European club football’s showpiece event had gone all the way to penalties after neither side could find a way past a 1-1 draw.
Cristiano Ronaldo missed his spot kick, before John Terry’s infamous slip saw the scores levelled.
Ryan Giggs then slotted home to give United a 6-5 lead, with Nicolas Anelka stepping up to try to keep Chelsea’s hopes alive.
But van der Sar guessed the right way and palmed away the striker’s penalty to hand the Red Devils their third European title.
Van der Sar’s secret to saving that shot was a towel with a piece of paper hidden inside. On that paper was a list of potential Chelsea penalty takers and their tendencies.
The book The Club: How the English Premier League Became the Wildest, Richest, Most Disruptive Force in Sports claims that United’s analysis department created the list for Van der Sar to consult.
The list had not helped United’s keeper for any of the first six spot kicks, with the Dutchman not saving any, even guessing wrong on Terry’s miss.
But as Anelka started his run-up, the list finally paid dividends. Van der Sar pointed to his left, but dived right, saving the Chelsea man’s penalty and sparking wild celebrations for United.
Van der Sar has since opened up about his preparations.
“I analysed about 40 that Frank Lampard had taken. I made plenty of notes and noticed Anelka would almost always take his to the keeper’s right,” he told FourFourTwo.
“I think their players were told to shoot to my left, which most of them did.
“I’d anticipated Anelka would shoot to the other side, and thankfully that is what happened.”