With Liverpool’s record in European competition through the decades, there aren’t many days that do not mark the anniversary of victory against a team from the continent.
On this day in 1996, however, the Reds took part in a nine-goal thriller at Anfield which saw the home side progress to the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
They were bidding to win the now-defunct competition — a trophy which Liverpool have never lifted, for all their history in Europe — and were in prime position for a place in the last eight after a 2-1 victory in the first leg of the second round against Swiss side Sion.
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With a lead in the tie and an Anfield crowd behind them, Roy Evans’ side’s progression was expected to be little more than a formality. Opposition manager Michel Decastel made sure that his players gave the four-time European Cup champions a tough evening.
Instead of easing away from their inferior opponents, the home side — and home crowd — were stunned when the visitors went two ahead in the first 20 minutes through strikes from Frédéric Chassot and Christophe Bonvin. Suddenly, the English side were behind on aggregate and the Swiss were dreaming of a famous upset.
The script had gone out of the window. Liverpool, flying high in the Premiership at the time, were in danger of being dumped out of the competition by a Sion outfit bidding for domestic glory along with an unlikely run in continental competition.
Luckily for the 38,500-strong Anfield crowd, they wouldn’t have to wait for long to see the Reds reply. Steve McManaman found the back of the next before the half-hour mark and Stig Inge Bjørnebye restored the overall lead with a well-struck free-kick after half-time.
But the visitors refused to lie down, and the excellent Chassot raced clear to skip around goalkeeper David James and pass the ball into the back of the net. Sion had the lead on the night once again, and the away goals rule meant that they would have progressed if there was no reply in the net 25 minutes.
Sadly for them, it would take less than 60 seconds for the retaliation. A John Barnes strike tipped the balance of power once again in a topsy-turvy affair, before Robbie Fowler found the net twice in a minute to finally put the Reds’ progression beyond all doubt.
Patrick Berger put the icing on the cake with one minute left of normal time to send his side through after an enthralling tie which finished 8-4 on aggregate. It kept Roy Evans’ hopes of being the first Liverpool manager to guide them to Cup Winners’ Cup glory alive, but in the end it was not to be.
The quarter-final brought little trouble as they eased past Norwegian side SK Brann, but fell at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain in the last four. A 3-0 defeat in France in the first-leg put the tie beyond the Reds, who could not find enough to progress to the final despite a 2-0 win back at Anfield.
The famous stadium has seen some glorious victories and incredible comebacks down the years — most notably against Barcelona last season — and while this victory over Sion will not be put in the same category, it was certainly one of Anfield’s craziest nights.