Tonight in Madrid, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich will meet in the final of Europe’s premier cup competition, the Champions League.
The competition is vastly different from the days when it was the European Cup. In those days only teams that had won their national league were entitled to enter, which is ironic in light of the name change.
The first final, back in 1956 saw Real Madrid beat Stade Rheims of France by 4-3. There have been some great finals, and some not so great ones, over the years. So in preparation for tonight’s 55th final, I had a look back at few of the last 54.
Many football fans would class the 1960 final as the greatest of all. Real Madrid secured a fifth successive European Cup by beating Eintracht Frankfurt by 7-3 at Hampden Park in Glasgow. Four goals from Puskas and three from DI Stefano, a ten goal thriller and a crowd of 135,000 to witness it all.
Celtic fans, of course, will disagree. 25 May 1967 was the date and Lisbon was the place. Herrera’s Inter Milan side of eleven Italians was comprehensively outplayed by Celtic’s eleven Scots managed by the legendary Jock Stein. The Lisbon Lions became the first team from outside Southern Europe to become European champions.
There have been some very dull finals too. In the 80s, Steaua Bucharest, PSV Eindhoven and Red Star Belgrade all won the trophy on penalties after forgettable 0 – 0 draws. AC Milan also triumphed in a similar fashion over Juventus in 2003.
Other finals are notable for a variety of reasons. 1974 saw Bayern Munich and Athletico Madrid play the only replay in European Cup final history, with the Germans winning the replay 4 – 0 two days after a 1 -1 draw. Ten years later Liverpool became the first side to win a penalty shoot-out against Roma. Who remembers Bruce Grobbelaar’s spaghetti legs?
The 1985 final was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Fighting between Liverpool and Juventus fans before the game led to many deaths and ultimately to a ban for English teams. The game was almost a footnote but, for the record, Michel Platini scored the only goal from the penalty spot.
Perhaps the best display I have seen in a final came in 1989 when AC Milan beat Steaua Bucharest 4-0. Inspired by the Dutch trio of Gullit, Van Basten and Rikjaard, they destroyed the opposition and could have scored many more if they had wanted to.
1994 saw another amazing Milan Victory, this time against Cruyff’s Barcelona. Again 4-0 was the result; a major surprise considering the Italians were missing a host of players including Marco van Basten, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta, Jean-Pierre Papin and Brian Laudrup!
Perhaps the greatest comeback came in the 2005 final in Istanbul. Favourites AC Milan (yes them again) were three goals up before half time. But Liverpool scored three times in the first fifteen minutes of the second half to level the tie and ended up winning on penalties.
Manchester United secured the cup in 1999 with two late goals to beat Bayern Munich. The Germans had gone ahead in the sixth minute and had many chances to extend their lead before injury time goals from Sherringham and Solskjær turned the game on its head.
And the 2002 final at Hampden will be remembered for one of the great goals: a stunning left foot volley by Zenidine Zedane for Real Madrid for the winner against Bayer Leverkusen.
There were many other fine displays in finals too: Ajax won three in a row in the early 70s playing some great football, Liverpool had wins inspired by Keegan in 1977 and Dalglish in 1978 and Henrik Larsson turned around the 2006 final where Barcelona came from behind to beat Arsenal 2 – 1.
Some great memories there for all football fans. So where will tonight’s game rate against those of the past? I’m hoping for a few goals and a final to remember!