FLASHBACK: The last time Barca failed to get out of their UCL group

It’s been 20 YEARS since Barcelona were knocked out in the Champions League group stages – and current boss Xavi was just 20 when a Lee Bowyer-inspired Leeds beat them to second – now they risk a repeat tonight away at flawless Bayern

  • Barcelona are at risk of being knocked out of the Champions League tonight
  • They go to face Bayern Munich knowing they almost certainly need a victory
  • It is 20 years since they last failed to make it out of the group stages in Europe
  • Xavi, the current manager, was part of that team that finished behind Leeds
  • Sportsmail looks back to that doomed 2000-01 campaign for Xavi and Barcelona

Barcelona head to Germany to face Bayern Munich in a game they know could see them booted out of the Champions League before Christmas.  

It has been 20 years since the Catalan side failed to make it out of the group stages of Europe’s premier club competition but Xavi Hernandez’s side know anything less than a win behind-closed-doors in Munich would likely be the end of the road. 

Benfica, who currently sit third, two points behind Barcelona, know victory over Dynamo Kiev in Lisbon, which is seen as highly probable, and defeat for the Spaniards away in Munich would see Xavi’s side dumped into the Europa League.

The last time Barcelona failed to get out of the group stages of the Champions League was 20 years ago when they had Rivaldo (back row, second from left) in attack and a 20-year-old Xavi (front row, second from left) in midfield. AC Milan and Leeds United beat them to qualification

Xavi (middle) is now the Barcelona manager and his side risk a repeat of a group stage exit

Reputationally it would be the latest knock on Barcelona but financially it would have huge repercussions at a time when the club has already been stretched to the limit. 

To remember the last time Barcelona failed to make it out of the group stage, minds need to be cast back 20 years.

Led by Lorenzo Serra Ferrer, the successor to Louis van Gaal at the Nou Camp, Barcelona found themselves in a group with AC Milan, Leeds United and Besiktas. 

Lined with star names such as Rivaldo, Luis Enrique, Emmanuel Petit, Frank de Boer, Carles Puyol, Xavi and others, what followed was a dramatic exit and drop into the UEFA Cup.

Here, Sportsmail recounts that torrid group campaign – and why it serves as a warning to the current crop in Munich tonight.  

Having been beaten semi-finalists in 1999-2000 there was a level of expectation that there would be more of the same the following season – provided they could avoid burn-out.

Serra Ferrer was at the helm in place of the ousted Van Gaal and he went into the group stage campaign urging caution, keen to stress he didn’t want his side to peak too early. 

But when they produced a dazzling opening group game display to batter Leeds 4-0 at the Nou Camp, all this talk of caution seemed all the more nonsensical.  

The four goals were of the highest quality. First, Rivaldo bamboozled Leeds with his tricky skills, then Frank de Boer produced the goal of the night with a stunning free-kick before a late brace from Patrick Kluivert.  

In their first match, a star-studded Barcelona took on Leeds, who made a competition debut

Leeds were simply blown away on the night and Barcelona ran out comfortable 4-0 winners

‘Barcelona are a fantastic team. We knew what to expect, having seen their players on television, but you have to actually play against these people to really know how good they are,’ Leeds boss David O’Leary conceded. 

‘I’m not looking for excuses and I’m not saying we would have won but with other players we might have done better. We simply had too many players back home.

‘I’m proud to have had my first match as a manager in the Champions League at Barcelona, which is a great club, and I hope to be back to give them a better game.’

It was as dominant a display as you’d see and perhaps that was to Barcelona’s detriment because from here on in the problems began to pile up. 

Next up was a trip to Turkey to face a Besiktas side that had never beaten Spanish opposition. 

Problems soon mounted with back to back defeats in the next games, leading to Barcelona fans jeering striker Rivaldo

Champions League football was back at Istanbul’s BJK İnönü Stadium for the first time since 1997 and after being torn apart in a 4-1 defeat to Milan, little resistance was expected when Barcelona rolled into town.

And yet when the final whistle blew the Turkish side were toasting a famous 3-0 victory with Ahmet Dursun scoring a brace. 

Barcelona were stunned. Now everyone in the group was level on three points after Lee Bowyer’s goal gave Leeds victory over Milan at Elland Road. 

‘We failed to see off the opposition when we had them groggy,’ Serra Ferrer said. ‘We have to use this defeat as a lesson.’  

Besiktas was the double-header Barcelona had been banking on. Milan, with legendary figures such as Dida, Paulo Maldini and Andriy Shevchenko in their side, would always be a tough nut to crack. Going head to head in Spain, having been schooled out in Turkey, suddenly looked ominous. 

This was a heavyweight clash with some of the game’s greatest players on display and those lofty expectations, inevitably, led to a nervy and disjointed start.

Having both already lost they knew every result would be absolutely vital – and so when Barcelona found themselves turned over 2-0 on their own patch, Milan producing a masterclass in the art of defending before unleashing a sting in attack, Barcelona’s hill just got steeper. 

Francesco Coco nodded in Frederico Giunti’s left-wing free kick to make it 1-0 before half-time and Oliver Bierhoff scored a header of his own to seal victory in the second half.  

Having been beaten at home, Barcelona needed to respond on their trip to Milan and it took a Rivaldo hat-trick to rescue a point in a 3-3 draw, keeping their knockout stage hopes alive

Xavi, just 20 at the time in the centre of Barcelona’s midfield, was thrown in at the deep end

‘Milan were sharper than us and we have to congratulate them,’ an anguished Barca boss said. 

‘What’s difficult in football is to create the chances, but it makes the difference to actually convert those chances into goals. We had four or five chances to score. 

