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Truly magnificent! I can't believe the performance I've just been privileged to see: a team that has remembered how to play for each other and support each other. Players that have been operating at a below par level in the league once again raised their game for the European game.
5 months after watching a young and inexperienced Leeds side hopelessly outclassed at the Nou Camp, I've just seen a magnificent and co-ordinated performance as Leeds scored 4 goals away from home to beat a side that had a massive unbeaten home run, and with victories over Man U and Lazio among their recent scalps. To become the first English team to qualify for the quarter-finals - with 2 games still to go in this phase - is a fantastic achievement of which DOL and his players can be rightly proud.
Last week, Anderlecht were slightly justified in their gripes over the final result. They created several chances and seemed happy for Leeds to enjoy possession and then hit them on the break. Both the team and the crowd didn't seem to think that Leeds would get back into the game before Ian Harte's free kick got Leeds back into it. Tonight, Anderlecht's possible claims on the points lasted for about 10 minutes. They had a couple of decent chances in the first two minutes, and over the game Bart Goor must wonder how he didn't score from nearly half a dozen half- and full chances. The fact remains that Anderlecht only took one of the chances they did create, and every Leeds player performed superbly for the entire game.
Two of the most impressive performances came from Mark Viduka and Dominic Matteo - particularly considering they've been two of the players who most regular observers have thought had not been performing to their full potential recently. Viduka wriggled free of his marker on the edge of the area, got to the goal-line and held the ball up brilliantly - a first-time cross would have been wasted. A couple of seconds was all it took for Bakke(?) to make his run to the near post and distract the defence. Smithy came charging in on a perfectly timed run into the box and sidefooted the ball home. The Leeds fans at the ground went wild, and I surprised the cat by dancing around the coffee table at home.
The news came through that Lazio were a goal up - so it looked like there was still quite a bit of work to do, and an inspired challenge by Dominic Matteo denied the Belgians a great opportunity without giving away a penalty. Rio and Lucas finally look like they're on speaking terms, and with better protection in the middle and notably from Matteo on the left, Ian Harte was finding himself able to retain his position at left back with far greater ease.
Just before the half hour, Danny Mills ruled himself out of the Madrid game with a clumsy challenge after the whistle. The replay showed very little contact with the player, but Ilic and Stoica both spent a sizable part of the game looking for free-kicks and penalties, but got little support from the ref.
Five minutes later we were in dreamland. A superb first-time cross from Matteo beat all of the defenders, but was just the right height for Mark Viduka to rise above his nearest challenger and loop in a header - 2-0 away from home...and Madrid had equalised too. When a multi-player move 5 minutes later saw Smithy running clear on goal their keeper came off his line quickly to try to close the gaping hole his defence had left. Smithy lifted the ball over the advancing keeper and we were three up before half time. Magic!
Needless to say Anderlecht came back a bit as the match wore on, but Leeds midfield - and in particular Smithy up front - closed down the space around the Anderlecht players time and time again. Batty and Dacourt were running the show and even news of a second goal for Lazio wasn't going to dim our spirits as we entered the last 15 minutes.
We had a brief wobble: a free kick into the area found two Leeds players marking the wrong man: Koller was free and as Nige tried to advance to get to the ball before the giant Czech, he planted a header into the corner of the net to give us a few late worries. Not that they lasted long. One of the Anderlecht defenders realised that a bulb in the floodlights needed changing and climbed onto Mark Viduka's back to get to it. Unfortunately, the ball was coming into the area at the time and the ref decided that this public-spirited gesture should be rewarded with a penalty. Smithy could have completed a famous hat-trick, but regular penalty-taker Ian Harte stepped up to slam the ball home and kill off the last hope of an Anderlecht revival.
Then came the news that Real had equalised again - full time in Brussels and full-time in Rome, and the incredible European journey of Leeds was guaranteed for another round. We've got through groups including Real Madrid, Barcelona, Lazio and AC Milan and made it to the quarters: after last year's UEFA Cup semi-final place this shows just what sort of talent we're assembling at Elland Road - but it makes it even more vital that we do get the opportunity to do it again next season and continue to improve our UEFA seeding: maybe one day we'll be back up there as one of the teams everyone wants to avoid (having said that - I think we're there already!).
Man of the Match: Dacourt. Matteo. Smith. Viduka. Nige. Err.... all of them. Sorry - it was just too good a team performance to pick any one individual.
Standing by the side of the A14 in the dark at 5.15 am on Wednesday - must be another European game. All 15 of us crammed into the minibus for the journey this time, so no visit to Stansted, but we zoomed past it on the M11 to ensure the trip got a traditional start. Roads works on the M25, hold up on the EuroTunnel, but apart from that the journey was pretty smooth and we were parking up outside the hotel in Brussels by 2pm.
