Escapades on the Continent – Villa in Europe: European Glory? 2001/02

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Aston Villa win the Intertoto Cup

After defeating NK Slaven Belupo (Croatia), Stade Rennais (France), and finally FC Basel (Switzerland), Villa won their third European trophy – The Intertoto Cup!

This competition (which was merged into the new Europa League in 2008) provided a gateway to the UEFA Cup. However, the scale of success by winning such a trophy is regularly debated amongst the Villa faithful. Is silverware for qualifying to play in Europe’s second-string competition really worth shouting about?

In the resulting UEFA Cup campaign, fans were left underwhelmed by the trophy winners performances when it really mattered.

Worth the hassle?

After taking the long route into the competition, it would’ve been nice to see the team flourish in the competition they had worked so hard just to be in. Instead, Villa were dumped out in the opening round. The summers triumph of winning the Intertoto Cup was rendered useless by many, as Villa showed poor effort in their feeble attempts to bolster the trophy cabinet.

UEFA Cup

First Round, First Leg

Aston Villa 2-3 NK Varaždin

20th September 2001, Villa Park, 27,132

 

In a tie delayed by a week, Villa were drawn with NK Varaždin (Croatia) in the first round of the UEFA Cup.

Catastrophic events in New York, 48 hours prior to the originally scheduled date, had led to UEFA postponing all ties.

Having played Belupo in the qualifying competition, Varaždin were the second Croatian team Villa played in as many months.

Unlike Croat opposition in the Intertoto, this team provided a stern test for John Gregory’s men.

Despite this, Villa were buoyed by summer signings including Bosko Balaban, Mustapha Hadji, and a certain goalkeeper…

Peter Schmeichel had as many European titles on his mantlepiece as Villa had in total when he was recruited in the summer of 2001!

For all the excitement, Villa couldn’t grasp control of the game. Juan Pablo Angel’s goals in the 53’ and 70’ minute were in response to scores from the opposition.

The Columbian was unable to reply a third time when Sasa Bjelanovic scored the winning goal minutes from time.

With three away goals and defeat to overcome, a week later Villa visited the Stadion Vrteska.

First Round, Second Leg

NK Varaždin 0-1 Aston Villa

27th September 2001, Stadion Varteska, 8,000

 

Although only two clear goals would see them through, Villa waited until it was too late before finding the net in Northern Croatia.

Hadji with the only goal against NK Varaždin

An added time strike from new boy, Hadji, saw Villa crash out of the UEFA Cup at the first available opportunity.

Having spent the entire summer trying to reach the competition, Villa faltered at the first hurdle.

At least the team had one European trophy to be proud of?

 

In recent years Dion Dublin talked about his perceptions of UEFA’s marmite competition.

“A lot of people didn’t take the Intertoto Cup seriously, we were in it to win it!”

“I’m proud to say I won a trophy with Villa, albeit one which a lot of people weren’t interested in.”

Maybe not one to put alongside the seven first division titles, as many FA Cup’s, and let alone the European Cup. At least the Intertoto title put smiles on faces.

Graham Taylor was the manager the next time Villa were in UEFA competition. The Intertoto campaign of 2002/03 comes next in the series of Escapades on the Continent.

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