The road to the Champions League final usually leads through the biggest battles of football.
After discussing the best semifinals of the nineties we move on to present the most terrific semis of the 2000s, when Real Madrid took over the role of Juventus by appearing regularly in the later stages of the tournament. The biggest difference between the two was that Real managed to win three finals in the late ‘90s and in the early 2000s while Juve lost three in that period. Actually, anyone who bet on sports in the EU was aware of the potential of the Galacticos then, who always made it into the semis between 2000 and 2003 reaching the final in 2000 and 2002.
Valencia v Barcelona, 2000
However, the hottest and most entertaining outfit in the 1999-2000 Champions League season and especially in the spring of 2000 was Hector Cuper’s Valencia. The side featuring team captain Gaizka Mendieta and fellow Argentine aces Claudio Lopez and Kily Gonzalez played the counterattacking game the quickest possible way scoring a lot of spectacular goals. And they still won nothing until a certain senor Rafael Benitez stepped in…
• When the galactico era began
• The best counterattacking team
• El Clasico in the semis
Anyways, a Lazio side that had Pavel Nedved, Diego Simeone and Dejan Stankovic were dispatched by them 5-2 in the first leg of the quarterfinals which was one of the best games of the season, as gambling news reported then. After that Valencia qualified to the semis easily, where Louis van Gaal’s Barcelona waited for them. The Blaugrana played the usual Ajax-Barcelona possession football, while Valencia were designed to exploit the half left empty behind the visitors’ defence. The hosts duly took the lead in the tenth minute through Miguel Angel Angulo’s shot after a hassle following a corner.
Barca equalized with Mauricio Pellegrino’s own goal before the half an hour mark and the Catalans remained in an advancing position for roughly fifteen minutes. Then Gonzalez’s cross was squeezed in from close range by Angulo, who a few minutes later won a penalty and Mendieta performed his trademark roll after goalkeeper Ruud Hesp threw himself aside. In the second half Lopez scored with an excellent low shot after Gonzalez’s pass and with a 4-1 scoreline Valencia were virtually in the final. For the record, Barcelona won the second leg 2-1 but it was all about Valencia who suffered a 3-0 shock defeat from Real Madrid in the final.
Barcelona v Real Madrid, 2002
Real Madrid were struggling throughout the 1999-2000 season, but they ended up with a Champions League victory after Vicente del Bosque were assigned as head coach. The Spaniard with the famous moustache supervised the team in the productive part of the first galactico era winning two Champions League trophies as well as two La Liga titles. On the road to the final in Glasgow they met their arch rivals, Barcelona, managed by Carles Rexach then before the return of Louis van Gaal.
It was the first Barcelona v Real Madrid encounter of the Champions League era, and at the time Real were on a run without a victory in Camp Nou for almost 19 years, according to statistics of online sportsbooks in the EU. From the start, it looked like the series will continue as Barca not just dominated possession but created chances after chances and pressed constantly in the first half. The hosts failed to score however, and Zinedine Zidane converted Real’s first big chance when he lobbed the ball over Barcelona goalkeeper Roberto Bonano ten minutes into the second half.
After the goal Barcelona increased their tempo and kept pressing but the visitors were the more dangerous side creating chances on the break. Real’s luxury substitute Steve McManaman replaced Guti with ten minutes to go and the Englishman were cool enough to chip the ball over Bonano from Flavio Conceicao’s pass sending Madrid practically to the final. The Galacticos made their way to Glasgow indeed after a 1-1 draw in the reverse leg to beat Bayer Leverkusen and bring home Real’s ninth European Cup.
That was Real Madrid’s last major international success until the new galactico era brought La Decima. In the following years – before the hegemony of Barcelona was established – AC Milan emerged as arguably the biggest power in European football reaching three Champions League finals in five years. We will meet them in the next part with their remarkable display against Manchester United in 2007 that stunned the online betting audience.