‘We can win in Milan, you never know.’

Fans were restless now. Defeats to Besiktas and Milan left them adrift of the Italian side and O’Leary’s Leeds – who had just put six past a hapless Besiktas. 

Rivaldo was quickly becoming the scapegoat and having missed a series of opportunities in the defeat to Milan, he became Public Enemy No 1.  

‘The crowd is always right, we must try to make them happy,’ Serra Ferrer said. ‘We must respect the crowd, but I’m on the players side and I’ll support Rivaldo.’

So at the midway stage: three games, two defeats, one win and five goals conceded. 

Fans did not have to cast their minds back to far to remember their 1992 European Cup success and here were Barca, knowing defeat away in Milan, coupled with a Leeds win in Istanbul, could all but rule them out of going through. 

They needed to refocus and a 6-0 rout of Real Sociedad in LaLiga – with all goals scored in the first half – was the perfect preparation in delivering this ailing squad a dose of confidence. 

All eyes were on Leeds as a surprise package and Mark Viduka and Co did well at Elland Road


LEEDS: Robinson, Kelly, Harte, Woodgate, Mills; Bowyer, Dacourt (Burns 75), Bakke, Matteo; Smith, Viduka

SUBS NOT USED: Milosevic, McPhail, Jones, Hay, Burns, Evans, Hackworth

GOALS: Bowyer (5) 

BOOKED: Bakke, Dacourt 

MANAGER: David O’Leary

BARCELONA: Dutruel, Abelardo, Puyol, Reiziger (Gerard 66), Sergi; Cocu, Xavi, Luis Enrique (Garcia 66), Simao; Alfonso, Rivaldo

SUBS NOT USED: Arnau, F De Boer, De La Pena, Gabri, Santamaria

GOALS: Rivaldo (90) 

BOOKED: Abelardo, Enrique 

MANAGER: Lorenzo Serra Ferrer

DATE: October 24, 2000

ATT: 36,721 

It was a barnstormer of a game in Milan and it took a hat-trick from Rivaldo, the villain for Barca fans when these sides met back in Spain, to ensure they fought on in the group stage. 

All the while as Barcelona and Milan went hammer and tong in their six-goal thriller, news filtered through that Leeds had stumbled, drawing 0-0 in Turkey, opening a door for Barcelona.

‘He (Rivaldo) gave the perfect reply to the criticism he has suffered recently,’ said Serra Ferrer. 

‘I for one have never doubted his ability and I am delighted with his performance tonight and with that of the team as a whole.

‘I think we are continuing to improve game by game.’

While Leeds had opened a door it was the cold hard fact that since trouncing the Yorkshire side on matchday one, Barcelona had gone winless in their next three group games.  

There would really only be one opportunity to right the sinking ship – a trip to Elland Road.

The date was October 24, 2000, and momentum appeared to be with the visitors after they followed up their 3-3 draw in Milan with a 2-0 win over Real Madrid in El Clasico.

Leeds, meanwhile, saw the injury list begin to mount and the competition debutantes were beginning to wonder if they really had what it takes to make the knockout stages. 

O’Leary’s side knew one more win would take them through, although having been battered 4-0 in the reverse, that would prove easier said than done.

It was the perfect start under the lights for Leeds, Bowyer putting them ahead inside five minutes for his fourth goal of the competition. 

Leeds’ resilience kept Barcelona at bay for much of the game. An exit was looming for the Catalan side until late salvation kept their faint qualification hopes alive.

Deep into stoppage time Gerard, who had been sent on as a substitute, saw his header rebound off the post and fall fortuitously into the path of Rivaldo, who had the enviable task of firing in. 

Lee Bowyer (middle) put Leeds ahead inside five minutes as Barcelona’s qualification hopes were left hanging by a thread

Five games down and suddenly it was Leeds who felt they had blown it ahead of a trip to Milan. Barcelona simply needed Leeds to lose in Milan and to beat Besiktas. 

‘We now believe that we can achieve our objectives. I am proud of my team – they worked very hard but did not have a lot of luck,’ Serra Ferrer added.

‘We were so near to our aim; leading until the last seconds,’ a devastated Bowyer said. ‘We shouldn’t be going to Milan to get a point to go through. We should have won.’

Serra Ferrer may now have been confident but this was alien territory for Barcelona – fate was not in their hands. 

The odds were stacked against Leeds, granted, but Barcelona knew they would have to rely on a favour.

A 5-0 demolition of Besiktas at the Nou Camp, in which Luis Enrique scored twice, was seen as too little, too late, and when Dominic Matteo nodded leads in front in Italy, the writing was on the wall.

Leeds eventually hung on for a heroic point away to Milan and they sneaked second place, sending Barcelona crashing down to the UEFA Cup. It was quite the fall from grace.

‘We are all guilty, the players and the coach,’ Serra Ferrer said,

Barcelona won their final game but Leeds’ draw in Milan saw them through, sending the Catalans out and the current side (pictured) need to avoid a similar humiliation this evening

‘The team is developing in a good way, scoring lots of goals and playing with a good attitude. The players are disappointed but are confident in the way we are playing the game.

‘We must change the mentality now for the UEFA Cup, which is also prestigious but not as much as the Champions League. We must also think about the league and the Spanish Cup. When you make even one mistake you pay for it.’

Xavi, who was part of that Serra Ferrer team, knows all too well the pain and anguish a group stage exit in the Champions League causes. 

This time destiny is in their hands and they could do worse than channeling the spirit of the Leeds side that went to Milan, against the odds to get a point. Barcelona need a win in Munich and they’ll be through, it’s as simple as that.  

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