Read up on the relentless 2001 UEFA Cup final before watching it in full on UEFA.tv.
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With Liverpool 3-1 up at the break in the 2001 UEFA Cup final against Alavés, Michael Owen recalled being overjoyed. "It's the first time in my life I’ve got in at half-time and been so excited, knowing we were going to win," he told UEFA.com. "Or that was what I thought."
Gérard Houllier's Reds looked to have done the hard work when they eliminated Barcelona in the UEFA Cup semi-finals, but unheralded Deportivo Alavés were making waves, ousting Inter Milan and Kaiserslautern en route to the Westfalenstadion decider. Liverpool had come from behind to beat Arsenal in the FA Cup final a few days earlier and were on course to win a third trophy of the season (the League Cup already in the bag), but it was to be an exhausting evening.
Michael Owen: The lightning-quick forward had single-handedly won the FA Cup the previous weekend, scoring twice late on against Arsenal. Houllier's side were rugged rather than extravagant, but Owen was a superb finisher.
Gary McAllister: The Scottish midfielder arrived from Coventry on a free transfer in 2000, Houllier later calling him his "most inspirational signing". At 36, he had lost none of his ability to inspire – or to deliver terrific free-kicks.
Javi Moreno: Jordi Cruyff and Cosmin Contra were the most famous names in coach Mané's team, but forward Javi Moreno was the star performer, his goals earning a high-profile move to AC Milan at the end of the season.
Markus Babbel headed the opener from a McAllister free-kick and it was 2-0 on 16 minutes, Owen weighting his pass perfectly for Steven Gerrard to shoot in. Iván Alonso cut the deficit, but it was 3-1 by half-time – and seemingly all over – after McAllister converted from the penalty spot.
Alavés were not beaten, though. Moreno struck twice in the space of three minutes after the interval to level matters, and while substitute Robbie Fowler then made it 4-3, the Basque side forced extra time with Jordi Cruyff's late finish. Here, two Alavés players were sent off before the luckless Delfí Geli turned McAllister's free-kick into his own net – the first 'golden goal' winner in a big UEFA club final.
Dietmar Hamann, Liverpool midfielder: "In the first half, things couldn’t have been any better or any smoother. We were winning by two goals twice. Now we have extra time, we've got to find a way to win games, and I think that was one of our biggest strengths: we always found a way to win when things or when games got tight. We always found our way out of problems."
Jamie Carragher, Liverpool defender: "It was probably similar to what we did to AC Milan [in the 2005 UEFA Champions League final] – Milan knew they were better than us in 2005, and we knew we were better than Alavés. But it was more what the game had taken out of us. And that goal to make it 4-4, so late on, that was a killer blow. I remember my reaction being to put my head down and none of us had a go at each other, we were that tired."
Michael Owen, Liverpool forward: "We had so many finals around that time. We had the FA Cup final [before the] UEFA Cup; a few days later we had to beat [Charlton] to qualify for the Champions League. So, as you can imagine, not many celebrations with games coming thick and fast. But I can assure you that at the end of that run, after the Charlton game, we celebrated good and proper."
Elsewhere that night
Three games were played in the UEFA European Under-18 Championship on 16 May 2001 – though happily all three were over by the time the UEFA Cup final kicked off. Israel beat Belgium 2-0 in Ashkelon, the Czech Republic won 2-0 at home to Austria, while Spain prevailed 3-1 in Portugal – Hélder Postiga put the hosts in front, while future Liverpool ace Fernando Torres was among the Spanish scorers.
Liverpool’s first UEFA tournament success since 1984 heralded an upturn in their European fortunes. Third in the Premier League in 2000/01, they duly qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in its new guide, while Hamann and Gerrard were among a handful of 2001 final veterans to become European champions in 2004/05.
Given their modest background, Vitoria-Gasteiz-based Alavés’ 2000/01 campaign was a miracle. “Dortmund has seen a great final," coach Mané said. "And it was possibly the smallest team in the competition that made it great." Moreno and Contra left for Milan in 2001, but Alavés returned briefly to Europe in the 2002/03 UEFA Cup, losing to Beşiktaş in the second round.