“Those kind of things don’t make any difference on the pitch,” offers Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, possibly more in hope than expectation, to a room full of journalists frenzied by news of a booze-fuelled scandal behind the scenes.
The Spaniard is being grilled about a mid-season training camp in the Algarve that descends into farce when a team bonding night in front of the karaoke machine takes a bizarre, violent turn that would become infamous in the club’s history.
“[Craig] Bellamy burst into the room and battered [John Arne] Riise like a madman,” roars a double-page spread in the News of the World.
“He laid into him with a golf club for refusing to sing,” it continues, revealing in detail the unbelievable sequence of events that allegedly transpired behind closed doors on the sleepy southern coast of Portugal.
The incident has left Liverpool fans reeling. It is a transgression timed to imperfection, an intervention with the potential to cause maximum disruption ahead of the team’s most important game of the season: Barcelona, away, in the Champions League.
Even Benitez, a man almost genetically predisposed to repel controversy, admits the situation is less than ideal preparation, tearing his focus away from a monumental looming tactical battle to play peacemaker among his warring troops.
"It was a shame it had to happen, but it doesn't matter now,” he says, reflecting on the chaos as he sits before the world’s press in the bowels of Camp Nou less than 24 hours before his team take to the hallowed turf outside.
"They apologised and the atmosphere is good. We are ready for the match."
With the inescapable falsetto of Mika’s Grace Kelly ringing in the ears of a nation still stung by the embarrassment of a first Ashes series whitewash defeat since the 1920s, Liverpool return home to Merseyside following their own disappointment.
An unsuccessful assignment in the north-east sees a six-game unbeaten Premier League streak come to an untimely end on a wet February afternoon at St James’ Park, ordinarily the site of many a happy memory for travelling Liverpool supporters.
This time, however, Newcastle triumph, inflicting a 2-1 defeat on future Toon manager Benitez thanks to goals from Obafemi Martins and Nolberto Solano. It is Liverpool’s final taste of competitive football before travelling to the heart of Catalonia in a bid to upset the apple cart against the Champions League holders, Barcelona, in the last 16.
Having also conquered La Liga the previous season, confidence is high among the Barcelona hierarchy that Frank Rijkaard can steer the team through to the quarter-finals of the tournament unscathed despite being drawn against the five-time winners of the competition.
"I am happy with the draw, Liverpool are a team that I had a preference for in order to face at this stage,” Barca president Joan Laporta tells the press after the tie is announced.
"Liverpool are powerful opponents who play very physical football and have players that we know very well, such as Luis Garcia and Xabi Alonso.
"Let's not forget, we are the team to beat this season."
Seemingly with little worry about matters on the pitch, the brash executive adds: "It's the city where the Beatles were born and it will be very interesting.
"I really like the Beatles and I think it will be very entertaining to go to The Cavern and visit the city, it will be an added incentive in this draw."
His comments surprise some in the Liverpool camp, including Benitez himself, who feels that despite a season of mixed fortunes in the Premier League, his side are more than capable of causing an upset.
The Reds sit third the table, 13 points off the pace being set by leaders Manchester United, but they have shown their European nous countless times already under Benitez – most notably in their unforgettable run to the trophy two years earlier.
However, it is clearly a belief not shared by the Barca chief.
“It is very easy to have ‘a preference’ to face a team when the game will not be held for three months,” Benitez writes in his autobiography, Champions League Dreams.
“I was confident that we would get better as the season progressed, both at home and abroad.
“Maybe it was the best draw for Barcelona in December. By February, perhaps Laporta’s view would be somewhat different.”
An early exit from both domestic cup competitions affords the Reds a rare privilege during the relentless slog of the football season: 11 days without a fixture.
Keen to take advantage of the opportunity, Benitez informs the players to pack their bags and head to the airport to begin a week of warm weather training at the luxurious Vale do Lobo resort in the Algarve.
A picturesque holiday destination favoured by many a travelling Brit, the region is home to around 500,000 residents year-round.
