Depor rise from the dead in famous fightback

Estadio Municipal de Riazor, La Coruna – 07/04/2004 – Quarter-finals
Pandiani 5 Valerón 35 Luque 44 Fran 76
4 - 0
Back from the brink

"Nobody really believed we could do it, especially up against Milan." Walter Pandiani


• FC Bayern München beat RSC Anderlecht 1-0 on Matchday 6 as they advanced at their visitors' expense. It proved the first of a record 12 successive UEFA Champions League defeats for the Belgian outfit.

• AEK Athens FC ended their third campaign still seeking a first group stage win. It would not be until the 22nd attempt, against LOSC Lille Métropole in 2006/07, that they finally broke their duck.

• This was the first season under the competition format still in use today as an extra knockout round replaced the second group stage, meaning sides had to come through 13 games to win rather than 17.

RC Deportivo La Coruña's UEFA Champions League ambitions were written off after a 4-1 quarter-final first-leg defeat at AC Milan, only to be resurrected by a staggering comeback.

Only the most optimistic of Depor fans arrived at the Raizor that warm April evening hoping for more than their team merely bowing out with heads held high. Coach Javier Irureta encouraged them to dream, promising to go after the reigning European champions like a hurricane from the first whistle. The players were true to his word, and after surviving a blast from Jon Dahl Tomasson, Walter Pandiani broke the deadlock on five minutes.

Three years earlier, the Uruguayan had inspired Deportivo's most famous European fightback when they recovered from 3-0 down to defeat Paris Saint-Germain FC 4-3 in the second group stage. His strike here inspired a total onslaught on the Milan goal and a deluge of chances for the irresistible Galicians, with Víctor Sánchez tormenting Carlo Ancelotti's side. Ten minutes before half-time, just when they needed it, they gained reward as the unmarked Juan Carlos Valerón buried a rare header.

The Riazor was shaking and so were Milan. Depor sensed their opportunity and duly took it when Alessandro Nesta mistimed his approach to a loose ball in midfield. The predatory Albert Luque pounced, ran 20 metres and drilled a left-foot shot beyond Dida and into the top corner. Depor had not only risen from the dead, they were in the rudest of health; and it was not even half-time.

Back came Milan, Tomasson going close, but no sooner had Ancelotti rolled his last dice, bringing on Serginho, than Fran effectively sealed progress with a vicious right-foot shot which skimmed off Cafu to beat Dida. Depor had sealed a 5-4 aggregate victory, becoming the first side to overcome a three-goal first-leg deficit in the UEFA Champions League.

Star players

  • Pirlo

    Perhaps the finest deep-lying playmaker of his generation, Pirlo was touted for greatness the moment he made his Brescia Calcio debut two days after his 16th birthday. Feted for Italy's 2006 FIFA World Cup triumph and a decade at AC Milan, in which he won two Scudettos and two UEFA Champions League titles, he is now thriving in the autumn of his career at Juventus. A graceful presence with a perfect pass, he inspired Italy to the UEFA EURO 2012 final.

  • Pandiani

    A powerful striker who always posed an aerial threat, Pandiani at times evoked a bulldozer more than his 'El Rifle' nickname. He spent much of his career in Spain, joining RC Deportivo La Coruña in 2000 after winning the title in his native Uruguay. Pandiani saved his best for knockout competitions, winning the Spanish Cup with three clubs and finishing as the 11-goal top scorer as RCD Espanyol were runners-up in the 2007/08 UEFA Cup. Surprisingly, he was capped just four times.

  • Valerón

    A midfielder with great technique, passing ability and ball control, Valerón's contribution over a long career has outweighed his haul of trophies. A member of Spain's 1998 UEFA European Under-21 Championship-winning side, he turned professional with UD Las Palmas in his native Canary Islands, then represented RCD Mallorca and Club Atlético de Madrid, but his career took off following his 2000 switch to champions RC Deportivo La Coruña. Despite injuries, he has since made over 400 appearances for the club in all competitions.

What happened next?

• Three days later, Andrea Pirlo's late penalty earned a 1-0 win against Empoli FC to maintain AC Milan's lead at the Serie A summit; they won the Scudetto with two games to spare.

• RC Deportivo La Coruña lost 1-0 on aggregate against FC Porto in the last four, José Mourinho's Portuguese side going on to beat AS Monaco FC 3-0 in the final.

• Depor finished third in the Liga to secure a return to the UEFA Champions League but suffered a decline after that and were relegated in 2010/11 before immediately bouncing back.

• Milan were on the wrong end of another famous comeback in the final 12 months later as Liverpool FC recovered from a 3-0 half-time deficit to draw 3-3 before winning on penalties.

• Seven of the side that started against Depor were in the XI as Milan beat Liverpool 2-1 in the 2007 final with Filippo Inzaghi, a substitute against the Spanish side, scoring twice.

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