realised what he had done - you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.” 4. Ian Bishop and Paul Lake 1989 The 6-1 thrashing of the champions at Old Trafford in 2011 takes some beating but for City fans of a certain age the 5-1 victory at Maine Road in September 1989 will always be an imperishable memory. Because of City’s relegation, derbies in the Eighties were rare and City had not won one since February 1981 when Alex Ferguson took his beleaguered, expensive United team to Moss Side. It was the season of Michael Knighton in replica kit juggling the ball on the Old Trafford pitch to advertise his impending takeover before the opening match - a slick 4-1 victory over the champions Arsenal. The bloom of a summer spree - Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince snapped up for a staggering outlay of £6.25m - wilted as quickly as Knighton’s credibility when United were beaten by Derby, Norwich and Everton in successive matches. Beating Millwall 5-1 before the trip across town was trumpeted as the end of the teething troubles but they left Maine Road looking toothless and covered in bite marks. Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images City were a vibrant, young team, newly promoted and built around a core of five special homegrown players - Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White and Ian Brightwell - who seemed to personify the city’s youth culture that was in the midst of a glorious, hedonistic ascendancy. Just after kick-off a fight on the terraces escalated into a mass brawl that spread so quickly that some supporters understandably climbed over the perimeter fences to avoid a braying or an even worse fate. The referee suspended the game for eight minutes and on resumption City tore into United, scoring twice in the 12th minute after a mistake by Pallister, Britain’s most expensive defender, let in David Oldfield and another lax response to a developing crisis left Jim Leighton exposed after an impressive double save - and Trevor Morley rammed the ball past him. In the 36th minute Oldfield skinned Pallister and crossed for Ian Bishop to score with a diving header. He is the subject of our image, caught in the arms of Paul Lake as they celebrate City’s third. The photographer freezes them in a moment of ecstatic revelry with just a hint of charming disbelief in Lake’s eyes, fixed on the lens. It’s a great shot of City’s blend of youth - Lake - and the more experienced Bishop, a cut-price playmaker with cheek, vision and an inventive pass, the kind of player that always steals supporters’ hearts. Mark Hughes grabbed one back with a wonderful scissors kick that would be better known but for the result before Lake ripped United apart down the right to set up Oldfield’s fourth and Hinchcliffe made it five on the end of a slippery, sweeping move. Chants of “Ferguson out” from Reds were answered in raucous glee by the Blues with “Fergie must stay”. He did stay, of course, and recovered from a defeat he called “the most embarrassing of my career” while the terminally myopic Peter Swales, City's chairman, sacked Mel Machin in November and appointed Howard Kendall. Nothing wrong with that, City were bottom after all, but allowing him to dismantle such a promising squad, fill it full of Evertonians and sell many of the heroes of that day makes the 5-1 somewhat bittersweet. 5. Shaun Goater and Gary Neville 2002 A companion to No5 in the United section, this photograph shows Gary Neville at his greatest moment of derby despair. The elder Neville brother saw himself as more than a symbol for United fans, more the embodiment of their deepest desires and prejudices so there was no stopping City fans basking in his moment of nemesis in the last match at Maine Road. Credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images The score was 1-1 when Eyal Berkovic swept a pass from right to the left of the United penalty area over Neville’s head. He turned, with Shaun Goater in pursuit, and first tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick but changed tack when he realised it lacked the momentum. He hesitated for a moment and then attempted to pass it back to Fabien Barthez instead. Whether he didn’t see Goater between him and the keeper until it was too late or whether he had the chutzpah to think he could nutmeg the City forward is not known. Either way he fed the Goat who indeed scored, having careered in from the touchline and arrowed the ball around Barthez to score his 99th City goal. Credit:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images For the rest of the match the England right-back  was serenaded by “Gary Neville is a blue, is a blue, is a blue” and it followed him around for a fair few months. Goater went on to bring up his century in the second-half with a wonderful chip over Barthez and ended Maine Road’s days as a derby venue in appropriately carnival mood.   6. Mario Balotelli 2011 The first derby of the 2011-12 season took place on Sunday, October 23, 13 days before Guy Fawkes’ Night, not that anyone needs an excuse for a fireworks party any more: over the past 15 years the UK has turned positively Cantonese in its embrace of pyrotechnics. On the Friday before the match, Mario Balotelli and four friends were together at his new house in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire when one or more of them - the number is still in dispute - decided to treat the neighbours to an early morning chorus of explosions and illuminate the sky over their houses with fireworks. Perhaps it was cold outside or maybe just tired but someone decreed that the launch pad should be Balotelli’s bathroom. Someone got their calculations wrong as well as their aim and set fire first to some towels and then the house. One of them raised the alarm, neighbouring properties were evacuated and the fire service eventually extinguished the blaze. Balotelli checked into a city centre hotel, arrived on time for training the next morning and went into conclave with the kit man before returning to his hotel. Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images The story hit the newspapers on the morning of the match though Roberto Mancini still named Balotelli, who had scored in the three preceding games, in his starting XI. He rewarded his manager with an excellent performance, scoring twice, the first a deftly-placed side-foot shot from 16 yards. As soon as the ball went past David De Gea, Balotelli lifted his shirt over his head to reveal ‘Why always me?’ written on his vest. It earned him a booking and it might well have been worse if Les Chapman, City’s kit man, hadn’t dissuaded him from his other two ideas for slogans, both of them provocations to United fans. In addition to his two goals in the 6-1 victory, he elicited a foul from Jonny Evans that had the United defender sent off and he provides us with an image of engaging, prodigal insouciance. “That day it was as if Mario was great, an adult amongst children,” said Roberto Mancini. “I would have loved to have always seen him like he was at that derby.” Routine was never for Mario. He would not be half as frustrating without his uncommon skill nor half as endearing without his unaffected nonchalance.

Six of One - Iconic Manchester derby pictures ... and the stories behind them

Welcome to Six of One, our series in which we pick six of the best examples of a theme and contrast them with half a dozen others. This episode's theme is inspired by the Manchester derby and its rich history. Instead of the usual format of taking six outstanding things and balancing them with six execrable ones, here we have opted for six great photographs centred on United and six on City and try to tell the stories behind them.  As in the past it is obviously very much a subjective evaluation so please feel free to nominate your own favourites in either category in the comments section or tell your own stand-out derby stories.  Manchester United photographs 1. Alex Dawson 1960-61 Manchester United endured a torrid start to the 1960-61 season, losing 10 of their first 18 matches including defeats by Everton, Arsenal, Cardiff City and Aston Villa. It is often forgotten that they finished second in 1958-59, the season after the Munich Disaster, and seventh in 1959-60 but by mid-November 1960 they were 17th and looking in desperate need of fresh blood. That month Matt Busby bought the stylish Noel Cantwell from West Ham for £29,500, a record fee for a full-back, and the charming, erudite Irishman would go on to captain United and become a profound influence in the club's renaissance over the next eight years. His immediate impact was none too shabby and United swept through December, defeating Preston, drawing 4-4 with Fulham and beating Blackburn. The Christmas double header against Chelsea was overcome with a 2-0 away victory on Christmas Eve followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on Boxing Day in which Alex Dawson scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Nicholson two goals and Bobby Charlton one. By the time of the home derby on New Year's Eve 1960, United were in far ruder health and had climbed to 11th while City, eighth six weeks earlier, were on a dreadful run of six defeats in seven games. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images That's Dawson in the dark shirt in the picture, framed against the Stretford sky, arching his body to flick the ball on and captured by the photographer dead in the middle of the floodlight pylon on the left corner of the Scoreboard End. Romantics can imagine the smoke from a passing steam train adding to the hazy ambience but the season and hour are likely to be more responsible for the oystery murk. Dawson scored his second hat-trick in successive matches in this game and Charlton, from the left-wing, hit two more past Bert Trautmann. Only Colin Barlow could reply for Manchester City and any Blues would be excused by the 5-1 defeat for telling first-footers' calling on them later that night to stuff their lump of coal where the sun doesn't shine. Dawson was a broad bullock of a centre-forward who had unforgettably scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham in 1958 during United's emotional charge to Wembley. He scored 45 league goals in 80 appearances and suffered City fans adopting the Camptown Races melody to assail him thus: "Who's that fella with the big fat a---? Dawson, Dawson." He had many qualities but not the exhilarating flair that Busby coveted so highly and he was sold to Preston in 1961 where he became known as 'The Black Prince of Deepdale' and bagged more than a hundred goals over six seasons of frisky service. Deliciously, to the right of the photograph in the City No10 shirt and adjusting his body perhaps to launch himself acrobatically at the ball, is Denis Law, a forward with all the class and spirit Busby desired. It would take the United manager another 20 months to get his man.   2. Eric Cantona 1994 On March 19 1994 Manchester United, the champions and league leaders went to the County Ground to play their only top-flight match against Swindon Town who were 47 points below them and not so much at the foot of the Premiership but at the bottom of its Mariana Trench. But Swindon, by virtue of two equalisers, held on for a point and United were left with 10 men when Eric Cantona was sent off for stamping on John Moncur's solar plexus. A little over 72 hours later on March 22, United were again pegged back after twice taking the lead at Arsenal and Cantona was sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Ian Selley, the second two minutes later for wild swipes at Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams. For his sins Cantona was given a five-match suspension and defeats by second-placed Blackburn and Wimbledon in his absence left United still leading Rovers at the top of the table but solely on goal difference though they had played one match fewer. Cantona returned for their 38th game of the 42-match season, the Manchester derby on St George's Day and may have read, on the morning of the match, a warning from City's full-back Terry Phelan, who pledged that his team-mates would "wind Eric up left, right and centre" and rotate the opportunity to "take a bite out of him" because he "doesn't like it when you get him at it" which must rank as one of the worst psychological assessments in recent memory.  Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT/Getty Images In the end Phelan did not make the starting XI and City's attempts to rile the Player of the Year were faced, at least initially, by the rarely seen "other cheek" of United's No7. In the five minutes before half-time he scored twice, tapping in an Andrei Kanchelskis centre from a yard and then sweeping a right-foot shot under Andy Dibble when the keeper thought he was going to be chipped. Kanchelskis had a peculiar way of using his arms when running that suggested forgetting to extract the coathanger before putting his shirt on but was devastatingly direct and quick and he stands in the background, about to be embraced by Lee Sharpe, one winger acutely aware that the other deserves most praise for the opening goal. Yet it's the central figure of Cantona that dominates and by contrast to the near identical pose of Michel Vonk, appealing vainly for offside, he smiles with something of the radiant pleasure he could still demonstrate. For the remaining three seasons of his career, more so after Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona sometimes seemed to be wedded to an image of himself wearing a crown of thorns and often posed messianically after scoring, not so much in 'redemption' mode as with a confrontational attitude of there-will-be-a-reckoning-for those-who doubted-me.   Here, though, there is joy still unconfined, an elation that burgeoned over the next three weeks after United's 2-0 victory. In their five remaining games they wrapped up the Premier League title by eight points and defeated Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their debut Double.  "No matter what the tempo is Eric's got the ability to compose himself on the ball," said Alex Ferguson after the match, burnishing the divine mystique. "In the maelstrom of League football that in itself is a miracle."  3. Roy Keane 2001  One should not forget that Roy Keane’s vendetta against Alfie Haaland was provoked by a word not a deed. In September 1997 at Elland Road, Keane injured himself fouling Haaland, then playing for Leeds, severing his own cruciate ligament when his studs caught in the turf and put himself out of the game for 11 months’ of gruelling rehabilitation. In his first autobiography Keane claims that Haaland and his team-mate David Wetherall stood over him and accused him of faking the injury, an act of slander so defamatory to his professional code, so uncharitable, that Keane stoked the embers of his grudge for almost four years. The fact that Haaland may have been responding in the moment after 85 minutes of rancour between the two, that Keane’s fall was in the penalty area at the end of a game Manchester United were losing 1-0, or that he could be excused of savouring the irony that someone who had tried to hurt him had succeeded only in hurting himself did not diminish Keane’s festering resentment. Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien In Keane’s absence, Manchester United eventually blew an 11-point lead in the championship race and Arsenal won the Double but by April 2001 and the Old Trafford derby, Keane was well on course to raise his third successive Premier League title as club captain. It was a drab match - Steve Howey had scored the equaliser with seven minutes to go after Paul Scholes had missed a penalty before Teddy Sheringham converted one - until Keane exploited the proximity of Haaland in the 86th minute to lunge right-foot first, studs up, into the side of the City midfielder’s knee. Haaland had just executed a forceful clearance and had his leg off the turf in his followthrough when Keane hit him with the full weight of his body driven through his lunge, tipping his victim up so that he slammed shoulder-first into the grass. Paul Hayward, who was there for The Telegraph, takes the story up in his live report: Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. In his 2002 autobiography Keane revealed the key message he delivered was two letters shorter than ‘Gotcha’. "I'd waited long enough. I f------ hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c---. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there's some for him as well." While there is no denying that it’s precisely what he meant, he would have had to rattle through it like Michael O’Hehir on amphetamine sulphate to deliver it verbally in the two seconds he spoke before leaving the pitch. Ever since, seemingly depending on the likelihood of legal repercussions for his words, Keane revels in it but see-saws on whether he meant irreparably to harm Haaland, who would play only 48 minutes more in his professional career during various comebacks but retired mainly because of an injury to his left knee. Some Manchester United fans see Keane at this moment as a kind of warrior avenging angel and his critics as a mad dog but the stark beauty of the photograph captures a man chillingly in control achieving, in his eyes, brutal restitution for a violation of his honour. It’s how Keyser Soze must have looked when wiping out one of the Hungarian mafia. 4. Michael Owen 2009 United had all but thrown away the home derby in September 2009 when they conceded three equalisers, the last in the 90th minute when the quicksilver Craig Bellamy made Rio Ferdinand look like a carthorse after the England centre-back played a casual pass straight to Martin Petrov. Carlos Tevez’s transfer to City in July provoked the summer of “the noisy neighbours” and Ferdinand’s posture after being gulled by Bellamy, head in hands behind the shaky Ben Foster and muttering expletives, betrayed his concern about letting his team-mates down and the wrath from a volcanic Sir Alex Ferguson that was about to engulf him. But he was about to be saved by the free transfer signing Ferguson had brought in to replace Tevez, the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner, Michael Owen, whose giddy progress had been hobbled at Newcastle United by a cruciate-ligament injury and recurring hamstring, thigh and groin problems. Owen was a serious, dedicated professional yet Newcastle fans had not taken to him, finding it difficult to embrace someone who was frequently absent from the field and refused to live among them. It is fair to say that United fans were barely exhilarated by his signing either. They had completed a hat-trick of titles the previous May but had been forced to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and decided to let Tevez go in the summer without reinvesting a credible portion of the profits. Credit: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images But cometh the hour or, as City fans would put it, ‘cometh the sixth minute of Fergie time’, cometh the substitute Owen to sidle behind Micah Richards. It took a cute pass from Ryan Giggs to find him and even after so many injuries Owen plus space plus a gap between him and the goalkeeper was an equation with only one likely outcome. Shay Given spread himself as best he could without reward. Owen took a touch then dinked the ball into the far corner with an expert flick of the toes. The special thing about the photograph is how it destroys the perception of Owen as the dull master of his emotions and by that stage of his career as someone who cared more about thoroughbreds than goals. “Just look at his face”, as Barry Davies once instructed the audience when Frannie Lee scored against City after leaving Maine Road to win the title with Derby, and his delight is palpable. For City there was a sense of being mugged again in the familiar fishy circumstances by Ferguson, the Time Lord, yet the picture of Owen resonates more than the ones of desolate and angry players in blue. It conveys his elation but also his optimism, like someone who has emerged from a long nightmare. 5. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes 2010 Once you know that 1950’s ‘Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville’ by Robert Doisneau was staged, it removes some of the sheen from the quintessential Parisian portrait of uninhibited young love. One trusts, for Paul Scholes’ sake, that the photograph taken during the April 2010 Etihad derby, was a more spontaneous ‘Kiss’ that required no laborious and possibly unsavoury rehearsal. United were second, trailing Chelsea by four points with four matches to go and City fifth, two points behind Spurs in the last Champions League qualifying plce, as they embarked on their game in hand at Eastlands. Sadly the game was nothing like the firecracker at Old Trafford earlier in the season and was littered with anxiety-ridden wayward passes, midfield stagnation, shouts for penalties from both sides and all too rare opportunities that were squandered. Once again the clock had passed 90 minutes when Gabriel Obertan slipped past Patrick Vieira, rolled the ball down the left for Patrice Evra to cross and Scholes met it before the penalty spot and cushioned an unstoppable header inside the far post. Like Owen across the city seven months earlier, Scholes ran behind the goal but by contrast threw himself into the arms of United fans. Credit: AP Photo/Tim Hales When he extricated himself from the melee he was approached by his captain and friend, Gary Neville, who held him tenderly by the cheeks, puckered up and kissed him on the lips, at that moment finding him irresistible like a young Mel Smith with Griff Rhys Jones. “A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City,” said Scholes. “Gary’s emotional and it was an important goal. Gary’s kissed a few in his time. David [Beckham] was probably his favourite but that’s the way Gary is.” John O’Shea had a more arresting interpretation, one that perhaps explains the nakedly theatrical exaggeration of the gesture with the placement of his hands. “I don’t think it was for Scholesy’s benefit,” he said. “I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier.” United won their last three games and so did Chelsea which left them runners-up by a point while this loss followed by the home defeat by Tottenham kept City out of the Champions League for one last year. For Neville it would be his last derby and one sealed with a loving kiss. 6. Wayne Rooney 2011 After missing out on the league title in 2010 despite a hat-trick that preceded it, Sir Alex Ferguson announced the following October that Wayne Rooney had asked for a transfer because he felt that the club’s investment in new players was inadequate and he wanted to play for a club that matched his ambitions. It did not take long for Ferguson to knock him back nor for whispers to emerge that he was trying to engineer a move to City. “I met with David Gill [United chief executive] last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney confirmed when outed by Ferguson. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.” Because he was articulating some of the suspicions of United supporters that the demands of the Glazer family’s leveraged buy-out of the club had restricted its scope in the market, Rooney was not as vituperatively condemned as an everyday ‘wantaway’ player. Nonetheless he did alienate many United fans among them a balaclava-clad posse who protested outside his home in Prestbury with a banner that read, “If you join City you are dead”. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super One suspects Fergsuon’s dead body would have had to be surmounted for any deal to go through and the manager played hardball in public while the Glazers eventually enticed him to stay with a staggering new offer. It took Rooney more than a year publicly to express his regrets and claim that he would never have joined City. Ferguson welcomed him back into the fold much sooner and United’s title campaign gathered momentum through the winter though Rooney scored only three goals in 11 Premier League matches after signing his new contract. United took the lead in February’s Old Trafford derby through Nani before David Silva equalised jammily when hit on the back by Edin Dzeko’s shot 20 minutes into the second-half. Rooney, toiling alone up front, could not get into the game yet continued to run the channels hard to try to elude the irritatingly adhesive Vincent Kompany. In the 78th minute Nani floated a cross into the box that was behind Rooney. He had stationed himself by the penalty spot with the intention of sowing doubt about which post he would attack but the trajectory of the centre forced an adjustment. He swivelled and jumped horizontally, back to the floor, head down and thumped a bicycle-kick volley past Hart whose mouth flapped agape in surprise. It was a classic wonder goal, one that made you appreciate the extraordinary agility, anticipation and execution of a world-class player. He is commonly derided now after five years of slow decline from his 2011-12 peak but back then Rooney’s outstanding talent was in full bloom. Which is why Ferguson fought so hard to keep him, why United’s fans embraced him again and forgave his rebellion. And half a dozen of the other ... Manchester City images 1. Matt Busby and Joe Mercer 1939 This photograph, taken shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, shows three sergeants of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Joe Mercer on the left, Matt Busby in the middle and Charlton Athletic and England’s Don Welsh. Mercer, then of Everton and England, went on to manager City for six thrilling seasons from 1965 while Busby, then of Liverpool and Scotland, had played for City from the age of 18 in 1928 for eight seasons, winning the FA Cup in sky blue in 1934. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images What’s terrific about this picture is that it shows a fine City player and a great City manager, one with his City days behind him, the other with them many years ahead in the future. At the time of the photograph they were cross-city rivals as players and 26 years on would become cross-city rivals as managers but as is plain to see by the smiles, they never let partisan hostility infect their outlook. Their sense of duty and gentlemanly warmth is the foundation of what is best about both clubs and City were blessed to be served and influenced by the two of them.   2. Two Georges 1968 On the morning of the midweek Old Trafford derby on March 27 1968, United were second behind Leeds in the table on goal average and City two points back in third. United took the lead in the first minute through George Best but City gradually built momentum to dominate the match, equalising with a Colin Bell goal on 16 minutes. Bell was mesmerising that day, thrashing the ball past Stepney then giving United’s midfield the runaround. John Hollins of Chelsea says that Bell’s stamina made him seem as if he had an extra lung and he used his physical dynamism and acute positional sense to cause havoc. Francis Burns fouled him to concede the free-kick from which George Heslop headed City ahead and the raw United full-back hit him with another dreadful tackle late on when Bell was rounding the keeper and sure to roll in the third. That honour was left to Francis Lee from the penalty spot while Bell was being stretchered down the touchline and City wrapped up a convincing and deserved victory to put them level with United and Leeds on 45 points.   Credit: Derek Preston/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images For Malcolm Allison, Mercer’s assistant and the Puckish strategist behind City’s rise, everything panned out as he had envisioned it. Before the game he had told the City players to walk to the Stretford End to applaud the United fans, knowing it would needle them and sharpen the atmosphere. Best, brilliant, sometimes unstoppable, scored though it did not puncture City’s confidence and here in this photograph we see George Heslop, City’s centre-half, time a sliding tackle to perfection and rob Best in full flight. Heslop, his blond combover a match for Bobby Charlton’s, was the pivot in City’s defensive system who allowed Tommy Booth and Mike Doyle the positional flexibility to support and switch with Tony Coleman, Bell and Mike Summerbee. Here, momentarily left exposed, and confronted by the greatest player in Europe in his mercurial, high summer peak, Heslop uses his experience and skill to stymie all that talent. It’s one of the standout action shots of the Sixties, the expanse of vacant green grass around them is where Best thrived but Heslop, his gigantic thighs a contrast to the sleek, supple Best’s, fairly and elegantly bars his way. “Years of humiliation had been, if not wiped away, at least eased,” Allison later wrote. “It was one of the great nights of my life.” Greater still were to come. Although they lost at Leicester the following week, City won five of their next seven games before victory at St James’ Park on the final day earned them their first title for 31 years by two points from United.  “I think we will be the first team to play on Mars,” Allison said on the morning after winning the title following only an hour’s sleep. "We have had more courage than the majority of teams in the League. The courage to play this game.” Mars would prove to be a stretch too far, but who needs Mars when you’ve been taken to heaven?   3. Denis Law 1974 Maxwell Scott’s advice from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has proved seductive over the years for those writing about Denis Law’s backheel in the 83rd minute of the derby at Old Trafford in April 1974. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Scott, appropriately enough a newspaper editor. And so the myth that Law, a year after leaving United to return to City on a free transfer, sent United down took flight. In truth, though, Birmingham City in 19th held their fate in their own hands. Victory for them over Norwich, who had already been relegated, and United were down come what may. United fans knew what was happening at St Andrew’s and invaded the pitch at Old Trafford both before and after the news that Bob Hatton had put Birmingham ahead. The third and final invasion came four minutes from the end, three minutes after Law had put City in front with a larcenous, impulsive backheel. Sir Matt Busby addressed the crowd over the Tannoy in an attempt to persuade them to retreat “for the sake of the club” to no avail and the match was abandoned as a City victory. Birmingham’s 2-1 win rendered the last four minutes inconsequential. Credit: PA Before all that, though, Law had gone off, looking utterly disconsolate, even though City fans then and during the drawn-out melee were eagerly attempting to corral him into their celebrations. Look at his face and you see a perfect definition of “crestfallen”, a bigamist unmasked and tormented by the consequences. Law’s 37th and final goal for City (to add to his 237 for United) may not have relegated the neighbours at all but the legend endures because the twist of the player’s identity and allegiance enhance the element of City supporters’ schadenfreude to an exquisite pinnacle. “In that moment you saw the two sides of his character,” the City winger Dennis Tueart told the Daily Mail in 2012. “You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then - when he realised what he had done - you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.” 4. Ian Bishop and Paul Lake 1989 The 6-1 thrashing of the champions at Old Trafford in 2011 takes some beating but for City fans of a certain age the 5-1 victory at Maine Road in September 1989 will always be an imperishable memory. Because of City’s relegation, derbies in the Eighties were rare and City had not won one since February 1981 when Alex Ferguson took his beleaguered, expensive United team to Moss Side. It was the season of Michael Knighton in replica kit juggling the ball on the Old Trafford pitch to advertise his impending takeover before the opening match - a slick 4-1 victory over the champions Arsenal. The bloom of a summer spree - Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince snapped up for a staggering outlay of £6.25m - wilted as quickly as Knighton’s credibility when United were beaten by Derby, Norwich and Everton in successive matches. Beating Millwall 5-1 before the trip across town was trumpeted as the end of the teething troubles but they left Maine Road looking toothless and covered in bite marks. Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images City were a vibrant, young team, newly promoted and built around a core of five special homegrown players - Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White and Ian Brightwell - who seemed to personify the city’s youth culture that was in the midst of a glorious, hedonistic ascendancy. Just after kick-off a fight on the terraces escalated into a mass brawl that spread so quickly that some supporters understandably climbed over the perimeter fences to avoid a braying or an even worse fate. The referee suspended the game for eight minutes and on resumption City tore into United, scoring twice in the 12th minute after a mistake by Pallister, Britain’s most expensive defender, let in David Oldfield and another lax response to a developing crisis left Jim Leighton exposed after an impressive double save - and Trevor Morley rammed the ball past him. In the 36th minute Oldfield skinned Pallister and crossed for Ian Bishop to score with a diving header. He is the subject of our image, caught in the arms of Paul Lake as they celebrate City’s third. The photographer freezes them in a moment of ecstatic revelry with just a hint of charming disbelief in Lake’s eyes, fixed on the lens. It’s a great shot of City’s blend of youth - Lake - and the more experienced Bishop, a cut-price playmaker with cheek, vision and an inventive pass, the kind of player that always steals supporters’ hearts. Mark Hughes grabbed one back with a wonderful scissors kick that would be better known but for the result before Lake ripped United apart down the right to set up Oldfield’s fourth and Hinchcliffe made it five on the end of a slippery, sweeping move. Chants of “Ferguson out” from Reds were answered in raucous glee by the Blues with “Fergie must stay”. He did stay, of course, and recovered from a defeat he called “the most embarrassing of my career” while the terminally myopic Peter Swales, City's chairman, sacked Mel Machin in November and appointed Howard Kendall. Nothing wrong with that, City were bottom after all, but allowing him to dismantle such a promising squad, fill it full of Evertonians and sell many of the heroes of that day makes the 5-1 somewhat bittersweet. 5. Shaun Goater and Gary Neville 2002 A companion to No5 in the United section, this photograph shows Gary Neville at his greatest moment of derby despair. The elder Neville brother saw himself as more than a symbol for United fans, more the embodiment of their deepest desires and prejudices so there was no stopping City fans basking in his moment of nemesis in the last match at Maine Road. Credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images The score was 1-1 when Eyal Berkovic swept a pass from right to the left of the United penalty area over Neville’s head. He turned, with Shaun Goater in pursuit, and first tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick but changed tack when he realised it lacked the momentum. He hesitated for a moment and then attempted to pass it back to Fabien Barthez instead. Whether he didn’t see Goater between him and the keeper until it was too late or whether he had the chutzpah to think he could nutmeg the City forward is not known. Either way he fed the Goat who indeed scored, having careered in from the touchline and arrowed the ball around Barthez to score his 99th City goal. Credit:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images For the rest of the match the England right-back  was serenaded by “Gary Neville is a blue, is a blue, is a blue” and it followed him around for a fair few months. Goater went on to bring up his century in the second-half with a wonderful chip over Barthez and ended Maine Road’s days as a derby venue in appropriately carnival mood.   6. Mario Balotelli 2011 The first derby of the 2011-12 season took place on Sunday, October 23, 13 days before Guy Fawkes’ Night, not that anyone needs an excuse for a fireworks party any more: over the past 15 years the UK has turned positively Cantonese in its embrace of pyrotechnics. On the Friday before the match, Mario Balotelli and four friends were together at his new house in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire when one or more of them - the number is still in dispute - decided to treat the neighbours to an early morning chorus of explosions and illuminate the sky over their houses with fireworks. Perhaps it was cold outside or maybe just tired but someone decreed that the launch pad should be Balotelli’s bathroom. Someone got their calculations wrong as well as their aim and set fire first to some towels and then the house. One of them raised the alarm, neighbouring properties were evacuated and the fire service eventually extinguished the blaze. Balotelli checked into a city centre hotel, arrived on time for training the next morning and went into conclave with the kit man before returning to his hotel. Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images The story hit the newspapers on the morning of the match though Roberto Mancini still named Balotelli, who had scored in the three preceding games, in his starting XI. He rewarded his manager with an excellent performance, scoring twice, the first a deftly-placed side-foot shot from 16 yards. As soon as the ball went past David De Gea, Balotelli lifted his shirt over his head to reveal ‘Why always me?’ written on his vest. It earned him a booking and it might well have been worse if Les Chapman, City’s kit man, hadn’t dissuaded him from his other two ideas for slogans, both of them provocations to United fans. In addition to his two goals in the 6-1 victory, he elicited a foul from Jonny Evans that had the United defender sent off and he provides us with an image of engaging, prodigal insouciance. “That day it was as if Mario was great, an adult amongst children,” said Roberto Mancini. “I would have loved to have always seen him like he was at that derby.” Routine was never for Mario. He would not be half as frustrating without his uncommon skill nor half as endearing without his unaffected nonchalance.

