Happy Birthday Dom Matteo, Legend of the San Siro
28 Apr 2020 07:07 am, by YorkshireSquare
Today marks Dominic Matteo’s birthday and this year’s birthday comes with added significance. Last November Matteo was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery on a brain tumour. But last week the Leeds United legend received the call he had been waiting six months for, his brain scan was all clear. During these strange times it’s great to hear a positive story and it seems like a good opportunity to look back on that night in the San Siro, when as FIFA said in their tweet Matteo scored a consequential great goal.
On a high from the famous Mark Viduka inspired victory over Liverpool, the battle-weary troops headed for the San Siro and a showdown with AC Milan. Barcelona needed Milan to beat Leeds to get through to the next round but they must have winced when Andriy Shevchenko missed from the spot and choked on their Paella when Dominic Matteo headed in a Lee Bowyer corner to give United the lead just on half time. It certainly silenced the 52,000 crowd as they sat through the half-time break in stunned disbelief! Milan equalised on sixty-eight minutes but resolute defence saw no change to the score-line and, although Barcelona won 5-0, it was of no consequence and United and Milan progressed to the next round at their expense. Real Madrid, Anderlecht and Lazio awaited them in Stage 2. Another Group of Death, with United again outsiders and praying for the return of their absent stars.
Leeds United marched into the second phase of the Champions League with a resolute and determined performance against Italian aces AC Milan at the San Siro Stadium. United skipper Lucas Radebe made a timely return and had to be partnered by Danny Mills in central defence after Jonathan Woodgate failed a late fitness test on his damaged thigh muscle. With both Lucas Radebe and Danny Mills short on match practice they needed to be at their best in the face if quality strikers such as Oliver Bierhoff and Andriy Shevchenko. The odds were stacked against Leeds. Milan had never been beaten by an English team in European competition and had scored in every European game at the San Siro since 1993. Leeds had never won in Italy in six attempts and had only scored in one of those games, against Juventus in the Fairs Cup Final thirty years previous.
The Milan pitch was hardly in keeping with its mythical standing, it was an absolute disgrace but United had brought 6,000 fans with them and they were well in evidence as the teams took to the field. Lee Bowyer was clearly up for the challenge as he shouted words of encouragement to his teammates as Olivier Dacourt kicked off. Danny Mills got an early testing from Shevchenko but he remained cool and ushered the ball through to Paul Robinson. Then Lucas Radebe brought a Serginho run to a rapid halt with a telling tackle. In the twelfth minute Paulo Maldini crunched into Alan Smith, but Lee Bowyer’s free-kick was a poor one and although Gennaro Gattuso needlessly conceded a corner, it came to nothing. It was the first of three consecutive corners as United gained in confidence and when Roque Junior gave away a free-kick on the left Lee Bowyer’s effort was straight into Dida’s hands.
Twenty-five minutes had gone and hardly a direct threat to either goal had occurred, but in the next minute United’s and particularly Gary Kelly’s world threatened to cave in as Serginho tried to shoot past him and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Shevchenko’s penalty smashed against Paul Robinson’s right hand post and United could breathe again. On the half hour Danny Mills was adjudged to have pushed over Oliver Bierhoff but again Paul Robinson dealt admirably with Demetrio Albertini’s well struck twenty-five yard free-kick. The hugely dangerous Serginho brought a flying save out of Paul Robinson when the ball was heading for the top corner but United hit back as Mark Viduka won a corner on the stroke of half-time. Lee Bowyer’s corner from the right was spectacularly headed home at the near post by Dominic Matteo. It was a priceless goal and made United’s chances of progressing much stronger.
Within a minute of the re-start Andriy Shevchenko, who was having a nightmare evening, ballooned his shot from a promising position and then when he set up Serginho, the Brazilian followed suit. Oliver Bierhoff nodded down for Gennaro Gattuso to volley but Paul Robinson again saved the day with a fine save. Robinson again showed his alertness when he saved a point-blank header from Oliver Birhoff but was also thankful to see a deflection from Lucas Radebe of a Serginho cross go wide. Then after sixty-five minutes it was Robinson again to the rescue as substitute Zvonimir Boban’s perfect cross was headed bullet-like by Andriy Shevchenko only for the keeper to pull off another blinding save.
It was inevitable that Milan would get an equaliser and when it came it fell to the player who had caused United the most problems. The exquisite Serginho beat Gary Kelly on the outside before exploding an angled shot which arrowed into the far corner. Leeds replied with a header from Mark Viduka which Dida saved comfortably and a free-kick from Olivier Dacourt which sailed harmlessly over. Serginho once more beat Gary Kelly on the left but this time Paul Robinson positioned himself well as he tried a low shot just inside the near post. With two minutes to go Olivier Dacourt found his way into the referee’s book for a foul on Andriy Shevchenko which automatically ruled him out of United’s next European encounter.
It turned out to be against Real Madrid, just a fortnight later as United embarked on another phase of their glorious escapade to defy the odds, pundits and opposition and get through another Group of death in facing Real Madrid, Lazio and Anderlecht.