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It's been fun up to today. Drawn against Barca and Milan, we had no chance, let's go and enjoy it while it lasts we thought. Drawn against Lazio and Real, well, we had a good run - there's no way we we can get through another impossible group. Spanish Champions, we'll just go and give it a shot.
Today was different. Everyone, all day, seemed to be shitting themselves. Where I work, we were useless, too distracted; at the game, everyone you spoke to said they couldn't concentrate. It's suddenly serious, it suddenly hit home, one more round and we're in the final of the European cup.
I got home and there was a leaflet from the club saying, if you want a ticket for the Champions' league final, you have to apply now.
My arse went.
Two and half years ago we were happy to beat a poxy little Portugese side on penalties. Today, we're six days away from a place in the Champions' league final. It's serious stuff.
Apart from for Ian Harte that is. He had a laugh tonight. Toyed with the Valencia attack, pretending to try to clear the ball, but skying it so that Nige could catch it and make a proper clearance, seeing how narrow an angle he could skid the ball of his head; seeing how high he could sky the ball over the Valencia goal. He had fun, bless him.
In attack, Mark Viduka showed us why he doesn't run very fast normally; it's the momentum. Early on, the ball broke to the left hand side of the box, and off he tanked, I've never seen him run so fast. Getting up to speed didn't seem so bad, but *stopping*. He was like a big, fuck off artic that's just found the turbo switch, but realised the brakes don't work.
Along side, his partner, Tonka toy Smith - small, indistructable, mobile and stong zipped around. The Bentleys - Batty and Dacourt purred around the midfield, but the central defence coughed and spluttered a little bit on the odd occasion. Ferdinand placing a header to where Matteo wasn't, but Sanchez was, unmarked, only Nige to beat. And beat him he couldn't; Nige made one of a fine string of saves.
The Valencia players kept running in to the back of the Leeds players, but Richard O'Brien alike, Pierlugi Collina was like a traffic cop who stops a woman speeding and gets distracted as the woman flashes her tits to get off. Again and again it seemed like a player would be booked, but the unflappable Collini kept his cards close to his chest. At one point he made a Valencia player apologise for throwing the ball at Mills. With eyes like that, you ain't going to argue...
Both sides had plenty of chances in the first half, honours even.
Second half, and Leeds managed to shift up a gear. Maybe Matteo himself *had* some gear at half time.
Leeds created many chances in long periods of pressure for most of the second half, shots on target for Kewell driving in from the left and Bowyer; Harte cutting in from the right and blasting a shot destined for the top right hand corner before a big arsed Spaniard got in the way; Matteo, after a bizarre flick on by Bowyer, from Harte's corner had a header somehow clawed off the line. Smith shot over, then late on chipped the advancing keeper for Bowyer to head against the woodwork. It just wasn't to be.
During the meanwhile, Collini decided he'd seen enough naked breast, and finally booked two Spanish players, one for decent after a free kick was given away and another for tripping Bowyer just as Bowyer was about to get away. Three points on the licenses of Carboni and Baraja, takes them over 12pts and they're banned for the second leg.
At the end, Valencia had three or four minutes of real pressure, which saw a shot hit in to the ground rear up and head towards the top corner. I think it was Matteo or Ferdinand who thankfully headed over.
After the game, Alan "Stotty's Favourite" Green on the sports news said Valencia ran the midfield and deserved a win. What planet is the bloke on?
A score draw next Tuesday please...
Scores on the doors:
Copy from Football Unlimited of 03/05/2001.
An English presence in the European Cup final now depends on Leeds United being able to repeat in Valencia next Tuesday the deeds of valour in Milan and Rome that distinguished their progress in the Champions League. To do so they will have to break a run of three defeats in Spain.
A scoring draw would be enough; better to do it there than be held in an exchange of goals here last night.
Instead the teams swapped near-misses, with Gaizka Mendieta heading against the crossbar in the first half and Lee Bowyer responding in kind in the second.
Copy from The Independent of 03/05/2001.