Six of One - Iconic Manchester derby pictures ... and the stories behind them

Welcome to Six of One, our series in which we pick six of the best examples of a theme and contrast them with half a dozen others. This episode's theme is inspired by the Manchester derby and its rich history. Instead of the usual format of taking six outstanding things and balancing them with six execrable ones, here we have opted for six great photographs centred on United and six on City and try to tell the stories behind them.  As in the past it is obviously very much a subjective evaluation so please feel free to nominate your own favourites in either category in the comments section or tell your own stand-out derby stories.  Manchester United photographs 1. Alex Dawson 1960-61 Manchester United endured a torrid start to the 1960-61 season, losing 10 of their first 18 matches including defeats by Everton, Arsenal, Cardiff City and Aston Villa. It is often forgotten that they finished second in 1958-59, the season after the Munich Disaster, and seventh in 1959-60 but by mid-November 1960 they were 17th and looking in desperate need of fresh blood. That month Matt Busby bought the stylish Noel Cantwell from West Ham for £29,500, a record fee for a full-back, and the charming, erudite Irishman would go on to captain United and become a profound influence in the club's renaissance over the next eight years. His immediate impact was none too shabby and United swept through December, defeating Preston, drawing 4-4 with Fulham and beating Blackburn. The Christmas double header against Chelsea was overcome with a 2-0 away victory on Christmas Eve followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on Boxing Day in which Alex Dawson scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Nicholson two goals and Bobby Charlton one. By the time of the home derby on New Year's Eve 1960, United were in far ruder health and had climbed to 11th while City, eighth six weeks earlier, were on a dreadful run of six defeats in seven games. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images That's Dawson in the dark shirt in the picture, framed against the Stretford sky, arching his body to flick the ball on and captured by the photographer dead in the middle of the floodlight pylon on the left corner of the Scoreboard End. Romantics can imagine the smoke from a passing steam train adding to the hazy ambience but the season and hour are likely to be more responsible for the oystery murk. Dawson scored his second hat-trick in successive matches in this game and Charlton, from the left-wing, hit two more past Bert Trautmann. Only Colin Barlow could reply for Manchester City and any Blues would be excused by the 5-1 defeat for telling first-footers' calling on them later that night to stuff their lump of coal where the sun doesn't shine. Dawson was a broad bullock of a centre-forward who had unforgettably scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham in 1958 during United's emotional charge to Wembley. He scored 45 league goals in 80 appearances and suffered City fans adopting the Camptown Races melody to assail him thus: "Who's that fella with the big fat a---? Dawson, Dawson." He had many qualities but not the exhilarating flair that Busby coveted so highly and he was sold to Preston in 1961 where he became known as 'The Black Prince of Deepdale' and bagged more than a hundred goals over six seasons of frisky service. Deliciously, to the right of the photograph in the City No10 shirt and adjusting his body perhaps to launch himself acrobatically at the ball, is Denis Law, a forward with all the class and spirit Busby desired. It would take the United manager another 20 months to get his man.   2. Eric Cantona 1994 On March 19 1994 Manchester United, the champions and league leaders went to the County Ground to play their only top-flight match against Swindon Town who were 47 points below them and not so much at the foot of the Premiership but at the bottom of its Mariana Trench. But Swindon, by virtue of two equalisers, held on for a point and United were left with 10 men when Eric Cantona was sent off for stamping on John Moncur's solar plexus. A little over 72 hours later on March 22, United were again pegged back after twice taking the lead at Arsenal and Cantona was sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Ian Selley, the second two minutes later for wild swipes at Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams. For his sins Cantona was given a five-match suspension and defeats by second-placed Blackburn and Wimbledon in his absence left United still leading Rovers at the top of the table but solely on goal difference though they had played one match fewer. Cantona returned for their 38th game of the 42-match season, the Manchester derby on St George's Day and may have read, on the morning of the match, a warning from City's full-back Terry Phelan, who pledged that his team-mates would "wind Eric up left, right and centre" and rotate the opportunity to "take a bite out of him" because he "doesn't like it when you get him at it" which must rank as one of the worst psychological assessments in recent memory.  Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT/Getty Images In the end Phelan did not make the starting XI and City's attempts to rile the Player of the Year were faced, at least initially, by the rarely seen "other cheek" of United's No7. In the five minutes before half-time he scored twice, tapping in an Andrei Kanchelskis centre from a yard and then sweeping a right-foot shot under Andy Dibble when the keeper thought he was going to be chipped. Kanchelskis had a peculiar way of using his arms when running that suggested forgetting to extract the coathanger before putting his shirt on but was devastatingly direct and quick and he stands in the background, about to be embraced by Lee Sharpe, one winger acutely aware that the other deserves most praise for the opening goal. Yet it's the central figure of Cantona that dominates and by contrast to the near identical pose of Michel Vonk, appealing vainly for offside, he smiles with something of the radiant pleasure he could still demonstrate. For the remaining three seasons of his career, more so after Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona sometimes seemed to be wedded to an image of himself wearing a crown of thorns and often posed messianically after scoring, not so much in 'redemption' mode as with a confrontational attitude of there-will-be-a-reckoning-for those-who doubted-me.   Here, though, there is joy still unconfined, an elation that burgeoned over the next three weeks after United's 2-0 victory. In their five remaining games they wrapped up the Premier League title by eight points and defeated Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their debut Double.  "No matter what the tempo is Eric's got the ability to compose himself on the ball," said Alex Ferguson after the match, burnishing the divine mystique. "In the maelstrom of League football that in itself is a miracle."  3. Roy Keane 2001  One should not forget that Roy Keane’s vendetta against Alfie Haaland was provoked by a word not a deed. In September 1997 at Elland Road, Keane injured himself fouling Haaland, then playing for Leeds, severing his own cruciate ligament when his studs caught in the turf and put himself out of the game for 11 months’ of gruelling rehabilitation. In his first autobiography Keane claims that Haaland and his team-mate David Wetherall stood over him and accused him of faking the injury, an act of slander so defamatory to his professional code, so uncharitable, that Keane stoked the embers of his grudge for almost four years. The fact that Haaland may have been responding in the moment after 85 minutes of rancour between the two, that Keane’s fall was in the penalty area at the end of a game Manchester United were losing 1-0, or that he could be excused of savouring the irony that someone who had tried to hurt him had succeeded only in hurting himself did not diminish Keane’s festering resentment. Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien In Keane’s absence, Manchester United eventually blew an 11-point lead in the championship race and Arsenal won the Double but by April 2001 and the Old Trafford derby, Keane was well on course to raise his third successive Premier League title as club captain. It was a drab match - Steve Howey had scored the equaliser with seven minutes to go after Paul Scholes had missed a penalty before Teddy Sheringham converted one - until Keane exploited the proximity of Haaland in the 86th minute to lunge right-foot first, studs up, into the side of the City midfielder’s knee. Haaland had just executed a forceful clearance and had his leg off the turf in his followthrough when Keane hit him with the full weight of his body driven through his lunge, tipping his victim up so that he slammed shoulder-first into the grass. Paul Hayward, who was there for The Telegraph, takes the story up in his live report: Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. In his 2002 autobiography Keane revealed the key message he delivered was two letters shorter than ‘Gotcha’. "I'd waited long enough. I f------ hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c---. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there's some for him as well." While there is no denying that it’s precisely what he meant, he would have had to rattle through it like Michael O’Hehir on amphetamine sulphate to deliver it verbally in the two seconds he spoke before leaving the pitch. Ever since, seemingly depending on the likelihood of legal repercussions for his words, Keane revels in it but see-saws on whether he meant irreparably to harm Haaland, who would play only 48 minutes more in his professional career during various comebacks but retired mainly because of an injury to his left knee. Some Manchester United fans see Keane at this moment as a kind of warrior avenging angel and his critics as a mad dog but the stark beauty of the photograph captures a man chillingly in control achieving, in his eyes, brutal restitution for a violation of his honour. It’s how Keyser Soze must have looked when wiping out one of the Hungarian mafia. 4. Michael Owen 2009 United had all but thrown away the home derby in September 2009 when they conceded three equalisers, the last in the 90th minute when the quicksilver Craig Bellamy made Rio Ferdinand look like a carthorse after the England centre-back played a casual pass straight to Martin Petrov. Carlos Tevez’s transfer to City in July provoked the summer of “the noisy neighbours” and Ferdinand’s posture after being gulled by Bellamy, head in hands behind the shaky Ben Foster and muttering expletives, betrayed his concern about letting his team-mates down and the wrath from a volcanic Sir Alex Ferguson that was about to engulf him. But he was about to be saved by the free transfer signing Ferguson had brought in to replace Tevez, the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner, Michael Owen, whose giddy progress had been hobbled at Newcastle United by a cruciate-ligament injury and recurring hamstring, thigh and groin problems. Owen was a serious, dedicated professional yet Newcastle fans had not taken to him, finding it difficult to embrace someone who was frequently absent from the field and refused to live among them. It is fair to say that United fans were barely exhilarated by his signing either. They had completed a hat-trick of titles the previous May but had been forced to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and decided to let Tevez go in the summer without reinvesting a credible portion of the profits. Credit: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images But cometh the hour or, as City fans would put it, ‘cometh the sixth minute of Fergie time’, cometh the substitute Owen to sidle behind Micah Richards. It took a cute pass from Ryan Giggs to find him and even after so many injuries Owen plus space plus a gap between him and the goalkeeper was an equation with only one likely outcome. Shay Given spread himself as best he could without reward. Owen took a touch then dinked the ball into the far corner with an expert flick of the toes. The special thing about the photograph is how it destroys the perception of Owen as the dull master of his emotions and by that stage of his career as someone who cared more about thoroughbreds than goals. “Just look at his face”, as Barry Davies once instructed the audience when Frannie Lee scored against City after leaving Maine Road to win the title with Derby, and his delight is palpable. For City there was a sense of being mugged again in the familiar fishy circumstances by Ferguson, the Time Lord, yet the picture of Owen resonates more than the ones of desolate and angry players in blue. It conveys his elation but also his optimism, like someone who has emerged from a long nightmare. 5. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes 2010 Once you know that 1950’s ‘Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville’ by Robert Doisneau was staged, it removes some of the sheen from the quintessential Parisian portrait of uninhibited young love. One trusts, for Paul Scholes’ sake, that the photograph taken during the April 2010 Etihad derby, was a more spontaneous ‘Kiss’ that required no laborious and possibly unsavoury rehearsal. United were second, trailing Chelsea by four points with four matches to go and City fifth, two points behind Spurs in the last Champions League qualifying plce, as they embarked on their game in hand at Eastlands. Sadly the game was nothing like the firecracker at Old Trafford earlier in the season and was littered with anxiety-ridden wayward passes, midfield stagnation, shouts for penalties from both sides and all too rare opportunities that were squandered. Once again the clock had passed 90 minutes when Gabriel Obertan slipped past Patrick Vieira, rolled the ball down the left for Patrice Evra to cross and Scholes met it before the penalty spot and cushioned an unstoppable header inside the far post. Like Owen across the city seven months earlier, Scholes ran behind the goal but by contrast threw himself into the arms of United fans. Credit: AP Photo/Tim Hales When he extricated himself from the melee he was approached by his captain and friend, Gary Neville, who held him tenderly by the cheeks, puckered up and kissed him on the lips, at that moment finding him irresistible like a young Mel Smith with Griff Rhys Jones. “A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City,” said Scholes. “Gary’s emotional and it was an important goal. Gary’s kissed a few in his time. David [Beckham] was probably his favourite but that’s the way Gary is.” John O’Shea had a more arresting interpretation, one that perhaps explains the nakedly theatrical exaggeration of the gesture with the placement of his hands. “I don’t think it was for Scholesy’s benefit,” he said. “I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier.” United won their last three games and so did Chelsea which left them runners-up by a point while this loss followed by the home defeat by Tottenham kept City out of the Champions League for one last year. For Neville it would be his last derby and one sealed with a loving kiss. 6. Wayne Rooney 2011 After missing out on the league title in 2010 despite a hat-trick that preceded it, Sir Alex Ferguson announced the following October that Wayne Rooney had asked for a transfer because he felt that the club’s investment in new players was inadequate and he wanted to play for a club that matched his ambitions. It did not take long for Ferguson to knock him back nor for whispers to emerge that he was trying to engineer a move to City. “I met with David Gill [United chief executive] last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney confirmed when outed by Ferguson. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.” Because he was articulating some of the suspicions of United supporters that the demands of the Glazer family’s leveraged buy-out of the club had restricted its scope in the market, Rooney was not as vituperatively condemned as an everyday ‘wantaway’ player. Nonetheless he did alienate many United fans among them a balaclava-clad posse who protested outside his home in Prestbury with a banner that read, “If you join City you are dead”. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super One suspects Fergsuon’s dead body would have had to be surmounted for any deal to go through and the manager played hardball in public while the Glazers eventually enticed him to stay with a staggering new offer. It took Rooney more than a year publicly to express his regrets and claim that he would never have joined City. Ferguson welcomed him back into the fold much sooner and United’s title campaign gathered momentum through the winter though Rooney scored only three goals in 11 Premier League matches after signing his new contract. United took the lead in February’s Old Trafford derby through Nani before David Silva equalised jammily when hit on the back by Edin Dzeko’s shot 20 minutes into the second-half. Rooney, toiling alone up front, could not get into the game yet continued to run the channels hard to try to elude the irritatingly adhesive Vincent Kompany. In the 78th minute Nani floated a cross into the box that was behind Rooney. He had stationed himself by the penalty spot with the intention of sowing doubt about which post he would attack but the trajectory of the centre forced an adjustment. He swivelled and jumped horizontally, back to the floor, head down and thumped a bicycle-kick volley past Hart whose mouth flapped agape in surprise. It was a classic wonder goal, one that made you appreciate the extraordinary agility, anticipation and execution of a world-class player. He is commonly derided now after five years of slow decline from his 2011-12 peak but back then Rooney’s outstanding talent was in full bloom. Which is why Ferguson fought so hard to keep him, why United’s fans embraced him again and forgave his rebellion. And half a dozen of the other ... Manchester City images 1. Matt Busby and Joe Mercer 1939 This photograph, taken shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, shows three sergeants of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Joe Mercer on the left, Matt Busby in the middle and Charlton Athletic and England’s Don Welsh. Mercer, then of Everton and England, went on to manager City for six thrilling seasons from 1965 while Busby, then of Liverpool and Scotland, had played for City from the age of 18 in 1928 for eight seasons, winning the FA Cup in sky blue in 1934. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images What’s terrific about this picture is that it shows a fine City player and a great City manager, one with his City days behind him, the other with them many years ahead in the future. At the time of the photograph they were cross-city rivals as players and 26 years on would become cross-city rivals as managers but as is plain to see by the smiles, they never let partisan hostility infect their outlook. Their sense of duty and gentlemanly warmth is the foundation of what is best about both clubs and City were blessed to be served and influenced by the two of them.   2. Two Georges 1968 On the morning of the midweek Old Trafford derby on March 27 1968, United were second behind Leeds in the table on goal average and City two points back in third. United took the lead in the first minute through George Best but City gradually built momentum to dominate the match, equalising with a Colin Bell goal on 16 minutes. Bell was mesmerising that day, thrashing the ball past Stepney then giving United’s midfield the runaround. John Hollins of Chelsea says that Bell’s stamina made him seem as if he had an extra lung and he used his physical dynamism and acute positional sense to cause havoc. Francis Burns fouled him to concede the free-kick from which George Heslop headed City ahead and the raw United full-back hit him with another dreadful tackle late on when Bell was rounding the keeper and sure to roll in the third. That honour was left to Francis Lee from the penalty spot while Bell was being stretchered down the touchline and City wrapped up a convincing and deserved victory to put them level with United and Leeds on 45 points.   Credit: Derek Preston/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images For Malcolm Allison, Mercer’s assistant and the Puckish strategist behind City’s rise, everything panned out as he had envisioned it. Before the game he had told the City players to walk to the Stretford End to applaud the United fans, knowing it would needle them and sharpen the atmosphere. Best, brilliant, sometimes unstoppable, scored though it did not puncture City’s confidence and here in this photograph we see George Heslop, City’s centre-half, time a sliding tackle to perfection and rob Best in full flight. Heslop, his blond combover a match for Bobby Charlton’s, was the pivot in City’s defensive system who allowed Tommy Booth and Mike Doyle the positional flexibility to support and switch with Tony Coleman, Bell and Mike Summerbee. Here, momentarily left exposed, and confronted by the greatest player in Europe in his mercurial, high summer peak, Heslop uses his experience and skill to stymie all that talent. It’s one of the standout action shots of the Sixties, the expanse of vacant green grass around them is where Best thrived but Heslop, his gigantic thighs a contrast to the sleek, supple Best’s, fairly and elegantly bars his way. “Years of humiliation had been, if not wiped away, at least eased,” Allison later wrote. “It was one of the great nights of my life.” Greater still were to come. Although they lost at Leicester the following week, City won five of their next seven games before victory at St James’ Park on the final day earned them their first title for 31 years by two points from United.  “I think we will be the first team to play on Mars,” Allison said on the morning after winning the title following only an hour’s sleep. "We have had more courage than the majority of teams in the League. The courage to play this game.” Mars would prove to be a stretch too far, but who needs Mars when you’ve been taken to heaven?   3. Denis Law 1974 Maxwell Scott’s advice from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has proved seductive over the years for those writing about Denis Law’s backheel in the 83rd minute of the derby at Old Trafford in April 1974. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Scott, appropriately enough a newspaper editor. And so the myth that Law, a year after leaving United to return to City on a free transfer, sent United down took flight. In truth, though, Birmingham City in 19th held their fate in their own hands. Victory for them over Norwich, who had already been relegated, and United were down come what may. United fans knew what was happening at St Andrew’s and invaded the pitch at Old Trafford both before and after the news that Bob Hatton had put Birmingham ahead. The third and final invasion came four minutes from the end, three minutes after Law had put City in front with a larcenous, impulsive backheel. Sir Matt Busby addressed the crowd over the Tannoy in an attempt to persuade them to retreat “for the sake of the club” to no avail and the match was abandoned as a City victory. Birmingham’s 2-1 win rendered the last four minutes inconsequential. Credit: PA Before all that, though, Law had gone off, looking utterly disconsolate, even though City fans then and during the drawn-out melee were eagerly attempting to corral him into their celebrations. Look at his face and you see a perfect definition of “crestfallen”, a bigamist unmasked and tormented by the consequences. Law’s 37th and final goal for City (to add to his 237 for United) may not have relegated the neighbours at all but the legend endures because the twist of the player’s identity and allegiance enhance the element of City supporters’ schadenfreude to an exquisite pinnacle. “In that moment you saw the two sides of his character,” the City winger Dennis Tueart told the Daily Mail in 2012. “You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then - when he realised what he had done - you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.” 4. Ian Bishop and Paul Lake 1989 The 6-1 thrashing of the champions at Old Trafford in 2011 takes some beating but for City fans of a certain age the 5-1 victory at Maine Road in September 1989 will always be an imperishable memory. Because of City’s relegation, derbies in the Eighties were rare and City had not won one since February 1981 when Alex Ferguson took his beleaguered, expensive United team to Moss Side. It was the season of Michael Knighton in replica kit juggling the ball on the Old Trafford pitch to advertise his impending takeover before the opening match - a slick 4-1 victory over the champions Arsenal. The bloom of a summer spree - Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince snapped up for a staggering outlay of £6.25m - wilted as quickly as Knighton’s credibility when United were beaten by Derby, Norwich and Everton in successive matches. Beating Millwall 5-1 before the trip across town was trumpeted as the end of the teething troubles but they left Maine Road looking toothless and covered in bite marks. Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images City were a vibrant, young team, newly promoted and built around a core of five special homegrown players - Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White and Ian Brightwell - who seemed to personify the city’s youth culture that was in the midst of a glorious, hedonistic ascendancy. Just after kick-off a fight on the terraces escalated into a mass brawl that spread so quickly that some supporters understandably climbed over the perimeter fences to avoid a braying or an even worse fate. The referee suspended the game for eight minutes and on resumption City tore into United, scoring twice in the 12th minute after a mistake by Pallister, Britain’s most expensive defender, let in David Oldfield and another lax response to a developing crisis left Jim Leighton exposed after an impressive double save - and Trevor Morley rammed the ball past him. In the 36th minute Oldfield skinned Pallister and crossed for Ian Bishop to score with a diving header. He is the subject of our image, caught in the arms of Paul Lake as they celebrate City’s third. The photographer freezes them in a moment of ecstatic revelry with just a hint of charming disbelief in Lake’s eyes, fixed on the lens. It’s a great shot of City’s blend of youth - Lake - and the more experienced Bishop, a cut-price playmaker with cheek, vision and an inventive pass, the kind of player that always steals supporters’ hearts. Mark Hughes grabbed one back with a wonderful scissors kick that would be better known but for the result before Lake ripped United apart down the right to set up Oldfield’s fourth and Hinchcliffe made it five on the end of a slippery, sweeping move. Chants of “Ferguson out” from Reds were answered in raucous glee by the Blues with “Fergie must stay”. He did stay, of course, and recovered from a defeat he called “the most embarrassing of my career” while the terminally myopic Peter Swales, City's chairman, sacked Mel Machin in November and appointed Howard Kendall. Nothing wrong with that, City were bottom after all, but allowing him to dismantle such a promising squad, fill it full of Evertonians and sell many of the heroes of that day makes the 5-1 somewhat bittersweet. 5. Shaun Goater and Gary Neville 2002 A companion to No5 in the United section, this photograph shows Gary Neville at his greatest moment of derby despair. The elder Neville brother saw himself as more than a symbol for United fans, more the embodiment of their deepest desires and prejudices so there was no stopping City fans basking in his moment of nemesis in the last match at Maine Road. Credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images The score was 1-1 when Eyal Berkovic swept a pass from right to the left of the United penalty area over Neville’s head. He turned, with Shaun Goater in pursuit, and first tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick but changed tack when he realised it lacked the momentum. He hesitated for a moment and then attempted to pass it back to Fabien Barthez instead. Whether he didn’t see Goater between him and the keeper until it was too late or whether he had the chutzpah to think he could nutmeg the City forward is not known. Either way he fed the Goat who indeed scored, having careered in from the touchline and arrowed the ball around Barthez to score his 99th City goal. Credit:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images For the rest of the match the England right-back  was serenaded by “Gary Neville is a blue, is a blue, is a blue” and it followed him around for a fair few months. Goater went on to bring up his century in the second-half with a wonderful chip over Barthez and ended Maine Road’s days as a derby venue in appropriately carnival mood.   6. Mario Balotelli 2011 The first derby of the 2011-12 season took place on Sunday, October 23, 13 days before Guy Fawkes’ Night, not that anyone needs an excuse for a fireworks party any more: over the past 15 years the UK has turned positively Cantonese in its embrace of pyrotechnics. On the Friday before the match, Mario Balotelli and four friends were together at his new house in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire when one or more of them - the number is still in dispute - decided to treat the neighbours to an early morning chorus of explosions and illuminate the sky over their houses with fireworks. Perhaps it was cold outside or maybe just tired but someone decreed that the launch pad should be Balotelli’s bathroom. Someone got their calculations wrong as well as their aim and set fire first to some towels and then the house. One of them raised the alarm, neighbouring properties were evacuated and the fire service eventually extinguished the blaze. Balotelli checked into a city centre hotel, arrived on time for training the next morning and went into conclave with the kit man before returning to his hotel. Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images The story hit the newspapers on the morning of the match though Roberto Mancini still named Balotelli, who had scored in the three preceding games, in his starting XI. He rewarded his manager with an excellent performance, scoring twice, the first a deftly-placed side-foot shot from 16 yards. As soon as the ball went past David De Gea, Balotelli lifted his shirt over his head to reveal ‘Why always me?’ written on his vest. It earned him a booking and it might well have been worse if Les Chapman, City’s kit man, hadn’t dissuaded him from his other two ideas for slogans, both of them provocations to United fans. In addition to his two goals in the 6-1 victory, he elicited a foul from Jonny Evans that had the United defender sent off and he provides us with an image of engaging, prodigal insouciance. “That day it was as if Mario was great, an adult amongst children,” said Roberto Mancini. “I would have loved to have always seen him like he was at that derby.” Routine was never for Mario. He would not be half as frustrating without his uncommon skill nor half as endearing without his unaffected nonchalance.

