By the summer of 2000, Leeds United were already a force to be reckoned with in English football.
David O’Leary’s men headed into Champions League qualifying having finished third in the Premier League in the 1999/2000 campaign and were established among England’s elite.
However, the club had not threatened the upper echelon of Europe since the 1970s and challenging in the Champions League was the next step for the Whites.
Their 2000/2001 Champions League campaign began 21 years ago to the day, with a 2-1 win over German outfit 1860 Munich in the first leg of the final qualifying round.
Despite the win, there was a feeling of trepidation in the air, blended with despair considering the manner of the victory and the dilemma the club faced heading into the second leg.
O’Leary was anything but upbeat following the win, appearing deflated and frustrated.
As reported by the BBC, he said: “I’m not very confident about going through. I’m not being defeatist, I’m just being realistic.
“It’s no way to be going into the biggest game the club has had without nine players.”
Leeds went into the first leg plagued by injuries and seven players were unavailable to O’Leary.
Fortunately, there was still enough firepower amongst the available players to see off 1860 Munich but the squad certainly did not need to be stretched further ahead of the second showdown.
The Whites were cruising at Elland Road, 2-0 up against a 10-man 1860 Munich and it was a simple case of seeing out the game.
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However, matters are rarely straightforward when it comes to Leeds United and chaos soon ensured when referee Costas Kapitanis showed red cards to Olivier Dacourt and Eirik Bakke.
The visitors then pulled one back in the final minute, setting up a tense scenario heading into the second leg.
Dacourt and Bakke would miss out through suspension, adding to O’Leary’s availability woes and raising doubts as to whether he would be able to name a full substitutes bench.
He said: “I don’t mean this as a joke, but I don’t know what side I can field for that game.
“I don’t know whether I’ve got seven players for the bench given that I’ve now two more midfielders out to add to the list of long-term injuries.
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“The only fit midfield player I will have for the game is Lee Bowyer because I really don’t see anybody making a comeback from injury in time.”
Leeds went on to cope with absences, securing a narrow 1-0 victory at the Olympiastadion in the second leg to book a place in the group stage.
It marked the beginning of a special chapter in the club’s history, as O’Leary’s youthful side embarked on a stunning run to the semi-finals of Europe’s elite competition.
The game also provided debuts to Dacourt and Mark Viduka, two players fondly remembered for their contributions in what one of the best eras for the club outside of the Revie days.
The supporters inside Elland Road did not know it but that game marked the beginning of a special journey, one which would be talked about for years. It would go on to be used as a way to remind those who began their love affair with Leeds in the League One era that the club was a sleeping giant.
Tales of European adventure and Viduka’s goal-scoring exploits remain alive in pubs across Leeds today and will undoubtedly make a return to the stands of Elland Road when it once again welcomes a full crowd.
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