Zinedine Zidane awoke, ten years ago to this Tuesday, having inspired Juventus to back-to-back Serie A titles, dazzled for La Vecchia Signora as they edged River Plate in the Intercontinental Cup, produced one of the greatest individual performances in FIFA World Cup Final™ history as France upset Brazil, and helped Les Bleus conquer UEFA EURO 2000.
Curiously, however, the then 29-year-old playmaker’s stunning collection was devoid of a UEFA Champions League winners’ medal – despite him having had two cracks at the prize. Zidane, indeed, had disappointed in Juve's 3-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the 1996/97 decider and in a 1-0 loss to Real Madrid in the same fixture 12 months later.
The Marseille native was hoping it would be third time lucky on 15 May 2002 - and this time he was playing for the Spanish giants rather than against them. Standing in the way of Vicente del Bosque’s side was a Bayer Leverkusen team that boasted Lucio, Bernd Schneider, Yildiray Basturk, Oliver Neuville and Michael Ballack, and had eliminated Liverpool and Manchester United to reach the showpiece.
The setting was Glasgow's Hampden Park, the scene of Real’s 7-3 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in 1960 in what was widely regarded as the most enthralling final in the competition’s history, and with just eight minutes gone, another emphatic victory appeared on the cards. Roberto Carlos, from just inside the Leverkusen half, unleashed an immensely long throw-in into the path of Raul, who had raced behind the defence and duly slipped a first-time left-foot shot past goalkeeper Hans-Jorg Butt.
Yet this would not be a game in which Real would overwhelm their opponents. In fact, just five minutes had passed before Lucio escaped the attention of Fernando Hierro to head home a Schneider free-kick and make it 1-1. And thereafter, as Luis Figo struggled with an injury which would ultimately cause him to go off on the hour and Raul and Fernando Morientes got little change out of centre-backs Boris Zivkovic and Lucio, Leverkusen took the game to their illustrious rivals and forced keeper Cesar – and his 68th-minute replacement Iker Casillas – into a number of fine saves.
My team played like champions today. But we were undone by one of the most extraordinary pieces of magic in the history of football.
Despite some immaculate touches and mazy dribbles from Zidane, Real struggled desperately to create chances. Fortunately, they managed to find the game’s third and final goal from a chance unworthy of the name – at least to anybody but their incomparable No5.
On the stroke of half-time, Roberto Carlos played the ball into Santiago Solari and sprinted down the line for the return. The Brazilian wingback got there inches before Schneider and, under pressure, hooked the ball high in the air towards Zidane, who was just inside the Leverkusen box. Given the height and angle at which the ball was dropping, and the fact it was behind Zidane and on his weaker foot, he required a minor miracle to even trouble Butt – yet the Frenchman had a major trick up his sleeve. Zidane, indeed, arched his back, swung back his left foot and, employing extraordinary technique, executed a volley which dipped inches under the crossbar to make Real Madrid European champions for the ninth time.
“My team played like champions today,” recalled then Leverkusen coach Klaus Toppmoller. “But we were undone by one of the most extraordinary pieces of magic in the history of football.” Steve McManaman, who came on as sub for Real that day, added: “I don’t know if any other player from any other era could have scored it – it was pure genius.” Present Real president Florentino Perez went even further recently, saying: "That goal in Glasgow is the best in football history.”