Six of One - Iconic Manchester derby pictures ... and the stories behind them

Welcome to Six of One, our series in which we pick six of the best examples of a theme and contrast them with half a dozen others. This episode's theme is inspired by the Manchester derby and its rich history. Instead of the usual format of taking six outstanding things and balancing them with six execrable ones, here we have opted for six great photographs centred on United and six on City and try to tell the stories behind them.  As in the past it is obviously very much a subjective evaluation so please feel free to nominate your own favourites in either category in the comments section or tell your own stand-out derby stories.  Manchester United photographs 1. Alex Dawson 1960-61 Manchester United endured a torrid start to the 1960-61 season, losing 10 of their first 18 matches including defeats by Everton, Arsenal, Cardiff City and Aston Villa. It is often forgotten that they finished second in 1958-59, the season after the Munich Disaster, and seventh in 1959-60 but by mid-November 1960 they were 17th and looking in desperate need of fresh blood. That month Matt Busby bought the stylish Noel Cantwell from West Ham for £29,500, a record fee for a full-back, and the charming, erudite Irishman would go on to captain United and become a profound influence in the club's renaissance over the next eight years. His immediate impact was none too shabby and United swept through December, defeating Preston, drawing 4-4 with Fulham and beating Blackburn. The Christmas double header against Chelsea was overcome with a 2-0 away victory on Christmas Eve followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on Boxing Day in which Alex Dawson scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Nicholson two goals and Bobby Charlton one. By the time of the home derby on New Year's Eve 1960, United were in far ruder health and had climbed to 11th while City, eighth six weeks earlier, were on a dreadful run of six defeats in seven games. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images That's Dawson in the dark shirt in the picture, framed against the Stretford sky, arching his body to flick the ball on and captured by the photographer dead in the middle of the floodlight pylon on the left corner of the Scoreboard End. Romantics can imagine the smoke from a passing steam train adding to the hazy ambience but the season and hour are likely to be more responsible for the oystery murk. Dawson scored his second hat-trick in successive matches in this game and Charlton, from the left-wing, hit two more past Bert Trautmann. Only Colin Barlow could reply for Manchester City and any Blues would be excused by the 5-1 defeat for telling first-footers' calling on them later that night to stuff their lump of coal where the sun doesn't shine. Dawson was a broad bullock of a centre-forward who had unforgettably scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham in 1958 during United's emotional charge to Wembley. He scored 45 league goals in 80 appearances and suffered City fans adopting the Camptown Races melody to assail him thus: "Who's that fella with the big fat a---? Dawson, Dawson." He had many qualities but not the exhilarating flair that Busby coveted so highly and he was sold to Preston in 1961 where he became known as 'The Black Prince of Deepdale' and bagged more than a hundred goals over six seasons of frisky service. Deliciously, to the right of the photograph in the City No10 shirt and adjusting his body perhaps to launch himself acrobatically at the ball, is Denis Law, a forward with all the class and spirit Busby desired. It would take the United manager another 20 months to get his man.   2. Eric Cantona 1994 On March 19 1994 Manchester United, the champions and league leaders went to the County Ground to play their only top-flight match against Swindon Town who were 47 points below them and not so much at the foot of the Premiership but at the bottom of its Mariana Trench. But Swindon, by virtue of two equalisers, held on for a point and United were left with 10 men when Eric Cantona was sent off for stamping on John Moncur's solar plexus. A little over 72 hours later on March 22, United were again pegged back after twice taking the lead at Arsenal and Cantona was sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Ian Selley, the second two minutes later for wild swipes at Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams. For his sins Cantona was given a five-match suspension and defeats by second-placed Blackburn and Wimbledon in his absence left United still leading Rovers at the top of the table but solely on goal difference though they had played one match fewer. Cantona returned for their 38th game of the 42-match season, the Manchester derby on St George's Day and may have read, on the morning of the match, a warning from City's full-back Terry Phelan, who pledged that his team-mates would "wind Eric up left, right and centre" and rotate the opportunity to "take a bite out of him" because he "doesn't like it when you get him at it" which must rank as one of the worst psychological assessments in recent memory.  Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT/Getty Images In the end Phelan did not make the starting XI and City's attempts to rile the Player of the Year were faced, at least initially, by the rarely seen "other cheek" of United's No7. In the five minutes before half-time he scored twice, tapping in an Andrei Kanchelskis centre from a yard and then sweeping a right-foot shot under Andy Dibble when the keeper thought he was going to be chipped. Kanchelskis had a peculiar way of using his arms when running that suggested forgetting to extract the coathanger before putting his shirt on but was devastatingly direct and quick and he stands in the background, about to be embraced by Lee Sharpe, one winger acutely aware that the other deserves most praise for the opening goal. Yet it's the central figure of Cantona that dominates and by contrast to the near identical pose of Michel Vonk, appealing vainly for offside, he smiles with something of the radiant pleasure he could still demonstrate. For the remaining three seasons of his career, more so after Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona sometimes seemed to be wedded to an image of himself wearing a crown of thorns and often posed messianically after scoring, not so much in 'redemption' mode as with a confrontational attitude of there-will-be-a-reckoning-for those-who doubted-me.   Here, though, there is joy still unconfined, an elation that burgeoned over the next three weeks after United's 2-0 victory. In their five remaining games they wrapped up the Premier League title by eight points and defeated Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their debut Double.  "No matter what the tempo is Eric's got the ability to compose himself on the ball," said Alex Ferguson after the match, burnishing the divine mystique. "In the maelstrom of League football that in itself is a miracle."  3. Roy Keane 2001  One should not forget that Roy Keane’s vendetta against Alfie Haaland was provoked by a word not a deed. In September 1997 at Elland Road, Keane injured himself fouling Haaland, then playing for Leeds, severing his own cruciate ligament when his studs caught in the turf and put himself out of the game for 11 months’ of gruelling rehabilitation. In his first autobiography Keane claims that Haaland and his team-mate David Wetherall stood over him and accused him of faking the injury, an act of slander so defamatory to his professional code, so uncharitable, that Keane stoked the embers of his grudge for almost four years. The fact that Haaland may have been responding in the moment after 85 minutes of rancour between the two, that Keane’s fall was in the penalty area at the end of a game Manchester United were losing 1-0, or that he could be excused of savouring the irony that someone who had tried to hurt him had succeeded only in hurting himself did not diminish Keane’s festering resentment. Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien In Keane’s absence, Manchester United eventually blew an 11-point lead in the championship race and Arsenal won the Double but by April 2001 and the Old Trafford derby, Keane was well on course to raise his third successive Premier League title as club captain. It was a drab match - Steve Howey had scored the equaliser with seven minutes to go after Paul Scholes had missed a penalty before Teddy Sheringham converted one - until Keane exploited the proximity of Haaland in the 86th minute to lunge right-foot first, studs up, into the side of the City midfielder’s knee. Haaland had just executed a forceful clearance and had his leg off the turf in his followthrough when Keane hit him with the full weight of his body driven through his lunge, tipping his victim up so that he slammed shoulder-first into the grass. Paul Hayward, who was there for The Telegraph, takes the story up in his live report: Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. In his 2002 autobiography Keane revealed the key message he delivered was two letters shorter than ‘Gotcha’. "I'd waited long enough. I f------ hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c---. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there's some for him as well." While there is no denying that it’s precisely what he meant, he would have had to rattle through it like Michael O’Hehir on amphetamine sulphate to deliver it verbally in the two seconds he spoke before leaving the pitch. Ever since, seemingly depending on the likelihood of legal repercussions for his words, Keane revels in it but see-saws on whether he meant irreparably to harm Haaland, who would play only 48 minutes more in his professional career during various comebacks but retired mainly because of an injury to his left knee. Some Manchester United fans see Keane at this moment as a kind of warrior avenging angel and his critics as a mad dog but the stark beauty of the photograph captures a man chillingly in control achieving, in his eyes, brutal restitution for a violation of his honour. It’s how Keyser Soze must have looked when wiping out one of the Hungarian mafia. 4. Michael Owen 2009 United had all but thrown away the home derby in September 2009 when they conceded three equalisers, the last in the 90th minute when the quicksilver Craig Bellamy made Rio Ferdinand look like a carthorse after the England centre-back played a casual pass straight to Martin Petrov. Carlos Tevez’s transfer to City in July provoked the summer of “the noisy neighbours” and Ferdinand’s posture after being gulled by Bellamy, head in hands behind the shaky Ben Foster and muttering expletives, betrayed his concern about letting his team-mates down and the wrath from a volcanic Sir Alex Ferguson that was about to engulf him. But he was about to be saved by the free transfer signing Ferguson had brought in to replace Tevez, the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner, Michael Owen, whose giddy progress had been hobbled at Newcastle United by a cruciate-ligament injury and recurring hamstring, thigh and groin problems. Owen was a serious, dedicated professional yet Newcastle fans had not taken to him, finding it difficult to embrace someone who was frequently absent from the field and refused to live among them. It is fair to say that United fans were barely exhilarated by his signing either. They had completed a hat-trick of titles the previous May but had been forced to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and decided to let Tevez go in the summer without reinvesting a credible portion of the profits. Credit: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images But cometh the hour or, as City fans would put it, ‘cometh the sixth minute of Fergie time’, cometh the substitute Owen to sidle behind Micah Richards. It took a cute pass from Ryan Giggs to find him and even after so many injuries Owen plus space plus a gap between him and the goalkeeper was an equation with only one likely outcome. Shay Given spread himself as best he could without reward. Owen took a touch then dinked the ball into the far corner with an expert flick of the toes. The special thing about the photograph is how it destroys the perception of Owen as the dull master of his emotions and by that stage of his career as someone who cared more about thoroughbreds than goals. “Just look at his face”, as Barry Davies once instructed the audience when Frannie Lee scored against City after leaving Maine Road to win the title with Derby, and his delight is palpable. For City there was a sense of being mugged again in the familiar fishy circumstances by Ferguson, the Time Lord, yet the picture of Owen resonates more than the ones of desolate and angry players in blue. It conveys his elation but also his optimism, like someone who has emerged from a long nightmare. 5. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes 2010 Once you know that 1950’s ‘Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville’ by Robert Doisneau was staged, it removes some of the sheen from the quintessential Parisian portrait of uninhibited young love. One trusts, for Paul Scholes’ sake, that the photograph taken during the April 2010 Etihad derby, was a more spontaneous ‘Kiss’ that required no laborious and possibly unsavoury rehearsal. United were second, trailing Chelsea by four points with four matches to go and City fifth, two points behind Spurs in the last Champions League qualifying plce, as they embarked on their game in hand at Eastlands. Sadly the game was nothing like the firecracker at Old Trafford earlier in the season and was littered with anxiety-ridden wayward passes, midfield stagnation, shouts for penalties from both sides and all too rare opportunities that were squandered. Once again the clock had passed 90 minutes when Gabriel Obertan slipped past Patrick Vieira, rolled the ball down the left for Patrice Evra to cross and Scholes met it before the penalty spot and cushioned an unstoppable header inside the far post. Like Owen across the city seven months earlier, Scholes ran behind the goal but by contrast threw himself into the arms of United fans. Credit: AP Photo/Tim Hales When he extricated himself from the melee he was approached by his captain and friend, Gary Neville, who held him tenderly by the cheeks, puckered up and kissed him on the lips, at that moment finding him irresistible like a young Mel Smith with Griff Rhys Jones. “A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City,” said Scholes. “Gary’s emotional and it was an important goal. Gary’s kissed a few in his time. David [Beckham] was probably his favourite but that’s the way Gary is.” John O’Shea had a more arresting interpretation, one that perhaps explains the nakedly theatrical exaggeration of the gesture with the placement of his hands. “I don’t think it was for Scholesy’s benefit,” he said. “I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier.” United won their last three games and so did Chelsea which left them runners-up by a point while this loss followed by the home defeat by Tottenham kept City out of the Champions League for one last year. For Neville it would be his last derby and one sealed with a loving kiss. 6. Wayne Rooney 2011 After missing out on the league title in 2010 despite a hat-trick that preceded it, Sir Alex Ferguson announced the following October that Wayne Rooney had asked for a transfer because he felt that the club’s investment in new players was inadequate and he wanted to play for a club that matched his ambitions. It did not take long for Ferguson to knock him back nor for whispers to emerge that he was trying to engineer a move to City. “I met with David Gill [United chief executive] last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney confirmed when outed by Ferguson. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.” Because he was articulating some of the suspicions of United supporters that the demands of the Glazer family’s leveraged buy-out of the club had restricted its scope in the market, Rooney was not as vituperatively condemned as an everyday ‘wantaway’ player. Nonetheless he did alienate many United fans among them a balaclava-clad posse who protested outside his home in Prestbury with a banner that read, “If you join City you are dead”. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super One suspects Fergsuon’s dead body would have had to be surmounted for any deal to go through and the manager played hardball in public while the Glazers eventually enticed him to stay with a staggering new offer. It took Rooney more than a year publicly to express his regrets and claim that he would never have joined City. Ferguson welcomed him back into the fold much sooner and United’s title campaign gathered momentum through the winter though Rooney scored only three goals in 11 Premier League matches after signing his new contract. United took the lead in February’s Old Trafford derby through Nani before David Silva equalised jammily when hit on the back by Edin Dzeko’s shot 20 minutes into the second-half. Rooney, toiling alone up front, could not get into the game yet continued to run the channels hard to try to elude the irritatingly adhesive Vincent Kompany. In the 78th minute Nani floated a cross into the box that was behind Rooney. He had stationed himself by the penalty spot with the intention of sowing doubt about which post he would attack but the trajectory of the centre forced an adjustment. He swivelled and jumped horizontally, back to the floor, head down and thumped a bicycle-kick volley past Hart whose mouth flapped agape in surprise. It was a classic wonder goal, one that made you appreciate the extraordinary agility, anticipation and execution of a world-class player. He is commonly derided now after five years of slow decline from his 2011-12 peak but back then Rooney’s outstanding talent was in full bloom. Which is why Ferguson fought so hard to keep him, why United’s fans embraced him again and forgave his rebellion. And half a dozen of the other ... Manchester City images 1. Matt Busby and Joe Mercer 1939 This photograph, taken shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, shows three sergeants of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Joe Mercer on the left, Matt Busby in the middle and Charlton Athletic and England’s Don Welsh. Mercer, then of Everton and England, went on to manager City for six thrilling seasons from 1965 while Busby, then of Liverpool and Scotland, had played for City from the age of 18 in 1928 for eight seasons, winning the FA Cup in sky blue in 1934. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images What’s terrific about this picture is that it shows a fine City player and a great City manager, one with his City days behind him, the other with them many years ahead in the future. At the time of the photograph they were cross-city rivals as players and 26 years on would become cross-city rivals as managers but as is plain to see by the smiles, they never let partisan hostility infect their outlook. Their sense of duty and gentlemanly warmth is the foundation of what is best about both clubs and City were blessed to be served and influenced by the two of them.   2. Two Georges 1968 On the morning of the midweek Old Trafford derby on March 27 1968, United were second behind Leeds in the table on goal average and City two points back in third. United took the lead in the first minute through George Best but City gradually built momentum to dominate the match, equalising with a Colin Bell goal on 16 minutes. Bell was mesmerising that day, thrashing the ball past Stepney then giving United’s midfield the runaround. John Hollins of Chelsea says that Bell’s stamina made him seem as if he had an extra lung and he used his physical dynamism and acute positional sense to cause havoc. Francis Burns fouled him to concede the free-kick from which George Heslop headed City ahead and the raw United full-back hit him with another dreadful tackle late on when Bell was rounding the keeper and sure to roll in the third. That honour was left to Francis Lee from the penalty spot while Bell was being stretchered down the touchline and City wrapped up a convincing and deserved victory to put them level with United and Leeds on 45 points.   Credit: Derek Preston/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images For Malcolm Allison, Mercer’s assistant and the Puckish strategist behind City’s rise, everything panned out as he had envisioned it. Before the game he had told the City players to walk to the Stretford End to applaud the United fans, knowing it would needle them and sharpen the atmosphere. Best, brilliant, sometimes unstoppable, scored though it did not puncture City’s confidence and here in this photograph we see George Heslop, City’s centre-half, time a sliding tackle to perfection and rob Best in full flight. Heslop, his blond combover a match for Bobby Charlton’s, was the pivot in City’s defensive system who allowed Tommy Booth and Mike Doyle the positional flexibility to support and switch with Tony Coleman, Bell and Mike Summerbee. Here, momentarily left exposed, and confronted by the greatest player in Europe in his mercurial, high summer peak, Heslop uses his experience and skill to stymie all that talent. It’s one of the standout action shots of the Sixties, the expanse of vacant green grass around them is where Best thrived but Heslop, his gigantic thighs a contrast to the sleek, supple Best’s, fairly and elegantly bars his way. “Years of humiliation had been, if not wiped away, at least eased,” Allison later wrote. “It was one of the great nights of my life.” Greater still were to come. Although they lost at Leicester the following week, City won five of their next seven games before victory at St James’ Park on the final day earned them their first title for 31 years by two points from United.  “I think we will be the first team to play on Mars,” Allison said on the morning after winning the title following only an hour’s sleep. "We have had more courage than the majority of teams in the League. The courage to play this game.” Mars would prove to be a stretch too far, but who needs Mars when you’ve been taken to heaven?   3. Denis Law 1974 Maxwell Scott’s advice from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has proved seductive over the years for those writing about Denis Law’s backheel in the 83rd minute of the derby at Old Trafford in April 1974. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Scott, appropriately enough a newspaper editor. And so the myth that Law, a year after leaving United to return to City on a free transfer, sent United down took flight. In truth, though, Birmingham City in 19th held their fate in their own hands. Victory for them over Norwich, who had already been relegated, and United were down come what may. United fans knew what was happening at St Andrew’s and invaded the pitch at Old Trafford both before and after the news that Bob Hatton had put Birmingham ahead. The third and final invasion came four minutes from the end, three minutes after Law had put City in front with a larcenous, impulsive backheel. Sir Matt Busby addressed the crowd over the Tannoy in an attempt to persuade them to retreat “for the sake of the club” to no avail and the match was abandoned as a City victory. Birmingham’s 2-1 win rendered the last four minutes inconsequential. Credit: PA Before all that, though, Law had gone off, looking utterly disconsolate, even though City fans then and during the drawn-out melee were eagerly attempting to corral him into their celebrations. Look at his face and you see a perfect definition of “crestfallen”, a bigamist unmasked and tormented by the consequences. Law’s 37th and final goal for City (to add to his 237 for United) may not have relegated the neighbours at all but the legend endures because the twist of the player’s identity and allegiance enhance the element of City supporters’ schadenfreude to an exquisite pinnacle. “In that moment you saw the two sides of his character,” the City winger Dennis Tueart told the Daily Mail in 2012. “You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then - when he realised what he had done - you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.” 4. Ian Bishop and Paul Lake 1989 The 6-1 thrashing of the champions at Old Trafford in 2011 takes some beating but for City fans of a certain age the 5-1 victory at Maine Road in September 1989 will always be an imperishable memory. Because of City’s relegation, derbies in the Eighties were rare and City had not won one since February 1981 when Alex Ferguson took his beleaguered, expensive United team to Moss Side. It was the season of Michael Knighton in replica kit juggling the ball on the Old Trafford pitch to advertise his impending takeover before the opening match - a slick 4-1 victory over the champions Arsenal. The bloom of a summer spree - Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince snapped up for a staggering outlay of £6.25m - wilted as quickly as Knighton’s credibility when United were beaten by Derby, Norwich and Everton in successive matches. Beating Millwall 5-1 before the trip across town was trumpeted as the end of the teething troubles but they left Maine Road looking toothless and covered in bite marks. Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images City were a vibrant, young team, newly promoted and built around a core of five special homegrown players - Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White and Ian Brightwell - who seemed to personify the city’s youth culture that was in the midst of a glorious, hedonistic ascendancy. Just after kick-off a fight on the terraces escalated into a mass brawl that spread so quickly that some supporters understandably climbed over the perimeter fences to avoid a braying or an even worse fate. The referee suspended the game for eight minutes and on resumption City tore into United, scoring twice in the 12th minute after a mistake by Pallister, Britain’s most expensive defender, let in David Oldfield and another lax response to a developing crisis left Jim Leighton exposed after an impressive double save - and Trevor Morley rammed the ball past him. In the 36th minute Oldfield skinned Pallister and crossed for Ian Bishop to score with a diving header. He is the subject of our image, caught in the arms of Paul Lake as they celebrate City’s third. The photographer freezes them in a moment of ecstatic revelry with just a hint of charming disbelief in Lake’s eyes, fixed on the lens. It’s a great shot of City’s blend of youth - Lake - and the more experienced Bishop, a cut-price playmaker with cheek, vision and an inventive pass, the kind of player that always steals supporters’ hearts. Mark Hughes grabbed one back with a wonderful scissors kick that would be better known but for the result before Lake ripped United apart down the right to set up Oldfield’s fourth and Hinchcliffe made it five on the end of a slippery, sweeping move. Chants of “Ferguson out” from Reds were answered in raucous glee by the Blues with “Fergie must stay”. He did stay, of course, and recovered from a defeat he called “the most embarrassing of my career” while the terminally myopic Peter Swales, City's chairman, sacked Mel Machin in November and appointed Howard Kendall. Nothing wrong with that, City were bottom after all, but allowing him to dismantle such a promising squad, fill it full of Evertonians and sell many of the heroes of that day makes the 5-1 somewhat bittersweet. 5. Shaun Goater and Gary Neville 2002 A companion to No5 in the United section, this photograph shows Gary Neville at his greatest moment of derby despair. The elder Neville brother saw himself as more than a symbol for United fans, more the embodiment of their deepest desires and prejudices so there was no stopping City fans basking in his moment of nemesis in the last match at Maine Road. Credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images The score was 1-1 when Eyal Berkovic swept a pass from right to the left of the United penalty area over Neville’s head. He turned, with Shaun Goater in pursuit, and first tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick but changed tack when he realised it lacked the momentum. He hesitated for a moment and then attempted to pass it back to Fabien Barthez instead. Whether he didn’t see Goater between him and the keeper until it was too late or whether he had the chutzpah to think he could nutmeg the City forward is not known. Either way he fed the Goat who indeed scored, having careered in from the touchline and arrowed the ball around Barthez to score his 99th City goal. Credit:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images For the rest of the match the England right-back  was serenaded by “Gary Neville is a blue, is a blue, is a blue” and it followed him around for a fair few months. Goater went on to bring up his century in the second-half with a wonderful chip over Barthez and ended Maine Road’s days as a derby venue in appropriately carnival mood.   6. Mario Balotelli 2011 The first derby of the 2011-12 season took place on Sunday, October 23, 13 days before Guy Fawkes’ Night, not that anyone needs an excuse for a fireworks party any more: over the past 15 years the UK has turned positively Cantonese in its embrace of pyrotechnics. On the Friday before the match, Mario Balotelli and four friends were together at his new house in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire when one or more of them - the number is still in dispute - decided to treat the neighbours to an early morning chorus of explosions and illuminate the sky over their houses with fireworks. Perhaps it was cold outside or maybe just tired but someone decreed that the launch pad should be Balotelli’s bathroom. Someone got their calculations wrong as well as their aim and set fire first to some towels and then the house. One of them raised the alarm, neighbouring properties were evacuated and the fire service eventually extinguished the blaze. Balotelli checked into a city centre hotel, arrived on time for training the next morning and went into conclave with the kit man before returning to his hotel. Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images The story hit the newspapers on the morning of the match though Roberto Mancini still named Balotelli, who had scored in the three preceding games, in his starting XI. He rewarded his manager with an excellent performance, scoring twice, the first a deftly-placed side-foot shot from 16 yards. As soon as the ball went past David De Gea, Balotelli lifted his shirt over his head to reveal ‘Why always me?’ written on his vest. It earned him a booking and it might well have been worse if Les Chapman, City’s kit man, hadn’t dissuaded him from his other two ideas for slogans, both of them provocations to United fans. In addition to his two goals in the 6-1 victory, he elicited a foul from Jonny Evans that had the United defender sent off and he provides us with an image of engaging, prodigal insouciance. “That day it was as if Mario was great, an adult amongst children,” said Roberto Mancini. “I would have loved to have always seen him like he was at that derby.” Routine was never for Mario. He would not be half as frustrating without his uncommon skill nor half as endearing without his unaffected nonchalance.

Six of One - Iconic Manchester derby pictures ... and the stories behind them

Welcome to Six of One, our series in which we pick six of the best examples of a theme and contrast them with half a dozen others. This episode's theme is inspired by the Manchester derby and its rich history. Instead of the usual format of taking six outstanding things and balancing them with six execrable ones, here we have opted for six great photographs centred on United and six on City and try to tell the stories behind them.  As in the past it is obviously very much a subjective evaluation so please feel free to nominate your own favourites in either category in the comments section or tell your own stand-out derby stories.  Manchester United photographs 1. Alex Dawson 1960-61 Manchester United endured a torrid start to the 1960-61 season, losing 10 of their first 18 matches including defeats by Everton, Arsenal, Cardiff City and Aston Villa. It is often forgotten that they finished second in 1958-59, the season after the Munich Disaster, and seventh in 1959-60 but by mid-November 1960 they were 17th and looking in desperate need of fresh blood. That month Matt Busby bought the stylish Noel Cantwell from West Ham for £29,500, a record fee for a full-back, and the charming, erudite Irishman would go on to captain United and become a profound influence in the club's renaissance over the next eight years. His immediate impact was none too shabby and United swept through December, defeating Preston, drawing 4-4 with Fulham and beating Blackburn. The Christmas double header against Chelsea was overcome with a 2-0 away victory on Christmas Eve followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on Boxing Day in which Alex Dawson scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Nicholson two goals and Bobby Charlton one. By the time of the home derby on New Year's Eve 1960, United were in far ruder health and had climbed to 11th while City, eighth six weeks earlier, were on a dreadful run of six defeats in seven games. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images That's Dawson in the dark shirt in the picture, framed against the Stretford sky, arching his body to flick the ball on and captured by the photographer dead in the middle of the floodlight pylon on the left corner of the Scoreboard End. Romantics can imagine the smoke from a passing steam train adding to the hazy ambience but the season and hour are likely to be more responsible for the oystery murk. Dawson scored his second hat-trick in successive matches in this game and Charlton, from the left-wing, hit two more past Bert Trautmann. Only Colin Barlow could reply for Manchester City and any Blues would be excused by the 5-1 defeat for telling first-footers' calling on them later that night to stuff their lump of coal where the sun doesn't shine. Dawson was a broad bullock of a centre-forward who had unforgettably scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham in 1958 during United's emotional charge to Wembley. He scored 45 league goals in 80 appearances and suffered City fans adopting the Camptown Races melody to assail him thus: "Who's that fella with the big fat a---? Dawson, Dawson." He had many qualities but not the exhilarating flair that Busby coveted so highly and he was sold to Preston in 1961 where he became known as 'The Black Prince of Deepdale' and bagged more than a hundred goals over six seasons of frisky service. Deliciously, to the right of the photograph in the City No10 shirt and adjusting his body perhaps to launch himself acrobatically at the ball, is Denis Law, a forward with all the class and spirit Busby desired. It would take the United manager another 20 months to get his man.   2. Eric Cantona 1994 On March 19 1994 Manchester United, the champions and league leaders went to the County Ground to play their only top-flight match against Swindon Town who were 47 points below them and not so much at the foot of the Premiership but at the bottom of its Mariana Trench. But Swindon, by virtue of two equalisers, held on for a point and United were left with 10 men when Eric Cantona was sent off for stamping on John Moncur's solar plexus. A little over 72 hours later on March 22, United were again pegged back after twice taking the lead at Arsenal and Cantona was sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Ian Selley, the second two minutes later for wild swipes at Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams. For his sins Cantona was given a five-match suspension and defeats by second-placed Blackburn and Wimbledon in his absence left United still leading Rovers at the top of the table but solely on goal difference though they had played one match fewer. Cantona returned for their 38th game of the 42-match season, the Manchester derby on St George's Day and may have read, on the morning of the match, a warning from City's full-back Terry Phelan, who pledged that his team-mates would "wind Eric up left, right and centre" and rotate the opportunity to "take a bite out of him" because he "doesn't like it when you get him at it" which must rank as one of the worst psychological assessments in recent memory.  Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT/Getty Images In the end Phelan did not make the starting XI and City's attempts to rile the Player of the Year were faced, at least initially, by the rarely seen "other cheek" of United's No7. In the five minutes before half-time he scored twice, tapping in an Andrei Kanchelskis centre from a yard and then sweeping a right-foot shot under Andy Dibble when the keeper thought he was going to be chipped. Kanchelskis had a peculiar way of using his arms when running that suggested forgetting to extract the coathanger before putting his shirt on but was devastatingly direct and quick and he stands in the background, about to be embraced by Lee Sharpe, one winger acutely aware that the other deserves most praise for the opening goal. Yet it's the central figure of Cantona that dominates and by contrast to the near identical pose of Michel Vonk, appealing vainly for offside, he smiles with something of the radiant pleasure he could still demonstrate. For the remaining three seasons of his career, more so after Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona sometimes seemed to be wedded to an image of himself wearing a crown of thorns and often posed messianically after scoring, not so much in 'redemption' mode as with a confrontational attitude of there-will-be-a-reckoning-for those-who doubted-me.   Here, though, there is joy still unconfined, an elation that burgeoned over the next three weeks after United's 2-0 victory. In their five remaining games they wrapped up the Premier League title by eight points and defeated Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their debut Double.  "No matter what the tempo is Eric's got the ability to compose himself on the ball," said Alex Ferguson after the match, burnishing the divine mystique. "In the maelstrom of League football that in itself is a miracle."  3. Roy Keane 2001  One should not forget that Roy Keane’s vendetta against Alfie Haaland was provoked by a word not a deed. In September 1997 at Elland Road, Keane injured himself fouling Haaland, then playing for Leeds, severing his own cruciate ligament when his studs caught in the turf and put himself out of the game for 11 months’ of gruelling rehabilitation. In his first autobiography Keane claims that Haaland and his team-mate David Wetherall stood over him and accused him of faking the injury, an act of slander so defamatory to his professional code, so uncharitable, that Keane stoked the embers of his grudge for almost four years. The fact that Haaland may have been responding in the moment after 85 minutes of rancour between the two, that Keane’s fall was in the penalty area at the end of a game Manchester United were losing 1-0, or that he could be excused of savouring the irony that someone who had tried to hurt him had succeeded only in hurting himself did not diminish Keane’s festering resentment. Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien In Keane’s absence, Manchester United eventually blew an 11-point lead in the championship race and Arsenal won the Double but by April 2001 and the Old Trafford derby, Keane was well on course to raise his third successive Premier League title as club captain. It was a drab match - Steve Howey had scored the equaliser with seven minutes to go after Paul Scholes had missed a penalty before Teddy Sheringham converted one - until Keane exploited the proximity of Haaland in the 86th minute to lunge right-foot first, studs up, into the side of the City midfielder’s knee. Haaland had just executed a forceful clearance and had his leg off the turf in his followthrough when Keane hit him with the full weight of his body driven through his lunge, tipping his victim up so that he slammed shoulder-first into the grass. Paul Hayward, who was there for The Telegraph, takes the story up in his live report: Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. In his 2002 autobiography Keane revealed the key message he delivered was two letters shorter than ‘Gotcha’. "I'd waited long enough. I f------ hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c---. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there's some for him as well." While there is no denying that it’s precisely what he meant, he would have had to rattle through it like Michael O’Hehir on amphetamine sulphate to deliver it verbally in the two seconds he spoke before leaving the pitch. Ever since, seemingly depending on the likelihood of legal repercussions for his words, Keane revels in it but see-saws on whether he meant irreparably to harm Haaland, who would play only 48 minutes more in his professional career during various comebacks but retired mainly because of an injury to his left knee. Some Manchester United fans see Keane at this moment as a kind of warrior avenging angel and his critics as a mad dog but the stark beauty of the photograph captures a man chillingly in control achieving, in his eyes, brutal restitution for a violation of his honour. It’s how Keyser Soze must have looked when wiping out one of the Hungarian mafia. 4. Michael Owen 2009 United had all but thrown away the home derby in September 2009 when they conceded three equalisers, the last in the 90th minute when the quicksilver Craig Bellamy made Rio Ferdinand look like a carthorse after the England centre-back played a casual pass straight to Martin Petrov. Carlos Tevez’s transfer to City in July provoked the summer of “the noisy neighbours” and Ferdinand’s posture after being gulled by Bellamy, head in hands behind the shaky Ben Foster and muttering expletives, betrayed his concern about letting his team-mates down and the wrath from a volcanic Sir Alex Ferguson that was about to engulf him. But he was about to be saved by the free transfer signing Ferguson had brought in to replace Tevez, the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner, Michael Owen, whose giddy progress had been hobbled at Newcastle United by a cruciate-ligament injury and recurring hamstring, thigh and groin problems. Owen was a serious, dedicated professional yet Newcastle fans had not taken to him, finding it difficult to embrace someone who was frequently absent from the field and refused to live among them. It is fair to say that United fans were barely exhilarated by his signing either. They had completed a hat-trick of titles the previous May but had been forced to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and decided to let Tevez go in the summer without reinvesting a credible portion of the profits. Credit: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images But cometh the hour or, as City fans would put it, ‘cometh the sixth minute of Fergie time’, cometh the substitute Owen to sidle behind Micah Richards. It took a cute pass from Ryan Giggs to find him and even after so many injuries Owen plus space plus a gap between him and the goalkeeper was an equation with only one likely outcome. Shay Given spread himself as best he could without reward. Owen took a touch then dinked the ball into the far corner with an expert flick of the toes. The special thing about the photograph is how it destroys the perception of Owen as the dull master of his emotions and by that stage of his career as someone who cared more about thoroughbreds than goals. “Just look at his face”, as Barry Davies once instructed the audience when Frannie Lee scored against City after leaving Maine Road to win the title with Derby, and his delight is palpable. For City there was a sense of being mugged again in the familiar fishy circumstances by Ferguson, the Time Lord, yet the picture of Owen resonates more than the ones of desolate and angry players in blue. It conveys his elation but also his optimism, like someone who has emerged from a long nightmare. 5. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes 2010 Once you know that 1950’s ‘Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville’ by Robert Doisneau was staged, it removes some of the sheen from the quintessential Parisian portrait of uninhibited young love. One trusts, for Paul Scholes’ sake, that the photograph taken during the April 2010 Etihad derby, was a more spontaneous ‘Kiss’ that required no laborious and possibly unsavoury rehearsal. United were second, trailing Chelsea by four points with four matches to go and City fifth, two points behind Spurs in the last Champions League qualifying plce, as they embarked on their game in hand at Eastlands. Sadly the game was nothing like the firecracker at Old Trafford earlier in the season and was littered with anxiety-ridden wayward passes, midfield stagnation, shouts for penalties from both sides and all too rare opportunities that were squandered. Once again the clock had passed 90 minutes when Gabriel Obertan slipped past Patrick Vieira, rolled the ball down the left for Patrice Evra to cross and Scholes met it before the penalty spot and cushioned an unstoppable header inside the far post. Like Owen across the city seven months earlier, Scholes ran behind the goal but by contrast threw himself into the arms of United fans. Credit: AP Photo/Tim Hales When he extricated himself from the melee he was approached by his captain and friend, Gary Neville, who held him tenderly by the cheeks, puckered up and kissed him on the lips, at that moment finding him irresistible like a young Mel Smith with Griff Rhys Jones. “A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City,” said Scholes. “Gary’s emotional and it was an important goal. Gary’s kissed a few in his time. David [Beckham] was probably his favourite but that’s the way Gary is.” John O’Shea had a more arresting interpretation, one that perhaps explains the nakedly theatrical exaggeration of the gesture with the placement of his hands. “I don’t think it was for Scholesy’s benefit,” he said. “I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier.” United won their last three games and so did Chelsea which left them runners-up by a point while this loss followed by the home defeat by Tottenham kept City out of the Champions League for one last year. For Neville it would be his last derby and one sealed with a loving kiss. 6. Wayne Rooney 2011 After missing out on the league title in 2010 despite a hat-trick that preceded it, Sir Alex Ferguson announced the following October that Wayne Rooney had asked for a transfer because he felt that the club’s investment in new players was inadequate and he wanted to play for a club that matched his ambitions. It did not take long for Ferguson to knock him back nor for whispers to emerge that he was trying to engineer a move to City. “I met with David Gill [United chief executive] last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney confirmed when outed by Ferguson. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.” Because he was articulating some of the suspicions of United supporters that the demands of the Glazer family’s leveraged buy-out of the club had restricted its scope in the market, Rooney was not as vituperatively condemned as an everyday ‘wantaway’ player. Nonetheless he did alienate many United fans among them a balaclava-clad posse who protested outside his home in Prestbury with a banner that read, “If you join City you are dead”. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super One suspects Fergsuon’s dead body would have had to be surmounted for any deal to go through and the manager played hardball in public while the Glazers eventually enticed him to stay with a staggering new offer. It took Rooney more than a year publicly to express his regrets and claim that he would never have joined City. Ferguson welcomed him back into the fold much sooner and United’s title campaign gathered momentum through the winter though Rooney scored only three goals in 11 Premier League matches after signing his new contract. United took the lead in February’s Old Trafford derby through Nani before David Silva equalised jammily when hit on the back by Edin Dzeko’s shot 20 minutes into the second-half. Rooney, toiling alone up front, could not get into the game yet continued to run the channels hard to try to elude the irritatingly adhesive Vincent Kompany. In the 78th minute Nani floated a cross into the box that was behind Rooney. He had stationed himself by the penalty spot with the intention of sowing doubt about which post he would attack but the trajectory of the centre forced an adjustment. He swivelled and jumped horizontally, back to the floor, head down and thumped a bicycle-kick volley past Hart whose mouth flapped agape in surprise. It was a classic wonder goal, one that made you appreciate the extraordinary agility, anticipation and execution of a world-class player. He is commonly derided now after five years of slow decline from his 2011-12 peak but back then Rooney’s outstanding talent was in full bloom. Which is why Ferguson fought so hard to keep him, why United’s fans embraced him again and forgave his rebellion. And half a dozen of the other ... Manchester City images 1. Matt Busby and Joe Mercer 1939 This photograph, taken shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, shows three sergeants of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Joe Mercer on the left, Matt Busby in the middle and Charlton Athletic and England’s Don Welsh. Mercer, then of Everton and England, went on to manager City for six thrilling seasons from 1965 while Busby, then of Liverpool and Scotland, had played for City from the age of 18 in 1928 for eight seasons, winning the FA Cup in sky blue in 1934. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images What’s terrific about this picture is that it shows a fine City player and a great City manager, one with his City days behind him, the other with them many years ahead in the future. At the time of the photograph they were cross-city rivals as players and 26 years on would become cross-city rivals as managers but as is plain to see by the smiles, they never let partisan hostility infect their outlook. Their sense of duty and gentlemanly warmth is the foundation of what is best about both clubs and City were blessed to be served and influenced by the two of them.   2. Two Georges 1968 On the morning of the midweek Old Trafford derby on March 27 1968, United were second behind Leeds in the table on goal average and City two points back in third. United took the lead in the first minute through George Best but City gradually built momentum to dominate the match, equalising with a Colin Bell goal on 16 minutes. Bell was mesmerising that day, thrashing the ball past Stepney then giving United’s midfield the runaround. John Hollins of Chelsea says that Bell’s stamina made him seem as if he had an extra lung and he used his physical dynamism and acute positional sense to cause havoc. Francis Burns fouled him to concede the free-kick from which George Heslop headed City ahead and the raw United full-back hit him with another dreadful tackle late on when Bell was rounding the keeper and sure to roll in the third. That honour was left to Francis Lee from the penalty spot while Bell was being stretchered down the touchline and City wrapped up a convincing and deserved victory to put them level with United and Leeds on 45 points.   Credit: Derek Preston/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images For Malcolm Allison, Mercer’s assistant and the Puckish strategist behind City’s rise, everything panned out as he had envisioned it. Before the game he had told the City players to walk to the Stretford End to applaud the United fans, knowing it would needle them and sharpen the atmosphere. Best, brilliant, sometimes unstoppable, scored though it did not puncture City’s confidence and here in this photograph we see George Heslop, City’s centre-half, time a sliding tackle to perfection and rob Best in full flight. Heslop, his blond combover a match for Bobby Charlton’s, was the pivot in City’s defensive system who allowed Tommy Booth and Mike Doyle the positional flexibility to support and switch with Tony Coleman, Bell and Mike Summerbee. Here, momentarily left exposed, and confronted by the greatest player in Europe in his mercurial, high summer peak, Heslop uses his experience and skill to stymie all that talent. It’s one of the standout action shots of the Sixties, the expanse of vacant green grass around them is where Best thrived but Heslop, his gigantic thighs a contrast to the sleek, supple Best’s, fairly and elegantly bars his way. “Years of humiliation had been, if not wiped away, at least eased,” Allison later wrote. “It was one of the great nights of my life.” Greater still were to come. Although they lost at Leicester the following week, City won five of their next seven games before victory at St James’ Park on the final day earned them their first title for 31 years by two points from United.  “I think we will be the first team to play on Mars,” Allison said on the morning after winning the title following only an hour’s sleep. "We have had more courage than the majority of teams in the League. The courage to play this game.” Mars would prove to be a stretch too far, but who needs Mars when you’ve been taken to heaven?   3. Denis Law 1974 Maxwell Scott’s advice from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has proved seductive over the years for those writing about Denis Law’s backheel in the 83rd minute of the derby at Old Trafford in April 1974. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Scott, appropriately enough a newspaper editor. And so the myth that Law, a year after leaving United to return to City on a free transfer, sent United down took flight. In truth, though, Birmingham City in 19th held their fate in their own hands. Victory for them over Norwich, who had already been relegated, and United were down come what may. United fans knew what was happening at St Andrew’s and invaded the pitch at Old Trafford both before and after the news that Bob Hatton had put Birmingham ahead. The third and final invasion came four minutes from the end, three minutes after Law had put City in front with a larcenous, impulsive backheel. Sir Matt Busby addressed the crowd over the Tannoy in an attempt to persuade them to retreat “for the sake of the club” to no avail and the match was abandoned as a City victory. Birmingham’s 2-1 win rendered the last four minutes inconsequential. Credit: PA Before all that, though, Law had gone off, looking utterly disconsolate, even though City fans then and during the drawn-out melee were eagerly attempting to corral him into their celebrations. Look at his face and you see a perfect definition of “crestfallen”, a bigamist unmasked and tormented by the consequences. Law’s 37th and final goal for City (to add to his 237 for United) may not have relegated the neighbours at all but the legend endures because the twist of the player’s identity and allegiance enhance the element of City supporters’ schadenfreude to an exquisite pinnacle. “In that moment you saw the two sides of his character,” the City winger Dennis Tueart told the Daily Mail in 2012. “You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then - when he realised what he had done - you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.” 4. Ian Bishop and Paul Lake 1989 The 6-1 thrashing of the champions at Old Trafford in 2011 takes some beating but for City fans of a certain age the 5-1 victory at Maine Road in September 1989 will always be an imperishable memory. Because of City’s relegation, derbies in the Eighties were rare and City had not won one since February 1981 when Alex Ferguson took his beleaguered, expensive United team to Moss Side. It was the season of Michael Knighton in replica kit juggling the ball on the Old Trafford pitch to advertise his impending takeover before the opening match - a slick 4-1 victory over the champions Arsenal. The bloom of a summer spree - Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince snapped up for a staggering outlay of £6.25m - wilted as quickly as Knighton’s credibility when United were beaten by Derby, Norwich and Everton in successive matches. Beating Millwall 5-1 before the trip across town was trumpeted as the end of the teething troubles but they left Maine Road looking toothless and covered in bite marks. Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images City were a vibrant, young team, newly promoted and built around a core of five special homegrown players - Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White and Ian Brightwell - who seemed to personify the city’s youth culture that was in the midst of a glorious, hedonistic ascendancy. Just after kick-off a fight on the terraces escalated into a mass brawl that spread so quickly that some supporters understandably climbed over the perimeter fences to avoid a braying or an even worse fate. The referee suspended the game for eight minutes and on resumption City tore into United, scoring twice in the 12th minute after a mistake by Pallister, Britain’s most expensive defender, let in David Oldfield and another lax response to a developing crisis left Jim Leighton exposed after an impressive double save - and Trevor Morley rammed the ball past him. In the 36th minute Oldfield skinned Pallister and crossed for Ian Bishop to score with a diving header. He is the subject of our image, caught in the arms of Paul Lake as they celebrate City’s third. The photographer freezes them in a moment of ecstatic revelry with just a hint of charming disbelief in Lake’s eyes, fixed on the lens. It’s a great shot of City’s blend of youth - Lake - and the more experienced Bishop, a cut-price playmaker with cheek, vision and an inventive pass, the kind of player that always steals supporters’ hearts. Mark Hughes grabbed one back with a wonderful scissors kick that would be better known but for the result before Lake ripped United apart down the right to set up Oldfield’s fourth and Hinchcliffe made it five on the end of a slippery, sweeping move. Chants of “Ferguson out” from Reds were answered in raucous glee by the Blues with “Fergie must stay”. He did stay, of course, and recovered from a defeat he called “the most embarrassing of my career” while the terminally myopic Peter Swales, City's chairman, sacked Mel Machin in November and appointed Howard Kendall. Nothing wrong with that, City were bottom after all, but allowing him to dismantle such a promising squad, fill it full of Evertonians and sell many of the heroes of that day makes the 5-1 somewhat bittersweet. 5. Shaun Goater and Gary Neville 2002 A companion to No5 in the United section, this photograph shows Gary Neville at his greatest moment of derby despair. The elder Neville brother saw himself as more than a symbol for United fans, more the embodiment of their deepest desires and prejudices so there was no stopping City fans basking in his moment of nemesis in the last match at Maine Road. Credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images The score was 1-1 when Eyal Berkovic swept a pass from right to the left of the United penalty area over Neville’s head. He turned, with Shaun Goater in pursuit, and first tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick but changed tack when he realised it lacked the momentum. He hesitated for a moment and then attempted to pass it back to Fabien Barthez instead. Whether he didn’t see Goater between him and the keeper until it was too late or whether he had the chutzpah to think he could nutmeg the City forward is not known. Either way he fed the Goat who indeed scored, having careered in from the touchline and arrowed the ball around Barthez to score his 99th City goal. Credit:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images For the rest of the match the England right-back  was serenaded by “Gary Neville is a blue, is a blue, is a blue” and it followed him around for a fair few months. Goater went on to bring up his century in the second-half with a wonderful chip over Barthez and ended Maine Road’s days as a derby venue in appropriately carnival mood.   6. Mario Balotelli 2011 The first derby of the 2011-12 season took place on Sunday, October 23, 13 days before Guy Fawkes’ Night, not that anyone needs an excuse for a fireworks party any more: over the past 15 years the UK has turned positively Cantonese in its embrace of pyrotechnics. On the Friday before the match, Mario Balotelli and four friends were together at his new house in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire when one or more of them - the number is still in dispute - decided to treat the neighbours to an early morning chorus of explosions and illuminate the sky over their houses with fireworks. Perhaps it was cold outside or maybe just tired but someone decreed that the launch pad should be Balotelli’s bathroom. Someone got their calculations wrong as well as their aim and set fire first to some towels and then the house. One of them raised the alarm, neighbouring properties were evacuated and the fire service eventually extinguished the blaze. Balotelli checked into a city centre hotel, arrived on time for training the next morning and went into conclave with the kit man before returning to his hotel. Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images The story hit the newspapers on the morning of the match though Roberto Mancini still named Balotelli, who had scored in the three preceding games, in his starting XI. He rewarded his manager with an excellent performance, scoring twice, the first a deftly-placed side-foot shot from 16 yards. As soon as the ball went past David De Gea, Balotelli lifted his shirt over his head to reveal ‘Why always me?’ written on his vest. It earned him a booking and it might well have been worse if Les Chapman, City’s kit man, hadn’t dissuaded him from his other two ideas for slogans, both of them provocations to United fans. In addition to his two goals in the 6-1 victory, he elicited a foul from Jonny Evans that had the United defender sent off and he provides us with an image of engaging, prodigal insouciance. “That day it was as if Mario was great, an adult amongst children,” said Roberto Mancini. “I would have loved to have always seen him like he was at that derby.” Routine was never for Mario. He would not be half as frustrating without his uncommon skill nor half as endearing without his unaffected nonchalance.