During the blazing hot summer months, ten times as many tourists can pile through the gates at Faro airport seeking to enjoy the wares of a province renowned for its culinary delights.
In the middle of February, however, the Algarve is quiet: a safe haven for the squad with few distractions, Benitez believes.
The trip begins in unremarkable fashion, providing the players with a well-timed rest in the somewhat balmier climate of the Portuguese Atlantic coast while allowing Benitez and the coaching staff to devise a plan ahead of their Champions League return.
Sat around in the sun, the Reds watch on from afar as title rivals Arsenal and Man Utd are both taken to a replay in the fifth-round of the FA Cup by lesser opposition - excellent news for Liverpool’s hopes of finishing in the top two as it causes further complications in the fixture lists of their domestic adversaries.
Spirits are high around the camp but the tranquillity disarms Benitez.
It’s Thursday and, after a productive few days, the stern headmaster relaxes his curfew and permits the team to venture from the resort for a couple of drinks over dinner at a nearby bar.
Club captain Steven Gerrard leads the players-only excursion, booking a private room at the venue populated by a long dining table and, perched ominously in the corner, a karaoke machine.
Drinks begin to flow. The food is yet to arrive, but the alcohol has already stamped its mark on many of the players.
There are characters in this team: Peter Crouch, the giant robot-dancing striker; Jermaine Pennant, the fleet-footed playboy winger; Jerzy Dudek, the eccentric Polish stopper.
Even local lads Gerrard, Robbie Fowler and Jamie Carragher play their part in the team dynamics, forming the Scouse nucleus of a global squad boasting more than 15 different nationalities.
But it is summer signing Bellamy, the firebrand Welshman whose off-field infamy would cast a shadow over his performances on the pitch, who picks up the mic first.
Keen to enjoy the evening, Bellamy invites Norwegian team-mate Riise to join him in a duet.
“I might have said it a couple of times. He said he didn’t want to do it,” Bellamy writes in his autobiography.
“I mentioned it again and he snapped. He got s****y about it. He got up and started shouting. ‘Listen,’ he yelled, ‘I’m not singing and I’ve had enough of you banging on about it.’”
Not long after, Riise brings his night to an end, deciding to return to the hotel with Finnish defender Sami Hyypia in a taxi after promising to leave his bedroom door unlocked for still-partying room-mate Daniel Agger.
“I woke in the dark to hear someone opening the door,” Riise recalls in his own autobiography.
“Obviously I thought it was Agger. I turned, but my eyes were half-asleep and I didn’t see anything in the sudden, bright glare. But something made me realise that it wasn’t Agger. And soon I could see him – Craig Bellamy at the foot of my bed with a golf club in his hands.
“Steve Finnan, who shared a room with Bellamy, was there too, but he just stood there. Bellamy raised the club over his head and swung as hard as he could.
“He tried to hit my shins, which would have ended my career, but I managed to pull my leg away in time.”
But the encounter is remembered differently by Bellamy, who recounts the episode regretfully in his own book.
“I just whacked him across the backside with the club,” he writes.
“You couldn’t really call it a swing. It was just a thwack, really. If I’d taken a proper swing, I would have hit the ceiling with my backlift.
“I look back at what I did now and I cringe. It was pathetic. It was stupidity of the highest level. It was drunken, bullying behaviour.”
Remarkably, it is not the only incident Benitez is forced to reckon with that evening.
Goalkeeper Dudek, the hero of the Champions League final penalty shootout win over AC Milan two years earlier, is bundled into the back of a police car, seemingly heading for a night in the cells.
He is rescued only by a last-minute intervention from his furious manager after landing himself in trouble with the law thanks to a particularly vociferous protest against the closure of the bar.
It is a night of chaos that rocks the football club, one the team are desperate to keep in-house ahead of their crunch showdown with Barcelona in less than five days’ time.
However, it is a futile task in the modern age. Details reach the press in hours, chumming the Fleet Street waters with news of an irresistible scandal.
For Benitez, retribution must be swift.
