Historic Matches - Paris-Saint Germain 2001

DATE: Wednesday 7 March, 2001

EVENT: Deportivo stay alive in Europa after a shocking come-back

Eleven days after the would-be remembered match against Real Madrid (2-2), one which could (and should) have easily finished 6-0, Riazor became a magical ground once again. A place where the public has to set on hold its reality-sensors and wait till the impossible happens. That night Deportivo wrote another incredible quest, one of those games reminding the fan that football is linked to epic. Mishandled by fortune and some defensive mistakes, Deportivo were digging their own grave at the beginning of the second half: a 0-3 score against Paris-Saint Germain. What happened then is difficult to explain, unless you look into the sorcery books of yore. Especially Walter Pandiani made of a football match a delirious show.

It was a difficult situation Deportivo were in after the team lost 1-0 in Turkey against Galatasaray three weeks earlier. With three matches remainingin Europe, the team knew what it had to do: to win matches. After two defeats in a row, the survival chances of the Galicians in their first Champions League season looked slim although the first hurdle (the home match with the Turkish team) was taken. Deportivo played some impressive football during the season 2000/2001. But that night against the French the team already had been eliminated from the Copa del Rey and the unfortunate draw with Real Madrid and a defeat at Mallorca were lethal for their title chances. It was nor or never against Paris-Saint Germain.

Luis Fernández is one of those coaches that, following Helenio Herrera's footsteps, use to set up thousands of tricks and traps in a match. He came to La Coruña saying he didn't know if star striker Anelka would be fit to play. When he arrived at Riazor, he announced the starting-up team, including the ex-Madrid player on it. But at the very last minute Anelka was just one of the 35,000 people attending the match. His substitute, Leroy, took charge of digging Depor's grave, scoring two goals. The last one, on the fringe of half-time, was spectacular.

At the Riazor, Fernández put aside any romantic ideals. He didn't want to use Anelka and made his team play counterattacking football. It was quite a surprising decision because the French team badly needed the victory in order to stay alive in this Group B. But the strange plan had some fat wind in the sails. There was nothing at the beginning of the match that could bring the people to guess the desperate situation of Depor would be in at the start of the second half. The Galicians were master and commander of the match while PSG's legs were trembling out of fear. Depor weren't playing that good, but their pace was enough to generate several chances to score. One knew PSG were alive because of a couple of counters. But the real chances came from the blue and white. Chances handled careless by Depor, including that one-on-one of Fran with French keeper Letizi.

But after thirty minutes, the whole match became upside-down. A French counter, Okocha on the left side of the box, no opposition, a shot, a ball dejected by Donato, Molina going to the wrong side… The French goal was a hard hit at Depor's face. The team became an easy prey of nerves, hurries, individualism. All of those things that use to happen to teams in dire straits. For PSG, of course, it was just the opposite: self confident, they were daring to take Molina's box by assault. And you could see it happen. After the bad omen, it was the end of the world: Leroy's majestic goal turned Riazor's volume mute.

While the four horsemen of the Apocalypses grassed their horses on Riazor, a fantasy world was flourishing from the ground when the match restarted. There were neither flaming swords nor chariots of fire but the sense of the unreal was nevertheless down there. Depor became a furious animal with no care for its home although Leroy stroke what it seemed the final blow: 0-3. But it was not. With no time to mourn or to cry, the Galician team was lifted up by the enthusiastic wave cleansing Riazor and it became a train out of control.

With all the advantages and disadvantages that this implies. Deportivo ran over PSG, making the French team shaking in fear. But it lacked the "pause" the controlled rhythm to convert chances into goals. That kind of game is, however, the best ground for strikers like Pandiani to flourish. El Rifle is a genuine representative of the old, very old, Uruguayan school of football: you can't expect from him fancy tricks with the ball. But when football becomes a question of faith, Pandiani is your man. And PSG couldn't understand what was happening: the French team left Riazor feeling it had been used by Depor to perform a surrealistic show.

Something weird happened to Walter Pandiani that evening. He was feeling spurious, like if he had strength to spare. After 30 minutes of the match, Irureta asked all the subs to start warming up. "I was not confident of playing", Pandiani said afterwards. "But I warmed up as never before. They were the most intense warming-up minutes of all my life." And at that moment, as strong as he felt, he had a kind of premonition. "I didn't want to say anything because people will answer that you're crazy. But at a given moment I said to Scaloni: If the mister brings me on, I will score three goals. I know that this is something I tell you know and you don't believe me. But at that moment, I believed all my words". He felt so secure that he even insinuated this to Irureta's assistant, Francisco Melo, at the end of the first half: "I'm feeling strong, Paco, I warmed up for 25 minutes as never before".
And the party began. "They scored the third goal and our supporters, instead of heading home, remained seated. All of us believed it was possible. You could hear people shouting and you knew you had to keep on trying". Pandiani grew up at Peñarol, where football is a matter of faith. An Uruguayan football player can miss anything but determination. "I had already lived through some nights as this one with Peñarol", he said later.  The premonition became true: three headers, three goals, exaltation walking loose at Riazor. At the 83rd minute, just twenty-eight after Pandiani entered the pitch, he headed his third goal, the winner for Deportivo. At that moment, Pandiani came back to reality and couldn't believe what just happened: "At that moment, there were so many things on my mind and I remembered so many people. I sat on the grass and didn't want to stand up. I wanted to keep on there, seated, thinking about what we just did".

After the match, when he got out of the dressing room knowing he would have to deal with the journalists, Pandiani took his cell phone and looked at the screen. Half of Uruguay had sent him a congratulations message. "It doesn't matter", he said, referring to the media. "I know I'm not going to sleep tonight and I've plenty of time to answer them". And for the journalists, the statement of a Uruguayan life motto: "The secret for the coming back? Run twice as hard, push twice as hard and head whatever you see in front of you".
More than an hour after the final whistle, hundreds of fans were waiting at the stadium gate to lift him up while yelling "torero, torero". In front of him, a long night to review the match, to enjoy everything that just happened. To remember that moment when he sat up on Riazor's grass and, surrounded by the cheers of happiness of 35,000 supporters, he left his mind to ramble loose through those 30 minutes of pure magic.

Molina - Romero, Naybet, Donato, Manuel Pablo - Fran (60' Tristán), Mauro Silva, Emerson (46' Pandiani), Ví­ctor Sánchez, Djalminha - Makaay (84' Scaloni)
AC PSG: Letizi - Distin, Deh, Mendy, Ducrocq - Arteta (54'  Luccin), Algerino, Okocha (70' Yanovski), Benarbia (61' Rabesandratana) - Leroy, Cisse
Goals: 0-1 min. 28. Molina rejects a shot, the ball comes back to Okocha. Okocha's shot is deflected by Donato and Molina can't do anything.
0-2 min. 43. Donato and Naybet cannot stop Leroy who, from the left of the box, shoos on goal.
0-3 min. 55. Counter of PSG. Algerino crosses the ball and Leroy easily scores his second.
1-3 min. 57. Manuel Pablo crosses the ball and Pandiani heads in.
2-3 min. 60. Djalminha takes out a corner and Tristán, running to the first post, heads the ball in.
3-3 min. Victor's cross from the left, Makaay passes to Pandiani and the Uruguayan heads the ball in for a second time.
4-3 min 84. Djalminha takes out a corner from the right and Pandiani scores with a header.
Referee: Urs Meier (Switzerland). Gave a yellow card to Emerson (Deportivo), Algerino and Leroy (PSG).
Attendance: 35,000 (Riazor)