Even for regular match-attending football fans, there are some games that generate a particular buzz.
Liverpool v Roma in 2001 was one such game.
Aside from playing one of the best teams in Europe, some of the excitement undoubtedly stemmed from a view that the match represented a return for Liverpool to the really big European occasions, the likes of which had been commonly experienced at Anfield during the 1970’s and 80’s.
A 1996 Cup Winners Cup semi final against Paris Saint-Germain was the highlight of the 1990’s, though the French side were a far cry from the modern day PSG team, and the really big matchup would have occurred in a final against Barcelona – had Liverpool not been defeated in the last four.
In competing in the 2000/1 UEFA Cup, Liverpool were returning to Europe after failing to qualify for the any of the previous season’s competitions.
A relatively comfortable negotiation of early rounds against Rapid Bucharest, Slovan Liberec and Olympiakos helped Liverpool into a fourth round tie in the New Year.
The opponents, Roma, were among the strongest teams in the competition, as well as leaders of the Italian league by a margin of six points at the time of the first leg. They would go on to win Serie A for only the third time in the club’s history – and the first title since 1983, which led to their qualification for the 1983-84 European Cup.
Roma were huge favourites. The Italians were expected to go through, and avenge their 1984 European Cup final defeat by Liverpool in the process.
Not until early in the second half of the first leg did the tie come alive, when Michael Owen scored to break the deadlock. It was the away goal that Liverpool were hoping for, though the final result was even more encouraging for the Reds, thanks to a second Owen goal which doubled the advantage over the hosts going into the second leg.
It was undoubtedly a surprise result, but the outcome was far from over and with attacking talent including Francesco Totti, Gabriel Batistuta and Vincenzo Montella amongst the Roma ranks, there was every possibility of the tie being turned around at Anfield.
Ahead of the second leg, there was an immense level of excitement. Rarely have I felt such huge anticipation in the build up to a match as that which existed before Liverpool took on Roma, and it felt as though everyone travelling to the stadium was conscious to the magnitude of the occasion.
On the pitch, Liverpool still needed a big performance, and it was duly delivered, albeit not without a significant scare in a second leg which involved a penalty being awarded to Roma, before the decision was controversially overturned.
Having already established a lead, it would have provided an opportunity for Roma to level the aggregate score in a match that Liverpool were just about managing to hang on to their overall advantage.
Despite the pressure, Liverpool did succeed in limiting defeat to a single goal, and progressed to a quarter final tie against Porto.
In comparison, the Porto match never felt as big an occasion, despite Liverpool’s opponents being regular participants in the Champions League.
A year later, Liverpool again met Roma in the deciding match of the second group stage. Liverpool started the evening bottom of the group and needed to win by two clear goals in order to progress.
If any further drama was required, the match coincided with the return of Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier to the dugout, after more than five months away from match days as part of his recovery from a heart operation.
Liverpool were irresistible against Fabio Capello’s men, who were again playing as well as any team across the continent, and the 2-0 win was enough to put the Reds through.
Had Liverpool gone on to win the Champions League – at their first attempt – it might have gone down alongside the greatest nights ever witnessed at Anfield.
As Liverpool stand on the verge of another appearance in the final of the European Cup, Roma are once more the team standing in the way.
The quarter final win over Man City has already created one great night at Anfield this season, and last week’s dramatic semi final first leg added another occasion to a growing list of unforgettable nights at one of Europe’s most famous arenas.
But to truly mark it alongside the very biggest of European nights, Liverpool need to go on and lift the silverware on offer – just as they did in 2001.