If you open this morning’s newspapers, you’ll see that, in the opinion of the hacks, it’s already a foregone conclusion that this year’s European Cup final will be the greatest football match of all time. This may or may not come to pass, but it has some stiff opposition to overcome if it is to join as much as the greatest European Cup finals of all time. Although there were nine consecutive years during the 1970s and 1980s when no-one could manage more than a single goal in a European Cup final (and English teams were the worst for this – the halcyon days of English clubs in Europe featured five successive 1-0 wins for Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa between them), there have been many European Cup finals that have been breathtaking events. Here, in no particular order apart from chronological, are five of the best:
1960: Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt – Real Madrid, of course, owned the European cup in its early years. They had already won the first four competitions by the time of the 1960 final, played at Hampden Park in Glasgow. The signs of greatness were already there. Real had thrashed Barcelona 6-2 over two legs in one semi-final, while Eintracht had beaten Rangers 12-4 in the other. A few weeks prior to this match England and Scotland had played out a dour 1-1 draw at Hampden, blaming a bumpy pitch and high winds for a poor match. Real and Eintracht played out a match which again proved, in its own way, the paucity of British football at the time. With Real’s talismanic pairing of Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas starting to age, there had been open doubt over whether Real’s run was coming to an end, but in 1960 the old hands managed to summon up one more moment of greatness.
1962: Benfica 5-3 Real Madrid – Real’s run in the European Cup had come to an end in 1961 after a first round defeat over two legs by Barcelona, and their place at the summit was taken by Benfica of Lisbon, who beat Barcelona in the final. In 1962, however, Real made it back to the final to play the team that had stolen their crown the year before. Played in front of a crowd of 65,000 in Amsterdam, Real looked as if they had put these Portuguese upstarts in their place with two early goals from the by then thirty-six year old Ferenc Puskas, but Benfica were level at 2-2 within ten minutes, before Puskas completed a first half hat-trick to give Real a 3-2 lead at half-time. With the scores tied at 3-3 in the second half, it took Eusebio to decide the match with two goals in four minutes to win the match for Benfica and draw the curtain on Real’s era of absolute dominance.
1967: Celtic 2-1 Internazionale – Helenio Herrera was somewhat unfairly derided as the don of catenaccio when there was much more to his Internazionale team of the 1960s. In 1967, however, they were beaten by Celtic in a match which seemed to have been engineered to appeal to the football romantic. There was, of course, the fact that all of Celtic’s players had been born in the home dressing room at Celtic Park (or something), but even the venue – the Estadio Nacional in Lisbon – lent to the David vs Goliath feel of the match, a vast concrete bowl surrounded by trees which looked like nothing as much as the Colosseum transplanted to the middle of Portugal. When Inter took a seventh minute lead through a Sandro Mazzola penalty one might have been expected Inter to successfully shut up shop, but romances usually have a happy ending and goals from Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers brought the trophy back to Glasgow.
1969: Milan 4-1 Ajax – In the early 1970s, Ajax of Amsterdam would become the champions of Europe for three years in a row, but they learned a harsh lesson against Milan in 1969. Played, ironically, at the Bernabau, Milan came out with an attacking flourish that laid to rest the cliche of Italian football as being defensive and negative, but with a team featuring the likes of Giovanni Trapattoni and Gianni Rivera, it was Pierino Prati, a name less well known in England but who had been the top scorer in Italian football the previous season, who scored a hat-trick – the last hat-trick in a European Cup final to date.
2005: Liverpool 3-3 Milan (Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties) – The greatest European Cup final ever? Debatable. The greatest comeback ever? Almosr certainly. Liverpool’s win in 2005 was a testament to the dangers of complacency. Milan, of course, were 3-0 up at half-time, and whilst the stories of how it fired up the Liverpool players might be apocryphal, it is well documented that Milan’s players were celebrating at half-time as if they had already won. Liverpool came back into the match in seven insane, exhilirating second half minutes, but the drama didn’t finish there, and both teams had the chance to snatch it in normal time and extra-time before it went to penalties. Even in the penalty shootout, things didn’t go according to the script. Serginho and Alessandro Pirlo missed for Milan, giving Liverpool what looked like an unassailable lead, but there was still time for John Arne Riise to miss for Liverpool, giving Milan a glimmer of a chance before Andriy Shevchenko missed to give Liverpool their fifth European Cup. Jerzy Dudek, Liverpool hero. Doesn’t that seem like a long time ago now?