This feature is part of Virtuoso
There are plenty more intimidating arenas on planet football than the Camp Nou. An iconic stadium that, despite its illustrious history, has often been compared to a theatre as opposed to a vociferous cauldron; a place where the fans expect to be entertained. From the Johan Cruyff-inspired side of the mid-1970s to the modern-day Lionel Messi era, by and large they have been.
It may be anathema to make such a comparison, given the political and cultural connotations and the fact that the spectacle has been outlawed by the Catalan authorities, but if FC Barcelona is the matador – patient, cruel, and possessing a deadly weapon – then visiting teams are often the helpless bull. A once powerful animal tormented into exhaustion, just waiting for the inevitable, final blow to strike down. On 5 November 1997, Dynamo Kyiv were expected to be the next such victims in a Champions League group match.
Both Dynamo and Barcelona qualified for the group stage of Europe’s premier club competition in 1997 through the qualifying rounds. The Ukrainians eliminated Welsh minnows Barry Town and Danish champions Brøndby, while the Catalans overcame Latvia’s Skonto. After three matchdays in Group C, the sides were at opposite ends of the table, but perhaps not in the positions you would expect. Barcelona propped up the rest with just a single point while Dynamo were unbeaten with seven from nine.
Although Barça were in a poor run of form and would finish the European campaign bottom of the group, they would go on to complete a domestic league and cup double under Dutch coach Louis van Gaal, who had previous form in the Champions League having guided a young Ajax side to glory in 1995.
The Blaugrana were missing several key names for the arrival of Dynamo but the starting line-up that night still contained Albert Ferrer, Sergi, Luís Figo and Rivaldo. The home side’s bench, however, pointed to the depletion of the squad; only four substitutes were named, including a fresh-faced Carles Puyol. This was Barcelona, though. This was the Camp Nou. The crowd expected victory nonetheless and demanded revenge following the humiliating 3-0 reverse in Kyiv.
Dynamo, the outsiders who ruffled Moscovian feathers during the Soviet era, were in the midst of a nine-year championship streak in the relatively new Ukrainian league. However, it wasn’t all rosy in the Dynamo garden, the club lucky to even be competing in that year’s Champions League. In 1995 the Ukrainian champions were convicted of bribery prior to a match in the same competition and were given a three-year ban, later reduced to just one. Despite the domestic dominance, they pulled the emergency chord in 1997, bringing back revolutionary coach Valeriy Lobanovskyi for his third and final spell.
Dynamo’s superstar of the era was undoubtedly Andriy Shevchenko who, despite having just turned 21, had been a first-team regular for more than three seasons. The Barcelona defence must not have received the memo about his quality, allowing him to head home past Vítor Baía after just nine minutes to shock those present, who cancelled out the celebrations of a small pocket of Dynamo fans with the discontented tooting of air horns.
A free-kick was swung in from the right-hand side and it was Shevchenko who proved the most alert man in the box, displaying great movement to reach the ball ahead of the flailing Portuguese goalkeeper to double the visitors’ lead. Arms outstretched, beaming smile; the striker had no idea how much better the night would become for him and his team.
With 32 minutes on the clock, Shevchenko picked the ball up in a central area, looping it out wide before darting into the penalty area. Once again it was Shevchenko versus Baía and, with the ball in the air, there was only one winner. The Ukrainian forward leapt higher than the goalkeeper’s outstretched hands, powerfully steering the ball into the net with his head once again. The goalkeeper perhaps should’ve done better but he lacked Shevchenko’s hunger and desire. It would probably be given as a foul nowadays but, despite half-hearted protests, Scottish referee Hugh Dallas allowed the goal to stand.
Shevchenko completed his hat-trick before the whistle was blown for half-time, bagging from the penalty spot in the 44th minute. Unsurprisingly, it was Shevchenko who won the spot-kick. As he jinked between three Barça defenders with customary balletic ease, he was clipped by Sergi before Fernando Couto made sure as the forward was lurching towards the ground. Despite vehement protests, Dallas had little hesitation in pointing to the spot. Ear-piercing whistles didn’t faze Shevchenko, who purposely ran up before sending the goalkeeper the wrong way, bowing to the small contingent of Dynamo fans.
Sergei Rebrov – who acted as the perfect foil for Shevchenko and later went on to have a less than stellar spell at Tottenham – put the final nail in the Barcelona coffin after 77 minutes to complete the rout. But Shevchenko was clearly the star of the show, tormenting the shell-shocked Barcelona defence with pace, direct running and clever movement. For one night he was the matador; Barcelona the raging, wounded bull. The goals he scored that night weren’t the most aesthetically pleasing he would ever bag, but of his 33 that season were surely up there among the most important and memorable.
It has often been said that Lobanovskyi restricted his players to a rigid system. Perhaps the influence of communism, promoting the collective, affected his coaching ideals. Yet Shevchenko’s performance that night was brilliantly individualistic, albeit within the team framework. The two shared a strong bond and the impact of the coach upon the player cannot be understated.
Dynamo reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League that season, going one better in 1998/99 before being eliminated by eventual runners-up Bayern Munich. The team had gone as far as it could go before the big stars predictably moved on to bigger and better things.
Dynamo’s stunning upset over Barcelona came in the very first year that more than one team from each nation was allowed to enter Europe’s flagship competition. Soon it would be three and four, and teams such as Dynamo, whose exotic unpredictably once made the European Cup so fascinating, were squeezed out in favour of bigger names from the more prestigious leagues as the power became concentrated in the hands of the few.
Shevchenko moved to AC Milan in 1999, becoming a superstar at the San Siro and eventually winning the Champions League in 2003 after scoring the winning penalty following a drab goalless draw against Italian rivals Juventus. In a show of respect, the humble player took the trophy to the grave of his great mentor Valeriy Lobanovskyi, who had passed away the previous year. Without Lobanovskyi, and without the night at the Camp Nou, who knows how Shevchenko’s career may have turned out.
By Dan Williamson
Edited by Will Sharp @shillwarp