Reliving the Dream: Chelsea’s first Champions League adventure – part 13 – Double Dutch

Today marks 20 years since Chelsea’s penultimate game in the Champions League second group stage in what was our first season in the competition.

Feyenoord v Chelsea, Champions League group stage two, matchday five, Tuesday 14 March 2000

Victory against Marseille at Stamford Bridge one week earlier had placed Chelsea Football Club in a new and very exciting position – on the brink of qualification for the Champions League quarter-finals – back then the start of a shorter knockout stage than in today’s tournament format.

We travelled as group leaders to Rotterdam to face Feyenoord, whom we had already beaten at Stamford Bridge, knowing that another victory against the Dutch side would put us through. We also had the luxury of another group game at home to follow.

Gianluca Vialli’s side had looked the part in some of our away outings in the competition that season, most notably at Galatasaray and Milan, but we had just one away win to our name from the two group stages so far.

Feyenoord’s De Kuip stadium was a 50,000 capacity venue that was to stage the Euro 2000 final that summer. It was closed in and capable of generating a big atmosphere and on this occasion the Chelsea following more than played their part, inspired by what they saw from their team.
 

We could have taken the lead with only eight minutes played after Tore Andre-Flo outstripped and was then tripped by defender Kees van Wonderen. However, although it was rare for Frank Leboeuf to fail from the penalty spot, this time his shot was saved by future Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek who was to have a busy night.

The breakthrough would come during the first half as Chelsea continue to attack with flair. Gianfranco Zola had scored just once in five months but now he conjured one up just when it was needed. Flo challenged Van Wonderen and the ball broke to the little Italian who swivelled on the edge of the penalty area and volleyed in off a post.
 

‘It was a beautiful goal,’ remembers Flo, Zola’s strike partner that day.

‘I remember it was a beautiful atmosphere, a great, nice stadium. Obviously this was quite far into the Champions League, we had played quite a few and this was an important away game and we played a very good game. I loved playing in those type of games. Champions League, floodlights. I loved everything about it.’

Salomon Kalou’s older brother, Bonaventure, equalised for Feyenoord in the second half but just five minutes later Dennis Wise, scorer of the winner against Marseille in the previous Champions League game, headed in a Celestine Babayaro cross. Zola was involved again.
 

‘Dennis Wise was very high up for the header!’ recalls Flo. ‘Dennis was great to have as a captain, he always pushed us to work harder and do more so he was very important to the team. We had some great players in there and good characters. A lot of those players have become managers and coaches and stayed within football. It was a really good bunch of guys. Although this was our first-ever Champions League, we felt like this was where we belonged.’

It took only another five minutes for Flo to seal a convincing 3-1 win and it was Flo at his finest, collecting a Gustavo Poyet pass outside the penalty area, beating the luckless Van Wonderen and finishing with a low shot.

‘It was a good hit with my left foot into the far corner,’ he says, two decades further on. ‘At the time Feyenoord had a very decent team. I remember the other defender I was up against was Bert Konterman because he was my team-mate a few years later at Rangers.’
 

After the game, Gianluca Vialli was very pleased. ‘We played a great game and gave Feyenoord no chance to get any control of the match. After the equaliser we showed the right spirit.’

The fun did not stop with the final whistle. As is customary on many European nights, the away supporters were held back inside the stadium while the home ones cleared and the remaining Blues were soon joined again out on the pitch by all the Chelsea players, who went through a full warm-down session with the fitness coach so they could enjoy a complete day off the following day.

Then it was back to England knowing it was job well done. The excitement would soon ramp up for a big quarter-final tie but first was the final group game at home against Lazio with top spot still at stake.

The Chelsea team: De Goey; Petrescu, Leboeuf, Desailly, Babayaro; Di Matteo, Wise (c), Deschamps, Poyet (Morris 76); Flo, Zola (Ambrosetti 90).
Unused subs: Cudicini, Hogh, Thome, Harley, Sutton.
Scorers: Zola 38, Wise 63, Flo 68


Check out The Champions League box set on The 5th Stand app for plenty of top European video action
 

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