EUROPEAN CUP HISTORY.COM
The start of the 1980-81 season in England saw Liverpool begin as overwhelming favourites to win the League Championship just as they had done in four of the previous five campaigns. But this would turn out to be their worst domestic campaign in over a decade as they won just 17 games (champions Aston Villa won 26) and finished a lowly 5th in the table. Yet despite their relatively poor domestic form, Liverpool were still one of the teams most fancied to win the European Cup. They may have gone out in the first round for the previous two seasons, but they still had plenty of players with European Cup winning experience. Of the regular members of the team, only full back Alan Kennedy, midfielder Sammy Lee and forward David Johnson had not played in Liverpool’s two European Cup Final wins, so this was a team packed full of players who knew how to win the competition.
After the 1st Round, Liverpool were the only team capable of extending the four year winning run of English clubs as holders Nottingham Forest were surprisingly knocked out at the first hurdle. Drawn against the Bulgarian champions CSKA Sofia, Forest were in a reasonable position after the away leg which they lost by the only goal scored by Yonchev on 70 minutes. But where, over the previous two years, Forest had always managed to recover in the second leg, they now went meekly out of the competition as they lost 1-0 again, this time after a 34th minute Kerimov goal. Nottingham Forest have never appeared in the European Cup since then and remain the only club to have won the European Cup more times than their own league championship.
The elimination of the holders left the way open for some of the competitions more traditional names to regain the trophy that they had previously won. Two time winners Liverpool dealt impressively with the Finns of OPS Oulu, scoring ten in one game; three time champions Ajax beat Dinamo Tirana 3-0 on aggregate; Bayern Munich, also triple champions, raised some eyebrows as they breezed past Olympiakos 7-2; twice winners Internazionale beat the Romanians of Craiova 3-1; while the most famous European Cup team of all, Real Madrid, flirted with embarrassment as they trailed the Irishmen of Limerick with 20 minutes remaining in the first leg, before progressing comfortably by seven goals to two.
The headline tie of the second round saw Bayern Munich up against Ajax. The Dutch champions were, by now, a pale shadow of the team that had ruled Europe in the early seventies, but nonetheless, the way that Bayern dispatched them with such ease sent a message to all the other teams hoping to lift the European Cup in May. An Arnesen goal actually gave Ajax the lead in the Munich Olympiastadion, but Durnberger equalised on the strole of half-time and two goals each from Karl Heinz Rummenigge and Dieter Hoeness gave the Germans a decisive 5-1 first leg lead. Ajax threatened briefly in the return match with two goals in the first twenty minutes, but after that Bayern kept them at bay and a late Rummenigge goal ended any doubt about the final outcome.
Liverpool also had a big win over potentially difficult opponents. In the ‘Battle of Britain’ they beat Scottish champions Aberdeen 1-0 through an early McDermott goal, before putting four goals past the Scots without reply back at Anfield. Elsewhere, Real Madrid eased through to the quarter-finals with a 3-0 aggregate win over Honved while Internazionale squeezed through a tricky encounter with Nantes as they followed a 2-1 win in France, courtesy of a late winner from their expensive midfield signing Herbert Prohaska, with a 1-1 draw in Milan.
The draw for the last eight kept all of the former winners apart, and only Inter struggled to make it through to the semi-finals. Up against Red Star Belgrade they took the lead in Milan through a Caso goal, but an equaliser from Repcic put the Yugoslavians in a strong position for the return match. But in Belgrade, Prohaska put in a particularly impressive performance as Muraro’s 13th minute goal was sufficient to see Inter through . They were joined by Bayern Munich and Liverpool who both had thumping victories in their ties. Bayern beat Banik Ostrava 6-2 on aggregate, while Liverpool brushed aside CSKA Sofia - conquerors of Nottingham Forest - by 6-1. Real Madrid also made it into the semi-finals after a 2-0 win over Spartak Moscow.
Liverpool v CSKA Sofia
After years of seeing the big names fall by the wayside and lesser known clubs reaching the latter stages of the competition, this time the European Cup had certainly produced four teams with the highest pedigree to contest the semi-finals. In order to reach the final, Liverpool with goalkeeper Ray Clemence behind a defence marshalled by Hansen and Thompson, with Souness and McDermott marshalling defence and Dalglish up front, would have to get past a Bayern side that featured players of the calibre of Paul Breitner who had returned from Real Madrid, and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. The other tie pitched the thrilling attacking play of Santillana, Cunningham and Juanito with Stielike running the midfield for Real Madrid, against an Inter side that could boast the attacking power of Prohaska and Altobelli along with the defensive solidity provided by Baresi, Orialli and goalkeeper Bordon.
