On this day 18 years ago: Asprilla writes name in Newcastle folklore

Newcastle United arrived in the Champions League with a bang back on September 17th 1997, and they had one man to thank.

The pessimistic Newcastle United fan might look back on Faustino Asprilla’s stint on Tyneside with regret.

They would argue that the arrival of the Colombian, mid-way through the ill-fated 1995-96 Premier League campaign, disrupted Kevin Keegan’s squad at a key point in the season.

The rest of us, however, will recall the European nights in which the South American starred with much fonder memories.

A tie-winning brace against Metz in the UEFA Cup, which Asprilla celebrated by taking his shirt off and hanging it aloft from the corner flag, is such a moment.

But even that pales in comparison to one very special night in the Champions League on September 17th 1997.

It was the night that Newcastle hosted a Barcelona team managed by Louis van Gaal in the first group game of the newly reformatted version of the competition.

It was also the scene of arguably Asprilla’s greatest ever performance in the black and white of the Magpies.

To put the Colombian’s feat into some perspective, it’s worth noting that he remains one of only seven players to score a hat-trick on his Champions League debut.

Other notable additions to that exclusive club include Marco Van Basten, Wayne Rooney and, somewhat bizarrely, Yakubu Aiyegbeni.

But looking back at the goals, it’s worth highlighting not only Asprilla’s sensational finishing but the fine work of Keith Gillespie and his assists for the second and third goals.

Among the lesser heralded members of Keegan’s swashbuckling side, the former Manchester United youth star was sensational form, producing two superb crosses that made Asprilla's job that much easier.

The Colombian took his chances well, though, and it’s worth noting that while Alan Shearer’s goal record easily eclipsed that of Asprilla at the club, he never enjoyed a European night quite like this.

Late goals from Luis Enrique and Luis Figo threatened to spoil the party but in the end Newcastle held on for a famous win.

Finishing third in a tough group that contained PSV Eindhoven and Dynamo Kyiv with Andriy Shevchenko in his pomp, it remains a night to remember for all involved.

It would prove to be Asprilla’s last great hurrah for the Toon, with the Colombian returning to Parma in Italy a couple of months later.

But with nine goals in 11 European outings, he still remains a hero on Tyneside.

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