FC Barcelona’s first ever meetings with tonight’s Champions League opponent, AS Roma, were in the unusual setting of Caracas, way back in 1953. In fact, it would be the only time the teams had ever played until they faced each other in the group stages of the 2001/02 Champions League.
Played in the Venezuelan capital, the event was marketed locally as the Little World Cup, although the Catalan press seemed to take offence at the rather preposterous billing of what was, for Barça, little more than a summer tour, which also doubled as a motive to make arrangements for the ultimately controversial transfer of Alfredo di Stefano.
It featured FC Barcelona as the holders of the Latin Cup, South American champions Corinthians of Brazil, a Caracas XI (effectively the Venezuelan national side and coached by former FC keeper Ricardo Zamora) and AS Roma, although it is not entirely clear on what basis the Italians, who had finished sixth in Serie A, had 'qualified' for the event.
[[DES_1]]Managed by the Slovakian Ferdinand Daučík, Barça went into the tournament with an air of confidence. Although seven members of the squad had met up with the party after a pair of gruelling internationals for Spain in Argentina and Chile, the Caracas XI weren’t expected to present too many difficulties. But Barça lost that game 3-2, and then went down by the same score to the Brazilians.
July 23 brought the first meeting between Barça and Roma, and in front of 25,000 people, Barcelona won 1-0, the goal scored after 42 minutes when Moreno headed home a fine cross from Kubala.
However, this was a marathon tournament, and after playing each other once, all four teams then had to face off another time. The second round began with an unsightly match between Barça and Corinthians, with the game suspended for fifteen minutes as the two sides exchanged blows following a particularly nasty tackle on Kubala and the Barça players furious at what they felt was an absurdly biased match referee. It ended 1-0 to the Brazilians, who thus kept their 100 per cent record and had already secured the trophy with several matches yet to play.
On July 29, Barça met the AS Roma for the second time. Buoyed by huge numbers of Venezuelans that had adopted Barça as their favourite team, Aloy and Basora scored two fine goals to put the Catalans into an impressive 2-0 lead at half time. But everything went wrong in the second half, and Kubala in particular came in for heavy stick in the press for an uncharacteristically sloppy performance. Panisotto and Gandolfini scored two each to undo all of Barça’s good work in the first half, and it ended 4-2 to the Italians.
Two days later, Barça ended their participation in the tournament with a 3-2 defeat of the Caracas XI to finish in third place behind Roma, second, and the undefeated Corinthians, champions.