Heavy fines hit the pockets of those involved in the fracas, while during an emergency team meeting the next morning, the rest of the squad are reminded of their responsibilities as ambassadors for the football club.
Over the coming days, the incident dominates the back pages. Benitez continues to fight fires, hoping to keep talk focused on footballing matters.
But the damage has been done.
The beginning of the end?
While pre-match talk is dominated by the explosive bust-up between Riise and Bellamy, relations are equally frosty among many in the Barcelona dressing room.
A rift between star striker Samuel Eto’o and fans’ favourite Ronaldinho is threatening to destabilise a club that, less than 12 months ago, cantered to a La Liga and Champions League double.
Often overlooked for individual accolades in favour of his grinning comrade, Eto’o is forced to look on with envy as Ronaldinho rakes in the plaudits despite the Cameroonian striker quietly setting records as one of the Catalan club’s most prolific goalscorers.
Eto’o finished the previous campaign as the top goalscorer in Spain but with tensions also bubbling behind the scenes at board level during that season, his future is beginning to look increasingly uncertain.
He was brought to Camp Nou from Real Mallorca in 2004 by president Laporta, who brokered a deal reported to be worth £21m to prise him away from their La Liga rivals.
However, despite producing returns of 29 and 34 goals in his first two seasons, Eto’o ruffles feathers in his third year at the club by taking an unusual approach to his recovery from a knee ligament injury suffered in September 2006.
Reportedly missing key hospital and physio appointments in favour of trips to Morocco, Majorca, Saudi Arabia, Paris, Cameroon, Algeria and Tenerife, Eto’o is criticised fiercely by former allies within the club, delaying his return to the pitch.
The timeline of his recovery, which had been predicted to take two to three months, is extended to five, throwing his participation against Liverpool in February in doubt.
Hoping to give Eto’o some much-needed game time before the crucial Champions League assignment, Rijkaard attempts to introduce the forward as a second-half substitute against Racing Santander, only to be snubbed by his star man.
Eto’o’s decision is publicly questioned by both Rijkaard and Ronaldinho, the latter of whom suggests he should “think of the team” before himself.
Incensed, Eto’o shoots back in the press, saying: "If a teammate comes out saying that you must think of the team, the first person who should do so is himself."
Barcelona’s league form has done little to camouflage the turmoil behind the scenes either, with just three wins coming from nine games before a scrappy win over lowly Real Zaragoza in a two-legged Copa del Rey quarter-final.
Wary of the team’s current vulnerabilities, Barca chiefs force the team’s two warring stars to engage in a public display of reconciliation prior to Liverpool’s visit. But in a pre-match press conference, Ronaldinho admits he is feeling the pressure of the situation.
“I want to play well all the time but that is impossible; the expectations are so high and when I don't meet the standards expected there is a big weight of responsibility," he says.
"Winning the home leg is important. As we are at home, we must make the advantage count because we are going to suffer at Anfield if we are not in front."
Into the fire
Match day. Thousands of Liverpool fans pack into the Plaça Reial near the historic Gothic Quarter in the heart of Barcelona.
Armed with glasses half-full of optimism – and half-empty of Estrella – the travelling contingent are in full voice, fuelled by nervous energy ahead of the evening’s action.
All round the fields of Anfield Road
Where Once, We Watched King Kenny Play (and he could play)
We Had Heighway on the Wing
We Had dreams and songs to sing
of the Glory round the fields of Anfield Road
The chorus rings around the square, the congregation summoning the spirits of previous European conquests in ritualistic bliss.
Afternoon soon turns to evening and fans from both sides begin to make the pilgrimage towards their very own footballing Mecca.
Camp Nou sits proudly in the west of the city, commanding the eye line of first-time visitors with its mesmeric presence, an indomitable mass in a city of delicate architecture.
The concrete cathedral can house almost 100,000 worshippers – a figure that somehow seems modest in comparison to its 120,000 record attendance, set during a European Cup quarter-final tie against Juventus in 1986.