Before their first leg at Anfield, Liverpool were without the injured Graeme Souness and they struggled to create any goalscoring chances as a result. Bayern kept the Liverpool attacks at bay with relative ease and with Rummenigge in top form, they were always a threat up front, but they were still much the happier team at the end of a goalless draw. Bayern were even hotter favourites after nine minutes of the second leg as Kenny Dalglish limped off the pitch to be replaced by the little known Howard Gayle who joined the likes of Richard Monet and Colin Irwin in an injury hit Liverpool side. Bayern, however, appeared to be totally unprepared for Gayle’s pace as he went on to cause the German defence great difficulty with Liverpool taking increasing control of the game. As the game continued deep into the second half with still no goals in the tie, nerves became increasingly frayed and it was not until the 83rd minute that the breakthrough came. When Ray Kennedy scored with just seven minutes remaining, the tie seemed to be effectively over with Bayern now needing to score twice to go through. And yet there was still a dramatic finish in store as Rummenigge still had time to equalise four minutes later to leave Liverpool hanging on. But hang on they did and it was Liverpool who had incredibly reached their third European Cup final to the dismay of over 70,000 Bayern supporters in the Olympic Stadium.
Bayern Munich v Liverpool
In the final, Liverpool would meet Real Madrid who also had a close encounter in their semi-final. Real had looked to be in a comfortable position after the first leg in Madrid when goals from Santillana and Juanito had given them a 2-0 lead to take to Italy, but Inter had been in no mood to accept defeat. In a packed San Siro Internazionale took the game to Real and broke through on 57 minutes through Graziano Bini, but with Stielike and Camacho on top form, Real held on until the final whistle to record a famous victory. Few would have believed, after Real’s sixth European Cup win in 1966, that it would take 15 years before they reached European football’s showpiece game again, but this was to be their first appearance since beating Partizan Belgrade in Brussels, and with Liverpool being their opponents, football fans around the continent looked forward to what promised to be a classic encounter.
Real Madrid v Internazionale
Twenty-five years after the first European Cup Final, Europe’s showpiece occasion returned to Paris with two of the competitions most successful clubs competing to take the trophy home once more. Although Real Madrid had won the cup many more times, this was their first final in 15 years so none of their players had experience of a European Cup Final, whereas Liverpool while only having won the trophy twice before, were packed full of players who had experienced winning at this stage before. While Liverpool were able to field their first choice players, Real were without goalkeeper Reman as well as Gallego in midfield, while Cunningham was making only his first appearance following a long term injury.
The match itself was a disappointing affair as neither team managed to dominate a tight and nervous game. Real may have had the upper hand early on as Stielike and Juanito impressed in the middle of the pitch and Cortes kept Dalglish quiet. Liverpool, however, did have their chances. , Agustin in the Real goal was forced to push a low shot from Alan Kennedy wide of the goal, while McDermott shot over the bar when well placed. Real, meanwhile, almost made their greater possession pay off when Juanito’s pass beat the Liverpool defence and Camacho put his shot wide with only Clemence to beat.
As half-time approached, however, the English side nearly took the lead when Dalglish sent Souness clear in the Real penalty box and his shot could only be held by Agustin at the second attempt. Just after the interval it was Real who came close to scoring as they broke the Liverpool offside trap and put Camacho through on goal. Camacho lobbed the ball over Clemence, but to the relief of the thousands of Liverpool fans in the stadium, the ball dropped over the crossbar.
The longer the game went on, the stronger Liverpool seemed to become with Souness increasingly wresting control of the midfield from Stielike, and with just nine minutes remaining it was Liverpool who finally broke the deadlock. Ray Kennedy took a throw on the left hand side to Alan Kennedy who shook off a wesk challenge from Cortes as he surged into the penalty area, before slamming the ball high into the net from the tightest of angles.
This was a signal to Real to abandon their caution and go desperately forward in search of an equaliser, but this inevitably left them open to the counter attack and it was Liverpool who actually came closest to scoring in the games closing moments with Agustin being called upon to make several brave saves. Real were unable to find the goal that they so desperately needed, and it was Liverpool who celebrated as Mr Paloti of Hungary blew the final whistle. For the third time in five years, Liverpool were crowned Champions of Europe, and for the fifth year in succession the European Cup was heading back to England. On top of all that Bob Paisley had become the first manager in the competitions history to win the European Cup three times. Domestically, Liverpool had appeared to be past their best as they finished a lowly fifth , but they had shown their qualities in Europe, beating two of the biggest names in world football in Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Liverpool were still the team to beat in England, and for the moment, Europe was finding it impossible to stop English teams in the European Cup.
1981 European Cup Final (Paris)
Liverpool 1 Real Madrid 0
Liverpool: Clemence, Neal, Thompson (capt), Hansen, A.Kennedy, Lee, McDermott, R.Kennedy, Souness , Johnson, Dalglish (Case)
Real Madrid: Agustin, Cortes (Pineda), Sabido, Navajas, Camacho (capt), Del Bosque, Angel, Stielike, Juanito, Santillana, Cunningham
You can find details of all the results, dates and scorers on the RSSSF website here.