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Copy from Football Unlimited of 05/04/2001.
It began as a voyage of exploration but now is threatening to become one of the great stories of European football. Leeds United's odyssey in the Champions League, a tale of rich intrigue in a tempestuous season, has brought them heroically to the threshold of the semi-finals after overwhelming the Spanish champions who beforehand had had the temerity to brand Leeds the weakest of the eight clubs left in the competition.
Now David O'Leary's side will travel to Galicia on Tuesday week brimming with expectation rather than trepidation. It would take a brave man to bet on Deportivo depriving the Yorkshire side of a place in the last four now.
Looking even further ahead, who would bet the ranch against Leeds actually winning the competition? Unfancied all the way, they have fine-tuned a talent for thumbing their noses at the elite and, for all O'Leary's protestations to the contrary, writing them off has proved an embarrassing business. Arguments against them have become impossible to sustain.
Copy from The Independent of 05/04/2001.
Long before the final whistle put Deportivo La Coruna out of their misery on a rainswept night at Elland Road, the crowd's mocking refrain heralded a hugely impressive first-leg victory which gives Leeds United a marvellous chance of reaching the European Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1975.
One of the Spanish champions' players, Victor, had publicly expressed his delight at being drawn against Leeds. Midway through the second half, after the game's outstanding individual, David O'Leary's captain-for-the-night Rio Ferdinand, added to goals either side of half-time by Ian Harte and Alan Smith, the home support thundered out their riposte: "Three-nil to the weakest team!"
Deportivo have retrieved apparently lost causes before, notably in the second group stage when they beat Paris St-Germain 4-3 after trailing 3-0. Even so, Leeds' away results, in the Premiership and in Europe, suggest they are capable of scoring in the Riazor stadium on 17 April.
Not until added time, when Nigel Martyn made saves from Diego Tristan and Walter Pandiani, did Deportivo exert any pressure on Leeds' goal - a taste, surely, of the siege to come in Galicia. For the time being, however, O'Leary was content to savour our "best night" in a season of extraordinary European evenings.
Leeds' triumph, founded on quickfire counter-attacking and the ruthless exploitation of set-pieces, was all the sweeter for the fact that the best they had managed in four previous Champions' League meetings against Spanish opponents, namely Barcelona and Real Madrid, was one draw.
On a relatively balmy evening by British standards - though one still cold enough for two Deportivo men to wear mittens - Leeds established a remorseless tempo from the start. In the opening minutes a superbly angled pass by Smith set up Lee Bowyer - who had left the crown court in Hull two and a half hours earlier - the midfielder could not not make up the yard start Enrique Romero had.
The left-sided duo of Harte and Harry Kewell were particularly prominent in the early home pressure. Harte, who had already forced Francisco Molina to save at the second attempt from 30 yards, delivered a long, cross-field pass which took out Romero en route to Bowyer, only for the goalkeeper to narrow the angle and parry one-handed.
Kewell then embarked on a weaving run which drew gasps from the crowd, culminating in an ambitious shot from the byline which flashed over the angle of post and bar. A late challenge on Olivier Dacourt by the former Middlesbrough player, Emerson, earned him a booking that will keep him out of the second leg, and worse soon followed for Deportivo.
With 26 minutes played, Cesar tripped Alan Smith on the lip of the "D". Harte stepped to curl the free-kick high into Molina's net, the defender's eighth goal of the season. The mood was contagious: even David Batty, whose goals are collector's items, sent Molina flying across his line to clutch an opportunist effort from 25 yards.
Dominic Matteo, a formidable foil to the majestic Ferdinand, was cautioned for a high tackle on Cesar. But Leeds showed aggression in more acceptable ways, a snap shot by Dacourt being deflected wide and Smith missing the target with a diving header from Kewell's cross as half-time beckoned.
There was no sign of Deportivo intensifying their attacking efforts after the interval. For a side who specialise in comebacks - they also gave Real Madrid a two-goal start before drawing - they had few attacking ideas.
Instead, Leeds immediately resumed on the offensive and, after Molina had unnecessarily tipped behind a Smith shot that was passing wide, they scored in their next attack with only six minutes of the second half gone.
Dacourt rolled the ball to Harte, overlapping on the left, and the Irishman's cross was met by a strong downward header by Smith. The 20-year-old's 15th goal of the season was also his seventh in the Champions' League since the qualifying round in August. When the third goal arrived the 66th minute, Harte was again the provider, Molina flapping feebly at his outswinging corner and allowing Ferdinand to steal up on the far side of the six-yard box to bury a header.
Not only was it the £18m defender's first goal since signing in November, but also his first at any level for four years. The only slight disappointment for Leeds were the further cautions for Batty and Dacourt.