On this night, its triple-tiered walls are packed to near-capacity as the atmosphere inside the famous stadium slowly builds, simmering and crackling with anxious anticipation.
As kick-off approaches, the two teams make their way through a narrow underpass that links the dressing rooms buried in the backside of the building, climbing a short flight of stairs before emerging on to the pitch to deafening noise from the crowd.
Scouse hymns crash through waves of Catalan chants in the stands; 22 men pose proudly before the cameras, exchanging handshakes in a customary prelude to battle on the biggest of stages.
Benitez emerges from the tunnel moments later, rosy cheeks providing the scaffolding for a pair of thin, round spectacles magnifying an observant gaze.
The 46-year-old tactician is unbeaten in his previous three visits to Camp Nou, all of which came during a successful three-year tenure as Valencia coach that saw him win two La Liga titles.
His team selection springs a few surprises as Liverpool line up in a 4-4-2 that features both Bellamy and Riise, with the Welshman and fellow striker Dirk Kuyt spearheading the attack.
Benitez has briefed his forwards to be aggressive both in and out of possession, energetically pressing Barcelona’s defenders off the ball in the hope of forcing a mistake.
Spanish defender Alvaro Arbeloa makes his first start for the Reds, given the nod in an unfamiliar left-back role with the unenviable task of keeping a certain Lionel Messi quiet, while Riise is moved further forwards to play on the left of midfield.
“The principle was relatively simple,” Benitez writes of his tactical plan in Champions League Dreams.
“Messi, playing wide on the right, favoured cutting inside on his left foot. By playing Arbeloa, naturally right-footed, at left-back, we would be able to prevent him embarking on those dangerous, slaloming runs.
“Arbeloa would have to stick close to his man, too, not allowing him to breathe. If Messi has time to turn, he can inflict substantial damage. We had to be on top of him all the time.”
In full swing
Within seconds of the kick-off, Liverpool make their intent clear: the ball is fired into the Barcelona half with Kuyt and Bellamy hustling and harrying the experienced Thiago Motta into giving away possession deep in his own half.
Riise picks up the loose ball, knocking it past a backtracking Juliano Belletti, who recovers just in time to send a pass back up the line that eventually dribbles out of play.
Arbeloa restarts the game with a short throw to Kuyt, who cushions a chested pass towards Gerrard, allowing the England midfielder to play a sumptuous first-time ball in behind Belletti once again, finding the onrushing Riise.
The ginger winger cuts into the box in acres of space and fizzes a cross towards an unmarked Bellamy, only for the ball to whistle over the Welshman’s head and out of play on the far side.
Match reports later written by many journalists in attendance would show no mention of the short passage of play - but in just a few seconds, Liverpool’s gameplan has been almost perfectly executed.
For the next ten minutes, the pace is sucked out of the game as Barcelona stroke the ball around seeking to get the measure of their opponents with little urgency.
The atmosphere quietens, with the crowd lulled into a low murmur by proceedings on the pitch. So far, so good for the Reds, denying Barcelona the influence of their 12th man.
However, within seconds, the game explodes back into life as two-time World Player of the Year Ronaldinho embarks on a mazy run through the Liverpool midfield, linking up with Messi in a quick one-two on the edge of the box before being felled by a collision with the retreating Finnan.
No penalty, the referee correctly rules, but nerves begin jangling among the away support perched high up in the gods.
Suddenly, the natives rediscover their voices, bellowing their approval after Barcelona’s first attack of the game before Deco is denied an almost certain goal by a heroic block from Carragher.
Pressure continues to mount as Liverpool appear unable to grab a foothold; the magnetic allure of Pepe Reina’s net is almost visible as the ball is coaxed goalwards by the advancing Blaugrana.
Carles Puyol finds Ronaldinho on the halfway line, rolling a pass into feet that the Brazilian dispatches into the path of an overlapping Gianluca Zambrotta with a neat reverse ball.