Plenty of time for a look around, got the metro into the centre of town but soon realised that Brussels is pretty small and we could walk just about everywhere. Bits of the city were a bit grotty though the rain probably didn't help our perception, but the Grand Place is very impressive and the pissing statue very small. Bumped into a few other groups of Leeds around town, a load of people that you constantly see throughout Europe but never see in Leeds, but generally there were very few people around and it was all very low profile.
Back to the hotel before heading out again, started our near the interestingly named Kunst Wet metro station but soon moved closer to the ground and found a Turkish bar which was friendly enough. Then got the metro down to the ground when the time came, security was pretty tight round there, we got off at the same station as the Anderlecht fans but Police with dogs told us to get back on the train and goto the next station. Did as we were told and got met by more police who walked us to the ground, though they were pretty friendly and relaxed about it. Checked for tickets outside the ground, then had to put them into a barcode machine to verify them before being searched again.
Once inside we were low down behind the goal with just a perspex screen seperating us from the Anderlecht fans a few yards away. There was a pretty constant stream of coins and other missiles flying over towards us, with the Police just concentrating on stopping people climbing on the screens, so I stood next to Guy on the basis that he's bigger than me and any missiles would be more likely to hit him '::). The game itself was obviously fantastic, I was just thinking how we were looking reasonably comfortable and containing them quite well, when Smith got on the end of Viduka's cross to put us in front. As with most of the other goals we weren't sure it was in til the players started celebrating.
The goal shut the Anderlecht fans up and from then on it was party time as we took control of the game. We'd just got used to being one up when we scored a second, Viduka heading in Matteo's cross and as we were starting to begin to believe we could win, Smithy scored a marvellous third with a classy finish which sealed it. Truly an awesome first half I can't remember Nige having a save to make and we seemed to score whenever we felt like it.
Half-time and time to calm down a bit and try and work out who else hadn't scored for weeks and could do with a goal. The second-half we concentrated on enjoying ourselves and going through our song repetoire. I think the Anderlecht fans understood when we were singing "Can we play you every week" but got a bit confused when we started singing "You can stick your belgian chocolates up your arse" and "Cadbury's Cadbury's". We just laughed at the lad waving a Chelsea scarf at us, but the Galatasary shirt provoked more reaction from our side of the fence and the police could have avoided a lot of banging on the screen by just confiscating it.
Back on the pitch the game was still under control but we had a slight scare when the Giraffe headed in and Nigel had to make a great save minutes later to stop things getting really worrying. However, we should have had a penalty earlier when one of their players looked to handle Rio's shot on the line, but got one a bit later as Viduka was bundled over. Hartey put the penalty away to guarantee the win and cause mass celebrations within our group as one lad had 4-1 at 100-1 and had therefore paid for his trip and beer money. Kewell came on to join the party as the game drifted to a close and the Anderlecht fans drifted away. The traditional chants at the end were curtailed to marching altogether from Batts and some arm-waving from Ollie as we were let out almost immediately. Scores difficult with the poor view Batty, Dacourt and Lucas were all superb, but again in Europe Smith was the hero.
Back on the metro some Anderlecht nutter seemed intent on provoking a confrontation on the carriage most of the list had seemed to congregate in. But the police had followed him on and dragged him off the train as things looked like getting nasty, must have been a Bob Stokoe fan J. This left us with the tricky problem of deciding how to celebrate one of the greatest victories in Leeds' history whilst in the beer capital of Europe. Unfortunately plan A was a washout because all the libraries were closed and so we ended up nipping into the bar just down the road from the hotel, where we stayed for a long long time. It was a few hours later after loads of singing, dancing, a bag snatching, some nudity and the odd glass of beer or ten that we eventually staggered home.
Hangovers galore as we boarded the minibus the next day, but we zoomed back through Belgium and France and the continenetal side of the Eurotunnel proved to be much better organised than the English side and it was only further roadworks on the M25 that delayed us. Another good trip - even 40 quid for the match ticket seems like a bargain in hindsight, the players may well be rested for Madrid but we'll all be there loving every minute of the European tour.
Copy from Football Unlimited of 22/02/2001.
When it comes to Europe things just get better and better for Leeds United. There is something about these nights, the intoxicating atmosphere of European football at its highest level, that brings out the best in David O'Leary's team and now they stand heroically on the brink of further glory.
By ruthlessly overpowering an Anderlecht side who had won their last nine European ties on home soil Leeds not only enhanced their blossoming reputation as fearless travellers here last night but also propelled them into the quarter-finals with two group matches to spare.
