RCD Espanyol will hope to ease the memory of one of the most painful nights in their history when they contest their second UEFA Cup final against Sevilla FC at Hampden Park on Wednesday.
Nineteen years ago the Spanish side had reached the final in considerable style, overcoming VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach (5-1 on aggregate), AC Milan (2-0), FC Internazionale Milano (2-1) and FC Kovkor Vítkovice (2-0) to set up a semi-final meeting with Club Brugge KV. The adventure looked to be ending when Jan Ceulemans and a José María Gallart own goal gave the Belgian team a 2-0 first-leg lead to take to Catalonia. Diego Orejuela revived Espanyol hopes with a ninth-minute strike in the return, however, and Espanyol's search for an equaliser was rewarded a minute past the hour courtesy of Sebastián Losada. That took the tie into extra time, yet just when it seemed a penalty shoot-out was looming, 'Pichi' Alonso scored in the 119th-minute to send Espanyol through.
At the time, the showpiece was played over two legs and Bayer 04 Leverkusen provided the opposition. It appeared as if the Primera División outfit had done the hard work at their Sarrià home as Losada scored twice more, either side of a Miguel Soler effort to give an Espanyol team featuring current coach Ernesto Valverde and goalkeeping trainer Thomas N'Kono what looked an unassailable 3-0 advantage. Initially Javier Clemente's men held firm in Germany and made it through to half-time with their lead intact, but the wheels began to come off once Milton Tita had put Leverkusen in front eleven minutes into the second period.
Seven minutes later Falko Götz reduced the aggregate deficit to a single goal, and suddenly nerves set in among the Espanyol rearguard. Nine minutes from time those fears were realised as Cha Bum-kun levelled and the ensuing instalment of extra time segued into a penalty shoot-out. Initially Espanyol had the upper hand as Pichi converted their first kick and N'Kono then kept out Ralf Falkenmayer's attempt, but José María Sánchez's successful conversion proved to be Espanyol's last moment of delight. Wolfgang Rolff, Herbert Waas and Klaus Täuber all netted for Leverkusen while misses from Santiago Urquiaga and Manuel Zuniga left Losada needing to score to keep Espanyol's dream alive.
He failed, and while Leverkusen celebrated a wildly improbable comeback, their opponents were left to reflect on what might, perhaps should, have been. They have had to wait almost two decades for the opportunity to put that right, but now the chance has come, perhaps this time the omens are on their side. In this year's semi-final against another German club, Werder Bremen, Espanyol again coasted the home leg 3-0, but when Hugo Almeida pulled a goal back four minutes into the return, they must have suspected 1988 was repeating itself. Instead Ferrán Corominas and Jesús María Lacruz struck to win the match, and the tie, and take Espanyol into the final. They will hope their luck holds in Glasgow on Wednesday.
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