Adam Davern relives a wondrful moment in Champions League history.
Beckham, Ronaldo, Zidane, Raùl, Roberto Carlos…..the list goes on and on. Back in 2006 Real Madrid had managed to assemble an incredible squad of football’s biggest names. With this sort of talent available to head coach Juan Ramón López Caro, Madrid were expected to brush aside a young Arsenal team who were struggling for form back home in the Premier League and had already been knocked out of the FA Cup by Bolton. Injuries to key players like Pires, Cole and Campbell had forced Arsenè Wenger to field many unproven youngsters like Fabregas, Ebouè, Senderos and Flamini in the Santiago Bernabeù, a stadium where no English team had ever emerged from victorious.
What followed was surely one of the greatest nights in the Gunner’s European history. Led by their inspirational captain Thierry Henry, Arsenal dominated Real for long periods of the game and left the Galaticos in the shade as they took a giant stride towards the last eight of the competition. Arsenal’s inexperienced side created plenty of chances throughout the match as Reyes, Ljungberg and Henry all had opportunities to score before half-time. The Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas had to be in fine form to deny wave after wave of Gunner attacks.
Just after the break however, Arsenal got the lead their performance so richly deserved when Henry produced a moment of sheer brilliance which proved that the best player in the world at the time was not wearing a white shirt. Picking up the ball on the half-way line, the Frenchman surged past Ronaldo, Mejia, Guti and Ramos on his way through to the Spanish penalty area, before slotting the ball past the helpless Casillas in the Madrid goal. The Bernabeù was silenced as Henry celebrated with his young team-mates.
Madrid offered very little in retaliation as skipper Raùl was sprung from the bench to try and save his team but to no avail. Incredibly, Arsenal continued to threaten and very nearly added a second near the end when Abou Diaby, another fresh face, saw his shot saved by the in-form Casillas.
Many felt that the Galaticos would pick themselves up and teach Arsenal a lesson in the second leg back in Highbury. However, Arsenal remained solid and held Madrid to a 0-0 draw which saw Arsenal progress to the quarter-finals. Many believe that it was this defeat which signalled the end of the “Galatico era” in the Spanish capital as Zidane retired at the end of the season with Beckham, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos all departing the Bernabeù the following year. Meanwhile, Arsenal defeated Juventus and Villareal in the following rounds to reach their first ever Champions League final in Paris. They put up a brave performance against the FC Barcelona of Ronaldinho but eventually succumbed to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Catalan giants.
Pundit Arena, Adam Davern.
Featured Image By KTo288 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.