That was due not only to their own efforts but to Lazio's failure to beat Real Madrid in Rome where Raul's equaliser earned the holders a 2-2 draw and ended the Italian champions' interest in the competition.
Copy from The Independent of 21/02/2001.
Even by the high standards they have set on this season's Champions' League odyssey, Leeds United's stunning victory the Constant Vanden Stock stadium last night was something special. Three goals in a 25-minute burst during the first half, allied to Lazio's failure to defeat Real Madrid, ensured a place for the Premiership under-achievers in the quarter-final draw in Geneva on 16 March.
The manner and margin of Leeds' success was all the more stunning for the fact that Anderlecht had won their previous 21 home fixtures and beaten nine consecutive European visitors, including Manchester United. David O'Leary's side have secured their place in the knock-out stages, moreover, with games against Real and Lazio still to come.
Perhaps it was the presence of the cup-tied Robbie Keane on the sidelines that stung Alan Smith and Mark Viduka into rediscovering their respective scoring touches in that opening salvo. Smith added a second for good measure and, even after Jan Koller had given the Belgian leaders a sniff of salvation in the 76th minute, Ian Harte completed the rout from the penalty spot.
The scenes afterwards were reminiscent of the love-in between players and fans following Leeds' qualification from the first phase after the draw in Milan. Their 1,600 followers, some stripped to the waist on a cold, rainswept evening, roared for their heroes to "give us a song". David Batty could be heard in an otherwise empty stadium launching into the familiar chorus: "Marching on together..."
Togetherness among a tightly-knit, youthful squad is only one of the reasons Leeds have confounded expectations including their own, perhaps in Europe. Batty and company overpowered Anderlecht in midfield; Lucas Radebe and Rio Ferdinand were too quick and too resolute for the 6ft 7in Koller and Tomasz Radzinski; and the forwards, having each endured a barren spell lately, finished ruthlessly.
Leeds knew Anderlecht's tendency to lay siege to opposing teams would allow them space to strike on the break. So it proved, although it would be wrong to assume that David O'Leary set out with a strategy of containment. Eirik Bakke, played in by Viduka and Smith, had already forced Zvonko Milojevic to tip over his 16-yard drive before a similar build-up led to their seizing a 13th-minute lead.
Smith started and finished the move. His pass to the left of the Anderlecht box found Viduka, who checked back inside his marker before delivering a low cross. Bakke's dummy wrong-footed the defence and let Smith steal in, six yards out, to sidefoot his first goal since the winner at Lazio in December and only his second in 27 appearances stretching back to October.
Incredibly, Leeds had plumped up a three-goal cushion with seven minutes of the first half remaining. The rehabilitation of the front-runners continued in the 33rd minute when Viduka, having started a move that led to Olivier Dacourt giving Dominic Matteo a chance to deliver from the left, rose at the far post to head his fourth goal in 21 games.
Five minutes later, Batty spotted Smith's surge through the centre. A simple pass left the 20-year-old facing Milojevic, whom he chipped with consummate style. O'Leary and his lieutenants cavorted as Leeds' supporters, mindful of how Anderlecht beat a certain English club here in October, roared out: "Are you watching, Manchester?"
Leeds, who saw Danny Mills incur a booking that means he will miss the visit to Madrid, were denied a 4-0 lead by Koller. The Czech unwittingly blocked a fierce volley by Ferdinand from almost point-blank range.
Koller, anonymous at Leeds, where Peter Reid watched him with a view to a £12m transfer to Sunderland, finally made a positive impact when he headed in from Didier Dheedene's free-kick. Within five minutes, however, Glenn de Boeck barged Viduka to the ground and Harte's penalty put the seal on an intoxicating triumph for O'Leary's men. Afterwards, as the Leeds manager took over at the press conference from Aimé Antheunis, he remarked pointedly that his players had read the Anderlecht coach's criticism of them after last week's meeting. When Antheunis sought to explain that he had merely said Leeds did not play well on the night, O'Leary said dismissively, à la Anne Robinson: "Goodbye."
Copy from Yorkshire Evening Post of 22/02/2001.
FORTRESS Vanden Stock came tumbling down last night as Leeds United's Champions League raiders performed a rampant and comprehensive demolition job.
The Belgian champions, swaggering on the back of 21 straight successes and nine consecutive European victories in their compact theatre of impenetrability, were battered, bruised and ultimately humiliated as their walls collapsed round their ears.
And so to the quarter finals for Leeds on the back of another memorable night on their European forays.
At last the floodgates opened for both Alan Smith and Mark Viduka, who had almost forgotten what it was like to score a goal.
Smith got two and Viduka one of his own in a first half of compelling power play by United and abject wretchedness for the bemused home team.