Sensing the danger, Gerrard tracks the adventurous Italian, diving into a tackle near the touchline that Zambrotta evades with ease, allowing the marauding full-back a window of space at the edge of the penalty area.
He swings an inch-perfect cross high over the three Liverpool defenders occupying the centre of the box, finding the forehead of an onrushing Deco.
Not ordinarily known for his aerial prowess, the 5'8" playmaker powers a textbook finish into the bottom corner past Reina’s despairing dive to hand the hosts a deserved 1-0 lead.
Gerrard marches back to the centre spot looking glum, an expression reciprocated on the face of his manager as Kuyt restarts the game from kick-off.
Benitez’s lips are taut almost white with frustration but he continues to deliver encouragement to the players.
Only minutes after the goal, Barcelona almost double their lead as Javier Saviola shimmies past Carragher before sliding a low finish outside the far post.
“Liverpool are being given the runaround,” commentator Ian Darke notes after a difficult opening 20 minutes.
Focus must be restored. Lesser teams have crumbled after conceding an early goal to Barcelona but Liverpool are quick to show they are no ordinary outfit.
Sticking to the gameplan, the Reds press hard in midfield, winning the ball back through the industrious Momo Sissoko before launching a probing attack in behind Barcelona’s marauding wing-backs.
Their endeavour is rewarded with a free-kick ten yards from the byline wide on the right-hand side of Barcelona’s goal. The dead-ball situation provides the perfect chance to test the hosts’ aerial prowess.
Gerrard arcs a dipping cross over the congregation inside the six-yard box, finding an unmarked Bellamy six yards out on the far side of the goal.
The forward plants his forehead on the cross but can only find the side netting with the flailing figure of Puyol disturbing his concentration.
He holds his head in anguish, gesturing towards the blinding floodlights around the inner perimeter of the stadium.
It goes down as a chance, albeit a tricky one - but the Barcelona defence have been warned.
For the next ten minutes, the pace of game dissipates with both sides looking destined to enter the break separated by a single strike.
But Liverpool are afforded one final aerial assault on goal when Rafa Marquez piles into the back of a jumping Kuyt to concede a free-kick.
As both Gerrard and Alonso discuss the plan of action, Finnan creeps into a wide crossing position, undetected by a switched-off Barcelona, and promptly receives the ball from Liverpool’s quick-thinking Spanish playmaker.
With a glance into the box, he curls a teasing cross towards Bellamy – again unmarked at the back post – who contorts his body to send a diving header on target.
Backtracking in the Barcelona goal, keeper Victor Valdes appears to have the effort comfortably covered, opting to catch the header rather than parry it wide.
The ball dips at an awkward height but Valdes clutches it into his body before sliding into the ground and across the line.
He desperately attempts to release the ball to prevent what would be a bizarre goal – but the referee blows and points to the centre circle. It’s an ugly, unlikely goal, but one Barcelona are given every chance to prevent.
Puyol gesticulates wildly at his goalkeeper, speaking a language that needs no translation as the euphoric Liverpool players pile on top of goalscorer Bellamy in the far corner of the pitch.
He hops to his feet, high-fiving his team-mates before crowning the celebrations with a powerful golf swing.
“I thought it was f****** disrespectful,” Riise fumes in his autobiography. “The celebration also revealed the sincerity of his apology.”
If there are fissures among the Liverpool players in the second half, they do not show.
Upon the restart they immediately work an opening as Sissoko is felled by a clumsy challenge around 25 yards from goal.
Gerrard fires the resulting free-kick low into the centre of the goal but this time Valdes is equal to it, falling on top of the ball to kill it dead.
Minutes later, Liverpool return the favour as Sissoko brings down Deco, a cagey game now reduced to set-pieces as clear-cut chances remain at a premium at either end.
Set-piece specialist Ronaldinho steps up, looking menacing. For once, there is no trace of a smile as the bucktoothed Brazilian zones in on Reina’s net, but his vicious, curling effort sails harmlessly over the bar to whistles and jeers from an increasingly impatient crowd.
