He overtook former ‘keeper Ray Clemence’s appearance record in European competition by playing his 81st game in a 2-2 draw against Swiss side BSC Young Boys.
Clemence left Liverpool in 1981 after the European Cup final success over Real Madrid having played 80 games for the club on the continent. Pepe drew level with Ray last month when he played at Anfield in the Europa League defeat to Italian team Udinese. He had waited a while to surpass the record having being side-lined through injury – missing both legs with Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala. Had it not been for the hamstring problem then Reina would of likely already broken Ray’s record after featuring in all but one of the Europa League Group A games.
Pepe‘s Liverpool debut, coincidentally, came in European action in the European Cup in July 2005. 56 days after the club triumphed in Istanbul, when the defending champions played host to Total Network Solutions – now known as The New Saints – in the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round first leg. The Reds went on to win the game 3 -0 after a superb hat-trick from captain fantastic Steven Gerrard.
In Pepe’s first season with the Reds he played a total of 13 times in Europe, playing against the likes of Real Betis, Chelsea and Benfica. I bet he was surprised by the stadium extremes, for example The Racecourse Ground in Wrexham, being completely different to Stamford Bridge or the Estadio da Luz in Portugal.
The 2006/2007 season in Europe saw Pepe play a vital part in getting LFC to the Champions League final in Athens – the Reds second final in three years. He played in all the games including the final which was a rematch against AC Milan. The Road to Athens started with the 3rd round qualifying game at Anfield against Maccabi Haifa, then games against PSV Eindhoven, Galatasaray, and Bordeaux in Group C before the knockout stages kicked off with the Reds being drawn against Spanish giants Barcelona. A magical night at the Camp Nou with the Reds coming back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 (goals from John Arne Riise and Craig Bellamy – remember the golf swing). A winning return for Reina who started his career with the Catalan club.
After Liverpool knocked out PSV Eindhoven over two legs in the quarter-finals we were drawn against Chelsea yet again in the semi-finals. The first leg Chelsea won 1-0 with a goal from current LFC player Joe Cole. The return leg two weeks later was when Reina came to the fore. Daniel Agger scored the goal to make the scores level (1-1) after 120 minutes, and extra time followed, but a penalty shootout was to decide who was going to go to the final.
Pepe saved penalties from Arjen Robben and Geremi allowing Dirk Kuyt to score the penalty to take us to Athens. We were very unlucky to lose the final 2-1 to AC Milan. I remember waiting in the airport for my flight back to Crete (I went on holiday to the Greek Island for a week and flew to Athens with my Dad without a ticket and watched the final in a park aptly named Stanley Park (the things you do for the club you love), and opposite me was Miguel, who was Pepe’s father, and he was talking to a friend who was explaining Pepe’s movements throughout the whole game.
He played against major European teams over the next few seasons. Some cracking games including the 8-0 thrashing of Turkish side Besiktas which is still a Champions League record, Inter Milan at Anfield and at the San Siro. Even the quarter-final games against Arsenal were special European nights.
Who remembers his penalty save against defender Dante, now at Bayern Munich, when we played Standard Liege in a Champions League qualifier first leg. We were 3 minutes away from the game going to penalties at Anfield in the second leg only for Dirk Kuyt to score the crucial goal.
We survived two early scares when Pepe Reina produced superb saves in palming away strikes from Dieudonne Mbokani and Marouane Fellaini
His 50th game in Europe was against the mighty Real Madrid at Anfield were the Reds triumphed 4-0 (5-0 agg). It was a special night indeed.
Pepe has also experienced the Europa League playing against the likes of Atlético Madrid, Trabonzonspur at the Huseyin Avni Aker Stadium and Unirea Urziceni. We even reached the semi-finals of the Europa League in 2010 thanks to Reina making crucial saves in previous games.
His 37 clean sheets in 81 games have played an important role for the team. Pepe has played a vital part in the European success of LFC and his record is something that he should be proud of and I am sure that he will play in many more European matches.
Well Done Pepe!
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