Today marks 20 years since Chelsea’s final game in the first Champions League campaign in our history…
Barcelona v Chelsea, Champions League quarter-final second leg, Tuesday 18 April 2000
Gianluca Vialli’s Chelsea had sparkled during our first appearance on Europe’s biggest stage, and no more so than when we had played tournament favourites Barcelona at Stamford Bridge having made the quarter-finals.
In what was a massive night in our history, and although we did not know it then the start in the modern era of a great rivalry, we had stormed into a 3-0 lead in the tie, although Barca pulled a goal back in the first leg leaving more than a few Blues fans wondering if that lapse might come back to haunt us in Catalonia two weeks later.
Having said that, before the tie began we would have been delighted to have a two-goal lead to take to the return leg, although we were not so pleased to see a 21-game unbeaten run in domestic games come to an end at Sheffield Wednesday the weekend before travelling to Barcelona.
In Spain, Vialli opted for the same midfield shape as at Stamford Bridge although with different personnel. As in the first game there was no starting place for Gustavo Poyet despite the Uruguayan’s extensive experience of playing in the vast Camp Nou stadium which greeted the players with a giant ‘2-0’ mosaic display – suggesting a relatively straightforward task for their team to go through.
Importantly, Barca were able to call upon the skills of their captain Pep Guardiola who was injured for the first game, and despite the best efforts of his marker Jody Morris, he proved influential.
Chelsea’s performance in the first half lacked the purpose and tempo of two weeks earlier. Blues fans were willing their team to have more of a go, knowing one goal could be too much for the Spaniards to overcome.
Instead it was Barcelona who took the lead with a slice of luck midway through the half when free-kick specialist Rivaldo’s attempt deflected off Celestine Babayaro and past Ed de Goey.
Just before half-time, the outstanding performer on the night, Luis Figo, gave his side their required 2-0 lead after Patrick Kluivert had struck the post.
Chelsea had to up our game in the second half and we did, despite the loss of our former Barca defender Albert Ferrer to injury. Bernard Lambourde came on to face the pacy Bolo Zenden.
With an hour gone, Tore Andre Flo continued his fine Champions League goalscoring form with a clean finish after goalkeeper Ruud Hesp had gifted him the ball. Suddenly we were going through to the semi-finals again!
De Goey in the other goal was excelling himself and Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf were outstanding in defence. Frank De Boer headed against the Chelsea woodwork and we were less than 10 minutes from victory.
But then, as for the opening goal, a free-kick was conceded in a dangerous position and substitute Dani, who had knocked Chelsea out of the Cup Winners’ Cup the year before when with Real Mallorca, headed in.
Two minutes later there was a double escape for the Blues when Leboeuf conceded a penalty. Referee Anders Frisk did not produce a red card and then Rivaldo missed.
With a minute to go, Hesp saved agonisingly from Roberto Di Matteo. That was so nearly the moment!
So it was extra-time and on the wide expanse of the Camp Nou pitch, half-an-hour too far for Chelsea, especially when we went down to 10 men.
Another penalty was conceded, this time by Babayaro who was dismissed. Rivaldo slotted this time and it was 4-1 on the night, 5-4 on aggregate. That became 5-1 and 6-4 when Kluivert headed in off the bar following a fine move.
The final score may have been a big defeat but we had been within seven minutes of making the final four in our first Champions League season.
‘I think it is only human to think about defending more than attacking when you are winning 3-1 from the first game,’ observed manager Vialli afterwards. ‘It’s difficult to say why we did not really play football in the first half but we realised at half-time that we could not really go on like that and we came back to take the lead.
‘We came so close to going through. They only equalised near the end. We have to be proud of ourselves for what we’ve achieved this year, our first season in the Champions League. We gave it our best shot but in the end Barcelona were better than us.’
It would be four more years before we were back in the competition, and 12 more before we eventually won it. But what a start!
The Chelsea team v Barcelona: De Goey; Ferrer (Lambourde h-t), Desailly, Leboeuf, Babayaro; Wise (c), Deschamps (Petrescu 102), Di Matteo; Morris; Flo, Zola (Poyet 106).Unused subs: Cudicini, Thome, Ambrosetti, Sutton.Scorer: Flo 61