Change is needed. When it arrives, eyebrows are raised as the influential playmaker Xavi is withdrawn in favour of diminutive winger Ludovic Giuly – a sign Rijkaard is running out of ideas against Rafa’s resolute Reds.
Still Liverpool press, running themselves into the ground to plug the gaps being probed by Barcelona’s mesmeric passing.
Unexpectedly, they are rewarded once again when Valdes, enduring a nightmare game, inexplicably picks up a backpass to gift the visitors an indirect free-kick inside the box.
Howls of disbelief ring out around the ground before the crowd falls quiet, silenced by anxiety as Liverpool’s two dead-ball specialists devise a plan of action.
Charging on to Alonso’s lay-off, Gerrard thunders a low drive on goal that the beleaguered goalkeeper can only parry out to the channel.
The ball is whisked back into the area by Alonso with a first-time cross on his weaker foot, looping over to the far post towards the waiting Kuyt.
Scrambling to intercept, Zambrotta is unable to prevent the Dutchman from rising high with the goal at his mercy – only for the former Feyenoord man to plant a firm header over the bar.
He throws himself to the ground clutching his hands to his face in horror. Murmurs of discontent begin to ripple through the home supporters doused in blue and garnet.
Agonising screams from the travelling fans cascade on to the pitch below. There won’t be many better chances, surely?
Shortly after Kuyt’s miss, Liverpool are on the back foot again after a tidy spell in possession sees Barcelona on the move down the left flank.
Messi shuffles a sharp pass into Saviola on the edge of the box, allowing his fellow Argentine to step inside, sending a sliding Carragher flying with a deft drop of the shoulder, before poking a shot on goal.
Reina spills the ball into the path of Messi, who dances between bodies as he looks to slide the ball into an empty net, only to be denied by a vital deflection that sends his shot over the bar.
Fifteen minutes remain as Liverpool clear their lines and steel themselves for one final push, still pestering and prodding the hosts in possession.
Under pressure from Liverpool’s tireless forwards, Barca surrender the ball, launching a clearance into the opposition half that allows Reina to set Finnan free down the right flank.
Suddenly, the pitch opens up, with four Liverpool players outnumbering the three Barcelona defenders.
Gerrard clips a probing ball into the box, finding a clever run from Kuyt, but his lunging finish is blocked by Valdes, sending the ball high into the air.
More woeful defending sees Marquez miss his header and the loose ball squirts to Bellamy, who squares it to an unmarked Riise on his weaker right foot.
He swings a hopeful boot at the first-time cross, sending a powerful finish high into the net that stuns the home crowd into silence.
Riise with the goal, Bellamy with the assist - the script is scarcely credible.
High above the pitch, in the upper tier of the open-air arena, the Liverpool fans explode into instant rapture, surely now guaranteed a result beyond their wildest dreams.
Mortal enemies less than a week earlier, Bellamy and Riise now find their names etched into Liverpool folklore alongside one another.
Not even a late free-kick from Deco, which crashes off the crossbar in the dying moments, can prevent this astonishing twist of fate.
The final whistle pierces through dull groans from the stands.
The night belongs to Liverpool. Benitez has executed his masterplan to perfection.
"For 95 per cent of a match, all teams try to do the same against Barca,” he had told reporters in the hours before kick-off.
“How you do depends on the other five per cent, it depends how you counter-attack and how you take your chances.”
Driven by fate
Even the most die-hard of Liverpool fans might have struggled to envisage a reality in which the Reds return home as victors with two away goals in the bag.
Those who did believe would have baulked at the notion their two heroes on the night would be Bellamy and Riise, the reluctant team-mates who had exchanged death threats barely a week earlier.
"It was destiny for both of us I think,” Riise tells reporters minutes after the final whistle.
“Both Bellamy and I have had a difficult run-up [to the game] but we've put it behind us.
"The team is happy. We're going to enjoy this. We put this [training camp incident] behind us very early and we worked hard for the team and we'll move forward."
