EUROPEAN CUP HISTORY.COM
The 1957/58 competition began with Red Star Belgrade putting nine goals in one game past Stade Dudelange of Luxembourg, AC Milan being taken to a replay which they eventually won 4-2 against Rapid Vienna, and Gwardia Warsaw becoming the first team to be eliminated by the drawing of lots. After Gwardia and Wismut Karl-Marx-Stadt of East Germany had both won their home legs by the same 3-1 score line, their tie went to a replay which ended 1-1. With penalty shootouts yet to be introduced, it was Wismut who drew correctly and proceeded to the next round. The holders from Madrid cruised through to the semi-finals with comfortable wins over Antwerp (8-1) and Seville (10-2), but this was to be overshadowed by tragic events elsewhere in the competition.
Antwerp v Real Madrid
Having reached the semi-finals at their first attempt, Manchester United looked likely to pose the strongest challenge to Real Madridís attempt to win the European Cup for the third year in a row. Their young team was now a year older and they had picked up valuable European experience. Shamrock Rovers and Dukla Prague were eliminated with relative ease in the early rounds before United were drawn in the last eight against their fellow beaten semi-finalists from a year earlier, Red Star Belgrade. The first leg in Manchester was a thrilling affair which saw the Yugoslavs take a surprise lead when Tasic hit the ball from 25 yards out into the top corner of the net after 35 minutes. For a while it looked as though United might be travelling to Belgrade with a deficit which would be difficult to pull back, but it was Duncan Edwards who dragged his team back into the tie. It was a storming Edwards run and pass that found Scanlon on the wing, and his cross was smashed home by Bobby Charlton on 63 minutes. And with just nine minutes remaining it was Edwards who found Eddie Colman, and he slid the ball home for the winner. Three weeks later, following a memorable 5-4 win at Arsenal on the previous Saturday, United travelled to Belgrade for the second leg. Incredibly, considering the closeness of the first game, United had the tie virtually wrapped up after just 17 minutes following a second minute goal from Viollet and two from Charlton. The home team rallied in the second half and their third goal, an 89th minute penalty, gave the United party a few nervous moments, but the Busby Babes were safely through to the semi-finals with high hopes of improving on their performance a year earlier.
Red Star Belgrade v Manchester United
The plane journey home from Belgrade to Manchester necessitated a stop in Munich for refuelling. It was there that the plane crashed, leaving eight of the players dead and many more injured. (Munich Air Disaster)
The remnants of United's team was drawn against Milan in the semi-finals and, although their patched up side Ė which also lacked Bobby Charlton who was away on international duty Ė showed great character in coming back from being a goal down to win the first leg at Old Trafford by 2-1, they were beaten by four goals in the return game and it was the Italians who proceeded to the final in Brussels.
Milan v Manchester United
Despite the widely held horror at what had happened at Munich, football went on. In the other semi-final, a Di Stefano hat trick had given Real Madrid a 4-0 first leg lead over Vasas Budapest, and they progressed to a third successive final after a 2-0 defeat in Hungary. Standing between Real and yet another European title was a Milan team that had a forward line containing the most expensive player in the world, Uruguayan World Cup winner Juan Schiaffino and the Swedish Olympic Games winner Nils Liedholm. Attempting to keep them at bay would be Realís latest acquisition, the giant Uruguayan centre-back Jose Santamaria, another star of the 1954 World Cup, brought in to replace the now retired Munoz.
The 67,000 spectators who flocked to the Heysel Stadium to see the first final to be played in a neutral country were unaware that earlier in the day, Rial had turned his ankle while visiting the nearby Atomium. His participation in the final was initially in some doubt, but he was eventually passed fit to play. Surprisingly, it was Milan who took the lead just short of the hour mark when Schiaffino scored the first goal of the game on the counter attack and, shortly afterwards, Cucchiaroni hit the post for the Italian side. Alfredo Di Stefano, however, was now at the height of his powers and was not going to let Realís title be taken away without a fight. He popped up all over the pitch, clearing from defence, creating danger from midfield, and threatening the opponents goal in attack, and it was Di Stefano who, with just 15 minutes remaining, scored the goal that brought Real level. Four minutes later Grillo put Milan ahead once more, but their lead stood for only a minute before Rial brushed aside any worries about his fitness when he brought Real level again. While di Stefano was prompting the Real side, Milanís Swedish inside-left, Nils Liedholm, was in brilliant form and he nearly won the match for the Italians in the final moments of normal time when his shot hit the bar. With the scores level at 2-2, a European Cup Final went to extra time for the first time, but the outcome was to prove the same as those finals that had gone before as Gento, moments after hitting the post, shot home at the near post to score the goal that won the Cup for Real Madrid for the third time, although Milan had surely given the champions their toughest test so far.
Realís feat of winning the first three European Cups was undoubtedly an incredible achievement, but at the end of the 1957-58 tournament, the thoughts of the football world were focused less on Madrid than on Manchester where the team that had been most likely to challenge the dominance of Real over the next decade had been torn apart by the tragedy at Munich. As a gesture to Manchester United, they were invited by UEFA to take part in the European Cup again the following year in addition to the League Champions Wolverhampton Wanderers. UEFA President Schwartz announced that the executive committee had decided to convey the invitation in view of the great loss suffered by the club in the Munich disaster as it might be helpful to United and their younger players to become re-established in the football world. It would, however, take a decade before Manchester United truly regained the position in European football that they had lost.
1958 European Cup Final (Brussels)
Real Madrid 3 AC Milan 2
Real Madrid: Alonso (capt), Atienza, Santamaria, Lesmes, Santisteban, Zarraga, Kopa, Joseito, Di Stefano, Rial, Gento
Scorers: Di Stefano, Rial, Gento
AC Milan: Soldan, Fontana, Maldini, Beraldo, Bergamaschi, Radice, Danova, Liedholm (capt), Schiaffino, Grillo, Cucchiaroni
Scorers: Schiaffino, Grillo
You can find details of all the results, dates and scorers on the RSSSF website here.