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The Last Champions League Final In Paris: The One That Got Away For Arsenal

The Last Champions League Final In Paris: The One That Got Away For Arsenal
By Jonathan Byrne Updated

With the Champions League final coming up tonight in Paris, here's a look at the last Champions League final at Stade de France in 2006.

Stade de France was no stranger to hosting big European nights. It was the chosen venue for the first-ever Champions League final between two teams from the same country.

Real Madrid ran away 3-0 winners over Valencia that day in 2000. Six years later, the domestic picture in Spain looked very different, with Madrid at the tail-end of the Galácticos era.

The Background

Barcelona headed into the competition off the back of La Liga success and topped their group, being very much the in-form team in Europe during 2005/2006.

For Real Madrid, it was a tale of being second best. They finished second in La Liga in 2005 and followed that up by coming runner-up in their Champions League group.

A second-placed finish set up a Last 16 meeting with Arsenal. The Gunners weren't quite The Invincibles, but they meshed a fine mix of youth with experience that year.

Arsenal had topped their group and hadn't lost a game so far in the competition. Real Madrid had never lost to an English club at The Bernabeu. It made for an intriguing occasion.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzV4Ad5pwU4

With the likes of Ronaldo, Beckham, and Zidane at their disposal, the Spanish giants still couldn't contain Thierry Henry as his goal was the difference between the two legs.

Barcelona, on the other hand, overcame Premier League champions, Chelsea, over two legs. That featured a breakthrough European performance from the man known as Messi.

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The Catalans faced the challenges of Benfica and last year's Champions League runner-up AC Milan in the quarter and semi-finals subsequently but passed with flying colours.

Arsenal were faced with overcoming Juventus in the quarter-finals and surprise package Villareal in the final four. They didn't concede a single goal in the knockout stages.

Barcelona were starved of European success for fourteen years, and Arsenal had never lifted the big trophy in European competition. The Champions League final stage was set.

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The 2006 Champions League Final

Arsenal's maiden Champions League final appearance was their first as a club and the first of any team from London. Barcelona hadn't made it to the decider since 1994.

Both teams shared an identical group stages point tally of sixteen, having won five and drawn one. They were undefeated and deserved their places in Paris.

Barcelona were donned with the favourites tag due to their attacking talent. The likes of Ronaldinho, Deco, Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi were difficult to contain.

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Arsenal came into the final off the back of a string of well-drilled defensive displays. They hadn't conceded in ten games and 919 minutes which was a competition record.

The Spaniards were dealt a blow with the news that Lionel Messi hadn't recovered from a thigh injury sustained in the Chelsea match earlier in the Champions League.

Arsenal, on the other hand, had most players fit and opted to start Robert Pires in his last game before leaving for Villareal, with José Antonio Reyes on the bench.

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How Barcelona lined out. 

How Arsenal lined out.

As the game started, Thierry Henry, playing as a lone striker, had two chances early on that tested the mettle of Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes.

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But it was the keeper at the other end that swung the momentum of the game. Jens Lehmann became the first player to be sent off in a Champions League or European Cup final.

He brought down Samuel Eto'o at the edge of the box after the Cameroonian had cleverly sidestepped the German. Ludovic Giuly slotted it into an empty net but it was brought back for the foul.

The resulting free-kick wasn't converted by Ronaldinho, and Barcelona were left wondering what could have been if they allowed play to continue for advantage.

Jens Lehmann was sent down the tunnel in the eighteenth minute.

It was a physical game, at least from Barcelona's standpoint, as Arsenal were cautioned several times for mistimed tackles. Emmanuel Eboué was the first to see yellow of a few.

But despite being down to ten men, the Gunners were the first to break the deadlock. Sol Campbell chose the perfect occasion for his first-ever goal in the Champions League or in Europe.

His headed effort from a Thierry Henry free-kick sent fans wild at Stade de France. That was all she wrote before half-time, as Barcelona had chances but failed to convert.

Sol Campbell celebrates his first-half goal.

The second-half was fairly routine until Barcelona brought on fresh legs to pile the pressure on ten-man Arsenal. The likes of Andrés Iniesta and Henrik Larsson entered the fold.

Iniesta and Arsenal's Alexander Hleb had shots saved as the minutes went on. But it was Iniesta, who turned 22 a week prior, who ended up being instrumental in the equaliser.

He sent a ball down the wing to Larsson, who found Samuel Eto'o in the box and Eto'o drilled the ball past substitute Manuel Almunia in the Arsenal net.

Samuel Eto'o through on goal.

Only four minutes later and Larsson provided another assist that would lead to a goal. This time linking up with Juliano Belletti who put his shot through Almunia's legs.

Given the player deficit and the energy the Barcelona's substitutes brought to the game, Arsenal couldn't come up with another goal. The game finished 2-1.

Barcelona were Champions League winners and over fifteen thousand watched the match from their Mini Estadia as celebrations rang out across the city.

Arsenal became the first English team to suffer defeat in the top three European Competitions; the Champions League, the Europa League, and the defunct Cup Winners' Cup.

That summer, the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Sol Campbell, and Ashley Cole left the club. It was the end of an era of sorts and a story of what could have been.

See Also: Ranking The Top Ten Champions League Moments Of 2021-22

 

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