Lee Bowyer's enforced absence meant a recall for Eirik Bakke and Anderlecht were unchanged from the side which went down 2-1 at Elland Road last week.
The tiny Vanden Stock Stadium has been the graveyard of many a visiting foe and indeed Leeds were the last English team to win here, as long as 26 years ago.
The Dell at Southampton would be the nearest English comparison, with the fans right up-close to the action and the atmosphere quite intimidating.
United needed to weather the anticipated early storm and they did have their not-so-secret weapon in Harry Kewell on the bench.
In the second minute Harte needlessly conceded a corner and Batty had to be alert as Dheedene closed in for the kill.
Some excellent covering by Matteo denied Radzinski but when Leeds broke Dacourt wanted a touch too many after Viduka put him in nicely.
Smith won a free kick to the left of the area and Harte's piledriver was deflected for a fruitless corner.
Bakke, fed by Smith, forced Milojevic into an acrobatic flick over the bar with his snapshot and United had made a bright enough start.
Stoica, whose goal last week silenced Elland Road, was prompting and probing in midfield and Radzinski was not far wide with a 12th minute drive.
But a minute later United stole ahead when Viduka, out on the left, cleverly picked out Smith, who confidently blasted home from close range.
Kamikaze defending by De Boeck almost let in Viduka and it took a brave challenge by Milojevic to deny a certain goal.
But Leeds were two up in the 33rd minute, with Harte picking out Matteo in oceans of space down the left and the pinpoint cross being met by Viduka whose header looped into the far corner.
Dacourt rifled in a shot next as Leeds enjoyed their ascendancy and six minutes before the break they were three up and going strong.
This time it was Batty the provider as he took a ball from Dacourt in his stride and clipped it in for Smith, whose lob over the advancing Milojevic was judged to perfection.
Dindane came on for Ilic as Anderlecht now sought respectability, but when a couple of chances opened up Koller headed wide and Radzinski's shot was off target.
Then Dheedene hit his free kick way too high as the Belgians lumbered from bad to worse.
Dacourt squared his free kick in first half injury time to Mills, who could not get the right purchase on his shot.
Rio Ferdinand almost got his first goal for the club when he got in a volley from Harte's corner, which was only pawed by Milojevic. But De Boeck got his body in the way on the line.
Martyn saved at the feet of Goor as Anderlecht broke on the hour and while their own defence was so easily breached the Belgians were finding it a wholly different scenario at the other end.
Yet when ocean liners can turn round in the Atlantic faster than their 6ft 8in striker and supposed ace in the pack Jan Koller is able to contrive a movement of any kind, little more could be expected.
He did, however, manage to head home Dheedene's accurately-delivered free kick on 76 minutes and, within seconds, bring a terrific flying save out of Martyn from point-blank range.
Home fans headed for the exit doors ten minutes from time when De Boeck floored Viduka in the area and Harte unerringly drilled home the spot-kick.
Said United manager David O'Leary: "I'm immensely proud of the players because a lot was said after the game in Leeds. More was said in the build-up to this match and it's good when you have someone like Olivier Dacourt who can translate the French.
"Not having a game on Saturday was a bonus for us in a way because we looked fresher for it. We're not a bad little team and I take great pride in coming to a place like this and beating them.
"Capello, who has won four Italian titles, Eriksson and Zaccheroni have all said we're a good side. We're not going to win this competition, but we are building something we hope will do us well in the future.
"It would be lovely to freshen it up for Tottenham on Saturday, but we are not able to have a squad like Manchester United or Liverpool and the referee thought some mistake had been made when he saw we had only five subs.
"But I'm a great believer in fate and maybe we weren't meant to be in the FA Cup.
"I'm delighted for the fans and the people of Leeds.
"Alan Smith is not a bad player. He started off the season brilliantly and played week in and week out, giving all that effort. When he comes off after 90 minutes you can see just what he has given.
"The experience of Madrid will do them good. Let them sample it. They've come to a famous city here and enjoyed the experience.
"I'm just delighted to be in the draw and delighted for English football."
Anderlecht boss Aime Anthuenis said: "I said that in that game last week Leeds did not play well on the night; not that they are not a good team.
"I saw them at Ipswich and the results they have achieved against other good teams and it is no coincidence they came up with this result here.
"At home they had to try to make the game. Here it was different. They were better tonight, when the onus was on us to be on the offensive.
"They are the best-organised team to have come here. We had the worst possible case scenario. Patience was always going to be our key and a 1-0 scoreline, even with a goal coming in the last 10 minutes, would have suited us fine.
"But they scored early, upset our plan and it was always an uphill struggle from there."
Funny, that. Uphill struggles are right up United's street.