Historic Matches – Manchester 2001

DATE: Wednesday 17 October, 2001

EVENT: Deportivo wins in the mythic Old Trafford during an epic UEFA Champions League clash against Manchester United; match that represented the card of presentation for Deportivo in Europe.

Before this match, Deportivo have amazed Spain and the rest of the continent with its victories in the local competitions, but still wasn’t considered as part of the elite in European football. This match was going to change everything, because in front it had one of the most prestigious clubs in the planet. At the time Manchester United had added the treble on the season 1998/99 and were coming after clinching two more Premier League titles in 1999/00 and 2000/01, converting the ‘Red Devils’ into the fourth club to win three consecutive English league titles.

As it could be expected, the team from Manchester was full of ‘stars’, with Laurent Blanc leading the defense, and with Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and David Beckham shinning at midfield, the main reference in attack was Ruud Van Nistelrooij, who was signed that year in a £19 million operation and that ended scoring 23 goals in 32 league games, finalizing the season on a league record eight-game consecutive scoring streak. 

It wasn’t the first confrontation between both clubs, because on the week before both team have collided at the Riazor. Both clubs were in Group G of the first group stage in the UEFA Champions League 2001/2002, and the game played in Galicia was representing matchday number three, the English team took the lead thanks to a goal scored by Scholes, but the late goals of Pandiani and Naybet left the three points in La Coruña, reason why the Red Devils were facing the match with a sense of revenge.

The first forty-five minutes should be remembered as one of the best first parts ever played in European competitions, both teams displayed their best weapons and offered a concert of offensive football that had as result four goals scored, three of them in a matter of four minutes. No matter that the Old Trafford inspires respect, coach Javier Irureta presented an offensive scheme based in the moves of Duscher, Valerón and Sergio at midfield: Depor surprised with its game, especially with its fast transitions defense-attack and with continuous attempts coming from the wings.

But the locals started dominating the actions and based their game in Giggs and Scholes, soon Van Nistelrooij scored the first goal and the locals fans were sighing for a comfortable victory, but it was the opposite, because Depor never lost the courage and presented a show that turned into a hurricane within the last eight minutes.

All started with a weird play in which Sergio surprisingly found himself alone on the six-yard-box to pleasantly score the equaliser, an action that the British media remembers as a “comical misunderstanding” between keeper Barthez and defender Brown, duo that obstructed each other leaving an open road for the Catalan midfielder. Just two minutes later Diego Tristán appeared for the first time as he was finding a cross to deliver a perfect header that sent the ball to the upper left corner of Barthez.

But the best was yet to come, in the next play Van Nistelrooij appeared again to score one of the most memorable goals in the history of this competition, with an individual attempt in which the Dutch marksman surpassed five rivals to end scoring the goal from close-range. It was football in pure state; both teams demonstrated in four minutes why this game is the most popular sport in the planet.

The final part started with a substitution, Portuguese keeper Nuno Herlander Simões Espírito Santo replaced injured Molina, Depor’s fans were worried, after all the ex-Porto never had too many opportunities with Irureta, but Nuno cleared all the fears as he had a solid performance in his debuting match in Europe with Depor, even with a great save against Van Nistelrooij.

In the meantime, Depor was still decided to pick up the three points and continued with its attacking efforts. In the end the decisive goal would came thanks to an error of the other keeper, Fabien Barthez, who tried to clear the danger after a long pass coming Depor’s defensive sector, the Frenchman neither sent the ball out nor assisted a partner, instead he left a ‘dead ball’ that Diego Tristán seized scoring the third goal -his second on the night- with a low shot from outside the area. No matter the desperate moves of coach Alex Ferguson, Depor was able to hold on the result clinching one of the biggest wins in its history.

The victory meant the second win for Depor after four visits to England playing in European competitions, it also left the Galician squad in a comfortable position to qualify to the second round as Irureta’s team was now leading the group with eight points in four matches, six of them added against Man Utd. Buy beyond any statistic, this game carried instant fame for the club and some players like Valerón and Tristán, it also inspired a big group of English fans who now became supporters of Deportivo. It was also the first big demonstration of power of Depor playing in Europe, since this day the squad of Javier Irureta started to be considered as part of the European elite, actually newspaper La Voz de Galicia wrote in the next morning that after this huge success Depor was now a “bigger club”.

Manchester United: Barthez - Irwin (Solskjær 85'), Blanc, Ronny Johnsen (Brown 7'), Gary Neville - Giggs, Keane, Verón,  Beckham - Scholes (Cole 63') - Van Nistelrooij. 
Deportivo: Molina (Nuno 46') - Héctor, Donato, Naybet, Romero (Capdevila 79') - Víctor, Sergio, Duscher, Valerón, Amavisca - Diego Tristán (Pandiani 82').
Goals: 1-0: (7') Van Nistelrooy, 1-1: (37') Sergio, 1-2: (39') Diego Tristán, 2-2: (40') Van Nistelrooy, 2-3: (60') Diego Tristán.
Referee: Herbert Fandel (GER). He showed yellow card to Víctor (26'), Donato (62'), Romero (77') and Verón (90+2')
Venue: Old Trafford