Barcelona 3-1 Panathinaikos (Agg: 3-2) Javier Saviola's winner crowned a great comeback.
FC Barcelona 3-1 Panathinaikos FC (Agg: 3-2)
FC Barcelona served up a memorable comeback in Catalonia as they recovered a two-goal deficit to outgun Panathinaikos FC and progress to their second UEFA Champions League semi-final in three seasons.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, the Greek side doubled their advantage just eight minutes in through Michael Konstantinou's sixth European goal this season yet in adversity, Barcelona produced the requisite adventure to fashion a thrilling victory.
Kluivert on the bench
Coach Carles Rexach provided a pre-match surprise with his decision to leave Patrick Kluivert on the bench yet was it the two men who came in after missing the first leg - Luis Enrique, who had been suspended, and Javier Saviola, an unused substitute last week - who made the difference.
Saviola's coup de grâce
Luis Enrique equalised on 23 minutes, prodding the ball past Antonios Nikolopidis after Saviola's chipped through-ball, and then headed Barça ahead four minutes into the second half, following a Rivaldo free-kick. The coup de grâce came from little Saviola, the Argentinian flashing a shot into the right-hand corner after Xavi Hernández, another player brought into the starting lineup, had threaded the ball through. The boy they call 'El Conejo' pulling a rabbit out of his hat.
The goals were the least of it. A night of high drama began with a bang. Literally, after Panathinaikos goalkeeper Nikolopidis went down clutching his shoulder just moments after the kick-off, having seemingly been struck by a missile thrown from the crowd.
The full truth of that incident will come to light later. There was no argument about the source of the missile that silenced the Camp Nou on eight minutes, however. Konstantinou shrugged aside a challenge from Frank de Boer before driving a fierce shot low past the left hand of Roberto Bonano from some 20 metres.
Karagounis limps off
Two goals down on the night, Barcelona had it all to do, needing three goals now to go through. Indeed only a fine block from Philip Cocu prevented Daniel Saric from worsening their plight further. However, Barça found a foothold through Luis Enrique's equaliser and thereafter pushed forward with menace. Rivaldo had a shot stopped by the feet of Nikolopidis, before the visitors' hopes were hit by the withdrawal through injury of Giorgios Karagounis, shortly before the break.
Luis Enrique unchallenged
Kluivert's introduction, also before the interval, added to the Catalans' armoury yet it was Luis Enrique who netted the second. The 31-year-old's strike will not have pleased Sergio Markarian, Panathinaikos's coach, given the space afforded the Spanish international as he jumped unchallenged to score.
Saviola strikes the post
Saviola's strike made the comeback complete and the Argentinian very nearly put the match beyond Panathinaikos when, moments later, he struck the outside of a post. Instead the visitors came back as tension levels rose inside then Camp Nou.
Puyol clears off the line
The pace of Polish international Emmanuel Olisadebe, a half-time substitute, offered Panathainkos an outlet they used to increasingly dangerous effect. One low cross almost produced a De Boer own goal with the aggregate scores level. Then, eight minutes from time, he beat Bonano to a bouncing ball and in the ensuing scramble Carlos Puyol - impressing on his return after a thigh injury - had to clear a Konstantinou effort off the goalline.
Replaced by Reina
Bonano was injured in that incident - leaving the field on a stretcher, his neck in a brace - and replaced by José Reina. Olisadebe almost profited from the teenage goalkeeper's first touch, a punched clearance putting the ball at his feet just outside the box. The goal was gaping, but Olisadebe failed to find it.
Missing by the width of a thumbnail
Panathinaikos went closer still deep into the seven minutes of added time when Sotirios Kyrgiakos flashed a volley wide from the edge of the box - missing by the width of a thumbnail. With that Barcelona were through. Vanquished by Valencia CF in the 2000 semi-finals, their dream of repeating their European Champion Clubs' Cup success of a decade ago is very much alive this season. And after the thrills on offer here few would begrudge them that.