Marching on alone since Manchester United and Arsenal departed the European Cup, Leeds United found Valencia resolute and organised opponents in the first leg of a finely balanced semi-final last night. But any frustration at failing to take a lead to the Mestalla Stadium next Tuesday should be tempered by the fact that they denied last year's beaten finalists an away goal.
Dauntingly for Leeds, Valencia are unbeaten at home in this competition, although history offers hope to David O'Leary's men. In the club's only previous tangles with Valencia, during the Don Revie era, they twice won in Spain after drawing at Elland Road. This time a 1-1 draw would take Leeds through to the final in Milan on 23 May.
Leeds, seldom able to display their usual fluidity, rode their luck both at the beginning and end of the match. Gaizka Mendieta, the game's outstanding individual, shook their woodwork early on, while Rio Ferdinand made a desperate goalline clearance to deny Vicente a stoppage-time winner.
Yet Leeds might have been ahead themselves by then, Lee Bowyer heading against the bar. Their stronger second-half showing left O'Leary in defiant mood afterwards. "Of course we'd love to be going there with a lead, but this tie isn't over by a long way," the Leeds manager said.
Drawing on the experience of a Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final 21 years ago, when he played for Arsenal against Juventus, he recalled that the Italians were happy to keep the tie goalless at Highbury.
Arsenal won 1-0 in Turin - going on to lose the final to Valencia, coincidentally - and O'Leary is confident Leeds can score in the Mediterranean city. "An away goal would change everything," he said. "I'm a great believer in faith. God is good and we could have a great night in Valencia."
Valencia were a more formidable proposition than Deportivo La Coruna in their quarter-final at Leeds. Their back four, staffed exclusively by thirtysomethings, were seldom exposed by the pace and power of Leeds' forwards. And although Ian Harte forced Santiago Canizares to tip over a viciously swerving free-kick in the opening minutes, Valencia were closer to midfield ascendancy.
Indeed, the Spaniards could have scored twice before the first half had even reached its midway point. With 12 minutes played, Juan Sanchez's cross drew a marvellous overhead kick from John Carew. Nigel Martyn plunged to his left to keep the ball out by the post, but the goalkeeper was less convincing when Valencia pressed again six minutes later.
After the ball was worked in by Kily Gonzalez, Martyn punched high rather than far. Mendieta's header beat Harte on the line but looped against the bar.
Half the players risked missing the return by provoking a yellow card, which may have accounted for the way referee Pierluigi Collina erred towards leniency. Bowyer was particularly lucky to escape a caution after treading on Sanchez.
Set-pieces looked Leeds' best chance of a breakthrough, while Valencia were more menacing in open play. Leeds did not send the decibel level soaring until six minutes after the break when Bowyer flicked on Harte's corner for Dominic Matteo, whose header at the back post was clawed away by. Canizares before the whole ball could cross the line.
Leeds began playing with greater conviction, and Bowyer should have put them ahead with 20 minutes remaining. With Canizares out of his ground, Smith's chip bounced over Mark Viduka but dropped obligingly for Bowyer. His header, from point-blank range, came back off the goal frame.
Valencia would have claimed victory at the last but for Ferdinand heading out Vicente's shot. Leeds live to fight again, but a record of three defeats and nine goals conceded in Spain this season means they must break the mould to reach their final goal.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 03/05/2001.
RESPECT. It's a quality which must be earned rather than demanded and here, on this night of supreme importance, Leeds United earned their stripes.
In a quite splendid match of technical excellence and compelling drama, they took one of European football's most experienced and formidable teams right to the wire.
So evenly matched were the two factions that they could hardly have been separated in a photo finish, and this goalless first session sets up a deeply intriguing second leg in Valencia's Mestalla Stadium next Tuesday.
Leeds are almost there now in their swift metamorphosis from Premiership top-fivers to European elite and if anyone doubted that then here was the proof.
