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We have decided to exclude Champions League finals themselves as they were played in neutral venues and instead we are focusing on group and knockout games up to the final itself.
In this article we look back on Leeds United’s famous away win against reigning Serie A champions Lazio on December 5, 2000.
Lazio 0 Leeds United 1
Leeds United’s first and only season in the Champions League was a memorable one. After coming through a qualifying round against 1860 Munich, David O’Leary’s side then progressed from a group with AC Milan and Barcelona. with the Catalonia side finishing third demoted to the UEFA Cup. In the second group stage, ‘The Whites’ were paired with Real Madrid, Anderlecht and Lazio in what was considered another difficult group.
On December 5 2000 a Lazio side, who had lost their opening group game away to Anderlecht, hosted Leeds United knowing that the pressure was on to secure all three points. The Italians were managed by Sven-Göran Eriksson while their starting 11 contained household names such as Alessandro Nesta, Diego Simeone, Pavel Nedved, Juan Sebastián Verón and Hernán Crespo. Lazio lifted the Scudetto for the second time in the club’s history in the 1999/2000 season as they secured a dramatic triumph after Juventus lost on the final day of the season with Sven-Göran Eriksson’s side winning the league by a single point.
Despite this Leeds United were not overawed, as they also spent money to ensure they could compete with the best Europe had to offer. Mark Viduka was signed from Celtic, while French midfielder Olivier Dacourt was signed for a club record fee of £7 million in the summer. Rio Ferdinand moved from West Ham to Elland Road in late November for a record fee of £18 million but he was not named in the squad that traveled to Rome.
Leeds started quickly and created the early openings with Lee Bowyer’s cross just evading Viduka, Alan Smith and Jonathon Woodgate; and Eirik Bakke seeing a header cleared off the line moments later. However, the Biancocelesti were still a threat from set pieces as they carved out two excellent goal scoring opportunities.
On the 18th minute Crespo hit the side netting from a corner by former Crystal Palace player Attillio Lombardo, who caused problems throughout the game for Leeds United defender Dominic Matteo. Three minutes later, Lazio created the clearest scoring chance as a Giuseppe Pancaro header from point blank range rattled the crossbar. The final chance of the half fell to Leeds United with a Mark Viduka cross finding Lee Bowyer but the current Charlton Athletic manager could only poke wide at full stretch.
The second half saw both defences dominate with Leeds’ centre back pairing of Woodgate and Lucas Radebe both producing confident displays as Lazio struggled to engineer opportunities.
Olivier Dacourt broke up attacks by the reigning Serie A champions throughout and it was the French international who had the first real opportunity in the second half on the 58th minute as his effort from 20 yards out went over the crossbar. However, Pavel Nedved began to become more influential for Lazio and he was repeatedly at the centre of their intricate passing moves. The Czech Republic international beat Leeds United goalkeeper Paul Robinson in the 60th minute but unfortunately for Lazio, his shot did not beat the post.
Angelo Peruzzi was called into action after a cross deflected off Attilio Lombardo with the Italian netminder reacting quickly to flick the ball over the bar. Jonathon Woodgate scuffed wide from 15 yards out moments later as Leeds began to claim the ascendancy. Dacourt continued to cut out Lazio attacks in a fine display by the French man, but the Italians almost opened the scoring when a long ball by current Atlético Madrid manager Diego Simeone found Crespo as the Leeds United defence were caught napping. However, the Argentine’s attempted chip was saved by Paul Robinson in what was Lazio’s last clear cut opportunity.
The defining moment of the game came after 80 minutes when Harry Kewell played found Alan Smith who flicked the ball around the corner to Viduka. The Australian produced a delightful backheel to play Smith through on goal as he slotted the ball past Peruzzi to score a famous goal. Leeds held on for the remainder of the game as they produced one of the great performances in the history of the club.
Lazio struggled to replicate their excellent season previously and despite drawing 3-3 with Leeds at Elland Road in the reverse fixture, the Italians were knocked out of the competition in the second group stage and finished third in Serie A.
The economic crisis in 2002 forced them to sell their star players and they have failed to replicate their previous successes. In what was a simply unforgettable European campaign for Leeds United, this away performance was one of the finest seen by an English side in Champions League history.