Following last night’s drama between Chelsea and Barcelona in the Champions League I felt it was an appropriate occasion to dwell on memorable European encounters involving English teams in the past. The Champions League/European Cup has at different times proved a hugely rewarding hunting ground for English teams. In triumph or defeat this competition has provided some amazing matches for English football fans. These memories are based on my limited time on this planet so feel free to contribute with the additional wisdom of age and experience.
10. Manchester United v Real Madrid 2003
Following a 3-1 defeat at the Bernabeu United were up against it in the home leg, although Alex Feguson’s side prevailed 4-3 this match was memorable for one of the great European performances by the Brazilian striker Ronaldo. Ronaldo grabbed a hat-trick with a world class display of finishing, so good in fact the Old Trafford faithful clapped him from the pitch when he was substituted.
9. Newcastle v Barcelona 1997
This game secured Faustino Asprilla’s place in the hearts of the Geordie faithful as his hat-trick disposed of the Catalan aristocrats at St. James’ Park. Newcastle were dynamic and hugely entertaining during this period but no-one predicted this result. A huge occasion for the North-East club and a fantastic result that must seem so long ago given Newcastle’s current difficulties.
8. Inter Milan v Arsenal 2003
Arsenal travelled to the San Siro in desperate need of a result after a tentative performance in the group to that point. Following a 3-1 defeat at Highbury to the same opposition Arsenal fans would not have been confident but their side dispatched the Italian giants 5-1 as Thierry Henry ran amok, scoring twice and setting up another.
7. Leeds United v Deportivo La Coruna 2001
Leeds defied the odds to make it to the quarter finals of the competition and they faced the reigning Spanish champions who boasted the talent of Roy Makaay and Djalminha in their ranks. On the night Leeds blew the opposition away, winning 3-0 courtesy of goals from Alan Smith, Ian Harte and Rio Ferdinand, doing enough to progress to the semi-finals. Leeds may never see the likes again as they wallow in League 2 following their financial difficulties.
6. Arsenal v Chelsea 2004
Chelsea had not beaten Arsenal in 17 matches coming into this quarter-final tie and Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ were heavy favourites to progress following a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge. Nobody told Chelsea though as they came from a goal down to grab a dramatic winner as Wayne Bridge beat Arsenal’s back-line and slid the ball past Jens Lehmann. Real European drama.
5. Liverpool v Olympiakos 2004
Liverpool needed to win by two clear goals to progress to the next round and that task was made even more difficult when Rivaldo put the Greeks ahead. Substitutes Sinama-Pongolle and Neil Mellor gave the Reds a chance and then Steven Gerrard smashed a brilliant strike home with minutes left. That goal may have spawned another annoying Andy Gray catchphrase but it was another great European moment.
4. Chelsea v Barcelona 2005
Following a 2-1 defeat at the Nou Camp Chelsea stormed into a 3-0 lead at Stamford Bridge to grab a hold of the tie. Barcelona stormed back into the game though with a spectacular double from the then incomparable Ronaldinho, and held the advantage on away goals. With time running out John Terry headed in a corner to send the Blues into raptures. The drama and the animosity between Jose Mourinho and Frank Rijkaard made this an occasion to remember.
3. Juventus v Manchester United 1999
The game that came to embody Roy Keane as a player. The Red Devils came back from two goals down on the night to win 3-2 and book their place in the final. Keane was the catalyst with two brilliant goals that pulled his side back into the tie but his booking meant he missed the final in Barcelona.
2. Liverpool v AC Milan 2005
A ludicrous game of football really, AC Milan were imperious in the first half charging into a deserved 3-0 lead thanks to a Crespo double and a rare Paolo Maldini strike. Italian sides do not give up three goal leads so we all resigned ourselves to a dull second half. Then Liverpool unleashed a second half storm, inspired by Steven Gerrard in midfield, to level and claim the trophy on penalties, only after Andriy Shevchenko had inexplicably missed in extra time. Surreal.
1. Manchester United v Bayern Munich 1999
An obvious choice really, possibly the greatest comeback I’ve ever seen in a football match (although Liverpool fans will probably disagree). Shorn of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes in the midfield follwing suspensions United were outplayed by their German adversaries but hung in after Mario Basler’s first half opener. Then up popped Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to steal the match and the trophy in an incredible finale. Lothar Mattaus probably still has nightmares about this game.