Newcastle United FC announced their arrival on European club football's biggest stage in dramatic fashion with a rousing 3-2 victory against FC Barcelona crowned by a Faustino Asprilla hat-trick.
Urged on by an animated St James's Park, alive to its first ever UEFA Champions League tie, Asprilla rattled off three goals inside the opening 47 minutes for a rampant Newcastle. It left Barcelona, boasting a star-studded lineup including Rivaldo, Luis Enrique and Luís Figo, in a state of shock but the Spanish titleholders threatened a late recovery in a grandstand finish.
For a long time it was all about Asprilla. The Colombia striker began as he meant to go on, drawing an early free-kick from Michael Reiziger with his dazzling footwork, and then exchanging passes with John Barnes, who put Jon Dahl Tomasson through for a chance that went wide.
Tomasson soon returned the compliment, playing Asprilla in on goal midway through the first half with a slide-rule pass the forward reached before goalkeeper Ruud Hesp. The forward tumbled under the challenge and Pierluigi Collina pointed to the spot; the 27-year-old converted the penalty himself.
Not content with preserving their advantage, Kenny Dalglish's side continued to press and doubled their lead just past the half-hour mark with a goal of beautiful simplicity. Keith Gillespie hared down the right and curled a perfect cross for Asprilla to attack at the near post with a thumping header.
Four minutes into the second half the hosts were three up, Gillespie again leaving Sergi in his wake before dispatching another centre for Asprilla to head in for his hat-trick – and customary cartwheel. The visitors could contain neither Gillespie nor Asprilla and the pair combined again soon after; Hesp denied the South American a fourth.
Gradually, though the Azulgrana stirred to life, Miguel Ángel Vidal forcing Shay Given to tip over, before a neat move involving Rivaldo and Figo was turned in at close range by Luis Enrique on 73 minutes. The Newcastle goalkeeper thwarted Rivaldo after a sumptuous turn and shot by the Brazilian, who then curled a free-kick against the bar.
With a minute to go Given fumbled a corner which Warren Barton could only clear as far as Figo, who fired it back through a crowded penalty area to make for a tense finale. But the rally was too little, too late – this was Newcastle and Asprilla's night. He never scored for the side again.