As Leeds United
prepared for their vastly important Champions League second phase
group game on Thursday February 22, 2001, they were lying handily
placed in the group, second behind leaders and holders Real Madrid.
After losing 2-0 at home to Real, Leeds had won in Rome against
Lazio and come from behind to beat Anderlecht a week previously
at Elland Road, with goals from Ian Harte and Lee Bowyer.
They now faced a big test at Anderlecht's Stade Constant Vanden
Stock, where the Belgian Champions had won 21 straight victories,
as well as their last nine in Europe. Such an astonishing run
had included the notable scalps of PSV Eindhoven, Dynamo Kiev,
Lazio and Manchester United. If Leeds were to lose they would
be back level on points with Anderlecht.
Leeds had been lucky to beat the Belgians at home and Aimé Anthenuis,
Anderlecht Head Coach, had said: "The result was not, for me,
a correct reflection on the game. It was more like a 1-1 result
when you think of the chances that Leeds had, I think they had
just three or four. Every game is difficult but on what I have
seen tonight I think we will have our chance to win when we meet
Leeds at home. I did not see Leeds as a strong side."
Those comments had the effect of geeing up a Leeds side who had
a rare weekend off in between the games and prepared manager David
O'Leary's motivational team talk for him. The players were well
up for the game, determined to make the Belgian boss eat his words.
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As the smoke cleared from a score of red flares which greeted
the teams, it was the double act of Alan Smith and Mark Viduka
who emerged to electrify the evening. Smith had not scored since
netting the winner against Lazio in Rome on December 5, an 11
week goal drought, and had been forced into playing mainly as
a substitute since the high-profile arrival of Robbie Keane at
Elland Road, but with the Republic of Ireland international star
ineligible for Champions League football, Smith had stepped back
into the breach.
Leeds kicked off the match on a cool evening in the Belgian capital
but Anderlecht dominated the early exchanges. A couple of set
pieces by Harte early on came
to nothing, but Smith and Viduka showed signs pretty much from
the whistle that they would give the Belgian team problems.
After 13 minutes the pair combined to give Leeds a precious lead.
From Harte's throw in on the left, Smith headed the ball on to
Viduka who caught it before it reached the byeline, turned, looked
up and pulled the ball back across the area. Eirik Bakke's dummy
run threw the Anderlecht defence and Smith darted in to side-foot
his shot past Zvonko Milojevic from 10 yards out.
The United bench erupted as the partisan Belgian crowd was stunned
into silence. Having taken the advantage, Leeds showed they would
not be prepared to settle for a defensive rearguard action and
they more than held their own in the first 45 minutes.
Smith was in typically spiky mood and intent on making his presence
felt, leading to a lecture from referee Pederson, but worse followed
after 27 minutes when Danny Mills was booked for a foul on Radzinski,
ruling him out of the next group game in Madrid. However, any
disappointment felt by O'Leary was short lived as his young team
tore Anderlecht apart, doubling their advantage six minutes later.
Leeds spread the ball from right to left, with Olivier Dacourt
feeding Dominic Matteo, prompting a surge down the flank. He delivered
a curving and lofted cross to the far post where Viduka beat his
man to the ball. The Australian's looping header seemed to hang
in the air for an age before dropping over the keeper into the
For the Australian international it ended a run of nine matches
without a goal, and from that moment the confidence in the United
camp soared to such an extent they sublimely carved open Anderlecht
again in the 38th minute.
The home defence were still conducting their inquest when O'Leary
and his coaching staff were cavorting on the touchline again.
Smith picked the ball up just inside the Anderlecht half and there
was a smart interplay between the Leeds midfield with a series
of one touch passes leaving David Batty to play an inch perfect
ball through to the edge of the area. Smith spied the advancing
Milojevic coming to meet him and, with the home defence nowhere,
he chose to lift an exquisite chip over the keeper, for one of
the most masterly goals of United's amazing season.
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Leeds fans with long memories could still remember the last time
United played away to Anderlecht, in 1975 when Billy Bremner chipped
the only goal of their European Cup quarter-final with such delicacy
that Anderlecht's goalkeeper Leen Barth trotted upfield to shake
his hand. No repeat here: poor old Milojevic could barely pull
himself to his feet after Smith's masterful touch.
Anderlecht were effectively dead and buried from that moment
on and on a playing surface resembling a potato field Smith and
Viduka continued to weave their elaborate patterns after the restart
and, rather than rest on their laurels, Leeds maintained the upper
Moreover, Rio Ferdinand and Lucas Radebe stifled the Belgian
attack so expertly that Nigel Martyn spent much of the second
half as a spectator until the 76th minute when the giant striker
Jan Koller beat Martyn's punch to head in Didier Dheedene's free-kick.
At the time Anderlecht were threatening an unlikely comeback
during a 10-minute purple patch and either side of the goal Martyn
produced superb saves to deny Bart Koor and Koller, before the
game was finally killed off nine minutes from time when Ian Harte
stroked home his fourth goal in eight matches from the penalty
spot after Viduka had been brought down by Glen de Boeck.
All that remained after Norwegian referee Rune Pederson's final
whistle on a night to remember for Leeds was an agonising wait
for the score to come through
from the Olympic Stadium in Rome.
At least three minutes elapsed before a 2-2 draw was confirmed,
ensuring Leeds' qualification as the first English team into the
last eight ahead of Manchester United and Arsenal - and at their
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A delighted O'Leary said: "I am immensely proud of my players
because there were a lot of things said after the game in Leeds
and there were a lot of things written in the papers here before
the game tonight. It was particularly useful that we have Olivier
Dacourt in our side who was able to translate for us from the
French. The motivation was in the players. They didn't need me.
We showed it's not about talking in the papers, it's about going
out and doing it on the pitch and shutting a few people up.
"We looked a lot fresher for having Saturday off - although I
would have loved to have been in the FA Cup - and it was a combination
of those things which gave us our win. I don't think we are a
bad little team. I take great pride in coming to a great club
like this, and with the record they have here, and beating them
well. It has been said we are a bad team, or an average team,
but our comfort comes in the words from people like Fabio Capello,
Sven Goran Eriksson and Alberto Zaccheroni who have all said we
are not a bad young side. All credit to the players because they
earned this result."
On Alan Smith's super show he added: "Having Robbie Keane here
not a bad thing because it has given us the chance to give Alan
a bit of a breather. He went off a bit but he has come back in
and done very well tonight."
O'Leary, however, did not feel Leeds could win the tournament
outright and he added: "We will try and keep going. Nobody gave
us a hope in the first group and nobody gave us a hope in this
group, but now we are so proud to be in the quarter finals with
two games still remaining. But we are not going to win this competition.
I am just delighted to have reached this stage, so I am not fussed
either whether we finish first or second in this group."
Coming after glorious evenings already in Munich, Milan and Rome,
the win topped even those triumphs and Alan Mullery, commentating
on the game for Sky Sports, described the performance as the best
ever by an English side away in Europe. It certainly ranked alongside
all those marvellous midweek occasions in Europe under Don Revie
during the 60's and 70's. David O'Leary's babies were rapidly
turning into battle hardened European warriors.
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