Six of One - Iconic Manchester derby pictures ... and the stories behind them

Welcome to Six of One, our series in which we pick six of the best examples of a theme and contrast them with half a dozen others. This episode's theme is inspired by the Manchester derby and its rich history. Instead of the usual format of taking six outstanding things and balancing them with six execrable ones, here we have opted for six great photographs centred on United and six on City and try to tell the stories behind them.  As in the past it is obviously very much a subjective evaluation so please feel free to nominate your own favourites in either category in the comments section or tell your own stand-out derby stories.  Manchester United photographs 1. Alex Dawson 1960-61 Manchester United endured a torrid start to the 1960-61 season, losing 10 of their first 18 matches including defeats by Everton, Arsenal, Cardiff City and Aston Villa. It is often forgotten that they finished second in 1958-59, the season after the Munich Disaster, and seventh in 1959-60 but by mid-November 1960 they were 17th and looking in desperate need of fresh blood. That month Matt Busby bought the stylish Noel Cantwell from West Ham for £29,500, a record fee for a full-back, and the charming, erudite Irishman would go on to captain United and become a profound influence in the club's renaissance over the next eight years. His immediate impact was none too shabby and United swept through December, defeating Preston, drawing 4-4 with Fulham and beating Blackburn. The Christmas double header against Chelsea was overcome with a 2-0 away victory on Christmas Eve followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on Boxing Day in which Alex Dawson scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Nicholson two goals and Bobby Charlton one. By the time of the home derby on New Year's Eve 1960, United were in far ruder health and had climbed to 11th while City, eighth six weeks earlier, were on a dreadful run of six defeats in seven games. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images That's Dawson in the dark shirt in the picture, framed against the Stretford sky, arching his body to flick the ball on and captured by the photographer dead in the middle of the floodlight pylon on the left corner of the Scoreboard End. Romantics can imagine the smoke from a passing steam train adding to the hazy ambience but the season and hour are likely to be more responsible for the oystery murk. Dawson scored his second hat-trick in successive matches in this game and Charlton, from the left-wing, hit two more past Bert Trautmann. Only Colin Barlow could reply for Manchester City and any Blues would be excused by the 5-1 defeat for telling first-footers' calling on them later that night to stuff their lump of coal where the sun doesn't shine. Dawson was a broad bullock of a centre-forward who had unforgettably scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham in 1958 during United's emotional charge to Wembley. He scored 45 league goals in 80 appearances and suffered City fans adopting the Camptown Races melody to assail him thus: "Who's that fella with the big fat a---? Dawson, Dawson." He had many qualities but not the exhilarating flair that Busby coveted so highly and he was sold to Preston in 1961 where he became known as 'The Black Prince of Deepdale' and bagged more than a hundred goals over six seasons of frisky service. Deliciously, to the right of the photograph in the City No10 shirt and adjusting his body perhaps to launch himself acrobatically at the ball, is Denis Law, a forward with all the class and spirit Busby desired. It would take the United manager another 20 months to get his man.   2. Eric Cantona 1994 On March 19 1994 Manchester United, the champions and league leaders went to the County Ground to play their only top-flight match against Swindon Town who were 47 points below them and not so much at the foot of the Premiership but at the bottom of its Mariana Trench. But Swindon, by virtue of two equalisers, held on for a point and United were left with 10 men when Eric Cantona was sent off for stamping on John Moncur's solar plexus. A little over 72 hours later on March 22, United were again pegged back after twice taking the lead at Arsenal and Cantona was sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Ian Selley, the second two minutes later for wild swipes at Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams. For his sins Cantona was given a five-match suspension and defeats by second-placed Blackburn and Wimbledon in his absence left United still leading Rovers at the top of the table but solely on goal difference though they had played one match fewer. Cantona returned for their 38th game of the 42-match season, the Manchester derby on St George's Day and may have read, on the morning of the match, a warning from City's full-back Terry Phelan, who pledged that his team-mates would "wind Eric up left, right and centre" and rotate the opportunity to "take a bite out of him" because he "doesn't like it when you get him at it" which must rank as one of the worst psychological assessments in recent memory.  Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT/Getty Images In the end Phelan did not make the starting XI and City's attempts to rile the Player of the Year were faced, at least initially, by the rarely seen "other cheek" of United's No7. In the five minutes before half-time he scored twice, tapping in an Andrei Kanchelskis centre from a yard and then sweeping a right-foot shot under Andy Dibble when the keeper thought he was going to be chipped. Kanchelskis had a peculiar way of using his arms when running that suggested forgetting to extract the coathanger before putting his shirt on but was devastatingly direct and quick and he stands in the background, about to be embraced by Lee Sharpe, one winger acutely aware that the other deserves most praise for the opening goal. Yet it's the central figure of Cantona that dominates and by contrast to the near identical pose of Michel Vonk, appealing vainly for offside, he smiles with something of the radiant pleasure he could still demonstrate. For the remaining three seasons of his career, more so after Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona sometimes seemed to be wedded to an image of himself wearing a crown of thorns and often posed messianically after scoring, not so much in 'redemption' mode as with a confrontational attitude of there-will-be-a-reckoning-for those-who doubted-me.   Here, though, there is joy still unconfined, an elation that burgeoned over the next three weeks after United's 2-0 victory. In their five remaining games they wrapped up the Premier League title by eight points and defeated Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their debut Double.  "No matter what the tempo is Eric's got the ability to compose himself on the ball," said Alex Ferguson after the match, burnishing the divine mystique. "In the maelstrom of League football that in itself is a miracle."  3. Roy Keane 2001  One should not forget that Roy Keane’s vendetta against Alfie Haaland was provoked by a word not a deed. In September 1997 at Elland Road, Keane injured himself fouling Haaland, then playing for Leeds, severing his own cruciate ligament when his studs caught in the turf and put himself out of the game for 11 months’ of gruelling rehabilitation. In his first autobiography Keane claims that Haaland and his team-mate David Wetherall stood over him and accused him of faking the injury, an act of slander so defamatory to his professional code, so uncharitable, that Keane stoked the embers of his grudge for almost four years. The fact that Haaland may have been responding in the moment after 85 minutes of rancour between the two, that Keane’s fall was in the penalty area at the end of a game Manchester United were losing 1-0, or that he could be excused of savouring the irony that someone who had tried to hurt him had succeeded only in hurting himself did not diminish Keane’s festering resentment. Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien In Keane’s absence, Manchester United eventually blew an 11-point lead in the championship race and Arsenal won the Double but by April 2001 and the Old Trafford derby, Keane was well on course to raise his third successive Premier League title as club captain. It was a drab match - Steve Howey had scored the equaliser with seven minutes to go after Paul Scholes had missed a penalty before Teddy Sheringham converted one - until Keane exploited the proximity of Haaland in the 86th minute to lunge right-foot first, studs up, into the side of the City midfielder’s knee. Haaland had just executed a forceful clearance and had his leg off the turf in his followthrough when Keane hit him with the full weight of his body driven through his lunge, tipping his victim up so that he slammed shoulder-first into the grass. Paul Hayward, who was there for The Telegraph, takes the story up in his live report: Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. In his 2002 autobiography Keane revealed the key message he delivered was two letters shorter than ‘Gotcha’. "I'd waited long enough. I f------ hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c---. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there's some for him as well." While there is no denying that it’s precisely what he meant, he would have had to rattle through it like Michael O’Hehir on amphetamine sulphate to deliver it verbally in the two seconds he spoke before leaving the pitch. Ever since, seemingly depending on the likelihood of legal repercussions for his words, Keane revels in it but see-saws on whether he meant irreparably to harm Haaland, who would play only 48 minutes more in his professional career during various comebacks but retired mainly because of an injury to his left knee. Some Manchester United fans see Keane at this moment as a kind of warrior avenging angel and his critics as a mad dog but the stark beauty of the photograph captures a man chillingly in control achieving, in his eyes, brutal restitution for a violation of his honour. It’s how Keyser Soze must have looked when wiping out one of the Hungarian mafia. 4. Michael Owen 2009 United had all but thrown away the home derby in September 2009 when they conceded three equalisers, the last in the 90th minute when the quicksilver Craig Bellamy made Rio Ferdinand look like a carthorse after the England centre-back played a casual pass straight to Martin Petrov. Carlos Tevez’s transfer to City in July provoked the summer of “the noisy neighbours” and Ferdinand’s posture after being gulled by Bellamy, head in hands behind the shaky Ben Foster and muttering expletives, betrayed his concern about letting his team-mates down and the wrath from a volcanic Sir Alex Ferguson that was about to engulf him. But he was about to be saved by the free transfer signing Ferguson had brought in to replace Tevez, the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner, Michael Owen, whose giddy progress had been hobbled at Newcastle United by a cruciate-ligament injury and recurring hamstring, thigh and groin problems. Owen was a serious, dedicated professional yet Newcastle fans had not taken to him, finding it difficult to embrace someone who was frequently absent from the field and refused to live among them. It is fair to say that United fans were barely exhilarated by his signing either. They had completed a hat-trick of titles the previous May but had been forced to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and decided to let Tevez go in the summer without reinvesting a credible portion of the profits. Credit: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images But cometh the hour or, as City fans would put it, ‘cometh the sixth minute of Fergie time’, cometh the substitute Owen to sidle behind Micah Richards. It took a cute pass from Ryan Giggs to find him and even after so many injuries Owen plus space plus a gap between him and the goalkeeper was an equation with only one likely outcome. Shay Given spread himself as best he could without reward. Owen took a touch then dinked the ball into the far corner with an expert flick of the toes. The special thing about the photograph is how it destroys the perception of Owen as the dull master of his emotions and by that stage of his career as someone who cared more about thoroughbreds than goals. “Just look at his face”, as Barry Davies once instructed the audience when Frannie Lee scored against City after leaving Maine Road to win the title with Derby, and his delight is palpable. For City there was a sense of being mugged again in the familiar fishy circumstances by Ferguson, the Time Lord, yet the picture of Owen resonates more than the ones of desolate and angry players in blue. It conveys his elation but also his optimism, like someone who has emerged from a long nightmare. 5. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes 2010 Once you know that 1950’s ‘Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville’ by Robert Doisneau was staged, it removes some of the sheen from the quintessential Parisian portrait of uninhibited young love. One trusts, for Paul Scholes’ sake, that the photograph taken during the April 2010 Etihad derby, was a more spontaneous ‘Kiss’ that required no laborious and possibly unsavoury rehearsal. United were second, trailing Chelsea by four points with four matches to go and City fifth, two points behind Spurs in the last Champions League qualifying plce, as they embarked on their game in hand at Eastlands. Sadly the game was nothing like the firecracker at Old Trafford earlier in the season and was littered with anxiety-ridden wayward passes, midfield stagnation, shouts for penalties from both sides and all too rare opportunities that were squandered. Once again the clock had passed 90 minutes when Gabriel Obertan slipped past Patrick Vieira, rolled the ball down the left for Patrice Evra to cross and Scholes met it before the penalty spot and cushioned an unstoppable header inside the far post. Like Owen across the city seven months earlier, Scholes ran behind the goal but by contrast threw himself into the arms of United fans. Credit: AP Photo/Tim Hales When he extricated himself from the melee he was approached by his captain and friend, Gary Neville, who held him tenderly by the cheeks, puckered up and kissed him on the lips, at that moment finding him irresistible like a young Mel Smith with Griff Rhys Jones. “A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City,” said Scholes. “Gary’s emotional and it was an important goal. Gary’s kissed a few in his time. David [Beckham] was probably his favourite but that’s the way Gary is.” John O’Shea had a more arresting interpretation, one that perhaps explains the nakedly theatrical exaggeration of the gesture with the placement of his hands. “I don’t think it was for Scholesy’s benefit,” he said. “I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier.” United won their last three games and so did Chelsea which left them runners-up by a point while this loss followed by the home defeat by Tottenham kept City out of the Champions League for one last year. For Neville it would be his last derby and one sealed with a loving kiss. 6. Wayne Rooney 2011 After missing out on the league title in 2010 despite a hat-trick that preceded it, Sir Alex Ferguson announced the following October that Wayne Rooney had asked for a transfer because he felt that the club’s investment in new players was inadequate and he wanted to play for a club that matched his ambitions. It did not take long for Ferguson to knock him back nor for whispers to emerge that he was trying to engineer a move to City. “I met with David Gill [United chief executive] last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney confirmed when outed by Ferguson. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.” Because he was articulating some of the suspicions of United supporters that the demands of the Glazer family’s leveraged buy-out of the club had restricted its scope in the market, Rooney was not as vituperatively condemned as an everyday ‘wantaway’ player. Nonetheless he did alienate many United fans among them a balaclava-clad posse who protested outside his home in Prestbury with a banner that read, “If you join City you are dead”. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super One suspects Fergsuon’s dead body would have had to be surmounted for any deal to go through and the manager played hardball in public while the Glazers eventually enticed him to stay with a staggering new offer. It took Rooney more than a year publicly to express his regrets and claim that he would never have joined City. Ferguson welcomed him back into the fold much sooner and United’s title campaign gathered momentum through the winter though Rooney scored only three goals in 11 Premier League matches after signing his new contract. United took the lead in February’s Old Trafford derby through Nani before David Silva equalised jammily when hit on the back by Edin Dzeko’s shot 20 minutes into the second-half. Rooney, toiling alone up front, could not get into the game yet continued to run the channels hard to try to elude the irritatingly adhesive Vincent Kompany. In the 78th minute Nani floated a cross into the box that was behind Rooney. He had stationed himself by the penalty spot with the intention of sowing doubt about which post he would attack but the trajectory of the centre forced an adjustment. He swivelled and jumped horizontally, back to the floor, head down and thumped a bicycle-kick volley past Hart whose mouth flapped agape in surprise. It was a classic wonder goal, one that made you appreciate the extraordinary agility, anticipation and execution of a world-class player. He is commonly derided now after five years of slow decline from his 2011-12 peak but back then Rooney’s outstanding talent was in full bloom. Which is why Ferguson fought so hard to keep him, why United’s fans embraced him again and forgave his rebellion. And half a dozen of the other ... Manchester City images 1. Matt Busby and Joe Mercer 1939 This photograph, taken shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, shows three sergeants of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Joe Mercer on the left, Matt Busby in the middle and Charlton Athletic and England’s Don Welsh. Mercer, then of Everton and England, went on to manager City for six thrilling seasons from 1965 while Busby, then of Liverpool and Scotland, had played for City from the age of 18 in 1928 for eight seasons, winning the FA Cup in sky blue in 1934. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images What’s terrific about this picture is that it shows a fine City player and a great City manager, one with his City days behind him, the other with them many years ahead in the future. At the time of the photograph they were cross-city rivals as players and 26 years on would become cross-city rivals as managers but as is plain to see by the smiles, they never let partisan hostility infect their outlook. Their sense of duty and gentlemanly warmth is the foundation of what is best about both clubs and City were blessed to be served and influenced by the two of them.   2. Two Georges 1968 On the morning of the midweek Old Trafford derby on March 27 1968, United were second behind Leeds in the table on goal average and City two points back in third. United took the lead in the first minute through George Best but City gradually built momentum to dominate the match, equalising with a Colin Bell goal on 16 minutes. Bell was mesmerising that day, thrashing the ball past Stepney then giving United’s midfield the runaround. John Hollins of Chelsea says that Bell’s stamina made him seem as if he had an extra lung and he used his physical dynamism and acute positional sense to cause havoc. Francis Burns fouled him to concede the free-kick from which George Heslop headed City ahead and the raw United full-back hit him with another dreadful tackle late on when Bell was rounding the keeper and sure to roll in the third. That honour was left to Francis Lee from the penalty spot while Bell was being stretchered down the touchline and City wrapped up a convincing and deserved victory to put them level with United and Leeds on 45 points.   Credit: Derek Preston/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images For Malcolm Allison, Mercer’s assistant and the Puckish strategist behind City’s rise, everything panned out as he had envisioned it. Before the game he had told the City players to walk to the Stretford End to applaud the United fans, knowing it would needle them and sharpen the atmosphere. Best, brilliant, sometimes unstoppable, scored though it did not puncture City’s confidence and here in this photograph we see George Heslop, City’s centre-half, time a sliding tackle to perfection and rob Best in full flight. Heslop, his blond combover a match for Bobby Charlton’s, was the pivot in City’s defensive system who allowed Tommy Booth and Mike Doyle the positional flexibility to support and switch with Tony Coleman, Bell and Mike Summerbee. Here, momentarily left exposed, and confronted by the greatest player in Europe in his mercurial, high summer peak, Heslop uses his experience and skill to stymie all that talent. It’s one of the standout action shots of the Sixties, the expanse of vacant green grass around them is where Best thrived but Heslop, his gigantic thighs a contrast to the sleek, supple Best’s, fairly and elegantly bars his way. “Years of humiliation had been, if not wiped away, at least eased,” Allison later wrote. “It was one of the great nights of my life.” Greater still were to come. Although they lost at Leicester the following week, City won five of their next seven games before victory at St James’ Park on the final day earned them their first title for 31 years by two points from United.  “I think we will be the first team to play on Mars,” Allison said on the morning after winning the title following only an hour’s sleep. "We have had more courage than the majority of teams in the League. The courage to play this game.” Mars would prove to be a stretch too far, but who needs Mars when you’ve been taken to heaven?   3. Denis Law 1974 Maxwell Scott’s advice from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has proved seductive over the years for those writing about Denis Law’s backheel in the 83rd minute of the derby at Old Trafford in April 1974. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Scott, appropriately enough a newspaper editor. And so the myth that Law, a year after leaving United to return to City on a free transfer, sent United down took flight. In truth, though, Birmingham City in 19th held their fate in their own hands. Victory for them over Norwich, who had already been relegated, and United were down come what may. United fans knew what was happening at St Andrew’s and invaded the pitch at Old Trafford both before and after the news that Bob Hatton had put Birmingham ahead. The third and final invasion came four minutes from the end, three minutes after Law had put City in front with a larcenous, impulsive backheel. Sir Matt Busby addressed the crowd over the Tannoy in an attempt to persuade them to retreat “for the sake of the club” to no avail and the match was abandoned as a City victory. Birmingham’s 2-1 win rendered the last four minutes inconsequential. Credit: PA Before all that, though, Law had gone off, looking utterly disconsolate, even though City fans then and during the drawn-out melee were eagerly attempting to corral him into their celebrations. Look at his face and you see a perfect definition of “crestfallen”, a bigamist unmasked and tormented by the consequences. Law’s 37th and final goal for City (to add to his 237 for United) may not have relegated the neighbours at all but the legend endures because the twist of the player’s identity and allegiance enhance the element of City supporters’ schadenfreude to an exquisite pinnacle. “In that moment you saw the two sides of his character,” the City winger Dennis Tueart told the Daily Mail in 2012. “You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then - when he realised what he had done - you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.” 4. Ian Bishop and Paul Lake 1989 The 6-1 thrashing of the champions at Old Trafford in 2011 takes some beating but for City fans of a certain age the 5-1 victory at Maine Road in September 1989 will always be an imperishable memory. Because of City’s relegation, derbies in the Eighties were rare and City had not won one since February 1981 when Alex Ferguson took his beleaguered, expensive United team to Moss Side. It was the season of Michael Knighton in replica kit juggling the ball on the Old Trafford pitch to advertise his impending takeover before the opening match - a slick 4-1 victory over the champions Arsenal. The bloom of a summer spree - Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince snapped up for a staggering outlay of £6.25m - wilted as quickly as Knighton’s credibility when United were beaten by Derby, Norwich and Everton in successive matches. Beating Millwall 5-1 before the trip across town was trumpeted as the end of the teething troubles but they left Maine Road looking toothless and covered in bite marks. Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images City were a vibrant, young team, newly promoted and built around a core of five special homegrown players - Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White and Ian Brightwell - who seemed to personify the city’s youth culture that was in the midst of a glorious, hedonistic ascendancy. Just after kick-off a fight on the terraces escalated into a mass brawl that spread so quickly that some supporters understandably climbed over the perimeter fences to avoid a braying or an even worse fate. The referee suspended the game for eight minutes and on resumption City tore into United, scoring twice in the 12th minute after a mistake by Pallister, Britain’s most expensive defender, let in David Oldfield and another lax response to a developing crisis left Jim Leighton exposed after an impressive double save - and Trevor Morley rammed the ball past him. In the 36th minute Oldfield skinned Pallister and crossed for Ian Bishop to score with a diving header. He is the subject of our image, caught in the arms of Paul Lake as they celebrate City’s third. The photographer freezes them in a moment of ecstatic revelry with just a hint of charming disbelief in Lake’s eyes, fixed on the lens. It’s a great shot of City’s blend of youth - Lake - and the more experienced Bishop, a cut-price playmaker with cheek, vision and an inventive pass, the kind of player that always steals supporters’ hearts. Mark Hughes grabbed one back with a wonderful scissors kick that would be better known but for the result before Lake ripped United apart down the right to set up Oldfield’s fourth and Hinchcliffe made it five on the end of a slippery, sweeping move. Chants of “Ferguson out” from Reds were answered in raucous glee by the Blues with “Fergie must stay”. He did stay, of course, and recovered from a defeat he called “the most embarrassing of my career” while the terminally myopic Peter Swales, City's chairman, sacked Mel Machin in November and appointed Howard Kendall. Nothing wrong with that, City were bottom after all, but allowing him to dismantle such a promising squad, fill it full of Evertonians and sell many of the heroes of that day makes the 5-1 somewhat bittersweet. 5. Shaun Goater and Gary Neville 2002 A companion to No5 in the United section, this photograph shows Gary Neville at his greatest moment of derby despair. The elder Neville brother saw himself as more than a symbol for United fans, more the embodiment of their deepest desires and prejudices so there was no stopping City fans basking in his moment of nemesis in the last match at Maine Road. Credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images The score was 1-1 when Eyal Berkovic swept a pass from right to the left of the United penalty area over Neville’s head. He turned, with Shaun Goater in pursuit, and first tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick but changed tack when he realised it lacked the momentum. He hesitated for a moment and then attempted to pass it back to Fabien Barthez instead. Whether he didn’t see Goater between him and the keeper until it was too late or whether he had the chutzpah to think he could nutmeg the City forward is not known. Either way he fed the Goat who indeed scored, having careered in from the touchline and arrowed the ball around Barthez to score his 99th City goal. Credit:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images For the rest of the match the England right-back  was serenaded by “Gary Neville is a blue, is a blue, is a blue” and it followed him around for a fair few months. Goater went on to bring up his century in the second-half with a wonderful chip over Barthez and ended Maine Road’s days as a derby venue in appropriately carnival mood.   6. Mario Balotelli 2011 The first derby of the 2011-12 season took place on Sunday, October 23, 13 days before Guy Fawkes’ Night, not that anyone needs an excuse for a fireworks party any more: over the past 15 years the UK has turned positively Cantonese in its embrace of pyrotechnics. On the Friday before the match, Mario Balotelli and four friends were together at his new house in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire when one or more of them - the number is still in dispute - decided to treat the neighbours to an early morning chorus of explosions and illuminate the sky over their houses with fireworks. Perhaps it was cold outside or maybe just tired but someone decreed that the launch pad should be Balotelli’s bathroom. Someone got their calculations wrong as well as their aim and set fire first to some towels and then the house. One of them raised the alarm, neighbouring properties were evacuated and the fire service eventually extinguished the blaze. Balotelli checked into a city centre hotel, arrived on time for training the next morning and went into conclave with the kit man before returning to his hotel. Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images The story hit the newspapers on the morning of the match though Roberto Mancini still named Balotelli, who had scored in the three preceding games, in his starting XI. He rewarded his manager with an excellent performance, scoring twice, the first a deftly-placed side-foot shot from 16 yards. As soon as the ball went past David De Gea, Balotelli lifted his shirt over his head to reveal ‘Why always me?’ written on his vest. It earned him a booking and it might well have been worse if Les Chapman, City’s kit man, hadn’t dissuaded him from his other two ideas for slogans, both of them provocations to United fans. In addition to his two goals in the 6-1 victory, he elicited a foul from Jonny Evans that had the United defender sent off and he provides us with an image of engaging, prodigal insouciance. “That day it was as if Mario was great, an adult amongst children,” said Roberto Mancini. “I would have loved to have always seen him like he was at that derby.” Routine was never for Mario. He would not be half as frustrating without his uncommon skill nor half as endearing without his unaffected nonchalance.

