Exactly 8 years have passed since Everton played their one and only home match in the UEFA Champions League. August 9th 2005, a date that could have been the beginning of something great for Everton Football Club.
Since the competition was rebranded in 1992, Everton have only qualified for the tournament on one occasion, drawing Spanish side Villarreal in a two-legged final qualification tie, with the winners progressing to the lucrative group stages. Unfortunately for the expectant Toffees, Villarreal (and UEFA) got the result they desired and Everton were left to reflect on what could have been.
Champions League qualification will be seen by many as David Moyes’ finest achievement during his tenure at Goodison Park, but also his biggest failing. After securing fourth spot in the league David Moyes appeared on Sky Sports, dressed in his cardigan and slippers and made a promise to establish a new golden era at Everton. However when the draw was made, Everton were given the most difficult of tasks, a tie against the upcoming and highly fancied Spanish side Villarreal , who at the time were managed by new Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini. Many speculated that the draw suited UEFA, who had been forced to admit a fifth English team after Liverpool had won the competition the previous year but finished outside a qualification place in the English Premier League. The European governing body were loathed to admit a fifth team from one country, but following the threat of legal action, relented and admitted the Reds to the earliest round of qualification. By drawing Everton, the English team with the least experience of the competition against arguably the best side in the qualification stage (Villarreal went on to reach the Semi Finals, knocking out Manchester United along the way), the chances of five teams from England progressing to the group stages were significantly reduced.
The night in question, despite defeat was a special occasion. Goodison was packed to the rafters, as Evertonians who had been brought up on tales of European nights under the Goodison floodlights clambered for tickets to witness the Blues first taste of European action for 10 years. The atmosphere was electric, but despite controlling a large percentage of the play the Blues were left to rue two well taken goals from their high quality opponents. A James Beattie goal did give Everton some hope, but as the Evertonians filed out on to the streets around the ground they knew their European adventure was likely to be brief.
Ian Doyle of the Liverpool Daily Post summed up the occasion brilliantly:
CHRISTMAS may have come early for David Moyes but it was Villarreal who left Goodison clutching the present of victory last night. The raw passion and emotion from a partisan crowd was not enough as Everton were betrayed by a lack of European experience on their return to European Cup football after a 34-year absence. Defeat with honour was not the reward Moyes was anticipating when he revealed his festive feeling ahead of this Champions League third qualifying round tie, the club’s most eagerly-awaited fixture in more than a decade. Now Everton must call upon every ounce of the resilience, determination and character that formed the bedrock of their Premiership success last season if they are to make that final step into the promised land of the Champions League group stages and unlock its vast riches. Villarreal withstood a whirlwind Everton opening and a second-half siege to emerge triumphant, their European nous gleaned from recent lengthy runs in the UEFA Cup proving decisive. Following the friendly mauling against Fenerbahce, this clinical display from the La Liga side was further evidence of the exalted company Everton now face a fight to remain among.
That said, they needn’t feel completely downhearted. This setback was a little harsh on the home side – a draw would have been a fair result – and they produced a fine performance that belied that patchy pre-season form, only to be let down by the worrying lack of final ball evident during those preparatory outings. Ultimately, the extra class that Moyes had feared within the Villarreal ranks told – Juan Riquelme in particular the game’s outstanding performer – as the Spaniards left Everton needing to score two away goals in a fortnight to progress. Former Birmingham City misfit Luciano Figueroa struck in the 27th minute before Josico’s diving header on the stroke of half-time dealt a potentially decisive blow to an Everton side who had drawn deservedly level through James Beattie.
The return leg, which took place a fortnight later was to be one of the most controversial nights in the history of the club as an atrocious refereeing decision denied the heroic Blues the progression their performance deserved. Pierluigi Collina, supposedly the World’s finest referee made an appalling decision that cost Everton hope of victory and ensured UEFA had their wish. A Duncan Ferguson header appeared to have brought Everton level in a tie they were dominating and with the momentum entirely in their favour there would have only been one winner, but Collina identified an imaginary infringement and Everton were sent tumbling out of the competition, never to return.
For those brave enough the highlights of the second leg are included in the video below. It makes painful viewing. Use the comments box to let us know your memories of the tie.