In the days that follow, Benitez is lauded for his brave tactical gambles. Yet the victory is credit to his influence on the team not only on a footballing level, but on a personal level too.
Clearly inspired by the faith shown in him during a tumultuous affair, Bellamy pays tribute to Benitez’s handling of the training camp scandal.
“There has been no problem [in the squad], we've trained all week. We all know how strict the gaffer is; if there was a big problem, I wouldn't be here,” he says after a stellar individual showing.
Yet if spirits are high in the Liverpool dressing room, the outlook is markedly less positive in the Barcelona camp.
“The champions need a miracle,” Spanish daily newspaper ABC declares as the autopsy begins on a shock defeat.
“They are against the ropes after the slip last night at the Nou Camp, suffering uncomfortably against a hard-working Liverpool, an enemy that was much smarter than the Catalan team.”
The fallout to a narrow 2-1 defeat in the Champions League might seem a little overblown in the context of one game – but this is a Barcelona side that have been teetering on the brink of a crisis for some time.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Having spurned the opportunity to seize control of the tie after taking an early lead, Barcelona’s worst fears are realised when they are unable to overcome the deficit in the return leg at Anfield two weeks later.
They had been promised a memorable night on Merseyside, with Gerrard warning the Catalan club ahead of the first leg: “If we can stay in the tie, there will be a special night in store for Barcelona at Anfield.
“No one relishes coming here in those circumstances. Juventus never [have] and Chelsea never [have] and I don't think Barcelona will. If the tie is alive, the fans will bring the place down.”
Fielding an unchanged team, Benitez has the measure of Barcelona once again on a raucous night in front of the Kop.
Riise and Sissoko both strike the woodwork as the Reds run riot over the Spanish champions in the first half, all but finding the back of the net as the Norwegian wing-back sees another effort cleared off the line.
Barca’s formidable triplet of forwards – Messi, Eto’o and Ronaldinho – are nowhere to be seen until the latter clips the outside of the post shortly after the restart.
Desperately searching for a goal to keep their defence of the Champions League trophy alive, Rijkaard substitutes defender Lilian Thuram for former Bolton man Eidur Gudjohnsen with 20 minutes remaining.
It is a roll of the dice that is rewarded almost instantly as the Icelandic poacher is sent through on goal, rounding Reina before sliding the ball into an empty net.
Thankfully, the goal is of little consequence as Liverpool deservedly hold on to secure their passage into the quarter-finals of the tournament.
PSV Eindhoven are the team tasked with halting Liverpool’s momentum in the last eight but after another blistering performance on the European stage, the Reds take an almost unassailable 3-0 lead back to Anfield for the second leg.
Peter Crouch scores the only goal of the game to seal a 4-0 aggregate win, setting up a mouth-watering all-English semi-final against Chelsea for the second time in three years.
Liverpool had triumphed against the west London outfit on their way to lifting the trophy in 2005 – and they have the beating of their Premier League rivals once again this time around.
An exchange of 1-0 victories for the home side ensures the second leg at Anfield goes to penalties.
Only Frank Lampard is able to convert his spot-kick for Chelsea as Liverpool go through 4-1 winners in the shootout to tee up the seventh European Cup final in their proud history.
The Reds meet 2005 runners-up AC Milan - another bizarre twist of fate that has many fans believing they can repeat their miraculous victory in Istanbul two years earlier.
It is not to be, however, as Filippo Inzaghi nets a brace at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, helping Milan on their way to a 2-1 victory that brings Liverpool’s European dream crashing to an end.
For Bellamy, it proves to be the end of the road, too.
The Welshman is waved off to West Ham just weeks later in a move that delights former comrade Riise, a mainstay at Anfield who goes on to achieve cult status during his seven-year stay on Merseyside.
The same, alas, cannot be said for Bellamy, but his impact during a tornado 12 months at the club is impossible to deny.
It is largely his actions – the good, the bad and the ugly – that ensure the tale of Liverpool’s glory night in Barcelona remains one of the most extraordinary in Champions League history.