Aston Villa began their Intertoto Cup defence in the summer of 2002. Entering the competition in the third round, Villa faced FC Zurich.
In his second spell in charge, this was Graham Taylor’s first European outing with the Villans.
Third Round, First Leg
FC Zurich 2-0 Aston Villa
21st July 2002, Hardturm, 4,500
Having compromised home advantage due to a Jehovah’s witness convention taking place at their own ground, Zurich moved across the city as Grasshopper’s stadium played host.
The move failed to taint the performance of the Zurich players as Villa made hard work of a kind matchup.
Goals soon after the half-hour mark, as well as in the final ten minutes sank a Villa team missing several players. Steve Staunton, Olof Mellberg, and Darius Vassell were among those allotted extra recovery time for their World Cup involvements.
On reflection, it’s plausible that the combined lack of match fitness and sharpness was responsible for defeat in Switzerland. With the backdrop of the Holte End six days later, the Villans restored order with a commanding display.
Third Round, Second Leg
Aston Villa 3-0 FC Zurich
27th July 2002, Villa Park, 18,349
At the same time Zurich had done in the first leg, Villa opened the scoring in the 32’ minute. Gareth Barry’s free-kick was nodded across the six-yard box by Peter Crouch, for Michael Boulding to convert.
If the first goal was scrappy, the second was anything but. Paul Merson striding through the heart of B6 chipped the ball into Marcus Allback’s path. The debutant crashed his shot in off the bar, smashing Villa level on aggregate.
Finishing the visitors off, Steve Staunton headed in a corner as the game looked destined for extra time.
Villa had overcome a two-goal deficit in style. Next up, they would face French opposition in the form of Lille OSC.
Semi-final, First Leg
Lille OSC 1-1 Aston Villa
31st July 2002, Grimponprez-Jooris, 14,437
In the former (now derelict) home of Lille, Taylor’s men were much the better team – deserving more than the draw they came away with.
But for a last-gasp equalizer from the hosts, Villa would’ve taken an away goal lead back home courtesy of Ian Taylor’s 75’ minute score.
Realistically, a win was no less than Villa deserved. Having defended resolutely for the majority of the game, it was clear the midlands side had the superior players to that of their French counterparts. Nonetheless, the goals were split evenly and the tie was on a knife-edge.
Semi-Final, Second Leg
Aston Villa 0-2 Lille OSC
7th August 2002, Villa Park, 26,147
“Even if we had been 1-0 up from the first game, there would still be a second leg.”
Graham Taylor gave warning to his players, and fans alike. Lille were far from favored to win the tie, however, the manager knew the game was poised finely.
“What we have to do is give Lille more problems, but we certainly don’t underestimate them.”
Going in at the break, a goal down, the manager’s warnings began to feel some weight. On the stroke of half-time, the visitors had taken a deserved lead to control the tie, 2-1.
The claret and blue faithful knew their players needed a rousing team talk. Unfortunately, the Churchillian speech happened in the wrong dressing room.
Lille began the second half as they had ended the first. An early effort was palmed by Peter Enckelman into the direction of Nicolas Bonnal, who capitalized on the keeper’s mistake.
Villa couldn’t breach the French resistance for the remainder of the night; their third European trophy defence collapsed in a disappointing heap. Just as successive European trophies became a distinct possibility, Villa were humbled on their own patch and the dream was over.