Six of One - Iconic Manchester derby pictures ... and the stories behind them

Welcome to Six of One, our series in which we pick six of the best examples of a theme and contrast them with half a dozen others. This episode's theme is inspired by the Manchester derby and its rich history. Instead of the usual format of taking six outstanding things and balancing them with six execrable ones, here we have opted for six great photographs centred on United and six on City and try to tell the stories behind them.  As in the past it is obviously very much a subjective evaluation so please feel free to nominate your own favourites in either category in the comments section or tell your own stand-out derby stories.  Manchester United photographs 1. Alex Dawson 1960-61 Manchester United endured a torrid start to the 1960-61 season, losing 10 of their first 18 matches including defeats by Everton, Arsenal, Cardiff City and Aston Villa. It is often forgotten that they finished second in 1958-59, the season after the Munich Disaster, and seventh in 1959-60 but by mid-November 1960 they were 17th and looking in desperate need of fresh blood. That month Matt Busby bought the stylish Noel Cantwell from West Ham for £29,500, a record fee for a full-back, and the charming, erudite Irishman would go on to captain United and become a profound influence in the club's renaissance over the next eight years. His immediate impact was none too shabby and United swept through December, defeating Preston, drawing 4-4 with Fulham and beating Blackburn. The Christmas double header against Chelsea was overcome with a 2-0 away victory on Christmas Eve followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on Boxing Day in which Alex Dawson scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Nicholson two goals and Bobby Charlton one. By the time of the home derby on New Year's Eve 1960, United were in far ruder health and had climbed to 11th while City, eighth six weeks earlier, were on a dreadful run of six defeats in seven games. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images That's Dawson in the dark shirt in the picture, framed against the Stretford sky, arching his body to flick the ball on and captured by the photographer dead in the middle of the floodlight pylon on the left corner of the Scoreboard End. Romantics can imagine the smoke from a passing steam train adding to the hazy ambience but the season and hour are likely to be more responsible for the oystery murk. Dawson scored his second hat-trick in successive matches in this game and Charlton, from the left-wing, hit two more past Bert Trautmann. Only Colin Barlow could reply for Manchester City and any Blues would be excused by the 5-1 defeat for telling first-footers' calling on them later that night to stuff their lump of coal where the sun doesn't shine. Dawson was a broad bullock of a centre-forward who had unforgettably scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham in 1958 during United's emotional charge to Wembley. He scored 45 league goals in 80 appearances and suffered City fans adopting the Camptown Races melody to assail him thus: "Who's that fella with the big fat a---? Dawson, Dawson." He had many qualities but not the exhilarating flair that Busby coveted so highly and he was sold to Preston in 1961 where he became known as 'The Black Prince of Deepdale' and bagged more than a hundred goals over six seasons of frisky service. Deliciously, to the right of the photograph in the City No10 shirt and adjusting his body perhaps to launch himself acrobatically at the ball, is Denis Law, a forward with all the class and spirit Busby desired. It would take the United manager another 20 months to get his man.   2. Eric Cantona 1994 On March 19 1994 Manchester United, the champions and league leaders went to the County Ground to play their only top-flight match against Swindon Town who were 47 points below them and not so much at the foot of the Premiership but at the bottom of its Mariana Trench. But Swindon, by virtue of two equalisers, held on for a point and United were left with 10 men when Eric Cantona was sent off for stamping on John Moncur's solar plexus. A little over 72 hours later on March 22, United were again pegged back after twice taking the lead at Arsenal and Cantona was sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Ian Selley, the second two minutes later for wild swipes at Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams. For his sins Cantona was given a five-match suspension and defeats by second-placed Blackburn and Wimbledon in his absence left United still leading Rovers at the top of the table but solely on goal difference though they had played one match fewer. Cantona returned for their 38th game of the 42-match season, the Manchester derby on St George's Day and may have read, on the morning of the match, a warning from City's full-back Terry Phelan, who pledged that his team-mates would "wind Eric up left, right and centre" and rotate the opportunity to "take a bite out of him" because he "doesn't like it when you get him at it" which must rank as one of the worst psychological assessments in recent memory.  Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT/Getty Images In the end Phelan did not make the starting XI and City's attempts to rile the Player of the Year were faced, at least initially, by the rarely seen "other cheek" of United's No7. In the five minutes before half-time he scored twice, tapping in an Andrei Kanchelskis centre from a yard and then sweeping a right-foot shot under Andy Dibble when the keeper thought he was going to be chipped. Kanchelskis had a peculiar way of using his arms when running that suggested forgetting to extract the coathanger before putting his shirt on but was devastatingly direct and quick and he stands in the background, about to be embraced by Lee Sharpe, one winger acutely aware that the other deserves most praise for the opening goal. Yet it's the central figure of Cantona that dominates and by contrast to the near identical pose of Michel Vonk, appealing vainly for offside, he smiles with something of the radiant pleasure he could still demonstrate. For the remaining three seasons of his career, more so after Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona sometimes seemed to be wedded to an image of himself wearing a crown of thorns and often posed messianically after scoring, not so much in 'redemption' mode as with a confrontational attitude of there-will-be-a-reckoning-for those-who doubted-me.   Here, though, there is joy still unconfined, an elation that burgeoned over the next three weeks after United's 2-0 victory. In their five remaining games they wrapped up the Premier League title by eight points and defeated Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their debut Double.  "No matter what the tempo is Eric's got the ability to compose himself on the ball," said Alex Ferguson after the match, burnishing the divine mystique. "In the maelstrom of League football that in itself is a miracle."  3. Roy Keane 2001  One should not forget that Roy Keane’s vendetta against Alfie Haaland was provoked by a word not a deed. In September 1997 at Elland Road, Keane injured himself fouling Haaland, then playing for Leeds, severing his own cruciate ligament when his studs caught in the turf and put himself out of the game for 11 months’ of gruelling rehabilitation. In his first autobiography Keane claims that Haaland and his team-mate David Wetherall stood over him and accused him of faking the injury, an act of slander so defamatory to his professional code, so uncharitable, that Keane stoked the embers of his grudge for almost four years. The fact that Haaland may have been responding in the moment after 85 minutes of rancour between the two, that Keane’s fall was in the penalty area at the end of a game Manchester United were losing 1-0, or that he could be excused of savouring the irony that someone who had tried to hurt him had succeeded only in hurting himself did not diminish Keane’s festering resentment. Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien In Keane’s absence, Manchester United eventually blew an 11-point lead in the championship race and Arsenal won the Double but by April 2001 and the Old Trafford derby, Keane was well on course to raise his third successive Premier League title as club captain. It was a drab match - Steve Howey had scored the equaliser with seven minutes to go after Paul Scholes had missed a penalty before Teddy Sheringham converted one - until Keane exploited the proximity of Haaland in the 86th minute to lunge right-foot first, studs up, into the side of the City midfielder’s knee. Haaland had just executed a forceful clearance and had his leg off the turf in his followthrough when Keane hit him with the full weight of his body driven through his lunge, tipping his victim up so that he slammed shoulder-first into the grass. Paul Hayward, who was there for The Telegraph, takes the story up in his live report: Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. In his 2002 autobiography Keane revealed the key message he delivered was two letters shorter than ‘Gotcha’. "I'd waited long enough. I f------ hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c---. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there's some for him as well." While there is no denying that it’s precisely what he meant, he would have had to rattle through it like Michael O’Hehir on amphetamine sulphate to deliver it verbally in the two seconds he spoke before leaving the pitch. Ever since, seemingly depending on the likelihood of legal repercussions for his words, Keane revels in it but see-saws on whether he meant irreparably to harm Haaland, who would play only 48 minutes more in his professional career during various comebacks but retired mainly because of an injury to his left knee. Some Manchester United fans see Keane at this moment as a kind of warrior avenging angel and his critics as a mad dog but the stark beauty of the photograph captures a man chillingly in control achieving, in his eyes, brutal restitution for a violation of his honour. It’s how Keyser Soze must have looked when wiping out one of the Hungarian mafia. 4. Michael Owen 2009 United had all but thrown away the home derby in September 2009 when they conceded three equalisers, the last in the 90th minute when the quicksilver Craig Bellamy made Rio Ferdinand look like a carthorse after the England centre-back played a casual pass straight to Martin Petrov. Carlos Tevez’s transfer to City in July provoked the summer of “the noisy neighbours” and Ferdinand’s posture after being gulled by Bellamy, head in hands behind the shaky Ben Foster and muttering expletives, betrayed his concern about letting his team-mates down and the wrath from a volcanic Sir Alex Ferguson that was about to engulf him. But he was about to be saved by the free transfer signing Ferguson had brought in to replace Tevez, the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner, Michael Owen, whose giddy progress had been hobbled at Newcastle United by a cruciate-ligament injury and recurring hamstring, thigh and groin problems. Owen was a serious, dedicated professional yet Newcastle fans had not taken to him, finding it difficult to embrace someone who was frequently absent from the field and refused to live among them. It is fair to say that United fans were barely exhilarated by his signing either. They had completed a hat-trick of titles the previous May but had been forced to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and decided to let Tevez go in the summer without reinvesting a credible portion of the profits. Credit: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images But cometh the hour or, as City fans would put it, ‘cometh the sixth minute of Fergie time’, cometh the substitute Owen to sidle behind Micah Richards. It took a cute pass from Ryan Giggs to find him and even after so many injuries Owen plus space plus a gap between him and the goalkeeper was an equation with only one likely outcome. Shay Given spread himself as best he could without reward. Owen took a touch then dinked the ball into the far corner with an expert flick of the toes. The special thing about the photograph is how it destroys the perception of Owen as the dull master of his emotions and by that stage of his career as someone who cared more about thoroughbreds than goals. “Just look at his face”, as Barry Davies once instructed the audience when Frannie Lee scored against City after leaving Maine Road to win the title with Derby, and his delight is palpable. For City there was a sense of being mugged again in the familiar fishy circumstances by Ferguson, the Time Lord, yet the picture of Owen resonates more than the ones of desolate and angry players in blue. It conveys his elation but also his optimism, like someone who has emerged from a long nightmare. 5. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes 2010 Once you know that 1950’s ‘Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville’ by Robert Doisneau was staged, it removes some of the sheen from the quintessential Parisian portrait of uninhibited young love. One trusts, for Paul Scholes’ sake, that the photograph taken during the April 2010 Etihad derby, was a more spontaneous ‘Kiss’ that required no laborious and possibly unsavoury rehearsal. United were second, trailing Chelsea by four points with four matches to go and City fifth, two points behind Spurs in the last Champions League qualifying plce, as they embarked on their game in hand at Eastlands. Sadly the game was nothing like the firecracker at Old Trafford earlier in the season and was littered with anxiety-ridden wayward passes, midfield stagnation, shouts for penalties from both sides and all too rare opportunities that were squandered. Once again the clock had passed 90 minutes when Gabriel Obertan slipped past Patrick Vieira, rolled the ball down the left for Patrice Evra to cross and Scholes met it before the penalty spot and cushioned an unstoppable header inside the far post. Like Owen across the city seven months earlier, Scholes ran behind the goal but by contrast threw himself into the arms of United fans. Credit: AP Photo/Tim Hales When he extricated himself from the melee he was approached by his captain and friend, Gary Neville, who held him tenderly by the cheeks, puckered up and kissed him on the lips, at that moment finding him irresistible like a young Mel Smith with Griff Rhys Jones. “A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City,” said Scholes. “Gary’s emotional and it was an important goal. Gary’s kissed a few in his time. David [Beckham] was probably his favourite but that’s the way Gary is.” John O’Shea had a more arresting interpretation, one that perhaps explains the nakedly theatrical exaggeration of the gesture with the placement of his hands. “I don’t think it was for Scholesy’s benefit,” he said. “I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier.” United won their last three games and so did Chelsea which left them runners-up by a point while this loss followed by the home defeat by Tottenham kept City out of the Champions League for one last year. For Neville it would be his last derby and one sealed with a loving kiss. 6. Wayne Rooney 2011 After missing out on the league title in 2010 despite a hat-trick that preceded it, Sir Alex Ferguson announced the following October that Wayne Rooney had asked for a transfer because he felt that the club’s investment in new players was inadequate and he wanted to play for a club that matched his ambitions. It did not take long for Ferguson to knock him back nor for whispers to emerge that he was trying to engineer a move to City. “I met with David Gill [United chief executive] last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney confirmed when outed by Ferguson. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.” Because he was articulating some of the suspicions of United supporters that the demands of the Glazer family’s leveraged buy-out of the club had restricted its scope in the market, Rooney was not as vituperatively condemned as an everyday ‘wantaway’ player. Nonetheless he did alienate many United fans among them a balaclava-clad posse who protested outside his home in Prestbury with a banner that read, “If you join City you are dead”. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super One suspects Fergsuon’s dead body would have had to be surmounted for any deal to go through and the manager played hardball in public while the Glazers eventually enticed him to stay with a staggering new offer. It took Rooney more than a year publicly to express his regrets and claim that he would never have joined City. Ferguson welcomed him back into the fold much sooner and United’s title campaign gathered momentum through the winter though Rooney scored only three goals in 11 Premier League matches after signing his new contract. United took the lead in February’s Old Trafford derby through Nani before David Silva equalised jammily when hit on the back by Edin Dzeko’s shot 20 minutes into the second-half. Rooney, toiling alone up front, could not get into the game yet continued to run the channels hard to try to elude the irritatingly adhesive Vincent Kompany. In the 78th minute Nani floated a cross into the box that was behind Rooney. He had stationed himself by the penalty spot with the intention of sowing doubt about which post he would attack but the trajectory of the centre forced an adjustment. He swivelled and jumped horizontally, back to the floor, head down and thumped a bicycle-kick volley past Hart whose mouth flapped agape in surprise. It was a classic wonder goal, one that made you appreciate the extraordinary agility, anticipation and execution of a world-class player. He is commonly derided now after five years of slow decline from his 2011-12 peak but back then Rooney’s outstanding talent was in full bloom. Which is why Ferguson fought so hard to keep him, why United’s fans embraced him again and forgave his rebellion. And half a dozen of the other ... Manchester City images 1. Matt Busby and Joe Mercer 1939 This photograph, taken shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, shows three sergeants of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Joe Mercer on the left, Matt Busby in the middle and Charlton Athletic and England’s Don Welsh. Mercer, then of Everton and England, went on to manager City for six thrilling seasons from 1965 while Busby, then of Liverpool and Scotland, had played for City from the age of 18 in 1928 for eight seasons, winning the FA Cup in sky blue in 1934. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images What’s terrific about this picture is that it shows a fine City player and a great City manager, one with his City days behind him, the other with them many years ahead in the future. At the time of the photograph they were cross-city rivals as players and 26 years on would become cross-city rivals as managers but as is plain to see by the smiles, they never let partisan hostility infect their outlook. Their sense of duty and gentlemanly warmth is the foundation of what is best about both clubs and City were blessed to be served and influenced by the two of them.   2. Two Georges 1968 On the morning of the midweek Old Trafford derby on March 27 1968, United were second behind Leeds in the table on goal average and City two points back in third. United took the lead in the first minute through George Best but City gradually built momentum to dominate the match, equalising with a Colin Bell goal on 16 minutes. Bell was mesmerising that day, thrashing the ball past Stepney then giving United’s midfield the runaround. John Hollins of Chelsea says that Bell’s stamina made him seem as if he had an extra lung and he used his physical dynamism and acute positional sense to cause havoc. Francis Burns fouled him to concede the free-kick from which George Heslop headed City ahead and the raw United full-back hit him with another dreadful tackle late on when Bell was rounding the keeper and sure to roll in the third. That honour was left to Francis Lee from the penalty spot while Bell was being stretchered down the touchline and City wrapped up a convincing and deserved victory to put them level with United and Leeds on 45 points.   Credit: Derek Preston/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images For Malcolm Allison, Mercer’s assistant and the Puckish strategist behind City’s rise, everything panned out as he had envisioned it. Before the game he had told the City players to walk to the Stretford End to applaud the United fans, knowing it would needle them and sharpen the atmosphere. Best, brilliant, sometimes unstoppable, scored though it did not puncture City’s confidence and here in this photograph we see George Heslop, City’s centre-half, time a sliding tackle to perfection and rob Best in full flight. Heslop, his blond combover a match for Bobby Charlton’s, was the pivot in City’s defensive system who allowed Tommy Booth and Mike Doyle the positional flexibility to support and switch with Tony Coleman, Bell and Mike Summerbee. Here, momentarily left exposed, and confronted by the greatest player in Europe in his mercurial, high summer peak, Heslop uses his experience and skill to stymie all that talent. It’s one of the standout action shots of the Sixties, the expanse of vacant green grass around them is where Best thrived but Heslop, his gigantic thighs a contrast to the sleek, supple Best’s, fairly and elegantly bars his way. “Years of humiliation had been, if not wiped away, at least eased,” Allison later wrote. “It was one of the great nights of my life.” Greater still were to come. Although they lost at Leicester the following week, City won five of their next seven games before victory at St James’ Park on the final day earned them their first title for 31 years by two points from United.  “I think we will be the first team to play on Mars,” Allison said on the morning after winning the title following only an hour’s sleep. "We have had more courage than the majority of teams in the League. The courage to play this game.” Mars would prove to be a stretch too far, but who needs Mars when you’ve been taken to heaven?   3. Denis Law 1974 Maxwell Scott’s advice from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has proved seductive over the years for those writing about Denis Law’s backheel in the 83rd minute of the derby at Old Trafford in April 1974. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Scott, appropriately enough a newspaper editor. And so the myth that Law, a year after leaving United to return to City on a free transfer, sent United down took flight. In truth, though, Birmingham City in 19th held their fate in their own hands. Victory for them over Norwich, who had already been relegated, and United were down come what may. United fans knew what was happening at St Andrew’s and invaded the pitch at Old Trafford both before and after the news that Bob Hatton had put Birmingham ahead. The third and final invasion came four minutes from the end, three minutes after Law had put City in front with a larcenous, impulsive backheel. Sir Matt Busby addressed the crowd over the Tannoy in an attempt to persuade them to retreat “for the sake of the club” to no avail and the match was abandoned as a City victory. Birmingham’s 2-1 win rendered the last four minutes inconsequential. Credit: PA Before all that, though, Law had gone off, looking utterly disconsolate, even though City fans then and during the drawn-out melee were eagerly attempting to corral him into their celebrations. Look at his face and you see a perfect definition of “crestfallen”, a bigamist unmasked and tormented by the consequences. Law’s 37th and final goal for City (to add to his 237 for United) may not have relegated the neighbours at all but the legend endures because the twist of the player’s identity and allegiance enhance the element of City supporters’ schadenfreude to an exquisite pinnacle. “In that moment you saw the two sides of his character,” the City winger Dennis Tueart told the Daily Mail in 2012. “You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then - when he realised what he had done - you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.” 4. Ian Bishop and Paul Lake 1989 The 6-1 thrashing of the champions at Old Trafford in 2011 takes some beating but for City fans of a certain age the 5-1 victory at Maine Road in September 1989 will always be an imperishable memory. Because of City’s relegation, derbies in the Eighties were rare and City had not won one since February 1981 when Alex Ferguson took his beleaguered, expensive United team to Moss Side. It was the season of Michael Knighton in replica kit juggling the ball on the Old Trafford pitch to advertise his impending takeover before the opening match - a slick 4-1 victory over the champions Arsenal. The bloom of a summer spree - Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince snapped up for a staggering outlay of £6.25m - wilted as quickly as Knighton’s credibility when United were beaten by Derby, Norwich and Everton in successive matches. Beating Millwall 5-1 before the trip across town was trumpeted as the end of the teething troubles but they left Maine Road looking toothless and covered in bite marks. Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images City were a vibrant, young team, newly promoted and built around a core of five special homegrown players - Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White and Ian Brightwell - who seemed to personify the city’s youth culture that was in the midst of a glorious, hedonistic ascendancy. Just after kick-off a fight on the terraces escalated into a mass brawl that spread so quickly that some supporters understandably climbed over the perimeter fences to avoid a braying or an even worse fate. The referee suspended the game for eight minutes and on resumption City tore into United, scoring twice in the 12th minute after a mistake by Pallister, Britain’s most expensive defender, let in David Oldfield and another lax response to a developing crisis left Jim Leighton exposed after an impressive double save - and Trevor Morley rammed the ball past him. In the 36th minute Oldfield skinned Pallister and crossed for Ian Bishop to score with a diving header. He is the subject of our image, caught in the arms of Paul Lake as they celebrate City’s third. The photographer freezes them in a moment of ecstatic revelry with just a hint of charming disbelief in Lake’s eyes, fixed on the lens. It’s a great shot of City’s blend of youth - Lake - and the more experienced Bishop, a cut-price playmaker with cheek, vision and an inventive pass, the kind of player that always steals supporters’ hearts. Mark Hughes grabbed one back with a wonderful scissors kick that would be better known but for the result before Lake ripped United apart down the right to set up Oldfield’s fourth and Hinchcliffe made it five on the end of a slippery, sweeping move. Chants of “Ferguson out” from Reds were answered in raucous glee by the Blues with “Fergie must stay”. He did stay, of course, and recovered from a defeat he called “the most embarrassing of my career” while the terminally myopic Peter Swales, City's chairman, sacked Mel Machin in November and appointed Howard Kendall. Nothing wrong with that, City were bottom after all, but allowing him to dismantle such a promising squad, fill it full of Evertonians and sell many of the heroes of that day makes the 5-1 somewhat bittersweet. 5. Shaun Goater and Gary Neville 2002 A companion to No5 in the United section, this photograph shows Gary Neville at his greatest moment of derby despair. The elder Neville brother saw himself as more than a symbol for United fans, more the embodiment of their deepest desires and prejudices so there was no stopping City fans basking in his moment of nemesis in the last match at Maine Road. Credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images The score was 1-1 when Eyal Berkovic swept a pass from right to the left of the United penalty area over Neville’s head. He turned, with Shaun Goater in pursuit, and first tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick but changed tack when he realised it lacked the momentum. He hesitated for a moment and then attempted to pass it back to Fabien Barthez instead. Whether he didn’t see Goater between him and the keeper until it was too late or whether he had the chutzpah to think he could nutmeg the City forward is not known. Either way he fed the Goat who indeed scored, having careered in from the touchline and arrowed the ball around Barthez to score his 99th City goal. Credit:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images For the rest of the match the England right-back  was serenaded by “Gary Neville is a blue, is a blue, is a blue” and it followed him around for a fair few months. Goater went on to bring up his century in the second-half with a wonderful chip over Barthez and ended Maine Road’s days as a derby venue in appropriately carnival mood.   6. Mario Balotelli 2011 The first derby of the 2011-12 season took place on Sunday, October 23, 13 days before Guy Fawkes’ Night, not that anyone needs an excuse for a fireworks party any more: over the past 15 years the UK has turned positively Cantonese in its embrace of pyrotechnics. On the Friday before the match, Mario Balotelli and four friends were together at his new house in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire when one or more of them - the number is still in dispute - decided to treat the neighbours to an early morning chorus of explosions and illuminate the sky over their houses with fireworks. Perhaps it was cold outside or maybe just tired but someone decreed that the launch pad should be Balotelli’s bathroom. Someone got their calculations wrong as well as their aim and set fire first to some towels and then the house. One of them raised the alarm, neighbouring properties were evacuated and the fire service eventually extinguished the blaze. Balotelli checked into a city centre hotel, arrived on time for training the next morning and went into conclave with the kit man before returning to his hotel. Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images The story hit the newspapers on the morning of the match though Roberto Mancini still named Balotelli, who had scored in the three preceding games, in his starting XI. He rewarded his manager with an excellent performance, scoring twice, the first a deftly-placed side-foot shot from 16 yards. As soon as the ball went past David De Gea, Balotelli lifted his shirt over his head to reveal ‘Why always me?’ written on his vest. It earned him a booking and it might well have been worse if Les Chapman, City’s kit man, hadn’t dissuaded him from his other two ideas for slogans, both of them provocations to United fans. In addition to his two goals in the 6-1 victory, he elicited a foul from Jonny Evans that had the United defender sent off and he provides us with an image of engaging, prodigal insouciance. “That day it was as if Mario was great, an adult amongst children,” said Roberto Mancini. “I would have loved to have always seen him like he was at that derby.” Routine was never for Mario. He would not be half as frustrating without his uncommon skill nor half as endearing without his unaffected nonchalance.

