EUROPEAN CUP HISTORY.COM
In the summer of 1990, Italy had hosted a World Cup tournament in which England had finished in a creditable 4th position. Although there had been some incidents of bad behaviour amongst the English supporters, the prevailing view had been as UEFA president Lennart Johannson said: ‘English supporters are no worse than those in other countries. It is just that we have focused on them.‘ And so English teams were readmitted to European competition five years after the terrible events at the Heysel Stadium. At first this did not affect the European Cup because Liverpool, the English league champions, were still to be banned for a further year as it was their supporters who had been held responsible for the deaths that occurred in the 1985 final. And so it was not until 18 September 1991 that English clubs returned to Europe’s premier tournament when Arsenal beat Austria Vienna 6-1 at Highbury.
An even greater change was introduced with a new competition format. In 1986 Real Madrid had been drawn against Juventus in the second round, a year later they played Napoli in the first round. Milan and Real Madrid were drawn together in the second round in 1989. Increasingly the owners of the big clubs, particularly Berlusconi at Milan, Mendoza at Real Madrid and Tapie at Marseille, were becoming unhappy at the way that their European campaigns may only last two games if they were handed a particularly difficult draw and that they would subsequently be missing out on huge potential revenues. Thus UEFA came under increasing pressure to turn their knockout tournament into a league which would guarantee a certain number of games for its participants. In June 1991 UEFA started to move in this direction as they agreed to replace the quarter-finals and semi-finals with two groups, with the winners of each group contesting the final. And so the transformation of the European Cup into the Champions League was begun.
The opening round threw up few surprises with the holders Red Star Belgrade easing through along with the champions of Italy (Sampdoria), Spain (Barcelona), England (Arsenal), West Germany (Kaiserslautern), France (Marseille), Holland (PSV Eindhoven) and Portugal (Benfica). The elimination in the first round of Hansa Rostock saw the last appearance in the competition of the East German champions with the advent of German unification.
With the promise of a lucrative group stage to come, the second round took on even greater significance than usual with a number of big names that were expected to progress falling at this major hurdle. Marseille were determined to avenge their defeat in the 1991 final and after an hour at home to Sparta Prague they were looking comfortable with a three goal lead courtesy of two Papin goals and one from Waddle. But two goals from Sparta gave the Czechs a chance for the second leg where a 2-1 win saw them through on away goals. Arsenal had also been well placed after they had drawn 1-1 in Benfica and then took the lead early on in the second leg. But an Isaias equaliser took the tie to extra-time where Kulkov and Isaias again scored to knock out the English champions. PSV Eindhoven went out at the hands of Anderlecht, and they were so nearly joined by Barcelona. The Spaniards, now under the leadership of Johan Cruyff had beaten Kaiserslautern 2-0 at the Nou Camp, but conceded goals after 35, 49 and 76 minutes in the return to leave them on the brink of elimination as the game entered inury time.They were saved at the death when Bakero headed home an injury time Koeman free-kick to send Barcelona through to the group stage on away goals.
Kaiserslautern v Barcelona
And so, for the first time ever, the European Cup teams were divided into two groups, with the winners of each group to contest the final. Group A featured the holders Red Star Belgrade, Italian champions Sampdoria, Panathinaikos and Anderlecht. The main contenders for the final spot were Red Star and Sampdoria and it was the Italians who took an early advantage when they defeated the holders 2-0 in the opening match. When Sampdoria were beaten by two late Anderlecht goals in March, however, they found themselves behind and knowing that if they were beaten in their next game against Red Star they were out. Red Star, however, had seen the likes of Prosinecki leave since their triumph a year earlier, and were further hampered by UEFA’s decision to force them to play their home games outside Yugoslavia due to the ever worsening situation in their country. The crucial game against Sampdoria was held in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia and although Mihajlovic scored on twenty minutes to put Red Star in the driving seat, a Katanec goal and an own goal saw the Italians take a half time lead. Roberto Mancini’s goal on 76 minutes sealed a 3-1 win for the Italians. This meant that if they avoided defeat at home to Panathinaikos, Sampdoria would seal their place in the final. A 1-1 draw, thanks to Mancini’s first half equaliser saw them safely through, although Anderlecht‘s 3-2 win over Red Star meant that the Italians were through anyway.