Deportivo's coach, Javier Irureta, praised Leeds's "powerful" performance. Promising "greater effort" in the second leg, he added: "Miracles do happen in football." O'Leary, while anxious to play down the euphoria and point out that the task was only half-completed, would concur, his team's progress in Europe having been little short of miraculous.
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 05/04/2001.
WITH cavalier spirit and the inspiration of a five-star show from captain-for-the-night Rio Ferdinand, Leeds United continued on their merry way in this most compelling Champions League extravaganza.
They most surely put a semi-final place beyond a side who have been rapidly gathering a big reputation throughout Europe but who, on the night, were sinfully miserable. So much for midfielder Victor?s claim beforehand that Leeds were the weakest team in the last eight!
Spanish champions? This bunch of imposters were so wretchedly awful that they looked as though they couldn?t play their way out of an orange box.
This was owed as much to United?s rumbustiosness as their own underestimation of the task they had been asked to perform and in the end they probably did not get all that they deserved for their lack of application.
Yet a three-goal cushion, without the concession of an all-important away goal, should leave polished away performers United with something to spare when they go to the Estadio Riazor on April 17.
If Deportivo had thought that they could keep the lid on things and hope for a breakaway goal they were guilty of exaggerating their capabilities against a United who are now completely adept at taming so-called big-timers.
Their coach Javier Irureta either hides his feelings very well or does not demand very high standards from his charges, for he said afterwards: ?Speaking frankly, you have got to accept that in the first half Leeds played very powerfully.
?They scored their first goal at a crucial time and if you sum up the goals one was from a free-kick and the other two from corners. If you take those situations out of it we kind of matched them.?
There had been a buzz of anticipation in the crowd leading up to kick-off, but a misdirected defensive header by Matteo gave Djalminha an early shooting chance and United were grateful for his dalliance with the effort.
At the other end the Spanish rearguard backed off as Harte went forward and his bobbling shot caused Molina some consternation before he gathered it up.
A delightfully weighted long pass from Harte picked out Bowyer at the edge of the box, and he took it in his stride before attempting to clip it past Molina, but the keeper did well to get his body behind the ball to deny Leeds a classic goal.
Then Kewell produced some magic down the left, turning first Romero and then Manuel Pablo inside out with an array of spins, twists and turns before crashing his drive narrowly over the top from an unhelpful angle.
When Smith was pulled down 25 yards out by former Middlesbrough man Emerson, Harte?s free-kick was cleared with a minumum of fuss. But Leeds were having much the better of the exchanges and clearly had a big appetite for battle.
Emerson earned a booking when he left his foot in on Dacourt and Cesar then hacked down Smith at the edge of the box in the 26th minute to open up an inviting free-kick chance for Harte.
His delivery was murderous and left Molina rooted to the spot as it zipped into the net off the crossbar.
Viduka?s glanced header opened the way for Smith, but with his back to goal he couldn?t work the space to get in a proper shot and the one he mustered barely troubled Molina.
A rasping long-range volley from Batty drew an acrobatic save from a keeper who could hardly have anticipated such a heavy workload and Deportivo were under more pressure 10 minutes before the break when Mills forced a corner.
This time Molina flapped at Harte?s kick but managed to fist it clear.
Dacourt was unlucky to see his left foot shot from outside the box take a deflection ever so narrowly wide, then Smith came in with a diving header from Kewell?s cross but, unsighted by Viduka?s leap, he could only steer it away from the target.
A one-goal interval lead was the least an adventurous Leeds deserved against a side largely going through the motions and lacking inspiration. Nigel Martyn had not had a single save to make.
Smith?s whipped-in shot was turned for a corner in the 51st minute and Leeds were about to double their lead. Kewell pushed the ball down the line to Harte, whose sumptuous cross was met by a full-blooded header from Smith and this time bang on target.
Seven minutes later Harte went close to repeating his earlier free-kick success, with Molina mightily relieved to see it curl a couple of inches wide of his near post.
In the 67th minute United were in ecstasy when they sailed into a three-goal lead. Molina again flapped at Harte?s corner but a defender?s touch only helped it onto the head of Rio Ferdinand at the back post, who thundered it into the roof of the net for his first goal for the club.
Within a minute he was performing retrieval work in his own six-yard box and eight minutes from time he had substitute Tristan banging his head in frustration as he whipped the ball off his toes as he shaped to shoot.
Good late saves by Martyn from substitutes Tristan and Pandiani ensured the clean sheet that will be so valuable when Leeds journey to Spain.
Given their propensity for knocking over European opposition, it may well suit Leeds better to contemplate a semi-final double-header with Valencia rather than Arsenal, who take a slender 2-1 advantage to Spain in the second leg.
This European football suits Leeds down to the ground, and though meeting the Gunners would not present an insurmountable obstacle the preference would surely be for last season?s beaten finalists.
True, there is work still to be done in La Coruna. A little bit, anyway.