Six of One - Iconic Manchester derby pictures ... and the stories behind them

Welcome to Six of One, our series in which we pick six of the best examples of a theme and contrast them with half a dozen others. This episode's theme is inspired by the Manchester derby and its rich history. Instead of the usual format of taking six outstanding things and balancing them with six execrable ones, here we have opted for six great photographs centred on United and six on City and try to tell the stories behind them.  As in the past it is obviously very much a subjective evaluation so please feel free to nominate your own favourites in either category in the comments section or tell your own stand-out derby stories.  Manchester United photographs 1. Alex Dawson 1960-61 Manchester United endured a torrid start to the 1960-61 season, losing 10 of their first 18 matches including defeats by Everton, Arsenal, Cardiff City and Aston Villa. It is often forgotten that they finished second in 1958-59, the season after the Munich Disaster, and seventh in 1959-60 but by mid-November 1960 they were 17th and looking in desperate need of fresh blood. That month Matt Busby bought the stylish Noel Cantwell from West Ham for £29,500, a record fee for a full-back, and the charming, erudite Irishman would go on to captain United and become a profound influence in the club's renaissance over the next eight years. His immediate impact was none too shabby and United swept through December, defeating Preston, drawing 4-4 with Fulham and beating Blackburn. The Christmas double header against Chelsea was overcome with a 2-0 away victory on Christmas Eve followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Old Trafford on Boxing Day in which Alex Dawson scored a hat-trick, Jimmy Nicholson two goals and Bobby Charlton one. By the time of the home derby on New Year's Eve 1960, United were in far ruder health and had climbed to 11th while City, eighth six weeks earlier, were on a dreadful run of six defeats in seven games. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images That's Dawson in the dark shirt in the picture, framed against the Stretford sky, arching his body to flick the ball on and captured by the photographer dead in the middle of the floodlight pylon on the left corner of the Scoreboard End. Romantics can imagine the smoke from a passing steam train adding to the hazy ambience but the season and hour are likely to be more responsible for the oystery murk. Dawson scored his second hat-trick in successive matches in this game and Charlton, from the left-wing, hit two more past Bert Trautmann. Only Colin Barlow could reply for Manchester City and any Blues would be excused by the 5-1 defeat for telling first-footers' calling on them later that night to stuff their lump of coal where the sun doesn't shine. Dawson was a broad bullock of a centre-forward who had unforgettably scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final against Fulham in 1958 during United's emotional charge to Wembley. He scored 45 league goals in 80 appearances and suffered City fans adopting the Camptown Races melody to assail him thus: "Who's that fella with the big fat a---? Dawson, Dawson." He had many qualities but not the exhilarating flair that Busby coveted so highly and he was sold to Preston in 1961 where he became known as 'The Black Prince of Deepdale' and bagged more than a hundred goals over six seasons of frisky service. Deliciously, to the right of the photograph in the City No10 shirt and adjusting his body perhaps to launch himself acrobatically at the ball, is Denis Law, a forward with all the class and spirit Busby desired. It would take the United manager another 20 months to get his man.   2. Eric Cantona 1994 On March 19 1994 Manchester United, the champions and league leaders went to the County Ground to play their only top-flight match against Swindon Town who were 47 points below them and not so much at the foot of the Premiership but at the bottom of its Mariana Trench. But Swindon, by virtue of two equalisers, held on for a point and United were left with 10 men when Eric Cantona was sent off for stamping on John Moncur's solar plexus. A little over 72 hours later on March 22, United were again pegged back after twice taking the lead at Arsenal and Cantona was sent off for two yellow cards, the first for a foul on Ian Selley, the second two minutes later for wild swipes at Nigel Winterburn and Tony Adams. For his sins Cantona was given a five-match suspension and defeats by second-placed Blackburn and Wimbledon in his absence left United still leading Rovers at the top of the table but solely on goal difference though they had played one match fewer. Cantona returned for their 38th game of the 42-match season, the Manchester derby on St George's Day and may have read, on the morning of the match, a warning from City's full-back Terry Phelan, who pledged that his team-mates would "wind Eric up left, right and centre" and rotate the opportunity to "take a bite out of him" because he "doesn't like it when you get him at it" which must rank as one of the worst psychological assessments in recent memory.  Credit: Anton Want/ALLSPORT/Getty Images In the end Phelan did not make the starting XI and City's attempts to rile the Player of the Year were faced, at least initially, by the rarely seen "other cheek" of United's No7. In the five minutes before half-time he scored twice, tapping in an Andrei Kanchelskis centre from a yard and then sweeping a right-foot shot under Andy Dibble when the keeper thought he was going to be chipped. Kanchelskis had a peculiar way of using his arms when running that suggested forgetting to extract the coathanger before putting his shirt on but was devastatingly direct and quick and he stands in the background, about to be embraced by Lee Sharpe, one winger acutely aware that the other deserves most praise for the opening goal. Yet it's the central figure of Cantona that dominates and by contrast to the near identical pose of Michel Vonk, appealing vainly for offside, he smiles with something of the radiant pleasure he could still demonstrate. For the remaining three seasons of his career, more so after Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona sometimes seemed to be wedded to an image of himself wearing a crown of thorns and often posed messianically after scoring, not so much in 'redemption' mode as with a confrontational attitude of there-will-be-a-reckoning-for those-who doubted-me.   Here, though, there is joy still unconfined, an elation that burgeoned over the next three weeks after United's 2-0 victory. In their five remaining games they wrapped up the Premier League title by eight points and defeated Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup final to earn their debut Double.  "No matter what the tempo is Eric's got the ability to compose himself on the ball," said Alex Ferguson after the match, burnishing the divine mystique. "In the maelstrom of League football that in itself is a miracle."  3. Roy Keane 2001  One should not forget that Roy Keane’s vendetta against Alfie Haaland was provoked by a word not a deed. In September 1997 at Elland Road, Keane injured himself fouling Haaland, then playing for Leeds, severing his own cruciate ligament when his studs caught in the turf and put himself out of the game for 11 months’ of gruelling rehabilitation. In his first autobiography Keane claims that Haaland and his team-mate David Wetherall stood over him and accused him of faking the injury, an act of slander so defamatory to his professional code, so uncharitable, that Keane stoked the embers of his grudge for almost four years. The fact that Haaland may have been responding in the moment after 85 minutes of rancour between the two, that Keane’s fall was in the penalty area at the end of a game Manchester United were losing 1-0, or that he could be excused of savouring the irony that someone who had tried to hurt him had succeeded only in hurting himself did not diminish Keane’s festering resentment. Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien In Keane’s absence, Manchester United eventually blew an 11-point lead in the championship race and Arsenal won the Double but by April 2001 and the Old Trafford derby, Keane was well on course to raise his third successive Premier League title as club captain. It was a drab match - Steve Howey had scored the equaliser with seven minutes to go after Paul Scholes had missed a penalty before Teddy Sheringham converted one - until Keane exploited the proximity of Haaland in the 86th minute to lunge right-foot first, studs up, into the side of the City midfielder’s knee. Haaland had just executed a forceful clearance and had his leg off the turf in his followthrough when Keane hit him with the full weight of his body driven through his lunge, tipping his victim up so that he slammed shoulder-first into the grass. Paul Hayward, who was there for The Telegraph, takes the story up in his live report: Keane by name, and manically keen by nature, Manchester United's captain struck Alfie Haaland with a tackle so vindictive that it would have aroused the interest of the constabulary had it been made in an ale-speckled pub that Saturday night. 'Gotcha!' is what Keane apparently said to his old enemy as Haaland clutched his leg to make sure all the components of a limb were still there. Blackjack dealers have delivered cards less swiftly than David Elleray did in reaching for red. In his 2002 autobiography Keane revealed the key message he delivered was two letters shorter than ‘Gotcha’. "I'd waited long enough. I f------ hit him hard," he wrote. "The ball was there (I think). Take that you c---. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal [David] Wetherall there's some for him as well." While there is no denying that it’s precisely what he meant, he would have had to rattle through it like Michael O’Hehir on amphetamine sulphate to deliver it verbally in the two seconds he spoke before leaving the pitch. Ever since, seemingly depending on the likelihood of legal repercussions for his words, Keane revels in it but see-saws on whether he meant irreparably to harm Haaland, who would play only 48 minutes more in his professional career during various comebacks but retired mainly because of an injury to his left knee. Some Manchester United fans see Keane at this moment as a kind of warrior avenging angel and his critics as a mad dog but the stark beauty of the photograph captures a man chillingly in control achieving, in his eyes, brutal restitution for a violation of his honour. It’s how Keyser Soze must have looked when wiping out one of the Hungarian mafia. 4. Michael Owen 2009 United had all but thrown away the home derby in September 2009 when they conceded three equalisers, the last in the 90th minute when the quicksilver Craig Bellamy made Rio Ferdinand look like a carthorse after the England centre-back played a casual pass straight to Martin Petrov. Carlos Tevez’s transfer to City in July provoked the summer of “the noisy neighbours” and Ferdinand’s posture after being gulled by Bellamy, head in hands behind the shaky Ben Foster and muttering expletives, betrayed his concern about letting his team-mates down and the wrath from a volcanic Sir Alex Ferguson that was about to engulf him. But he was about to be saved by the free transfer signing Ferguson had brought in to replace Tevez, the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner, Michael Owen, whose giddy progress had been hobbled at Newcastle United by a cruciate-ligament injury and recurring hamstring, thigh and groin problems. Owen was a serious, dedicated professional yet Newcastle fans had not taken to him, finding it difficult to embrace someone who was frequently absent from the field and refused to live among them. It is fair to say that United fans were barely exhilarated by his signing either. They had completed a hat-trick of titles the previous May but had been forced to sell Cristiano Ronaldo and decided to let Tevez go in the summer without reinvesting a credible portion of the profits. Credit: Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images But cometh the hour or, as City fans would put it, ‘cometh the sixth minute of Fergie time’, cometh the substitute Owen to sidle behind Micah Richards. It took a cute pass from Ryan Giggs to find him and even after so many injuries Owen plus space plus a gap between him and the goalkeeper was an equation with only one likely outcome. Shay Given spread himself as best he could without reward. Owen took a touch then dinked the ball into the far corner with an expert flick of the toes. The special thing about the photograph is how it destroys the perception of Owen as the dull master of his emotions and by that stage of his career as someone who cared more about thoroughbreds than goals. “Just look at his face”, as Barry Davies once instructed the audience when Frannie Lee scored against City after leaving Maine Road to win the title with Derby, and his delight is palpable. For City there was a sense of being mugged again in the familiar fishy circumstances by Ferguson, the Time Lord, yet the picture of Owen resonates more than the ones of desolate and angry players in blue. It conveys his elation but also his optimism, like someone who has emerged from a long nightmare. 5. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes 2010 Once you know that 1950’s ‘Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville’ by Robert Doisneau was staged, it removes some of the sheen from the quintessential Parisian portrait of uninhibited young love. One trusts, for Paul Scholes’ sake, that the photograph taken during the April 2010 Etihad derby, was a more spontaneous ‘Kiss’ that required no laborious and possibly unsavoury rehearsal. United were second, trailing Chelsea by four points with four matches to go and City fifth, two points behind Spurs in the last Champions League qualifying plce, as they embarked on their game in hand at Eastlands. Sadly the game was nothing like the firecracker at Old Trafford earlier in the season and was littered with anxiety-ridden wayward passes, midfield stagnation, shouts for penalties from both sides and all too rare opportunities that were squandered. Once again the clock had passed 90 minutes when Gabriel Obertan slipped past Patrick Vieira, rolled the ball down the left for Patrice Evra to cross and Scholes met it before the penalty spot and cushioned an unstoppable header inside the far post. Like Owen across the city seven months earlier, Scholes ran behind the goal but by contrast threw himself into the arms of United fans. Credit: AP Photo/Tim Hales When he extricated himself from the melee he was approached by his captain and friend, Gary Neville, who held him tenderly by the cheeks, puckered up and kissed him on the lips, at that moment finding him irresistible like a young Mel Smith with Griff Rhys Jones. “A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City,” said Scholes. “Gary’s emotional and it was an important goal. Gary’s kissed a few in his time. David [Beckham] was probably his favourite but that’s the way Gary is.” John O’Shea had a more arresting interpretation, one that perhaps explains the nakedly theatrical exaggeration of the gesture with the placement of his hands. “I don’t think it was for Scholesy’s benefit,” he said. “I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier.” United won their last three games and so did Chelsea which left them runners-up by a point while this loss followed by the home defeat by Tottenham kept City out of the Champions League for one last year. For Neville it would be his last derby and one sealed with a loving kiss. 6. Wayne Rooney 2011 After missing out on the league title in 2010 despite a hat-trick that preceded it, Sir Alex Ferguson announced the following October that Wayne Rooney had asked for a transfer because he felt that the club’s investment in new players was inadequate and he wanted to play for a club that matched his ambitions. It did not take long for Ferguson to knock him back nor for whispers to emerge that he was trying to engineer a move to City. “I met with David Gill [United chief executive] last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," Rooney confirmed when outed by Ferguson. "I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.” Because he was articulating some of the suspicions of United supporters that the demands of the Glazer family’s leveraged buy-out of the club had restricted its scope in the market, Rooney was not as vituperatively condemned as an everyday ‘wantaway’ player. Nonetheless he did alienate many United fans among them a balaclava-clad posse who protested outside his home in Prestbury with a banner that read, “If you join City you are dead”. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super One suspects Fergsuon’s dead body would have had to be surmounted for any deal to go through and the manager played hardball in public while the Glazers eventually enticed him to stay with a staggering new offer. It took Rooney more than a year publicly to express his regrets and claim that he would never have joined City. Ferguson welcomed him back into the fold much sooner and United’s title campaign gathered momentum through the winter though Rooney scored only three goals in 11 Premier League matches after signing his new contract. United took the lead in February’s Old Trafford derby through Nani before David Silva equalised jammily when hit on the back by Edin Dzeko’s shot 20 minutes into the second-half. Rooney, toiling alone up front, could not get into the game yet continued to run the channels hard to try to elude the irritatingly adhesive Vincent Kompany. In the 78th minute Nani floated a cross into the box that was behind Rooney. He had stationed himself by the penalty spot with the intention of sowing doubt about which post he would attack but the trajectory of the centre forced an adjustment. He swivelled and jumped horizontally, back to the floor, head down and thumped a bicycle-kick volley past Hart whose mouth flapped agape in surprise. It was a classic wonder goal, one that made you appreciate the extraordinary agility, anticipation and execution of a world-class player. He is commonly derided now after five years of slow decline from his 2011-12 peak but back then Rooney’s outstanding talent was in full bloom. Which is why Ferguson fought so hard to keep him, why United’s fans embraced him again and forgave his rebellion. And half a dozen of the other ... Manchester City images 1. Matt Busby and Joe Mercer 1939 This photograph, taken shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, shows three sergeants of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, Joe Mercer on the left, Matt Busby in the middle and Charlton Athletic and England’s Don Welsh. Mercer, then of Everton and England, went on to manager City for six thrilling seasons from 1965 while Busby, then of Liverpool and Scotland, had played for City from the age of 18 in 1928 for eight seasons, winning the FA Cup in sky blue in 1934. Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images What’s terrific about this picture is that it shows a fine City player and a great City manager, one with his City days behind him, the other with them many years ahead in the future. At the time of the photograph they were cross-city rivals as players and 26 years on would become cross-city rivals as managers but as is plain to see by the smiles, they never let partisan hostility infect their outlook. Their sense of duty and gentlemanly warmth is the foundation of what is best about both clubs and City were blessed to be served and influenced by the two of them.   2. Two Georges 1968 On the morning of the midweek Old Trafford derby on March 27 1968, United were second behind Leeds in the table on goal average and City two points back in third. United took the lead in the first minute through George Best but City gradually built momentum to dominate the match, equalising with a Colin Bell goal on 16 minutes. Bell was mesmerising that day, thrashing the ball past Stepney then giving United’s midfield the runaround. John Hollins of Chelsea says that Bell’s stamina made him seem as if he had an extra lung and he used his physical dynamism and acute positional sense to cause havoc. Francis Burns fouled him to concede the free-kick from which George Heslop headed City ahead and the raw United full-back hit him with another dreadful tackle late on when Bell was rounding the keeper and sure to roll in the third. That honour was left to Francis Lee from the penalty spot while Bell was being stretchered down the touchline and City wrapped up a convincing and deserved victory to put them level with United and Leeds on 45 points.   Credit: Derek Preston/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images For Malcolm Allison, Mercer’s assistant and the Puckish strategist behind City’s rise, everything panned out as he had envisioned it. Before the game he had told the City players to walk to the Stretford End to applaud the United fans, knowing it would needle them and sharpen the atmosphere. Best, brilliant, sometimes unstoppable, scored though it did not puncture City’s confidence and here in this photograph we see George Heslop, City’s centre-half, time a sliding tackle to perfection and rob Best in full flight. Heslop, his blond combover a match for Bobby Charlton’s, was the pivot in City’s defensive system who allowed Tommy Booth and Mike Doyle the positional flexibility to support and switch with Tony Coleman, Bell and Mike Summerbee. Here, momentarily left exposed, and confronted by the greatest player in Europe in his mercurial, high summer peak, Heslop uses his experience and skill to stymie all that talent. It’s one of the standout action shots of the Sixties, the expanse of vacant green grass around them is where Best thrived but Heslop, his gigantic thighs a contrast to the sleek, supple Best’s, fairly and elegantly bars his way. “Years of humiliation had been, if not wiped away, at least eased,” Allison later wrote. “It was one of the great nights of my life.” Greater still were to come. Although they lost at Leicester the following week, City won five of their next seven games before victory at St James’ Park on the final day earned them their first title for 31 years by two points from United.  “I think we will be the first team to play on Mars,” Allison said on the morning after winning the title following only an hour’s sleep. "We have had more courage than the majority of teams in the League. The courage to play this game.” Mars would prove to be a stretch too far, but who needs Mars when you’ve been taken to heaven?   3. Denis Law 1974 Maxwell Scott’s advice from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has proved seductive over the years for those writing about Denis Law’s backheel in the 83rd minute of the derby at Old Trafford in April 1974. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said Scott, appropriately enough a newspaper editor. And so the myth that Law, a year after leaving United to return to City on a free transfer, sent United down took flight. In truth, though, Birmingham City in 19th held their fate in their own hands. Victory for them over Norwich, who had already been relegated, and United were down come what may. United fans knew what was happening at St Andrew’s and invaded the pitch at Old Trafford both before and after the news that Bob Hatton had put Birmingham ahead. The third and final invasion came four minutes from the end, three minutes after Law had put City in front with a larcenous, impulsive backheel. Sir Matt Busby addressed the crowd over the Tannoy in an attempt to persuade them to retreat “for the sake of the club” to no avail and the match was abandoned as a City victory. Birmingham’s 2-1 win rendered the last four minutes inconsequential. Credit: PA Before all that, though, Law had gone off, looking utterly disconsolate, even though City fans then and during the drawn-out melee were eagerly attempting to corral him into their celebrations. Look at his face and you see a perfect definition of “crestfallen”, a bigamist unmasked and tormented by the consequences. Law’s 37th and final goal for City (to add to his 237 for United) may not have relegated the neighbours at all but the legend endures because the twist of the player’s identity and allegiance enhance the element of City supporters’ schadenfreude to an exquisite pinnacle. “In that moment you saw the two sides of his character,” the City winger Dennis Tueart told the Daily Mail in 2012. “You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then - when he realised what he had done - you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.” 4. Ian Bishop and Paul Lake 1989 The 6-1 thrashing of the champions at Old Trafford in 2011 takes some beating but for City fans of a certain age the 5-1 victory at Maine Road in September 1989 will always be an imperishable memory. Because of City’s relegation, derbies in the Eighties were rare and City had not won one since February 1981 when Alex Ferguson took his beleaguered, expensive United team to Moss Side. It was the season of Michael Knighton in replica kit juggling the ball on the Old Trafford pitch to advertise his impending takeover before the opening match - a slick 4-1 victory over the champions Arsenal. The bloom of a summer spree - Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince snapped up for a staggering outlay of £6.25m - wilted as quickly as Knighton’s credibility when United were beaten by Derby, Norwich and Everton in successive matches. Beating Millwall 5-1 before the trip across town was trumpeted as the end of the teething troubles but they left Maine Road looking toothless and covered in bite marks. Credit: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images City were a vibrant, young team, newly promoted and built around a core of five special homegrown players - Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Steve Redmond, David White and Ian Brightwell - who seemed to personify the city’s youth culture that was in the midst of a glorious, hedonistic ascendancy. Just after kick-off a fight on the terraces escalated into a mass brawl that spread so quickly that some supporters understandably climbed over the perimeter fences to avoid a braying or an even worse fate. The referee suspended the game for eight minutes and on resumption City tore into United, scoring twice in the 12th minute after a mistake by Pallister, Britain’s most expensive defender, let in David Oldfield and another lax response to a developing crisis left Jim Leighton exposed after an impressive double save - and Trevor Morley rammed the ball past him. In the 36th minute Oldfield skinned Pallister and crossed for Ian Bishop to score with a diving header. He is the subject of our image, caught in the arms of Paul Lake as they celebrate City’s third. The photographer freezes them in a moment of ecstatic revelry with just a hint of charming disbelief in Lake’s eyes, fixed on the lens. It’s a great shot of City’s blend of youth - Lake - and the more experienced Bishop, a cut-price playmaker with cheek, vision and an inventive pass, the kind of player that always steals supporters’ hearts. Mark Hughes grabbed one back with a wonderful scissors kick that would be better known but for the result before Lake ripped United apart down the right to set up Oldfield’s fourth and Hinchcliffe made it five on the end of a slippery, sweeping move. Chants of “Ferguson out” from Reds were answered in raucous glee by the Blues with “Fergie must stay”. He did stay, of course, and recovered from a defeat he called “the most embarrassing of my career” while the terminally myopic Peter Swales, City's chairman, sacked Mel Machin in November and appointed Howard Kendall. Nothing wrong with that, City were bottom after all, but allowing him to dismantle such a promising squad, fill it full of Evertonians and sell many of the heroes of that day makes the 5-1 somewhat bittersweet. 5. Shaun Goater and Gary Neville 2002 A companion to No5 in the United section, this photograph shows Gary Neville at his greatest moment of derby despair. The elder Neville brother saw himself as more than a symbol for United fans, more the embodiment of their deepest desires and prejudices so there was no stopping City fans basking in his moment of nemesis in the last match at Maine Road. Credit: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images The score was 1-1 when Eyal Berkovic swept a pass from right to the left of the United penalty area over Neville’s head. He turned, with Shaun Goater in pursuit, and first tried to shepherd the ball out for a goal-kick but changed tack when he realised it lacked the momentum. He hesitated for a moment and then attempted to pass it back to Fabien Barthez instead. Whether he didn’t see Goater between him and the keeper until it was too late or whether he had the chutzpah to think he could nutmeg the City forward is not known. Either way he fed the Goat who indeed scored, having careered in from the touchline and arrowed the ball around Barthez to score his 99th City goal. Credit:  Alex Livesey/Getty Images For the rest of the match the England right-back  was serenaded by “Gary Neville is a blue, is a blue, is a blue” and it followed him around for a fair few months. Goater went on to bring up his century in the second-half with a wonderful chip over Barthez and ended Maine Road’s days as a derby venue in appropriately carnival mood.   6. Mario Balotelli 2011 The first derby of the 2011-12 season took place on Sunday, October 23, 13 days before Guy Fawkes’ Night, not that anyone needs an excuse for a fireworks party any more: over the past 15 years the UK has turned positively Cantonese in its embrace of pyrotechnics. On the Friday before the match, Mario Balotelli and four friends were together at his new house in Mottram St Andrew, Cheshire when one or more of them - the number is still in dispute - decided to treat the neighbours to an early morning chorus of explosions and illuminate the sky over their houses with fireworks. Perhaps it was cold outside or maybe just tired but someone decreed that the launch pad should be Balotelli’s bathroom. Someone got their calculations wrong as well as their aim and set fire first to some towels and then the house. One of them raised the alarm, neighbouring properties were evacuated and the fire service eventually extinguished the blaze. Balotelli checked into a city centre hotel, arrived on time for training the next morning and went into conclave with the kit man before returning to his hotel. Credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images The story hit the newspapers on the morning of the match though Roberto Mancini still named Balotelli, who had scored in the three preceding games, in his starting XI. He rewarded his manager with an excellent performance, scoring twice, the first a deftly-placed side-foot shot from 16 yards. As soon as the ball went past David De Gea, Balotelli lifted his shirt over his head to reveal ‘Why always me?’ written on his vest. It earned him a booking and it might well have been worse if Les Chapman, City’s kit man, hadn’t dissuaded him from his other two ideas for slogans, both of them provocations to United fans. In addition to his two goals in the 6-1 victory, he elicited a foul from Jonny Evans that had the United defender sent off and he provides us with an image of engaging, prodigal insouciance. “That day it was as if Mario was great, an adult amongst children,” said Roberto Mancini. “I would have loved to have always seen him like he was at that derby.” Routine was never for Mario. He would not be half as frustrating without his uncommon skill nor half as endearing without his unaffected nonchalance.

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FA Cup third-round draw in full: Liverpool v Everton and Brighton v Crystal Palace the stand-out ties

The draw for the third round of the FA Cup has produced a series of major derbies, including a first match at this stage of the competition since 1932 between Liverpool and Everton. Jurgen Klopp and Sam Allardyce’s teams were paired together during Monday night’s draw, as were Premier League rivals Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion. North-East neighbours Sunderland and Middlesbrough, who have both been relegated in recent years to the Championship, were also drawn together. Arsenal, who are attempting to win the trophy for a fourth time in five years, will begin their defence at Nottingham Forest. Other especially eye-catching fixtures include AFC Wimbledon’s return to Wembley in the FA Cup some 30 years on from their memorable triumph in 1988 to face Tottenham Hotspur.  Luton Town, now of League Two and the FA Cup finalists in 1959, also have glamorous away Premier League opponents in Newcastle United. Premier League leaders Manchester City have a tricky home tie against Sean Dyche’s Burnley, while Manchester United host Derby County and Chelsea are away at Norwich City. Who will be lifting the FA Cup come what May? Credit: Getty Images  Hereford, who are in the seventh tier of the football pyramid, will face 2016 Premier League champions Leicester City if they manage to overcome Fleetwood in their second-round replay. Four non-league sides were involved in the draw, which was conducted by Glenn Hoddle and Jermain Jenas ahead of the second-round match between Slough Town and Rochdale, but none are currently guaranteed a place in the third round. National League club AFC Fylde will have the opportunity to face Premier League opposition in Bournemouth if they beat Wigan Athletic in their replay. Woking, who also play in the fifth tier of the pyramid, have the chance to play at Villa Park against Aston Villa if they beat Peterborough in their replay. The ties will take place on Jan 5-7, with timings dependent on which matches are selected for live screening by BBC and BT Sport. There was criticism last year that broadcasters often opted to show big Premier League clubs rather than the more romantic ties, such as the third-round fixture between non-league Sutton United and AFC Wimbledon. Sutton did eventually make it to a televised tie against Arsenal in the fifth round. Arsenal subsequently beat Manchester City and Chelsea in the semi-final and final to win what was a record 13th FA Cup. The draw in full: Ipswich v Sheffield United Watford v Bristol City Birmingham v Burton Liverpool v Everton Brighton v Crystal Palace Aston Villa v Woking or Peterborough Bournemouth v AFC Fylde or Wigan Coventry v Stoke Arsene Wenger's Arsenal travel to Nottingham Forest Newport v Leeds Bolton v Huddersfield Port Vale or Yeovil v Bradford Nottingham Forest v Arsenal Brentford v Notts County QPR v MK Dons Manchester United v Derby Forest Green or Exeter v West Brom Doncaster v Slough Town or Rochdale Tottenham v AFC Wimbledon Middlesbrough v Sunderland Fleetwood or Hereford v Leicester Blackburn or Crewe v Hull Cardiff v Mansfield Manchester City v Burnley Shrewsbury v West Ham Wolves v Swansea Stevenage v Reading Newcastle v Luton Millwall v Barnsley Fulham v Southampton Wycombe v Preston Norwich v Chelsea Gillingham or Carlisle v Sheffield Wednesday Ties to be played January 5-7 7:27PM One for the ages?  Another exciting looking tie is 2016 Premier League champions away at Hereford United (if Hereford can win their replay against Fleetwood Town.  7:23PM That concludes the draw No doubts about the tie of the round there...Liverpool will host Everton! There's also Brighton vs Crystal Palace and Bournemouth at home against non-league Fylde or Wigan.  7:22PM Last up Gillingham or Carlisle vs Sheffield Wednesday 7:21PM Tough draw Norwich Norwich City vs Chelsea 7:21PM Next Wycombe Wanderers vs Preston North End 7:21PM Next up Fulham vs Southampton 7:21PM All-Championship tie Millwall vs Barnsley 7:20PM Home banker?  Newcastle vs Luton Town 7:20PM Next up Stevenage vs Reading 7:20PM The home side could be the favourites here Wolves vs Swansea 7:20PM Another giant-killing for Shrewsbury?  Shrewsbury Town vs West Ham 7:20PM All Premier League tie Manchester City vs Burnley 7:19PM Next up Cardiff City vs Mansfield Town 7:19PM Upset alert Blackburn or Crewe vs Hull City 7:19PM Great draw Fleetwood Town or Hereford vs Leicester City 7:19PM Tees-Wear derby Middlesbrough vs Sunderland 7:18PM London derby Tottenham Hotspur vs AFC Wimbledon 7:18PM The Slough fans seem a bit upset... Doncaster Rovers vs Slough Town or Rochdale 7:18PM Banana skin?  Forest Green Rovers or Exeter City vs West Brom 7:17PM United are up against... Manchester United vs Derby County 7:17PM Next up QPR vs MK Dons 7:17PM Next up Brentford vs Notts County 7:16PM The holders will play... Nottingham Forest vs Arsenal 7:16PM Next Port Vale or Yeovil Town v Bradford City 7:16PM Local derby Bolton Wanderers vs Huddersfield Town 7:16PM Next up Newport County vs Leeds United 7:16PM A tale of two cities Coventry City vs Stoke City 7:15PM Potentially a huge trip for non-league Fylde Bournemouth vs AFC Fylde or Wigan 7:15PM Less exciting Aston Villa vs Woking or Peterborough United 7:15PM And another big rivalry! Brighton vs Crystal Palace 7:14PM Would you believe it?!  Liverpool vs Everton 7:14PM Next Birmingham City vs Burton Albion 7:14PM Next Watford vs Bristol City 7:14PM First up Ipswich Town vs Sheffield United 7:12PM Here we go Jake Humphrey is the host, and the venue is Slough Town's home ground Holloways Park ahead of Slough's FA Cup second round match tonight against Rochdale.  Glenn Hoddle and Jermaine Jenas will make the draw.  7:01PM Nearly there The draw will be getting under way in around about 10 minutes. Hereford v Newcastle? Wrexham v Arsenal? Sutton v Coventry? Yep, the BBC's montage has them all.  6:28PM An English institution Evening all, Welcome to our coverage of one of the great days in the English sporting calendar. Yes we are just minutes away from seeing which lower-league teams will get a chance to lose 3-0 against the second string of one of the Premier League's leading lights. For these part-time plumbers and postmen, the opportunity to test themselves against Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Darmian is just a draw of a ball away. There is also the opportunity to be patronised the hell out of by BBC commentators and possibly go down in football folklore for ever more. Think Ronny Radford scoring for Hereford against Newcastle, Mickey Thomas for Wrexham against Arsenal, er Nigel Jemson for Shrewsbury against Everton.  The third round stage is of course when all the Premier League and Championship teams join the competition, and alongside them will be four non-league teams in the pot - AFC Fylde, Hereford, Slough and Woking. Arsenal are the current FA Cup holders Credit: AP Woking you may recall have some pedigree in this competition. In January 1991 the Surrey-based side pulled off one of the great FA Cup shocks when as a Conference team they knocked out second-tier outfit West Brom 4-2 at the Hawthorns. They were then beaten 1-0 by top-flight side Everton in the fourth round.     More recently, Woking reached the third round in 1997 and took Premier League side Coventry to a replay which they narrowly lost 2-1. But enough about Woking. Tonight's draw gets under way at around 7pm, and precedes the second round match between seventh-tier Slough Town and League One side Rochdale.  Here are the ball numbers in full: Bournemouth Arsenal Aston Villa Barnsley Birmingham City Bolton Brentford Brighton Bristol City Burnley Burton Albion Cardiff City Chelsea Crystal Palace Derby County Everton Fulham  Huddersfield Hull City Ipswich Town Leeds United Leicester Liverpool Manchester City Manchester United Middlesbrough Millwall Newcastle Norwich City Nottingham Forest Preston North End QPR Reading Sheffield United Sheffield Wednesday Southampton Stoke  Sunderland Swansea Tottenham Watford West Brom West Ham Wolves Woking or Peterborough MK Dons Newport County Wycombe Wanderers Port Vale/Yeovil Shrewsbury Town Doncaster Rovers Slough Town or Rochdale AFC Wimbledon Stevenage Mansfield Town Luton Town Bradford City Blackburn/Crewe AFC Fylde or Wigan Gillingham or Carlisle Notts County Forest Green Rovers or Exeter City Fleetwood Town or Hereford Coventry City

FA Cup third-round draw in full: Liverpool v Everton and Brighton v Crystal Palace the stand-out ties

The draw for the third round of the FA Cup has produced a series of major derbies, including a first match at this stage of the competition since 1932 between Liverpool and Everton. Jurgen Klopp and Sam Allardyce’s teams were paired together during Monday night’s draw, as were Premier League rivals Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion. North-East neighbours Sunderland and Middlesbrough, who have both been relegated in recent years to the Championship, were also drawn together. Arsenal, who are attempting to win the trophy for a fourth time in five years, will begin their defence at Nottingham Forest. Other especially eye-catching fixtures include AFC Wimbledon’s return to Wembley in the FA Cup some 30 years on from their memorable triumph in 1988 to face Tottenham Hotspur.  Luton Town, now of League Two and the FA Cup finalists in 1959, also have glamorous away Premier League opponents in Newcastle United. Premier League leaders Manchester City have a tricky home tie against Sean Dyche’s Burnley, while Manchester United host Derby County and Chelsea are away at Norwich City. Who will be lifting the FA Cup come what May? Credit: Getty Images  Hereford, who are in the seventh tier of the football pyramid, will face 2016 Premier League champions Leicester City if they manage to overcome Fleetwood in their second-round replay. Four non-league sides were involved in the draw, which was conducted by Glenn Hoddle and Jermain Jenas ahead of the second-round match between Slough Town and Rochdale, but none are currently guaranteed a place in the third round. National League club AFC Fylde will have the opportunity to face Premier League opposition in Bournemouth if they beat Wigan Athletic in their replay. Woking, who also play in the fifth tier of the pyramid, have the chance to play at Villa Park against Aston Villa if they beat Peterborough in their replay. The ties will take place on Jan 5-7, with timings dependent on which matches are selected for live screening by BBC and BT Sport. There was criticism last year that broadcasters often opted to show big Premier League clubs rather than the more romantic ties, such as the third-round fixture between non-league Sutton United and AFC Wimbledon. Sutton did eventually make it to a televised tie against Arsenal in the fifth round. Arsenal subsequently beat Manchester City and Chelsea in the semi-final and final to win what was a record 13th FA Cup. The draw in full: Ipswich v Sheffield United Watford v Bristol City Birmingham v Burton Liverpool v Everton Brighton v Crystal Palace Aston Villa v Woking or Peterborough Bournemouth v AFC Fylde or Wigan Coventry v Stoke Arsene Wenger's Arsenal travel to Nottingham Forest Newport v Leeds Bolton v Huddersfield Port Vale or Yeovil v Bradford Nottingham Forest v Arsenal Brentford v Notts County QPR v MK Dons Manchester United v Derby Forest Green or Exeter v West Brom Doncaster v Slough Town or Rochdale Tottenham v AFC Wimbledon Middlesbrough v Sunderland Fleetwood or Hereford v Leicester Blackburn or Crewe v Hull Cardiff v Mansfield Manchester City v Burnley Shrewsbury v West Ham Wolves v Swansea Stevenage v Reading Newcastle v Luton Millwall v Barnsley Fulham v Southampton Wycombe v Preston Norwich v Chelsea Gillingham or Carlisle v Sheffield Wednesday Ties to be played January 5-7 7:27PM One for the ages?  Another exciting looking tie is 2016 Premier League champions away at Hereford United (if Hereford can win their replay against Fleetwood Town.  7:23PM That concludes the draw No doubts about the tie of the round there...Liverpool will host Everton! There's also Brighton vs Crystal Palace and Bournemouth at home against non-league Fylde or Wigan.  7:22PM Last up Gillingham or Carlisle vs Sheffield Wednesday 7:21PM Tough draw Norwich Norwich City vs Chelsea 7:21PM Next Wycombe Wanderers vs Preston North End 7:21PM Next up Fulham vs Southampton 7:21PM All-Championship tie Millwall vs Barnsley 7:20PM Home banker?  Newcastle vs Luton Town 7:20PM Next up Stevenage vs Reading 7:20PM The home side could be the favourites here Wolves vs Swansea 7:20PM Another giant-killing for Shrewsbury?  Shrewsbury Town vs West Ham 7:20PM All Premier League tie Manchester City vs Burnley 7:19PM Next up Cardiff City vs Mansfield Town 7:19PM Upset alert Blackburn or Crewe vs Hull City 7:19PM Great draw Fleetwood Town or Hereford vs Leicester City 7:19PM Tees-Wear derby Middlesbrough vs Sunderland 7:18PM London derby Tottenham Hotspur vs AFC Wimbledon 7:18PM The Slough fans seem a bit upset... Doncaster Rovers vs Slough Town or Rochdale 7:18PM Banana skin?  Forest Green Rovers or Exeter City vs West Brom 7:17PM United are up against... Manchester United vs Derby County 7:17PM Next up QPR vs MK Dons 7:17PM Next up Brentford vs Notts County 7:16PM The holders will play... Nottingham Forest vs Arsenal 7:16PM Next Port Vale or Yeovil Town v Bradford City 7:16PM Local derby Bolton Wanderers vs Huddersfield Town 7:16PM Next up Newport County vs Leeds United 7:16PM A tale of two cities Coventry City vs Stoke City 7:15PM Potentially a huge trip for non-league Fylde Bournemouth vs AFC Fylde or Wigan 7:15PM Less exciting Aston Villa vs Woking or Peterborough United 7:15PM And another big rivalry! Brighton vs Crystal Palace 7:14PM Would you believe it?!  Liverpool vs Everton 7:14PM Next Birmingham City vs Burton Albion 7:14PM Next Watford vs Bristol City 7:14PM First up Ipswich Town vs Sheffield United 7:12PM Here we go Jake Humphrey is the host, and the venue is Slough Town's home ground Holloways Park ahead of Slough's FA Cup second round match tonight against Rochdale.  Glenn Hoddle and Jermaine Jenas will make the draw.  7:01PM Nearly there The draw will be getting under way in around about 10 minutes. Hereford v Newcastle? Wrexham v Arsenal? Sutton v Coventry? Yep, the BBC's montage has them all.  6:28PM An English institution Evening all, Welcome to our coverage of one of the great days in the English sporting calendar. Yes we are just minutes away from seeing which lower-league teams will get a chance to lose 3-0 against the second string of one of the Premier League's leading lights. For these part-time plumbers and postmen, the opportunity to test themselves against Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Darmian is just a draw of a ball away. There is also the opportunity to be patronised the hell out of by BBC commentators and possibly go down in football folklore for ever more. Think Ronny Radford scoring for Hereford against Newcastle, Mickey Thomas for Wrexham against Arsenal, er Nigel Jemson for Shrewsbury against Everton.  The third round stage is of course when all the Premier League and Championship teams join the competition, and alongside them will be four non-league teams in the pot - AFC Fylde, Hereford, Slough and Woking. Arsenal are the current FA Cup holders Credit: AP Woking you may recall have some pedigree in this competition. In January 1991 the Surrey-based side pulled off one of the great FA Cup shocks when as a Conference team they knocked out second-tier outfit West Brom 4-2 at the Hawthorns. They were then beaten 1-0 by top-flight side Everton in the fourth round.     More recently, Woking reached the third round in 1997 and took Premier League side Coventry to a replay which they narrowly lost 2-1. But enough about Woking. Tonight's draw gets under way at around 7pm, and precedes the second round match between seventh-tier Slough Town and League One side Rochdale.  Here are the ball numbers in full: Bournemouth Arsenal Aston Villa Barnsley Birmingham City Bolton Brentford Brighton Bristol City Burnley Burton Albion Cardiff City Chelsea Crystal Palace Derby County Everton Fulham  Huddersfield Hull City Ipswich Town Leeds United Leicester Liverpool Manchester City Manchester United Middlesbrough Millwall Newcastle Norwich City Nottingham Forest Preston North End QPR Reading Sheffield United Sheffield Wednesday Southampton Stoke  Sunderland Swansea Tottenham Watford West Brom West Ham Wolves Woking or Peterborough MK Dons Newport County Wycombe Wanderers Port Vale/Yeovil Shrewsbury Town Doncaster Rovers Slough Town or Rochdale AFC Wimbledon Stevenage Mansfield Town Luton Town Bradford City Blackburn/Crewe AFC Fylde or Wigan Gillingham or Carlisle Notts County Forest Green Rovers or Exeter City Fleetwood Town or Hereford Coventry City

FA Cup third-round draw in full: Liverpool v Everton and Brighton v Crystal Palace the stand-out ties