The ability to go toe-to-toe with a side so gifted that they reached last season's final and made last month's other Spanish visitors to Elland Road, Deportivo La Coruna, look like a row of dustbins, speaks volumes for David O'Leary's still-to-mature buccaneers.
We have all witnessed goalless encounters which reduce grown men to tears of boredom and frustration. But this was different, offering throughout the sniff of something here; the sense of something there as each prodded, probed and pressed the other, almost in turn.
It was the youth of Leeds against the experience and guile of a side coached by one of Europe's most respected figures in the Argentinian Hector Cuper, and it made for fascinating fare.
Valencia were unshakeable in their self-belief, yet Leeds tested them to the boundaries of comfort with their familiar robustness and appetite for a bigger-the-better challenge.
Yes, they will reflect upon some missed chances, a little bit of bad luck that always sees the difference between a goal and a near miss and their failure to carry an advantage into the away leg.
But they must not be hard on themselves, for there were many encouraging signs that a place in the final is still well within their grasp.
As early as the fourth minute Harte surprised Canizares with the ferocity of his free kick from out on the right and the keeper did well to nonchalantly tip over for a corner.
A glancing header from Matteo and a well-hit volley from Batty further tested the resolve of the Ravanelli-lookalike stopper and United had begun well.
Smith was putting himself about with his usual zest, giving veteran defender Carboni plenty to ponder, but Martyn rode to the rescue on 12 minutes when Mendieta and Kily Gonzalez linked for Carew to get in a spectacular overhead kick which forced a diving save.
Kewell cashed in an an aberration between Ayala and Albelda, running purposefully but failing to find the finish with his skied shot.
United had another escape on 18 minutes when Mendieta'a intelligent header came back off the bar and Sanchez was lurking with too wide an angle to do anything with the rebound.
Mendieta's corner was headed wide by Ayala and Valencia, enjoying plenty of possession, were beginning to look like the accomplished outfit who went all the way to last season's final.
Dacourt looped his free kick from the left just outside the far post and it was becoming a fascinating contest.
Kewell, who was getting little change out of the imposing Angloma, switched to the right in search of wider options as United improvised their efforts to open up the Spaniards.
And United went close six minutes before the interval when Kewell headed Harte's free kick back across goal towards both Smith and Viduka, the pair unmarked at the far post. It was a whisker too high for Smith, whose skimmed header went tantalisingly wide, and it may have been better left to Viduka.
At the other end Sanchez was left rueing his luck when Martyn sprawled to save his goalbound shot after Ferdinand's reckless headed clearance and the spurned chances were beginning to mount up.
Technically very adept, Valencia were proving a tough nut to crack and the patient approach that United manager David O'Leary had advocated was fully in play as the first half ended goalless.
Mendieta set up Baraja for the first shot of the second period, but he failed to get his effort on target.
Then Dacourt won a corner on the left for United and Matteo got in a stunning header from Harte's flag kick only for the flying Canizares to somehow scoop it off the line.
Mendieta replied with a snapshot which Martyn gathered low down, and when United came back Dacourt blasted his free kick way too high.
Batty's tenacity brought another corner on 65 minutes and when Valencia failed to clear their lines Smith was able to get in a shot which screamed over.
Then Dacourt had a wicked shot blocked as United went into an ascendancy which provoked the quickfire bookings of Baraja and Carboni, who are both suspended for next week's return.
On 70 minutes Leeds went desperately close when Smith, spotting Canizares off his line, crossed for Bowyer to head against the bar with Viduka, poised for the follow-up, losing his balance.
Albelda wasted his shooting opportunity and Smith rapped in a shot straight at Canizares before Batty stepped in with consummate timing to take the ball off Albelda's toes.
Carew had a golden opportunity three minutes from the end when Mendieta worked hard to create an opening, but he shot tamely wide from five yards.
Then, when Mills burst down the right, he crossed invitingly only for Smith to steer his header over the top.
The drama ran deep into injury time when Vicente's bouncing shot zipped high towards the top corner, but the alert Ferdinand climbed to clear off the line with Martyn beaten.
The return is something to savour.