RC Deportiva La Coruña, the comeback kings of the UEFA Champions League, beat Manchester United FC 2-1 with two goals in the last four minutes of this Group G match in the Municipal de Riazor stadium.
Ebb and flow
Deportivo had needed a last-minute equaliser from Juan Valerón in last week’s group game against Olympiakos Piraeus FC, but this victory, easily trumped that for drama. Indeed, given the ebb and flow of a gripping match this was a win that conjured up memories of last season’s second group stage victory over Paris Saint-Germain FC. Then, Javier Irureta’s team, thanks to second-half substitute Walter Pandiani's 27-minute hat-trick, retrieved a first half 3-0 deficit to win 4-3.
It was the Uruguayan - he had replaced Roy Makaay just past the hour - who once again kick-started another improbable Deportivo recovery. Pandiani found himself in space in the United box – he had been found by the cheekiest of chips by Valerón – and the Deportivo forward turned and drilled the ball past Barthez. Then the Moroccan Nourredine Naybet, surging forward from the back, arrived to slam another unstoppable shot past United’s French goalkeeper and send the Riazor into delirium.
Late, late goals
United, of course, are no strangers to winning games in the closing stages. Two years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side won the Champions League in similar fashion, breaking the hearts of FC Bayern München with two late, late goals. But since that dramatic night in the Camp Nou in Barcelona, United have not won in Spain and now it was their turn to experience pain on the Spanish peninsula.
This will be a defeat that once again raises question marks about the ability of United to perform away from Old Trafford in Europe. Ferguson’s side have won just one away game in ten attempts in the Champions League on their travels. And in last season’s group stages they were surprisingly beaten on their travels by both PSV Eindhoven and RSC Anderlecht.
But until those dramatic final minutes it had seemed that United would hold out and record their first win in Spain since beating Bayern in Barcelona. Ferguson’s side had taken the lead five minutes before the interval when Paul Scholes, in a sporadic United counter-attack, arrived unmarked in the Deportivo area and drilled the ball past José Molina.
Ryan Giggs will look back on a chance he had in the 77th minute when, with only Molina to beat, the Welshman’s effort was saved by the Deportivo goalkeeper with the game delicately balanced.