If Barcelona require extra inspiration as they prepare their bid to overturn a 4-0 UEFA Champions League semi-final deficit at home to Bayern Munich today, they need look no further than La Liga rivals RC Deportivo de La Coruna.
Depor pulled off one of the most sensational comebacks in Europe’s elite club competition back in the 2003-2004 season when they thrashed AC Milan 4-0 in their quarter-final second leg in La Coruna to shock the reigning continental champions and progress to the semi-finals 5-4 on aggregate.
Uruguayan forward Walter Pandiani scored the opening goal in the fifth minute at the Riazor on that memorable April night, when the Galician club stunned a Milan side featuring Paolo Maldini, Kaka and Andriy Shevchenko.
Now 37 and playing in the Spanish third tier for Mallorca-based CD Atletico Baleares, Pandiani believes Barca will also need an early goal if they are to have any chance of reaching this month’s final at London’s Wembley Stadium.
“Scoring so early in the match was key for the team to gain confidence,” Pandiani, whose goalscoring prowess earned him the nickname “The Rifle,” said on UEFA’s Web site. “If you don’t manage to score in the first half, as soon as possible, then you start to rush things. That early goal gave us the peace of mind to continue playing well.”
Barcelona’s chances of keeping alive their bid for a third European crown in five years may appear remote, especially as they failed to score in Munich, but Pandiani said Depor were in a similar situation in 2004.
“Even if we were achieving important things in the Champions League, nobody believed in us, especially because it was Milan we were up against, but we believed in ourselves and our fans were also there to spur us on,” he said. “The excitement in the dressing room at halftime showed that it would be difficult for them to do us damage that night if we continued with the same mentality.”
On the evidence of Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Athletic Bilbao in La Liga, Barca’s hopes will again rest on the shoulders of World Player of the Year Lionel Messi.
Messi, who is coming back from a hamstring strain, was initially rested in Bilbao and Barca found their cutting edge only when he replaced midfielder Xavi on the hour.
Only three clubs have overturned a four-goal first-leg deficit in UEFA competition and Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes was on the losing side on one of those occasions.
He was in charge of the Borussia Moenchengladbach side that beat Real Madrid 5-1 at home in the 1985-1986 UEFA Cup third round, only to lose the return game 4-0.
“It was the worst moment of my career. I no longer wanted to be a football coach,” Heynckes said on the UEFA Web site. “It was worse than the death threats I received later in my career.”
Heynckes has said he will not be instructing his team to play a cautious game, despite a string of players risking suspension for the final if they get another booking.
“I will nominate my best possible team,” he said. “My players will have to be disciplined and that means no gestures, no unnecessary fouls and no falling for any provocation.”
Six players, including captain Philipp Lahm and playmaker Bastian Schweinsteiger will miss the final if they pick up another yellow card.
“I want the same attitude, commitment and tactical play [as in the first leg],” Heynckes said. “They are still the best team in the world ... Their pride has been wounded and they will try everything.”