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'There have been more talented teams but no one beat us in terms of team spirit and togetherness'

15 years on, Dietmar Hamann looks back on Liverpool’s incredible 2001 Uefa Cup victory over Alaves during their treble-winning season.

Soccer - UEFA Cup - Final - Liverpool v Alaves The Liverpool players lift the Uefa Cup in 2001. Source: EMPICS Sport

DIETMAR HAMANN WAS involved in some pretty epic finals during his playing days at Liverpool.

That unforgettable night in Istanbul, when the Reds somehow pulled off the most unlikely of comebacks against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final immediately springs to mind.

Then there was the dramatic penalty shootout win over West Ham in 2006 after Steven Gerrard’s injury-time piledriver had made it 3-3 in one of the greatest ever FA Cup finals.

Before both of those dramatic triumphs, however, the former German midfielder, who spent seven years on Merseyside after joining from Newcastle United in 1999, featured prominently in the club’s treble-winning side of 2001.

Under Gerard Houllier, Liverpool had already overcome Birmingham City in the League Cup final before a brace from Michael Owen saw them get the better of Arsenal and lift the FA Cup at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

In Europe, Olympiacos, Roma, Porto and Barcelona were all sent packing as they booked a place in the Uefa Cup final at the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund — where surprise package Alaves of Spain awaited.

It was certainly a crazy final,” recalled Hamann on the 15th anniversary of that game yesterday.

“We had a couple more against the likes of Arsenal and West Ham in the FA Cup. But yeah, there were a few epic ones.”

While Liverpool’s two-legged semi-final win over a star-studded Barca side, which featured the likes of Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique, Patrick Kluivert and Rivaldo, was the most impressive en route to the final, Hamann remembers the fourth round tie against Roma being particularly difficult.

“Barca were tough but when we played Roma they had a really good team,” he says. “We beat them 2-0 over there and then we took them back to our place where we got beat 1-0.

“We could’ve lost four or five-nil so we really rode our luck that night. That Roma team was as good as anyone in the last 15 or 20 years. On paper, Barcelona were a better side but Roma gave us more to think about so that was the tougher of the two.”

Liverpool v Barcelona Hamann tracks current Barcelona manager Luis Enrique during their semi-final second leg at Anfield. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

La Liga outfit Alaves, on their maiden voyage in the competition after finishing sixth in the table, stood in the way a treble on 16 May, 2001.

Although ranked as underdogs, they possessed ex-Manchester United man Jordi Cruyff as well as Romanian international Cosmin Contra and Spanish striker Javi Moreno (who would both join AC Milan that summer).

Soccer - UEFA Cup - Final - Liverpool v Alaves Liverpool's starting line-up that night. Hamann is far right in the back row. Source: EMPICS Sport

Played in front of 48,050, the game got off to a flyer as Markus Babbel headed the Reds into an early lead just three minutes in and Steven Gerrard doubled that advantage 13 minutes later.

It looked as though the Premier League representatives would go on and win the match by a comfortable scoreline, but substitute Ivan Alonso then pulled one back for the Spaniards before the half-hour mark.

And despite experienced midfielder Gary McAllister making it 3-1 from the penalty spot, two goals in as many minutes from Moreno early in the second half levelled the terms.

Houllier had thrown on Robbie Fowler for Emile Heskey midway through the second half and the man nickname God by Liverpool fans produced a clinical right-footed finish with 18 minutes of normal time left to play.

Remarkably, however, Cruyff rose above Gerrard to nod past Sander Westerveld just before the final whistle — sending the game to extra-time and a potential golden goal scenario.

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“We were pretty sure we would win the game because we were 2-0 up but they found a way to fight back and equalised to make it four each in the 88th minute,” adds Hamann.

It went to extra time as the first ever golden goal. We really made it harder than it should have been for ourselves.

“You just have to carry on and mobilise everything that’s in your body. You play 90 minutes, it has been a long night and you’re tired but you just have to keep going.

“We knew that the opposition were very potent going forward and the momentum was probably with Alaves because they had just scored the equaliser.

“So it was a case of forgetting about that. We probably shouldn’t have been in that position but we are still here and one goal can win it.

“It took a bit longer than we had hoped but it came in extra-time so we didn’t need penalties.”

Soccer - UEFA Cup - Final - Liverpool v Alaves Cruyff makes it 4-4. Source: EMPICS Sport

With a shootout looming, Liverpool were handed the incentive as Alaves had two players, Brazilian Magno Mocelin and captain Antonio Karmona, sent off.

As the clock struck 116 minutes, McAillister, who was man-of-the-match on the night, lofted in a free-kick from out wide and Delfi Geli put the ball into his own net to hand the Reds the trophy.

A free transfer from Coventry City the previous summer, the Scot’s influence on that team can not be underestimated.

“He just fit in perfectly well,” Hamann says of his former midfield partner. “We had a good spirit and we were a pretty young side. I was probably one of the oldies in 2001 at 27 years of age, so Gary added a bit of experience and slotted in nicely.”

Liverpool v. Alaves Gary McAllister brought experience to the young Liverpool team. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Hamann openly admits that other teams may have possessed more natural ability than that side, but he insists that what they lacked in that area, they made up in others.

We had togetherness and spirit, and that got us through a lot of games,” he explains. “We were willing to sacrifice ourselves for the team and put our best foot forward by doing what was good for the team.

“Over the years, there have been more talented and gifted teams than us but I don’t think anyone beat us in terms of team spirit and togetherness and that got us through a lot of sticky situations over the years.”

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