The mentality of clubs in the latter stages of the Champions League is to stay alive and win at all costs.
Leeds United realised as much in 2001 when Real Madrid surrendered class and dignity in pursuit of a favourable knockout draw.
A 3-2 win at The Bernabeu – the result which form and the bookmakers predicted – saw Madrid advance into the tournament’s last eight as winners of Group D.
But the Spanish club were forced into a frantic PR exercise after a moment of blatant cheating by their poster boy, Raul.
Leeds were a goal up after seven minutes, given the advantage by Alan Smith’s finish on the counter, when Raul turned a free-kick into United’s net.
It was clear in real time that the forward had used a hand and replays left no doubt at all.
Referee Ryzard Wojcik failed to spot the offence but was made aware of it at half-time.
He apologised to United’s players and coaching staff after the game and UEFA charged Raul with ‘unsporting behaviour’ after receiving Wojcik’s report.
Madrid, the European Cup holders, tried to water down the controversy but with no success.
Wojcik said Raul had admitted handling the ball but Raul himself contested that claim, saying: “The referee spoke to me but he spoke in English and I didn’t understand him.
“There’s no way that I touched the ball with my hand. No way.”
UEFA disagreed and its disciplinary department banned Raul for one match while fining him almost £8,000. It was justice of sorts but little consolation for Leeds.
Leeds manager David O’Leary, however, refused to be critical of Wojcik, admitting he had not seen Raul’s handball himself.
“I take my hat off to the referee as he did come into the changing room and apologised to every player about the incident,” O’Leary said.
“That took a very brave man and I give him credit for it. But you cannot legislate for Madrid’s first two goals.”
It was through no shortage of fortune that Madrid led 2-1 at half-time.
In the 41st minute, Luis Figo broke down the right wing and delivered a cross towards United’s front post.
Lucas Radebe had the ball covered and Nigel Martyn was positioned behind him but the ball struck a divot in the turf and deflected wildly into Martyn’s net.
O’Leary rallied his players at the interval and their response was rapid.
Nine minutes into the second half, Mark Viduka levelled when he ran in unmarked to head home Ian Harte’s corner.
Leeds sensed the opportunity for another telling win but Madrid drew blood decisively five minutes later when Figo put up a delicious cross which Raul glanced across Martyn.
O’Leary was aggrieved at the end but delighted to realise that Leeds had qualified for the last eight regardless.
“Real are an excellent side and they won’t be far away from retaining their title,” he said.
“I can only judge from my own team’s performance and we threatened all the time. The lads were fantastic.”
Real Madrid 3
(Raul 7, 59, Figo 41)
Leeds United 2 (Smith 6, Viduka 54)
Champions League Group D Tuesday, March 6, 2001
Real Madrid: Cesar Sanchez, Geremi, Hierro, Karanka, Solari, Makelele (Savio 87), Celades, McManaman, Figo, Morientes (Munitis 75), Raul. Subs: Casillas, Salgado, Guti, Tote, Rivera.
Leeds United: Martyn, Harte, Radebe (Kelly 65), Ferdinand, Matteo, Bakke (Wilcox 85), Dacourt, Batty, Kewell, Smith, Viduka. Subs: Robinson, Burns, Maybury.