The draw for the third round of the FA Cup has produced a series of major derbies, including a first match at this stage of the competition since 1932 between Liverpool and Everton. Jurgen Klopp and Sam Allardyce’s teams were paired together during Monday night’s draw, as were Premier League rivals Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion. North-East neighbours Sunderland and Middlesbrough, who have both been relegated in recent years to the Championship, were also drawn together. Arsenal, who are attempting to win the trophy for a fourth time in five years, will begin their defence at Nottingham Forest. Other especially eye-catching fixtures include AFC Wimbledon’s return to Wembley in the FA Cup some 30 years on from their memorable triumph in 1988 to face Tottenham Hotspur.  Luton Town, now of League Two and the FA Cup finalists in 1959, also have glamorous away Premier League opponents in Newcastle United. Premier League leaders Manchester City have a tricky home tie against Sean Dyche’s Burnley, while Manchester United host Derby County and Chelsea are away at Norwich City. Who will be lifting the FA Cup come what May? Credit: Getty Images  Hereford, who are in the seventh tier of the football pyramid, will face 2016 Premier League champions Leicester City if they manage to overcome Fleetwood in their second-round replay. Four non-league sides were involved in the draw, which was conducted by Glenn Hoddle and Jermain Jenas ahead of the second-round match between Slough Town and Rochdale, but none are currently guaranteed a place in the third round. National League club AFC Fylde will have the opportunity to face Premier League opposition in Bournemouth if they beat Wigan Athletic in their replay. Woking, who also play in the fifth tier of the pyramid, have the chance to play at Villa Park against Aston Villa if they beat Peterborough in their replay. The ties will take place on Jan 5-7, with timings dependent on which matches are selected for live screening by BBC and BT Sport. There was criticism last year that broadcasters often opted to show big Premier League clubs rather than the more romantic ties, such as the third-round fixture between non-league Sutton United and AFC Wimbledon. Sutton did eventually make it to a televised tie against Arsenal in the fifth round. Arsenal subsequently beat Manchester City and Chelsea in the semi-final and final to win what was a record 13th FA Cup. The draw in full: Ipswich v Sheffield United Watford v Bristol City Birmingham v Burton Liverpool v Everton Brighton v Crystal Palace Aston Villa v Woking or Peterborough Bournemouth v AFC Fylde or Wigan Coventry v Stoke Arsene Wenger's Arsenal travel to Nottingham Forest Newport v Leeds Bolton v Huddersfield Port Vale or Yeovil v Bradford Nottingham Forest v Arsenal Brentford v Notts County QPR v MK Dons Manchester United v Derby Forest Green or Exeter v West Brom Doncaster v Slough Town or Rochdale Tottenham v AFC Wimbledon Middlesbrough v Sunderland Fleetwood or Hereford v Leicester Blackburn or Crewe v Hull Cardiff v Mansfield Manchester City v Burnley Shrewsbury v West Ham Wolves v Swansea Stevenage v Reading Newcastle v Luton Millwall v Barnsley Fulham v Southampton Wycombe v Preston Norwich v Chelsea Gillingham or Carlisle v Sheffield Wednesday Ties to be played January 5-7 7:27PM One for the ages?  Another exciting looking tie is 2016 Premier League champions away at Hereford United (if Hereford can win their replay against Fleetwood Town.  7:23PM That concludes the draw No doubts about the tie of the round there...Liverpool will host Everton! There's also Brighton vs Crystal Palace and Bournemouth at home against non-league Fylde or Wigan.  7:22PM Last up Gillingham or Carlisle vs Sheffield Wednesday 7:21PM Tough draw Norwich Norwich City vs Chelsea 7:21PM Next Wycombe Wanderers vs Preston North End 7:21PM Next up Fulham vs Southampton 7:21PM All-Championship tie Millwall vs Barnsley 7:20PM Home banker?  Newcastle vs Luton Town 7:20PM Next up Stevenage vs Reading 7:20PM The home side could be the favourites here Wolves vs Swansea 7:20PM Another giant-killing for Shrewsbury?  Shrewsbury Town vs West Ham 7:20PM All Premier League tie Manchester City vs Burnley 7:19PM Next up Cardiff City vs Mansfield Town 7:19PM Upset alert Blackburn or Crewe vs Hull City 7:19PM Great draw Fleetwood Town or Hereford vs Leicester City 7:19PM Tees-Wear derby Middlesbrough vs Sunderland 7:18PM London derby Tottenham Hotspur vs AFC Wimbledon 7:18PM The Slough fans seem a bit upset... Doncaster Rovers vs Slough Town or Rochdale 7:18PM Banana skin?  Forest Green Rovers or Exeter City vs West Brom 7:17PM United are up against... Manchester United vs Derby County 7:17PM Next up QPR vs MK Dons 7:17PM Next up Brentford vs Notts County 7:16PM The holders will play... Nottingham Forest vs Arsenal 7:16PM Next Port Vale or Yeovil Town v Bradford City 7:16PM Local derby Bolton Wanderers vs Huddersfield Town 7:16PM Next up Newport County vs Leeds United 7:16PM A tale of two cities Coventry City vs Stoke City 7:15PM Potentially a huge trip for non-league Fylde Bournemouth vs AFC Fylde or Wigan 7:15PM Less exciting Aston Villa vs Woking or Peterborough United 7:15PM And another big rivalry! Brighton vs Crystal Palace 7:14PM Would you believe it?!  Liverpool vs Everton 7:14PM Next Birmingham City vs Burton Albion 7:14PM Next Watford vs Bristol City 7:14PM First up Ipswich Town vs Sheffield United 7:12PM Here we go Jake Humphrey is the host, and the venue is Slough Town's home ground Holloways Park ahead of Slough's FA Cup second round match tonight against Rochdale.  Glenn Hoddle and Jermaine Jenas will make the draw.  7:01PM Nearly there The draw will be getting under way in around about 10 minutes. Hereford v Newcastle? Wrexham v Arsenal? Sutton v Coventry? Yep, the BBC's montage has them all.  6:28PM An English institution Evening all, Welcome to our coverage of one of the great days in the English sporting calendar. Yes we are just minutes away from seeing which lower-league teams will get a chance to lose 3-0 against the second string of one of the Premier League's leading lights. For these part-time plumbers and postmen, the opportunity to test themselves against Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Darmian is just a draw of a ball away. There is also the opportunity to be patronised the hell out of by BBC commentators and possibly go down in football folklore for ever more. Think Ronny Radford scoring for Hereford against Newcastle, Mickey Thomas for Wrexham against Arsenal, er Nigel Jemson for Shrewsbury against Everton.  The third round stage is of course when all the Premier League and Championship teams join the competition, and alongside them will be four non-league teams in the pot - AFC Fylde, Hereford, Slough and Woking. Arsenal are the current FA Cup holders Credit: AP Woking you may recall have some pedigree in this competition. In January 1991 the Surrey-based side pulled off one of the great FA Cup shocks when as a Conference team they knocked out second-tier outfit West Brom 4-2 at the Hawthorns. They were then beaten 1-0 by top-flight side Everton in the fourth round.     More recently, Woking reached the third round in 1997 and took Premier League side Coventry to a replay which they narrowly lost 2-1. But enough about Woking. Tonight's draw gets under way at around 7pm, and precedes the second round match between seventh-tier Slough Town and League One side Rochdale.  Here are the ball numbers in full: Bournemouth Arsenal Aston Villa Barnsley Birmingham City Bolton Brentford Brighton Bristol City Burnley Burton Albion Cardiff City Chelsea Crystal Palace Derby County Everton Fulham  Huddersfield Hull City Ipswich Town Leeds United Leicester Liverpool Manchester City Manchester United Middlesbrough Millwall Newcastle Norwich City Nottingham Forest Preston North End QPR Reading Sheffield United Sheffield Wednesday Southampton Stoke  Sunderland Swansea Tottenham Watford West Brom West Ham Wolves Woking or Peterborough MK Dons Newport County Wycombe Wanderers Port Vale/Yeovil Shrewsbury Town Doncaster Rovers Slough Town or Rochdale AFC Wimbledon Stevenage Mansfield Town Luton Town Bradford City Blackburn/Crewe AFC Fylde or Wigan Gillingham or Carlisle Notts County Forest Green Rovers or Exeter City Fleetwood Town or Hereford Coventry City

FA Cup third-round draw in full: Liverpool v Everton and Brighton v Crystal Palace the stand-out ties

The draw for the third round of the FA Cup has produced a series of major derbies, including a first match at this stage of the competition since 1932 between Liverpool and Everton. Jurgen Klopp and Sam Allardyce’s teams were paired together during Monday night’s draw, as were Premier League rivals Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion. North-East neighbours Sunderland and Middlesbrough, who have both been relegated in recent years to the Championship, were also drawn together. Arsenal, who are attempting to win the trophy for a fourth time in five years, will begin their defence at Nottingham Forest. Other especially eye-catching fixtures include AFC Wimbledon’s return to Wembley in the FA Cup some 30 years on from their memorable triumph in 1988 to face Tottenham Hotspur.  Luton Town, now of League Two and the FA Cup finalists in 1959, also have glamorous away Premier League opponents in Newcastle United. Premier League leaders Manchester City have a tricky home tie against Sean Dyche’s Burnley, while Manchester United host Derby County and Chelsea are away at Norwich City. Who will be lifting the FA Cup come what May? Credit: Getty Images  Hereford, who are in the seventh tier of the football pyramid, will face 2016 Premier League champions Leicester City if they manage to overcome Fleetwood in their second-round replay. Four non-league sides were involved in the draw, which was conducted by Glenn Hoddle and Jermain Jenas ahead of the second-round match between Slough Town and Rochdale, but none are currently guaranteed a place in the third round. National League club AFC Fylde will have the opportunity to face Premier League opposition in Bournemouth if they beat Wigan Athletic in their replay. Woking, who also play in the fifth tier of the pyramid, have the chance to play at Villa Park against Aston Villa if they beat Peterborough in their replay. The ties will take place on Jan 5-7, with timings dependent on which matches are selected for live screening by BBC and BT Sport. There was criticism last year that broadcasters often opted to show big Premier League clubs rather than the more romantic ties, such as the third-round fixture between non-league Sutton United and AFC Wimbledon. Sutton did eventually make it to a televised tie against Arsenal in the fifth round. Arsenal subsequently beat Manchester City and Chelsea in the semi-final and final to win what was a record 13th FA Cup. The draw in full: Ipswich v Sheffield United Watford v Bristol City Birmingham v Burton Liverpool v Everton Brighton v Crystal Palace Aston Villa v Woking or Peterborough Bournemouth v AFC Fylde or Wigan Coventry v Stoke Arsene Wenger's Arsenal travel to Nottingham Forest Newport v Leeds Bolton v Huddersfield Port Vale or Yeovil v Bradford Nottingham Forest v Arsenal Brentford v Notts County QPR v MK Dons Manchester United v Derby Forest Green or Exeter v West Brom Doncaster v Slough Town or Rochdale Tottenham v AFC Wimbledon Middlesbrough v Sunderland Fleetwood or Hereford v Leicester Blackburn or Crewe v Hull Cardiff v Mansfield Manchester City v Burnley Shrewsbury v West Ham Wolves v Swansea Stevenage v Reading Newcastle v Luton Millwall v Barnsley Fulham v Southampton Wycombe v Preston Norwich v Chelsea Gillingham or Carlisle v Sheffield Wednesday Ties to be played January 5-7 7:27PM One for the ages?  Another exciting looking tie is 2016 Premier League champions away at Hereford United (if Hereford can win their replay against Fleetwood Town.  7:23PM That concludes the draw No doubts about the tie of the round there...Liverpool will host Everton! There's also Brighton vs Crystal Palace and Bournemouth at home against non-league Fylde or Wigan.  7:22PM Last up Gillingham or Carlisle vs Sheffield Wednesday 7:21PM Tough draw Norwich Norwich City vs Chelsea 7:21PM Next Wycombe Wanderers vs Preston North End 7:21PM Next up Fulham vs Southampton 7:21PM All-Championship tie Millwall vs Barnsley 7:20PM Home banker?  Newcastle vs Luton Town 7:20PM Next up Stevenage vs Reading 7:20PM The home side could be the favourites here Wolves vs Swansea 7:20PM Another giant-killing for Shrewsbury?  Shrewsbury Town vs West Ham 7:20PM All Premier League tie Manchester City vs Burnley 7:19PM Next up Cardiff City vs Mansfield Town 7:19PM Upset alert Blackburn or Crewe vs Hull City 7:19PM Great draw Fleetwood Town or Hereford vs Leicester City 7:19PM Tees-Wear derby Middlesbrough vs Sunderland 7:18PM London derby Tottenham Hotspur vs AFC Wimbledon 7:18PM The Slough fans seem a bit upset... Doncaster Rovers vs Slough Town or Rochdale 7:18PM Banana skin?  Forest Green Rovers or Exeter City vs West Brom 7:17PM United are up against... Manchester United vs Derby County 7:17PM Next up QPR vs MK Dons 7:17PM Next up Brentford vs Notts County 7:16PM The holders will play... Nottingham Forest vs Arsenal 7:16PM Next Port Vale or Yeovil Town v Bradford City 7:16PM Local derby Bolton Wanderers vs Huddersfield Town 7:16PM Next up Newport County vs Leeds United 7:16PM A tale of two cities Coventry City vs Stoke City 7:15PM Potentially a huge trip for non-league Fylde Bournemouth vs AFC Fylde or Wigan 7:15PM Less exciting Aston Villa vs Woking or Peterborough United 7:15PM And another big rivalry! Brighton vs Crystal Palace 7:14PM Would you believe it?!  Liverpool vs Everton 7:14PM Next Birmingham City vs Burton Albion 7:14PM Next Watford vs Bristol City 7:14PM First up Ipswich Town vs Sheffield United 7:12PM Here we go Jake Humphrey is the host, and the venue is Slough Town's home ground Holloways Park ahead of Slough's FA Cup second round match tonight against Rochdale.  Glenn Hoddle and Jermaine Jenas will make the draw.  7:01PM Nearly there The draw will be getting under way in around about 10 minutes. Hereford v Newcastle? Wrexham v Arsenal? Sutton v Coventry? Yep, the BBC's montage has them all.  6:28PM An English institution Evening all, Welcome to our coverage of one of the great days in the English sporting calendar. Yes we are just minutes away from seeing which lower-league teams will get a chance to lose 3-0 against the second string of one of the Premier League's leading lights. For these part-time plumbers and postmen, the opportunity to test themselves against Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Darmian is just a draw of a ball away. There is also the opportunity to be patronised the hell out of by BBC commentators and possibly go down in football folklore for ever more. Think Ronny Radford scoring for Hereford against Newcastle, Mickey Thomas for Wrexham against Arsenal, er Nigel Jemson for Shrewsbury against Everton.  The third round stage is of course when all the Premier League and Championship teams join the competition, and alongside them will be four non-league teams in the pot - AFC Fylde, Hereford, Slough and Woking. Arsenal are the current FA Cup holders Credit: AP Woking you may recall have some pedigree in this competition. In January 1991 the Surrey-based side pulled off one of the great FA Cup shocks when as a Conference team they knocked out second-tier outfit West Brom 4-2 at the Hawthorns. They were then beaten 1-0 by top-flight side Everton in the fourth round.     More recently, Woking reached the third round in 1997 and took Premier League side Coventry to a replay which they narrowly lost 2-1. But enough about Woking. Tonight's draw gets under way at around 7pm, and precedes the second round match between seventh-tier Slough Town and League One side Rochdale.  Here are the ball numbers in full: Bournemouth Arsenal Aston Villa Barnsley Birmingham City Bolton Brentford Brighton Bristol City Burnley Burton Albion Cardiff City Chelsea Crystal Palace Derby County Everton Fulham  Huddersfield Hull City Ipswich Town Leeds United Leicester Liverpool Manchester City Manchester United Middlesbrough Millwall Newcastle Norwich City Nottingham Forest Preston North End QPR Reading Sheffield United Sheffield Wednesday Southampton Stoke  Sunderland Swansea Tottenham Watford West Brom West Ham Wolves Woking or Peterborough MK Dons Newport County Wycombe Wanderers Port Vale/Yeovil Shrewsbury Town Doncaster Rovers Slough Town or Rochdale AFC Wimbledon Stevenage Mansfield Town Luton Town Bradford City Blackburn/Crewe AFC Fylde or Wigan Gillingham or Carlisle Notts County Forest Green Rovers or Exeter City Fleetwood Town or Hereford Coventry City

FA Cup third-round draw in full: Liverpool v Everton and Brighton v Crystal Palace the stand-out ties

7:27PM FA Cup third-round draw in full Ipswich v Sheffield United Watford v Bristol City Birmingham v Burton Liverpool v Everton Brighton v Crystal Palace Aston Villa v Woking or Peterborough Bournemouth v AFC Fylde or Wigan Coventry v Stoke Newport v Leeds Bolton v Huddersfield Port Vale or Yeovil v Bradford Nottingham Forest v Arsenal Arsene Wenger's Arsenal travel to Nottingham Forest Brentford v Notts County QPR v MK Dons Manchester United v Derby Forest Green or Exeter v West Brom Doncaster v Slough Town or Rochdale Tottenham v AFC Wimbledon Middlesbrough v Sunderland Fleetwood or Hereford v Leicester Blackburn or Crewe v Hull Cardiff v Mansfield Manchester City v Burnley Shrewsbury v West Ham Wolves v Swansea Stevenage v Reading Newcastle v Luton Millwall v Barnsley Fulham v Southampton Wycombe v Preston Norwich v Chelsea Gillingham or Carlisle v Sheffield Wednesday 7:27PM One for the ages?  Another exciting looking tie is 2016 Premier League champions away at Hereford United (if Hereford can win their replay against Fleetwood Town.  7:23PM That concludes the draw No doubts about the tie of the round there...Liverpool will host Everton! There's also Brighton vs Crystal Palace and Bournemouth at home against non-league Fylde or Wigan.  7:22PM Last up Gillingham or Carlisle vs Sheffield Wednesday 7:21PM Tough draw Norwich Norwich City vs Chelsea 7:21PM Next Wycombe Wanderers vs Preston North End 7:21PM Next up Fulham vs Southampton 7:21PM All-Championship tie Millwall vs Barnsley 7:20PM Home banker?  Newcastle vs Luton Town 7:20PM Next up Stevenage vs Reading 7:20PM The home side could be the favourites here Wolves vs Swansea 7:20PM Another giant-killing for Shrewsbury?  Shrewsbury Town vs West Ham 7:20PM All Premier League tie Manchester City vs Burnley 7:19PM Next up Cardiff City vs Mansfield Town 7:19PM Upset alert Blackburn or Crewe vs Hull City 7:19PM Great draw Fleetwood Town or Hereford vs Leicester City 7:19PM Tees-Wear derby Middlesbrough vs Sunderland 7:18PM London derby Tottenham Hotspur vs AFC Wimbledon 7:18PM The Slough fans seem a bit upset... Doncaster Rovers vs Slough Town or Rochdale 7:18PM Banana skin?  Forest Green Rovers or Exeter City vs West Brom 7:17PM United are up against... Manchester United vs Derby County 7:17PM Next up QPR vs MK Dons 7:17PM Next up Brentford vs Notts County 7:16PM The holders will play... Nottingham Forest vs Arsenal 7:16PM Next Port Vale or Yeovil Town v Bradford City 7:16PM Local derby Bolton Wanderers vs Huddersfield Town 7:16PM Next up Newport County vs Leeds United 7:16PM A tale of two cities Coventry City vs Stoke City 7:15PM Potentially a huge trip for non-league Fylde Bournemouth vs AFC Fylde or Wigan 7:15PM Less exciting Aston Villa vs Woking or Peterborough United 7:15PM And another big rivalry! Brighton vs Crystal Palace 7:14PM Would you believe it?!  Liverpool vs Everton 7:14PM Next Birmingham City vs Burton Albion 7:14PM Next Watford vs Bristol City 7:14PM First up Ipswich Town vs Sheffield United 7:12PM Here we go Jake Humphrey is the host, and the venue is Slough Town's home ground Holloways Park ahead of Slough's FA Cup second round match tonight against Rochdale.  Glenn Hoddle and Jermaine Jenas will make the draw.  7:01PM Nearly there The draw will be getting under way in around about 10 minutes. Hereford v Newcastle? Wrexham v Arsenal? Sutton v Coventry? Yep, the BBC's montage has them all.  6:28PM An English institution Evening all, Welcome to our coverage of one of the great days in the English sporting calendar. Yes we are just minutes away from seeing which lower-league teams will get a chance to lose 3-0 against the second string of one of the Premier League's leading lights. For these part-time plumbers and postmen, the opportunity to test themselves against Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Darmian is just a draw of a ball away. There is also the opportunity to be patronised the hell out of by BBC commentators and possibly go down in football folklore for ever more. Think Ronny Radford scoring for Hereford against Newcastle, Mickey Thomas for Wrexham against Arsenal, er Nigel Jemson for Shrewsbury against Everton.  The third round stage is of course when all the Premier League and Championship teams join the competition, and alongside them will be four non-league teams in the pot - AFC Fylde, Hereford, Slough and Woking. Arsenal are the current FA Cup holders Credit: AP Woking you may recall have some pedigree in this competition. In January 1991 the Surrey-based side pulled off one of the great FA Cup shocks when as a Conference team they knocked out second-tier outfit West Brom 4-2 at the Hawthorns. They were then beaten 1-0 by top-flight side Everton in the fourth round.     More recently, Woking reached the third round in 1997 and took Premier League side Coventry to a replay which they narrowly lost 2-1. But enough about Woking. Tonight's draw gets under way at around 7pm, and precedes the second round match between seventh-tier Slough Town and League One side Rochdale.  Here are the ball numbers in full: Bournemouth Arsenal Aston Villa Barnsley Birmingham City Bolton Brentford Brighton Bristol City Burnley Burton Albion Cardiff City Chelsea Crystal Palace Derby County Everton Fulham  Huddersfield Hull City Ipswich Town Leeds United Leicester Liverpool Manchester City Manchester United Middlesbrough Millwall Newcastle Norwich City Nottingham Forest Preston North End QPR Reading Sheffield United Sheffield Wednesday Southampton Stoke  Sunderland Swansea Tottenham Watford West Brom West Ham Wolves Woking or Peterborough MK Dons Newport County Wycombe Wanderers Port Vale/Yeovil Shrewsbury Town Doncaster Rovers Slough Town or Rochdale AFC Wimbledon Stevenage Mansfield Town Luton Town Bradford City Blackburn/Crewe AFC Fylde or Wigan Gillingham or Carlisle Notts County Forest Green Rovers or Exeter City Fleetwood Town or Hereford Coventry City

FA Cup third-round draw in full: Liverpool v Everton and Brighton v Crystal Palace the stand-out ties

7:27PM FA Cup third-round draw in full Ipswich v Sheffield United Watford v Bristol City Birmingham v Burton Liverpool v Everton Brighton v Crystal Palace Aston Villa v Woking or Peterborough Bournemouth v AFC Fylde or Wigan Coventry v Stoke Newport v Leeds Bolton v Huddersfield Port Vale or Yeovil v Bradford Nottingham Forest v Arsenal Arsene Wenger's Arsenal travel to Nottingham Forest Brentford v Notts County QPR v MK Dons Manchester United v Derby Forest Green or Exeter v West Brom Doncaster v Slough Town or Rochdale Tottenham v AFC Wimbledon Middlesbrough v Sunderland Fleetwood or Hereford v Leicester Blackburn or Crewe v Hull Cardiff v Mansfield Manchester City v Burnley Shrewsbury v West Ham Wolves v Swansea Stevenage v Reading Newcastle v Luton Millwall v Barnsley Fulham v Southampton Wycombe v Preston Norwich v Chelsea Gillingham or Carlisle v Sheffield Wednesday 7:27PM One for the ages?  Another exciting looking tie is 2016 Premier League champions away at Hereford United (if Hereford can win their replay against Fleetwood Town.  7:23PM That concludes the draw No doubts about the tie of the round there...Liverpool will host Everton! There's also Brighton vs Crystal Palace and Bournemouth at home against non-league Fylde or Wigan.  7:22PM Last up Gillingham or Carlisle vs Sheffield Wednesday 7:21PM Tough draw Norwich Norwich City vs Chelsea 7:21PM Next Wycombe Wanderers vs Preston North End 7:21PM Next up Fulham vs Southampton 7:21PM All-Championship tie Millwall vs Barnsley 7:20PM Home banker?  Newcastle vs Luton Town 7:20PM Next up Stevenage vs Reading 7:20PM The home side could be the favourites here Wolves vs Swansea 7:20PM Another giant-killing for Shrewsbury?  Shrewsbury Town vs West Ham 7:20PM All Premier League tie Manchester City vs Burnley 7:19PM Next up Cardiff City vs Mansfield Town 7:19PM Upset alert Blackburn or Crewe vs Hull City 7:19PM Great draw Fleetwood Town or Hereford vs Leicester City 7:19PM Tees-Wear derby Middlesbrough vs Sunderland 7:18PM London derby Tottenham Hotspur vs AFC Wimbledon 7:18PM The Slough fans seem a bit upset... Doncaster Rovers vs Slough Town or Rochdale 7:18PM Banana skin?  Forest Green Rovers or Exeter City vs West Brom 7:17PM United are up against... Manchester United vs Derby County 7:17PM Next up QPR vs MK Dons 7:17PM Next up Brentford vs Notts County 7:16PM The holders will play... Nottingham Forest vs Arsenal 7:16PM Next Port Vale or Yeovil Town v Bradford City 7:16PM Local derby Bolton Wanderers vs Huddersfield Town 7:16PM Next up Newport County vs Leeds United 7:16PM A tale of two cities Coventry City vs Stoke City 7:15PM Potentially a huge trip for non-league Fylde Bournemouth vs AFC Fylde or Wigan 7:15PM Less exciting Aston Villa vs Woking or Peterborough United 7:15PM And another big rivalry! Brighton vs Crystal Palace 7:14PM Would you believe it?!  Liverpool vs Everton 7:14PM Next Birmingham City vs Burton Albion 7:14PM Next Watford vs Bristol City 7:14PM First up Ipswich Town vs Sheffield United 7:12PM Here we go Jake Humphrey is the host, and the venue is Slough Town's home ground Holloways Park ahead of Slough's FA Cup second round match tonight against Rochdale.  Glenn Hoddle and Jermaine Jenas will make the draw.  7:01PM Nearly there The draw will be getting under way in around about 10 minutes. Hereford v Newcastle? Wrexham v Arsenal? Sutton v Coventry? Yep, the BBC's montage has them all.  6:28PM An English institution Evening all, Welcome to our coverage of one of the great days in the English sporting calendar. Yes we are just minutes away from seeing which lower-league teams will get a chance to lose 3-0 against the second string of one of the Premier League's leading lights. For these part-time plumbers and postmen, the opportunity to test themselves against Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Darmian is just a draw of a ball away. There is also the opportunity to be patronised the hell out of by BBC commentators and possibly go down in football folklore for ever more. Think Ronny Radford scoring for Hereford against Newcastle, Mickey Thomas for Wrexham against Arsenal, er Nigel Jemson for Shrewsbury against Everton.  The third round stage is of course when all the Premier League and Championship teams join the competition, and alongside them will be four non-league teams in the pot - AFC Fylde, Hereford, Slough and Woking. Arsenal are the current FA Cup holders Credit: AP Woking you may recall have some pedigree in this competition. In January 1991 the Surrey-based side pulled off one of the great FA Cup shocks when as a Conference team they knocked out second-tier outfit West Brom 4-2 at the Hawthorns. They were then beaten 1-0 by top-flight side Everton in the fourth round.     More recently, Woking reached the third round in 1997 and took Premier League side Coventry to a replay which they narrowly lost 2-1. But enough about Woking. Tonight's draw gets under way at around 7pm, and precedes the second round match between seventh-tier Slough Town and League One side Rochdale.  Here are the ball numbers in full: Bournemouth Arsenal Aston Villa Barnsley Birmingham City Bolton Brentford Brighton Bristol City Burnley Burton Albion Cardiff City Chelsea Crystal Palace Derby County Everton Fulham  Huddersfield Hull City Ipswich Town Leeds United Leicester Liverpool Manchester City Manchester United Middlesbrough Millwall Newcastle Norwich City Nottingham Forest Preston North End QPR Reading Sheffield United Sheffield Wednesday Southampton Stoke  Sunderland Swansea Tottenham Watford West Brom West Ham Wolves Woking or Peterborough MK Dons Newport County Wycombe Wanderers Port Vale/Yeovil Shrewsbury Town Doncaster Rovers Slough Town or Rochdale AFC Wimbledon Stevenage Mansfield Town Luton Town Bradford City Blackburn/Crewe AFC Fylde or Wigan Gillingham or Carlisle Notts County Forest Green Rovers or Exeter City Fleetwood Town or Hereford Coventry City

FA Cup third-round draw: What time is it, how can you watch it and what ball number is your team?

What is it? The draw for the FA Cup third round, which is the stage at which the Premier League's sides join the competition. When is it? Monday 4 December at around 7pm - before Slough vs Rochdale kicks off (which is on BT Sport 1, by the way). How can I watch the draw? BT Sport 1 and BBC Two will be showing the draw live, but if you're unable to watch it on telly you can follow it with us on the Telegraph Sport website.  How does the draw work? 64 balls will be drawn at random to make up 32 ties. Anyone can play anyone so we could see Manchester United vs Arsenal and Manchester City vs Mansfield Town. What are the ball numbers? Bournemouth Arsenal Aston Villa Barnsley Birmingham City Bolton Brentford Brighton Bristol City Burnley Burton Albion Cardiff City Chelsea Crystal Palace Derby County Everton Fulham  Huddersfield Hull City Ipswich Town Leeds United Leicester Liverpool Manchester City Manchester United Middlesbrough Millwall Newcastle Norwich City Nottingham Forest Preston North End QPR Reading Sheffield United Sheffield Wednesday Southampton Stoke  Sunderland Swansea Tottenham Watford West Brom West Ham Wolves Woking or Peterborough MK Dons Newport County Wycombe Wanderers Port Vale/Yeovil Shrewsbury Town Doncaster Rovers Slough Town or Rochdale AFC Wimbledon Stevenage Mansfield Town Luton Town Bradford City Blackburn/Crewe AFC Fylde or Wigan Gillingham or Carlisle Notts County Forest Green Rovers or Exeter City Fleetwood Town or Hereford Coventry City Arsenal are chasing another FA Cup triumph Credit: AP When will the matches be played? The third round ties will be played over the weekend of 6 January 2018. This isn't confirmed, but we'd assume matches will be played Friday-Monday. What are the odds and who are favourites to win it? Man City - 4/1 Chelsea - 5/1 Man Utd - 6/1 Arsenal - 8/1 Tottenham - 8/1 Liverpool - 9/1 Everton - 18/1 Southampton - 25/1 Leicester - 33/1 West Ham - 33/1

FA Cup third-round draw: What time is it, how can you watch it and what ball number is your team?

What is it? The draw for the FA Cup third round, which is the stage at which the Premier League's sides join the competition. When is it? Monday 4 December at around 7pm - before Slough vs Rochdale kicks off (which is on BT Sport 1, by the way). How can I watch the draw? BT Sport 1 and BBC Two will be showing the draw live, but if you're unable to watch it on telly you can follow it with us on the Telegraph Sport website.  How does the draw work? 64 balls will be drawn at random to make up 32 ties. Anyone can play anyone so we could see Manchester United vs Arsenal and Manchester City vs Mansfield Town. What are the ball numbers? Bournemouth Arsenal Aston Villa Barnsley Birmingham City Bolton Brentford Brighton Bristol City Burnley Burton Albion Cardiff City Chelsea Crystal Palace Derby County Everton Fulham  Huddersfield Hull City Ipswich Town Leeds United Leicester Liverpool Manchester City Manchester United Middlesbrough Millwall Newcastle Norwich City Nottingham Forest Preston North End QPR Reading Sheffield United Sheffield Wednesday Southampton Stoke  Sunderland Swansea Tottenham Watford West Brom West Ham Wolves Woking or Peterborough MK Dons Newport County Wycombe Wanderers Port Vale/Yeovil Shrewsbury Town Doncaster Rovers Slough Town or Rochdale AFC Wimbledon Stevenage Mansfield Town Luton Town Bradford City Blackburn/Crewe AFC Fylde or Wigan Gillingham or Carlisle Notts County Forest Green Rovers or Exeter City Fleetwood Town or Hereford Coventry City Arsenal are chasing another FA Cup triumph Credit: AP When will the matches be played? The third round ties will be played over the weekend of 6 January 2018. This isn't confirmed, but we'd assume matches will be played Friday-Monday. What are the odds and who are favourites to win it? Man City - 4/1 Chelsea - 5/1 Man Utd - 6/1 Arsenal - 8/1 Tottenham - 8/1 Liverpool - 9/1 Everton - 18/1 Southampton - 25/1 Leicester - 33/1 West Ham - 33/1

ISL 2017: Chennaiyin's John Gregory - Pune City's Emiliano Alfaro and Marcelinho are grabbing headlines

The former Aston Villa man hoped that an ISL team in the future will field an all-Indian XI...