Red Star Belgrade v Sampdoria
Group B saw Barcelona up against Benfica, Dynamo Kiev and Sparta Prague. The first four games saw Barcelona beat Dynamo twice, Sparta once and draw away to Benfica to put them firmly in control of the group. But a surprise 1-0 defeat in Prague left the Spanish champions needing a draw in their final game at home to Benfica to reach the European Cup Final for only the second time in over thirty years. Stoichkov and Bakero scored early in the game, and although Benfica got one goal back, Barcelona held on to find themselves within one match of achieving the European Cup win that they had craved for so long.
Barcelona v Benfica
Cruyff’s Barcelona side was scattered with some of the most exciting foreign players in Europe. In defence was the sharp shooting Dutchman Ronald Koeman, in midfield the exciting Dane Michael Laudrup, and up front was the deadly Bulgarian Hristo Stoichkov. In addition were top Spanish players such as the Bakero, Guardoila, Salinas and their goalkeeping captain Zubizarreta, Their opponents were ably managed by former Real Madrid coach Vujadin Boskov. They relied much more on homegrown talent with the likes of Attilio Lombardo, goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca and the sparkling strike partnership of Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini.
Not only had English clubs been welcomed back into the European Cup this season, but UEFA also decided to play the final at Wembley for the first time in 14 years. Everybody hoped that, unlike a year earlier, the game would live up to its promise. Boskov assured the watching millions: ‘Cruyff rejects the dogma of defence, and my team plays the attacking game. Either of us could win, either by a heavy score.’
The game certainly lived up to expectations. The occasion began in carnival atmosphere as the two teams were welcomed onto the pitch by supporters holding up cards in their club colours, and the game kept excitement levels high. Do not be fooled by the goalless scoreline after 90 minutes. This was a vibrant game played by two teams determined to attack and had it not been for the outstanding goalkeeping of both Pagliuca and Zubizarreta, the wayward finishing of forwards on both teams, and the goalpost that thwarted Barcelona’s Bulgarian forward Hristo Stoichkov, there would have been a feast of goals.
Extra time saw the game continue in a similar vein, but with ten minutes to go it appeared depressingly inevitable that penalties would be required as they had twelve months earlier. But it was then that Ronald Koeman of Barcelona scored the only goal of the game. The goal, when it came, was tinged with controversy. Invernizzi challenged Eusebio for the ball some 25 yards from goal. The ball became entangled in the legs of the two players and referee Schmidhuber, rather than awarding a drop ball as many referees would, decided to give Barcelona a free kick. Sampdoria immediately knew the danger they were in - Koeman was known to be one of the fiercest strikers of the ball in the world. Sure enough, Bakero rolled the ball to his teammate and Koeman hit a shot that saw the ball fly into the net like a missile - the goalkeeper had no chance this time. The Dutchman wheeled away in delight as thousands of Catalan supporters felt the demons that had haunted them for over 30 years start to disappear for they were now within touching distance of the one trophy that had eluded them for so long. Sampdoria were broken and never threatened to recover. The final whistle brought an outpouring of joy from the entire Catalan nation and the players quickly shed the orange shirts that they had worn and exchanged them for the classic red and blue kit that would be so more fitting when they finally claimed the European Cup trophy. Years of near misses, added to the jibes emanating from their fiercest rivals in Madrid had finally been put behind them. Barcelona, guided by one Dutchman, Johan Cruyff, had won thanks to a goal by another Dutchman Ronald Koeman. Finally, they were champions of Europe.
1992 European Cup Final (London)
Barcelona 1 Sampdoria 0
Barcelona: Zubizarreta (capt), Eusebio, Nando, Koeman, Ferrer, Rodriguez, Bakero, Laudrup, Guardiola (Alesanco), Salina (Goikoetxea), Stoitchkov
Sampdoria: Pagluca, Mannini, Lanna, Vierchowod, Pari, Lombardo, Cerezo, Katanec, Bonetti (Invernizzi), Vialli (Buso), Mancini (capt)
European Cup Highlights 1991/92 part 1 (in Italian)
European Cup Highlights 1991/92 part 2 (in Italian)
European Cup Highlights 1991/92 part 3 (in Italian)
European Cup Highlights 1991/92 part 4 (in Italian)
You can find details of all the results, dates and scorers on the RSSSF website here.