He came bearing gifts, too, on the night 97 Christmases seemed to arrive all at once for the Toon Army in the course of the 90 minutes the Evening Chronicle had billed "The Match of the Century."
First, the veteran Barca defender failed to check the charge that led Faustino Asprilla, via the penalty spot, to the opening goal. Then he allowed Newcastle's loose cannon Colombian to slip free and head a second, and a third.
By then, the 48th minute, Asprilla had the nervy Nadal wishing he had done a Dennis Bergkamp and stayed at home. He shares the grounded Gunner's fear of flying, playing dominoes feverishly from take-off to touchdown, but it was the soaring form of Asprilla that had him sweating last night.
As Kenny Dalglish, pilot of the high-flying Magpies, observed: "He looked a tremendous threat up front on his own. He does it well for his country and he did it well for us tonight."
Asprilla, in fact, has made a habit of doing it well on the big occasion. Eight of the 17 goals he has scored since his pounds 7.5m move from Parma have been plundered in European competition.
And it was he, remember, who scored the celebrated goal which jolted another of the Continental giants: the one that ended Milan's 58-match unbeaten run three years ago. He may be a particularly idiosyncratic variation on the enigma theme, but the 27-year-old Faustino Hernan Asprilla Hinestroza is predictably proficient when it comes to getting it right on the biggest of nights. "The qualities of Asprilla and [Keith] Gillespie decided the match," the stone-faced Barcelona coach, Louis Van Gaal, said.
Jordi, the patron saint of Catalonia, clearly was not smiling down on his beloved Barca last night. Tyneside, and St James' match of the century, belonged to the Colombian Geordie.Reuse content