ISL 2017: Chennaiyin's John Gregory - Pune City's Emiliano Alfaro and Marcelinho are grabbing headlines

The former Aston Villa man hoped that an ISL team in the future will field an all-Indian XI...

World Cup 2018 groups: Your guide to the teams

The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A RUSSIA When the Russians launched their bid to host the World Cup for the first time, they were on a high after reaching the semi-finals at the 2008 European Championship. Times have changed. Russia go into the draw as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams, having failed to advance past the group stage of any tournament since 2008. Ambitious talk of reaching the quarter-finals or even semi-finals has faded. There are off-field problems too, with reports of disputes between players and the coach. Hooligan rampages at Euro 2016 tarnished Russia's image, with the country threatened with expulsion from the tournament in France. Key player: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow) - A talented goalkeeper who captains the team, Akinfeev has tended to make mistakes in big games. Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov - After experiments with expensive foreign recruits like Fabio Capello and Guus Hiddink, Russia go into the World Cup with a dour, defence-first former goalkeeper. SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month. Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever performance at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in helping the Saudis reach the tournament with 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990. The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15. They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return. Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup. Coach: Hector Cuper - There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though. URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup. Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022. Key player: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - Top goalscorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out. Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo. Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia. Pepe is a physical enforcer in defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was. Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games. Coach: Fernando Santos - Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo. Can Cristiano Ronaldo guide Portugal to World Cup glory? Credit:  AP SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. Andres Iniesta will be 34 by the time of the 2018 World Cup Credit: AP MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup. The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo. Key player: Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) - The versatile midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that won the French league title last season. Coach: Herve Renard - The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June. The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria. Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time. They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. Coach: Carlos Queiroz - The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia, and is yet to be replaced. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 57-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: To be appointed. Group F GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first-ever qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit:  REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 89 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 65-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time.

World Cup 2018 groups: Your guide to the teams

The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A RUSSIA When the Russians launched their bid to host the World Cup for the first time, they were on a high after reaching the semi-finals at the 2008 European Championship. Times have changed. Russia go into the draw as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams, having failed to advance past the group stage of any tournament since 2008. Ambitious talk of reaching the quarter-finals or even semi-finals has faded. There are off-field problems too, with reports of disputes between players and the coach. Hooligan rampages at Euro 2016 tarnished Russia's image, with the country threatened with expulsion from the tournament in France. Key player: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow) - A talented goalkeeper who captains the team, Akinfeev has tended to make mistakes in big games. Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov - After experiments with expensive foreign recruits like Fabio Capello and Guus Hiddink, Russia go into the World Cup with a dour, defence-first former goalkeeper. SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month. Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever performance at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in helping the Saudis reach the tournament with 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990. The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15. They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return. Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup. Coach: Hector Cuper - There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though. URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup. Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022. Key player: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - Top goalscorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out. Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo. Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia. Pepe is a physical enforcer in defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was. Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games. Coach: Fernando Santos - Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo. Can Cristiano Ronaldo guide Portugal to World Cup glory? Credit:  AP SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. Andres Iniesta will be 34 by the time of the 2018 World Cup Credit: AP MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup. The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo. Key player: Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) - The versatile midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that won the French league title last season. Coach: Herve Renard - The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June. The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria. Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time. They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. Coach: Carlos Queiroz - The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia, and is yet to be replaced. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 57-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: To be appointed. Group F GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first-ever qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit:  REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 89 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 65-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time.

World Cup 2018 groups: Your guide to the teams

The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A RUSSIA When the Russians launched their bid to host the World Cup for the first time, they were on a high after reaching the semi-finals at the 2008 European Championship. Times have changed. Russia go into the draw as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams, having failed to advance past the group stage of any tournament since 2008. Ambitious talk of reaching the quarter-finals or even semi-finals has faded. There are off-field problems too, with reports of disputes between players and the coach. Hooligan rampages at Euro 2016 tarnished Russia's image, with the country threatened with expulsion from the tournament in France. Key player: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow) - A talented goalkeeper who captains the team, Akinfeev has tended to make mistakes in big games. Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov - After experiments with expensive foreign recruits like Fabio Capello and Guus Hiddink, Russia go into the World Cup with a dour, defence-first former goalkeeper. SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month. Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever performance at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in helping the Saudis reach the tournament with 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990. The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15. They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return. Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup. Coach: Hector Cuper - There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though. URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup. Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022. Key player: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - Top goalscorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out. Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo. Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia. Pepe is a physical enforcer in defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was. Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games. Coach: Fernando Santos - Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo. Can Cristiano Ronaldo guide Portugal to World Cup glory? Credit:  AP SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. Andres Iniesta will be 34 by the time of the 2018 World Cup Credit: AP MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup. The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo. Key player: Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) - The versatile midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that won the French league title last season. Coach: Herve Renard - The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June. The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria. Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time. They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. Coach: Carlos Queiroz - The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia, and is yet to be replaced. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 57-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: To be appointed. Group F GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first-ever qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit:  REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 89 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 65-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time.

World Cup 2018 groups: Your guide to the teams

The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A RUSSIA When the Russians launched their bid to host the World Cup for the first time, they were on a high after reaching the semi-finals at the 2008 European Championship. Times have changed. Russia go into the draw as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams, having failed to advance past the group stage of any tournament since 2008. Ambitious talk of reaching the quarter-finals or even semi-finals has faded. There are off-field problems too, with reports of disputes between players and the coach. Hooligan rampages at Euro 2016 tarnished Russia's image, with the country threatened with expulsion from the tournament in France. Key player: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow) - A talented goalkeeper who captains the team, Akinfeev has tended to make mistakes in big games. Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov - After experiments with expensive foreign recruits like Fabio Capello and Guus Hiddink, Russia go into the World Cup with a dour, defence-first former goalkeeper. SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month. Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever performance at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in helping the Saudis reach the tournament with 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990. The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15. They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return. Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup. Coach: Hector Cuper - There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though. URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup. Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022. Key player: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - Top goalscorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out. Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo. Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia. Pepe is a physical enforcer in defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was. Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games. Coach: Fernando Santos - Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo. Can Cristiano Ronaldo guide Portugal to World Cup glory? Credit:  AP SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. Andres Iniesta will be 34 by the time of the 2018 World Cup Credit: AP MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup. The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo. Key player: Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) - The versatile midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that won the French league title last season. Coach: Herve Renard - The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June. The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria. Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time. They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. Coach: Carlos Queiroz - The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia, and is yet to be replaced. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 57-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: To be appointed. Group F GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first-ever qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit:  REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 89 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 65-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time.

World Cup 2018 groups: Your guide to the teams

The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A RUSSIA When the Russians launched their bid to host the World Cup for the first time, they were on a high after reaching the semi-finals at the 2008 European Championship. Times have changed. Russia go into the draw as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams, having failed to advance past the group stage of any tournament since 2008. Ambitious talk of reaching the quarter-finals or even semi-finals has faded. There are off-field problems too, with reports of disputes between players and the coach. Hooligan rampages at Euro 2016 tarnished Russia's image, with the country threatened with expulsion from the tournament in France. Key player: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow) - A talented goalkeeper who captains the team, Akinfeev has tended to make mistakes in big games. Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov - After experiments with expensive foreign recruits like Fabio Capello and Guus Hiddink, Russia go into the World Cup with a dour, defence-first former goalkeeper. SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month. Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever performance at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in helping the Saudis reach the tournament with 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990. The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15. They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return. Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup. Coach: Hector Cuper - There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though. URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup. Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022. Key player: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - Top goalscorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out. Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo. Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia. Pepe is a physical enforcer in defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was. Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games. Coach: Fernando Santos - Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo. Can Cristiano Ronaldo guide Portugal to World Cup glory? Credit:  AP SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. Andres Iniesta will be 34 by the time of the 2018 World Cup Credit: AP MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup. The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo. Key player: Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) - The versatile midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that won the French league title last season. Coach: Herve Renard - The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June. The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria. Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time. They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. Coach: Carlos Queiroz - The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia, and is yet to be replaced. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 57-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: To be appointed. Group F GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first-ever qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit:  REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 89 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 65-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time.

World Cup 2018 groups: Your guide to the teams

The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A RUSSIA When the Russians launched their bid to host the World Cup for the first time, they were on a high after reaching the semi-finals at the 2008 European Championship. Times have changed. Russia go into the draw as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams, having failed to advance past the group stage of any tournament since 2008. Ambitious talk of reaching the quarter-finals or even semi-finals has faded. There are off-field problems too, with reports of disputes between players and the coach. Hooligan rampages at Euro 2016 tarnished Russia's image, with the country threatened with expulsion from the tournament in France. Key player: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow) - A talented goalkeeper who captains the team, Akinfeev has tended to make mistakes in big games. Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov - After experiments with expensive foreign recruits like Fabio Capello and Guus Hiddink, Russia go into the World Cup with a dour, defence-first former goalkeeper. SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month. Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever performance at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in helping the Saudis reach the tournament with 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990. The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15. They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return. Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup. Coach: Hector Cuper - There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though. URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup. Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022. Key player: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - Top goalscorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out. Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo. Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia. Pepe is a physical enforcer in defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was. Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games. Coach: Fernando Santos - Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo. Can Cristiano Ronaldo guide Portugal to World Cup glory? Credit:  AP SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. Andres Iniesta will be 34 by the time of the 2018 World Cup Credit: AP MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup. The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo. Key player: Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) - The versatile midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that won the French league title last season. Coach: Herve Renard - The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June. The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria. Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time. They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. Coach: Carlos Queiroz - The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia, and is yet to be replaced. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 57-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: To be appointed. Group F GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first-ever qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit:  REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 89 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 65-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time.

World Cup 2018 groups: Your guide to the teams

The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A RUSSIA When the Russians launched their bid to host the World Cup for the first time, they were on a high after reaching the semi-finals at the 2008 European Championship. Times have changed. Russia go into the draw as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams, having failed to advance past the group stage of any tournament since 2008. Ambitious talk of reaching the quarter-finals or even semi-finals has faded. There are off-field problems too, with reports of disputes between players and the coach. Hooligan rampages at Euro 2016 tarnished Russia's image, with the country threatened with expulsion from the tournament in France. Key player: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow) - A talented goalkeeper who captains the team, Akinfeev has tended to make mistakes in big games. Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov - After experiments with expensive foreign recruits like Fabio Capello and Guus Hiddink, Russia go into the World Cup with a dour, defence-first former goalkeeper. SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month. Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever performance at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in helping the Saudis reach the tournament with 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990. The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15. They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return. Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup. Coach: Hector Cuper - There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though. URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup. Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022. Key player: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - Top goalscorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out. Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo. Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia. Pepe is a physical enforcer in defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was. Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games. Coach: Fernando Santos - Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo. Can Cristiano Ronaldo guide Portugal to World Cup glory? Credit:  AP SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. Andres Iniesta will be 34 by the time of the 2018 World Cup Credit: AP MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup. The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo. Key player: Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) - The versatile midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that won the French league title last season. Coach: Herve Renard - The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June. The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria. Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time. They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. Coach: Carlos Queiroz - The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia, and is yet to be replaced. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 57-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: To be appointed. Group F GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first-ever qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit:  REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 89 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 65-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time.

World Cup 2018 groups: Your guide to the teams

The World Cup draw is done and dusted with England drawn against Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. Here is your guide to the eight groups for the 2018 World Cup: Group A RUSSIA When the Russians launched their bid to host the World Cup for the first time, they were on a high after reaching the semi-finals at the 2008 European Championship. Times have changed. Russia go into the draw as the lowest-ranked of the 32 teams, having failed to advance past the group stage of any tournament since 2008. Ambitious talk of reaching the quarter-finals or even semi-finals has faded. There are off-field problems too, with reports of disputes between players and the coach. Hooligan rampages at Euro 2016 tarnished Russia's image, with the country threatened with expulsion from the tournament in France. Key player: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow) - A talented goalkeeper who captains the team, Akinfeev has tended to make mistakes in big games. Coach: Stanislav Cherchesov - After experiments with expensive foreign recruits like Fabio Capello and Guus Hiddink, Russia go into the World Cup with a dour, defence-first former goalkeeper. SAUDI ARABIA Preparations for Russia have been far from ideal since qualifying for a fifth World Cup, with two coaches fired. Edgardo Bauza was dismissed nine days before the draw after only five friendlies in charge. The team lost to Portugal and Bulgaria last month. Bauza had been appointed in September to replace Bert van Marwijk, who was fired despite leading the team to their first World Cup since 2006. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who was only named on Tuesday as the new coach, will be tasked with improving on Saudi Arabia's best-ever performance at World Cup - the second-round exit to Sweden at the 1994 tournament in the United States. Star player: Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - The 30-year-old striker was instrumental in helping the Saudis reach the tournament with 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Juan Antonio Pizzi. EGYPT Egypt waited a long time to be back at the World Cup. The record seven-time African champions had to watch on the sidelines since last qualifying in 1990. The team hit new lows recently, failing to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations - a tournament they once dominated - from 2012-15. They are back now, reaching the final of this year's tournament and following that up with a long-awaited World Cup return. Key player: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - Delivered when it counted with five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, including the late penalty that took Egypt to the World Cup. Coach: Hector Cuper - There have been murmurs of discontent over the conservative style favored by the Argentine. His team focuses on defence first and counter attacks when it can. There can be no denying Cuper's tactics have been successful, though. URUGUAY Only Brazil had a more solid performance in South American qualifying than Uruguay. Though some of the team's stars started fading, new players have emerged for the World Cup. Defender Diego Godin (31) and strikers Edinson Cavani (30) and Luis Suarez (30) still trouble opponents. But now youngsters like midfielders Federico Valverde (19) and Nahitan Nandez (21) have become frequent starters. Coach Oscar Tabarez, who leads Uruguay's recovery since 2006, believes a paced renovation will bear fruit in 2022. Key player: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) - Top goalscorer of the South American qualifiers with 10 goals in 18 matches, Cavani has been more deadly for Uruguay than Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Coach: Oscar Tabarez - Will coach Uruguay for his fourth World Cup, the third in a row. The 70-year-old Tabarez has used a wheelchair since he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2016. Group B PORTUGAL Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of winning the World Cup with Portugal are running out. Portugal have proven they have the mettle needed to win major international tournaments after they ground though the 2016 European Championship and stunned hosts France in the final despite an early injury to Ronaldo. Portugal will take the large part of that experienced squad to Russia. Pepe is a physical enforcer in defense, Joao Moutinho adds passing skills to its midfield, and newcomer Andre Silva can help Ronaldo in attack. Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - At 32, Ronaldo is no longer the goal machine he once was. Key to success in Russia could be how he is managed by Madrid, and can be rested in less significant games. Coach: Fernando Santos - Since taking over the team in 2014, Santos has forged a solid defensive block that gives just enough help to Ronaldo. Can Cristiano Ronaldo guide Portugal to World Cup glory? Credit:  AP SPAIN The managerial change from Vicente del Bosque to Julen Lopetegui has reinvigorated a side that was in clear decline after failing to defend their world title in 2014 and European crown in 2016. With a surplus of talented midfielders and forwards, David De Gea in goal, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique anchoring the defence, the one possible doubt may be who spears the Spaniards' attack. Alvaro Morata is in line to be Spain's striker after impressing at Chelsea. His only potential challenger is the man he replaced in London, Diego Costa, who will finally be back to playing after several months of inactivity when Atletico Madrid's transfer ban finishes at the start of January. Key player: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) - Scored the sole goal of the 2010 World Cup final but will be 34 at next year's tournament. Coach: Julen Lopetegui - The 51-year-old former goalkeeper steered Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw, including a 3-0 victory over Italy. Andres Iniesta will be 34 by the time of the 2018 World Cup Credit: AP MOROCCO It has taken 20 years to get back to the World Cup. The North African team features several promising young talents including Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda. Ziyech returned to the squad after making peace with coach Herve Renard. Renard has brought discipline and flair to a team developing an exciting brand of football based on solid defending and fast attacking tempo. Key player: Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce) - The versatile midfielder was a key element of the Monaco side that won the French league title last season. Coach: Herve Renard - The French coach has had success with other African teams, winning the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later. IRAN The first team to qualify from Asia, Iran sealed their spot with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in June. The Iranians went unbeaten in 18 qualifying games across two rounds. In the last round, Iran didn't concede a goal in nine games but finished with a 2-2 draw against Syria. Iran will be playing their fifth World Cup, qualifying back-to-back for the first time. They went winless at the 2014 World Cup, but this time coach Carlos Queiroz is targeting the knockout stages and has vowed Iran will "not go to Russia as tourists." Key player: Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) - The 22-year-old forward emerged as a scoring threat at the 2015 Asian Cup and has already bagged 22 international goals. Coach: Carlos Queiroz - The veteran Portuguese manager retained his job after the 2014 World Cup and has rebuilt the squad, bring in young players such as Azmoun. Group C FRANCE A young and vibrant side packed with flair promises to be eye-catching. Recently, France twice took the lead away to World Cup winner Germany and caused the home defence all sorts of problems with the movement and speed of their devastating counter-attacks. But France are also prone to lapses in concentration, and this needs to be ironed out if they wish to win the trophy for the second time. Les Bleus lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy in a penalty shootout; lost to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, and could not handle the pressure of being favourites in the Euro 2016 final at home to Portugal. It's time for France to add silverware to the growing hype. Key player: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) - The three-time Champions League-winning centre-back has the difficult task of marshalling a vulnerable defence. Coach: Didier Deschamps - Turned France into a highly competitive team but has yet to deliver a trophy. Reaching the World Cup semi-finals is the minimum target for the 49-year-old Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Didier Deschamps has some talented players at his disposal Credit: AP AUSTRALIA Qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but had to take the long route to Russia after failing to secure direct entry in Asia because of a slightly inferior goal difference to Saudi Arabia. The Australians played 22 games in qualifying, including an Asian playoff against Syria and culminating with a play-off win over Honduras. That made them the next-to-last team to clinch a spot at the 2108 edition. The nucleus of the young squad that went to Brazil four years ago has remained, helping the country win a first Asian Cup title in 2015 and develop an attacking style it touts as the Australian way. Ange Postecoglou quit as coach a week after Australia secured their place in Russia, and is yet to be replaced. Key player: Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) - With much of the attention on 37-year-old Tim Cahill, Jedinak has returned from injury to stabilise the midfield and score a hat-trick against Honduras. Coach: To be appointed. PERU Chile, Ecuador and even Paraguay were considered favorites for South America's fifth spot in the World Cup. In the end, it went to a Peruvian side that conceded only seven goals in eight matches in 2017. Much of the team's base players are now in Mexican clubs; goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, defender Luis Advincula, midfielder Pedro Aquino and strikers Raul Ruidiaz and Andy Polo. Key player: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo) - The 33-year-old captain scored six goals in qualifying, but is now a doubt for Russia while appealing against a Fifa doping ban. Coach: Ricardo Gareca - The 59-year-old Argentine scored a goal in 1985 that eliminated Peru in the South American qualifiers. Since 2015 he has led a much better organised and well-paced Peruvian team to their first World Cup participation since 1982. DENMARK One of the fastest-improving teams in Europe, and a country most will want to avoid coming out of the third-seeded pot. Denmark haven't played a major tournament since the 2012 European Championships but they are unbeaten in 11 games since back-to-back losses in qualifying against Poland and Montenegro in October 2016. Two results stand out: A 4-0 win at home to top-seeded Poland in September and the 5-1 victory at Ireland in the play-offs second leg. In both games, playmaker Christian Eriksen was a standout creating and scoring goals. His form can decide Denmark's fortunes in Russia. Key player: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) - Just 18 on his World Cup debut in 2010, Eriksen is in prime form this time round, scoring 11 goals in eight different games during Denmark's unbeaten streak. Coach: Age Hareide - The 64-year-old Norwegian has spent his entire career in Scandinavia, including a five-year spell leading his home country. Christian Eriksen has the ability to scare most opponents Credit: Getty Images Group D ARGENTINA A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup. But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front. Key player: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - Doubted by fans, yet the five-time world player of the year delivered. Argentina would not be going to Russia without his goals and leadership. Turns 31 during a tournament that could yet crown his career. Coach: Jorge Sampaoli - The 57-year-old Argentine is his country's third coach in less than a year. His team has not impressed so far, with only one win in four official matches. His team is the biggest question mark of this World Cup. Lionel Messi could cap a brilliant career at the World Cup Credit: AP ICELAND With just 330,000 people, Iceland are the smallest country ever at the World Cup. The city of Moscow alone outnumbers Iceland's entire population 40 times over, but this is a team of giant-killers. Last year's run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, knocking out England on a memorable night in Nice, showed the talent and determination in Iceland's team. Qualifying for the World Cup ahead of Croatia and Ukraine proved last year wasn't a one-off. Expecting more success in Russia might be optimistic, but with Iceland's passionate fans and their "thunderclap" chant, nothing can be ruled out. Key player: Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) - Gylfi Sigurdsson may be the main attacking threat, but bearded captain Gunnarsson inspires a gritty team. Coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson - Not many teams are coached by a dentist, but Iceland aren't most teams. Took sole charge after co-coach Lars Lagerback left last year. CROATIA Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat. They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament. Key player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid) - Croatia look at Modric, their undisputable leader in hopes to emulate the third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup. Coach: Zlatko Dalic - Took charge of a critical situation with one game remaining in the qualifying. Presided over a victory over Ukraine 2-0, then Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. NIGERIA The first team from Africa to qualify, and convincingly. They won a group that contained current African champion Cameroon, former champion Zambia, and Algeria. A 4-0 victory over Cameroon emphasised that when they get it right the Super Eagles can be a handful for any side. Argentina found that out in November when Nigeria came back from 2-0 down to win their friendly 4-2 in Russia. Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups. Key player: John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda, China) - While Nigeria have attacking talent aplenty with Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses, captain Mikel has provided crucial stability in central midfield. Coach: Gernot Rohr - Like Mikel, Rohr has been a calming influence for Nigeria, which has changed coaches eight times since the last World Cup in Brazil. John Obi Mikel is a stabilising force for Nigeria Credit: Getty Images Group E BRAZIL The gloom that engulfed Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in the 2014 World Cup has lifted. Brazil were the first team to clinch qualification for Russia and had memorable wins on the way, including a 3-0 success over Argentina in the same Mineirao stadium of the 2014 semi-final humiliation. It took the appointment of Tite in September 2016 to revive Brazil. Under his helm, there have been 13 wins, three draws and only one loss - in a friendly against Argentina. Key player: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain) - Should be at the peak of his game aged 26 in Russia, the forward will have his best chance to overthrow Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo if Brazil win. Coach: Adenor Bacchi - Universally known as Tite, he turned Brazil from flops to favourites. Forget Dunga's muscular 2014 World Cup team that depended heavily on Neymar, Brazil are now about organisation and flair. SWITZERLAND Now is the time for Switzerland to be more than the sum of its talented parts. The quarter-finals are a realistic goal. Don't call it a golden generation, but the Swiss have a core of players from the 2009 Under-17 world champion team and a depth of tournament experience. However, those World Cup and European Championship adventures ended, at best, in the round of 16. Switzerland last won a World Cup knockout game in 1954, and that was just in a group play-off as host nation. Critics can pick holes in how the Swiss qualified: Nine straight wins in a weak group, and a play-off against Northern Ireland decided by a dubious penalty call. A well-balanced team has seemed to need a high-class central defender and reliable scorer. In Basel's Manuel Akanji, it might have found that defender. Key player: Valon Behrami (Udinese) - Going to his fourth straight World Cup in the elder statesman role for a young squad, speaking all of Switzerland's three main languages. His absence weighed heavily in the group-deciding loss at Portugal. Coach: Vladimir Petkovic - The unheralded Bosnian coach now seems to have grown into the role three years after succeeding two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. COSTA RICA The tiny Central American country reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup four years ago, losing to the Netherlands on a penalty shootout. This will be Costa Rica's fifth World Cup appearance, impressive for a country with a population just under 5 million. Bryan Ruiz is the main attacking threat, while Celso Borges of is a midfield linchpin. Still, November friendlies were hardly encouraging, with a 5-0 thrashing by Spain and a 1-0 loss to Hungary. Key player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) - Probably the best-known player in the squad, the goalkeeper's strong showing in Brazil secured a move to Madrid in 2014. Coach: Oscar Ramirez - Former midfielder took over after Paulo Wanchope resigned after a post-match fight. SERBIA Serbia cruised through their qualifying group to return to the World Cup finals after eight years, the second time since becoming an independent nation in 2006. The skillful squad scored the most goals - 20 - in the group, with Aleksandar Mitrovic the leading scorer with six goals, leaving behind Ireland, Wales and Austria. Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach despite the successful qualifying campaign, with Mladen Krstajic placed in temporary command. Key player: Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg) - Defensive experience from a stellar career for Chelsea used to anchor the defence. Played all ten World Cup qualifiers Coach: To be appointed. Group F GERMANY The World Cup holders are in good shape to defend their title after going unbeaten in all games in 2017. They have already collected a trophy in Russia in the build-up to the World Cup, winning the Confederations Cup in July and using the warm-up tournament to test new options like late developer Lars Stindl. World Cup qualifying was completed with 10 wins from 10 and a European-record 43 goals. Key player: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) - Germany's new leader, Kroos keeps the side ticking from midfield, where his intelligence, precision and composition on the ball inspires team-mates going forward. Coach: Joachim Low - Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant during the 2006 World Cup, Low took over after that tournament and has overseen steady progress culminating in the 2014 title. MEXICO Mexico have been regulars at the World Cup, but always come up just short. They have played in the last six World Cups, and were knocked out each time in the round of 16. Reaching the quarter-finals this time would be seen as a success. The Mexicans have only done that twice - 1970 and 1986 when they were hosts. Mexico impressed four years ago in Brazil, and they were impressive in qualifying this time, doing so with three games to spare ahead of Costa Rica and Panama. Arch rivals United States missed out this time. Few tears were shed in Mexico over this. Key player: Javier Hernandez (West Ham) - Likely to line up in the front with Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano. Coach: Juan Carlos Osorio - Known for his detailed planning and quick attacking style, but struggles with self-control and was suspended for this summer's Gold Cup after being sent off at the Confederations Cup. SWEDEN Sweden had just stunned Italy in the play-offs to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2006 when a tweet was posted by the country's best player: "We are Zweden." The shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic hangs over the national team. The Manchester United striker retired from international soccer after last year's European Championship, but the obvious question is now being asked: Will Ibrahimovic be tempted to come out of retirement for one last World Cup? And will the Swedes accept him back? Without Ibrahimovic, Sweden seem more united and well-structured, but he can do things no other Swedish player can. Watch this space. Key player: Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) - Has replaced Ibrahimovic as Sweden's inspiration in attack. Coach: Janne Andersson - Took charge following Euro 2016 and has successfully rebuilt the team to be greater than the sum of its parts without Ibrahimovic. SOUTH KOREA Every World Cup since 1986 has featured South Korea. This time looks likelier to be a repeat of 2014's meek group-stage exit than 2002's swashbuckling run to the semi-finals. Qualifying was tricky, with a place only secured thanks to a tense 0-0 draw against fellow qualifying contenders Uzbekistan on the final day of the Asian group stages, combined with Syria's failure to beat Iran. Much will depend on a trio of English Premier League players - Tottenham's Son Heung-min, Swansea's Ki Sung-yeung and Crystal Palace's Lee Chung-yong - who bring valuable experience of top-level football. Key player: Son Heung-min (Tottenham) - The top-scoring Asian player in Premier League history. Coach: Shin Tae-yong - When defeats to Qatar and China threw South Korea's qualifying campaign into turmoil, the former Under-23 coach was promoted to steady the ship. Has only ever coached in South Korea and Australia. Group G BELGIUM It's time to deliver for a team featuring such exceptional talent. But this is a country that is yet to break into the semi-finals of a tournament. It is widely acknowledged they have been held back by mediocre management. Now it is up to Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach, to get the best out of this plethora of stars. If you have Romelu Lukaku up front, Eden Hazard as a creative genius and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for a final lock on goal, the ingredients for success are there. There are issues in defence. Central defender Vincent Kompany is as brittle as he can be brilliant and there are very few credible back-ups available for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - Overshadowed Eden Hazard at the 2014 World Cup, he has only grown in stature, especially since his move to City and his more withdrawn position on the pitch. Coach: Roberto Martinez was a surprise pick for Belgium when they ditched Marc Wilmots after a disappointing Euro 2016. The Spaniard easily adapted to life in international management. PANAMA A first-ever qualification for the World Cup earned Panama a national holiday. The Central Americans made it to Russia in style, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 in the final qualifier. Panama has only four million people, but finished ahead of the United States, which has about 320 million. Key player: Luis Tejada (Universitario) - The striker has scored 43 goals for Panama. Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez - The Colombian has worked his magic again. He got Colombia into the 1998 World Cup, and then did the same for Ecuador in 2002. Now it is Panama's turn. TUNISIA Unbeaten during their qualifying campaign, Tunisia are making a return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years. The Eagles of Carthage qualified for Russia ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea and will take part in their fifth World Cup. They have never got beyond the group stage. With a new generation of players including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour, their main goal will be to win a game in Russia. Key player: Youssef Msakni (Al Duhail) - The 27-year-old forward played a crucial role in qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea. Coach: Nabil Maaloul - A former assistant under Roger Lemerre when Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2002, Maaloul took over from Henri Kasperczak two matches into Tunisia's World Cup qualifying campaign. ENGLAND Expectations in England have plummeted because of the team's embarrassing performances in recent major tournaments - exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group stage and losing to Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016. Having the world's richest and most popular domestic league has had an adverse effect on the England team, whose managers have an increasingly shallow pool of top players to choose from. A young squad will be taken to Russia, so getting out of the group is as much as can realistically be hoped for. Key player: Harry Kane (Tottenham) - Emerged as one of the tops strikers in the world this year, scoring freely for his club in the Premier League and Champions League. Has 12 goals in 23 games for England. Coach: Gareth Southgate - Skeptics are starting to come round to Southgate, who took charge in September 2016 despite having little top-level coaching experience but has shown he isn't afraid to make bold decisions. Harry Kane is the man tasked with spearheading England's attack Credit: Getty Images Group H POLAND It's the first World Cup since 2006 for Poland, whose fans are likely to travel to Russia in large numbers. It could be the last chance to play on the biggest stage for strikers Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will be 29 and 32 respectively by the finals. Poland are largely unchanged from the team that reached Euro 2016 quarter-finals where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. One concern in qualifying was a 4-0 thrashing by Denmark in September that raised concerns about the defence. Key player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - Already Poland's record goalscorer, he scored a European-high 16 goals in qualifying. Coach: Adam Nawalka - Turned Poland from a counter-attacking team into one which seeks to dominate possession. SENEGAL Senegal are back at the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002, when they beat defending champions France on the way to the quarter-finals, then only the second African team to make the last eight. This qualification has been contentious, with Senegal benefiting from an unprecedented decision by Fifa to order a replay of their 2-1 loss in South Africa because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal took advantage to win the replay, changing the dynamic of the group. Key player: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - With his blistering pace, Mane has been every bit as effective for Senegal as he has for Liverpool. Coach: Aliou Cisse - Senegal will take a reminder of their dream World Cup debut in 2002 to Russia next year. Cisse was captain of the 2002 team and returns to the World Cup as coach of his country. Sadio Mane is Senegal's talisman Credit:  REUTERS COLOMBIA Reached the quarter-finals four years ago in Brazil and they have the talent to do it again. This will be Colombia's second straight appearance after sitting out for 16 years. Qualifying was a struggle this time. Colombia waited until the last match to make it to Russia. Key player: James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich) - A breakthrough talent at the 2014 World Cup, exemplified by a stunning volley against Uruguay, Rodriguez quickly secured a move from Monaco to Real Madrid. After struggling to make an impact in Spain, Rodriguez is at Bayern Munich on loan trying to revive his form ahead of the World Cup. Coach: Jose Pekerman - Gets much of the credit for getting Colombia back into the World Cup. Also led his native Argentina to the quarter-finals in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. JAPAN While the squad lacks the star power of many other World Cup teams, Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Shinji Okazaki of Leicester should play key roles. Japan finished first in Group B in Asian qualifying, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Key player: Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) - With 89 caps, the midfield star is part of an experienced core of players also including Okazaki, defender Yuto Nagamoto and midfielder Keisuke Honda. Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic - Japan hope the 65-year-old Bosnian can replicate his success with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup, when he took the North African nation into the last-16 for the first time.

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