Seventy-two teams. One hundred and ninety-seven games. Ten months. One winner. The long and winding road to Glasgow took its toll. But for Real Madrid CF the journey was worth the while. The reward for Vicente del Bosque's men was a third UEFA Champions League success, adding to their wins in 1998 and 2000.
Memories and matches
For those that fell by the wayside, however, there were also memories and matches to cherish. As Real Madrid processed through the first group stage with AS Roma as bridesmaid, a host of European luminaries trailed close behind.
Back where they belong
Liverpool FC showed they were back for the long run on their first appearance in the competition since 1985, topping Group B ahead of Boavista FC. Another welcome addition were Celtic FC. They were nudged into third place in Group E by Juventus FC and Porto FC, yet were involved in one of the games of the tournament: a 4-3 home defeat of the Italians.
Tristán's perfect moment
RC Deportivo La Coruña and Manchester United FC brought goals and excitement to Group G, including a minor classic at Old Trafford, won 3-2 by the Spaniards on a night Diego Tristán will long remember - and Fabien Barthez will wish to forget. Honorary mentions must also go to FC Nantes Atlantique, who made up for lost form in France with first place in Group D, and AC Sparta Praha, runners-up in Group H. FC Barcelona, FC Bayern München and Panathinaikos FC were other group winners.
Madrid set the pace
So to the second group stage. Madrid were the pacesetters, becoming the first team into the last eight. There was the renewal of hostilities between Bayern and Manchester United (a Champions League tradition, surely). Though the real drama came in Groups B and D, where Barcelona and Liverpool and Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Deportivo emerged only on the last matchday. Roma, Galatasaray SK, Arsenal and Juventus were the sides they left behind.
Lucio seals it
It was at the quarter-final stage that the Leverkusen threat really materialised. Klaus Toppmöller's men buried Liverpool's chances in a tie which saw more plots than a gravedigger. Twice the balance shifted in the English team's favour - they won 1-0 at Anfield, then looked set for the semi-finals when Jari Litmanen made the score 3-2 at the BayArena. But up stepped Lucio, Leverkusen's adventurous Brazilian defender, to send the Germans through.
Leverkusen go through
Their semi-final opponents were another FA Premiership club, Manchester United, whose success over Deportivo had been at the cost of David Beckham. A more significant loss was their away-goals defeat sealed by Oliver Neuville's goal in a 1-1 draw in the Rheinland. So no final in his hometown for coach Sir Alex Ferguson, although United did provide the tournament's top scorer in the ten-goal Ruud van Nistelrooij.
Dampener for Bayern
In the other half of the draw, Barcelona held off a brave Panathinaikos challenge before running into their eternal nemesis Madrid in the last four. The Merengues had seen off another old foe, holders Bayern, 3-2 on aggregate. Second-half goals from Iván Helguera and Guti completed their come-from-behind victory at a rain-drenched Santiago Bernabéu after a 2-1 reverse in Bavaria.
'Match of the century'
Madrid then combined class and character to see off Barça in a tie dubbed the 'match of the century' by the Spanish press. This time it was Zinedine Zidane and Steve McManaman who decided the issue with goals that silenced Camp Nou as Madrid prevailed 3-1 over two legs.
Zidane wonder goal
Zidane was at it again at Glasgow's Hampden Park. After Lucio had equalised Raúl González's early strike for Madrid, the French international scored a goal worthy of winning any final. Which it did: his brilliant 44th-minute volley dividing the sides. Madrid were European champions in their centenary year; Leverkusen, runners-up in their domestic league and cup, were second best again.
So what had begun under a warm July sun, ended on a wet Scottish night with Madrid taking home the cup for a record ninth time, and Leverkusen claiming neutral hearts and minds.
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