From The Vault: Liverpool v Barcelona 2007 - Featuring Riise, Bellamy, And A Golf Club Bust-Up
It’s been 12 years since two of the most successful clubs in European football last went head-to-head in the Champions League.
The tie, back in the 2006/07 season, proved to be eventful, fuelled by the off-field actions of a couple of Liverpool players.
The clubs, on five Champions League triumphs apiece, face-off once again this week in what promises to be an enthralling first-leg semi-final in Spain, ahead of the return fixture in Merseyside next week.
Double-chasing Liverpool reached this stage last season, before losing to Real Madrid in the Final. Barcelona, in pursuit of a treble, have surprisingly not been present in the last-four of Europe’s elite competition since they bagged their fifth trophy four years ago.
Now back to the 2006/07 duel which came in the round-of-16 when Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona had high hopes of becoming the first back-to-back winners in the Champions League era. The club's star-studded squad contained the likes of Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Deco, and that man Lionel Messi, who is the only survivor from either side.
Liverpool had Jermaine Pennant and Peter Crouch in their ranks.
However, five of the players that featured in Liverpool’s Champions League final triumph over AC Milan in 2005 started the first-leg against Barcelona, including Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.
The build-up to the first-leg was dominated by the now notorious incident between Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise who were involved in an extraordinary bust-up involving a golf club at their Algarve training resort.
With the beers flowing the two players got involved in a minor vocal sparring session, before Riise retired to his room for the night. Shortly after he awoke when Bellamy made an appearance at his door. The intoxicated striker, with a golf club in hand, then proceeded to swing wildly at Riise. He connected on a couple of occasions, to the hip and thigh. (This was Riise’s account in his autobiography ‘Running Man’).
In his own autobiography, ‘GoodFella’, Bellamy said:
"I just whacked him across the backside with the club. You couldn’t really call it a swing. It was just a thwack, really. If I’d taken a proper swing, I would have hit the ceiling with my backlift. Finny (Steve Finnan), by the way, was hiding behind the door at that point.
"I look back at what I did now and I cringe. It was pathetic. It was stupidity of the highest level. It was drunken, bullying behaviour."
During the match itself, Barcelona took an early lead through a Deco header, only for Liverpool to draw level two minutes before the break after Victor Valdes shockingly failed to keep out a seemingly straightforward Bellamy header - the Welshman celebrated with a golf swing motion.
“I thought it was f***ing disrespectful. The celebration also revealed the sincerity of his apology,”
Remarkably, the Norwegian then smashed home the winner 15 minutes from time. Bellamy jumped on his back as the duo celebrated wildly.
“We were euphoric, but that’s exactly it - in a moment like that you don’t think,” Riise said.
Both players also started the return leg at Anfield, but while Barcelona triumphed 1-0 thanks to an Eidur Gudjohnsen strike, Liverpool progressed through to the quarter-finals on the away goals rule.
Rafa Benitez’s men swatted aside PSV in the last-eight, then edged out rivals Chelsea on penalties, only to lose 2-1 in the Final to AC Milan who gained revenge for the defeat in 2005.
Now 12 years later the teams meet again in Wednesday’s first-leg at the Nou Camp, before the second-leg next Tuesday.