EUROPEAN CUP HISTORY.COM
In December 1993, UEFA made a decision that would change the nature of the European Cup completely. No longer would the champion clubs of all European nations be competing, but now only those from the top 24 countries. On top of that, the champions of the top seven countries, along with the reigning champions, would automatically be entered into the new expanded group stage.
The new format had four groups of four teams with the top two from each group going through to the quarter-finals. To guarantee games for the big clubs and to keep the television companies from the bigger countries happy, the champions of Spain, England, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Italy and Russia were automatically entered into the group stage, leaving the champions of the other 16 countries deemed eligible by the UEFA coefficient to play in the qualifying round.
Among those forced to qualify were former winners Steaua Bucharest who beat Servette 5-2, and French champions Paris St Germain who had little problem disposing of Hungary’s Vac 5-1. Less successful were the likes of Rangers (0-3 losers to AEK Athens) and Sparta Prague (defeated 1-2 by IFK Gothenburg.)
IFK Gothenburg’s reward for qualification was to be drawn with Barcelona - out to avenge their Final defeat , Manchester United who were in a group stage for the first time, and Galatasaray who had knocked United out a year earlier. The champions of England and Spain won their opening games as expected, but the group then became much less predictable. Barcelona were beaten in Sweden while United drew in Turkey. Then two epic encounters saw Barcelona draw 2-2 at Old Trafford before thumping a United side that was badly depleted by the three foreigner rule 4-0 at the Nou Camp. Barcelona then lost 2-1 to Galatasaray, but were saved by Manchester United losing 3-1 in Gothenburg which meant that a draw in their last game saw Barca through a full three points behind surprise group winners IFK Gothenburg.
Manchester United v Barcelona
Paris St Germain cruised through Group B winning all six games which left Bayern Munich struggling to claim second place. As well as their two defeats to PSG, Bayern could only draw both games with Spartak Moscow which meant that they owed their qualification to a last day 4-1 win away to Dynamo Kiev.
Bayern Munich v Paris St Germain/Dynamo Kiev v Bayern Munich
In Group C, Benfica came top without losing a game, while Hajduk Split surprisingly were runners-up with a game to spare ahead of Steaua and Anderlecht.
The holders Milan were drawn alongside a young exciting Ajax side, and with AEK Athens and Salzburg also in the group, the Italian and Dutch clubs were expected to progress without too much trouble. Ajax showed that they were not just a team of great potential when they beat Milan 2-0 in their opening game thanks to goals from Ronald de Boer and Jari Litmanen, and they would go on to win the group, but for Milan qualification would prove to be much trickier. In their second game, the holders beat Salzburg 3-0, but their win was marred by an incident during the match. Early on in the game the Salzburg goalkeeper Otto Konrad was hit on the head by a plastic bottle half full of water thrown from the crowd. Konrad was allegedly knocked out , but received treatment before continuing. Nineteen minutes later, however, once Milan had taken a 2-0 lead, he was substituted and later spent the night in hospital. The Milan coach Fabio Capello claimed that Konrad had feigned injury and that if he had been concussed the goalkeeper would have left the field immediately, but Salzburg protested that the incident had affected the outcome of the match. UEFA investigated the matter and eventually docked Milan two points and ordered them to play their remaining two home Champions League group games at least 300km from the San Siro. Salzburg were not happy as they had sought to have the match result reversed, but UEFA ruled that the incident did not change the face of the game and also fined Salzburg 10,000 Swiss Francs because their supporters had lit fireworks in the stadium.
Ajax v Milan
Things hardly improved for Milan in their next game as they were held to a goalless draw in Athens to leave them bottom of the group with just one point at the halfway stage. Forced to play their next game in Trieste, Milan were grateful to Christian Panucci as he scored the two goals that saw them beat AEK 2-1. Next it was Ajax’s turn to visit Trieste, and they showed that their earlier win over the holders had been no fluke. A Litmanen volley after just two minutes and a Baresi own goal just after the hour provided another 2-0 win for the Dutch champions and left Milan struggling to qualify. Thanks to a win in Athens and two draws with Ajax, Salzburg were now two points clear of Milan and the Italians needed to win their final game in Austria to squeeze through. In the end, a 26th minute goal from Massaro was enough to get the holders the win that they needed, but the defence of their European crown had not got off to the most impressive of starts.
Salzburg v Milan
In the quarter-finals, Milan had far fewer problems. Back in the San Siro against Benfica, it took them until the 63rd minute before Marco Simone found a way past goalkeeper Michel Preud’homme, but only another 12 minutes before the same man made it 2-0 to give the Italians a commanding lead which they comfortably defended in a goalless return leg. Surprise package of the first round IFK Gothenburg travelled to Germany to play a Bayern Munich side recovering from the news that their midfield talisman Lothar Matthaus had been ruled out for the rest of the season. The Swedes overcame the fact that they were in their own close season by holding Bayern to a goalless draw. The prospects of a Swedish semi-finalist improved when Bayern goalkeeper Sven Scheuer was sent off after only 20 minutes of the return game but in the last quarter of the game goals from Zickler and Nerlinger put Bayern 2-0 up. Gothenburg did recover with goals on 79 minutes and in injury time, but Bayern were through on away goals.
Ajax continued their impressive form against Hajduk Split. They emerged from Croatia with a comfortably gained goalless draw and then cruised to a 3-0 second leg win. The most eagerly awaited of the quarter-finals, however, provided plenty of drama. Paris St Germain, seeking their third consecutive European semi-final went to Barcelona for the first leg and went a goal down when their goalkeeper Bernard Lama put the ball into his own net. But PSG responded with a goal from their star Liberian striker George Weah. In the return game, PSG threatened to overwhelm Barcelona as they created chance after chance, hitting the woodwork on an incredible five occasions. When Bakero gave Barca the lead early in the second half, a lesser team could have concluded that it simply was not their night, but PSG continued to drive forward and received their reward with goals from Rai and Vincent Guerin that sent the previous years finalists tumbling out of the competition.
Next up for Paris St Germain in the semi-finals were the reigning champions Milan The French side were noted for the attacking prowess of Rai, Ginola and Weah (who would leave for Milan in the summer,) but it was the Italian defence - marshalled by the Frenchman Marcel Desailly - that held the upper hand in the first leg in Paris. They successfully kept the French attack at bay and then, in injury time, a Savicevic cross was slotted home by Boban at the near post to give Milan a crucial lead. PSG needed a memorable performance in the San Siro to overturn their deficit, but they were not up to task, not managing a single shot on target. Milan dominated the match with Savicevic guiding an Albertini pass into the net for the opening goal on 21 minutes. The second goal came after 67 minutes when Desailly surged through the PSG defence and played in Savicevic who claimed his second goal and sent Milan through to their fifth European Cup final in seven years.
The second semi-final brought together the two teams who had dominated the European Cup in the 1970’s, Ajax and Bayern Munich. After a goalless first leg in Munich it all came down to one match in Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium. It took only ten minutes for Ajax to take the lead as Jari Litmanen headed home at the near post from a corner. Bayern briefly threatened to spoil the Dutch party on 36 minutes when Marcel Witiczek equalised with another header, but their hopes proved to be short lived. A 20 yard screamer into the top corner from Finidi George put Ajax back into the lead after 40 minutes; a minute later, Thomas Helmer limped off for Bayern; and then, on the stroke of half-time, Ronald de Boer volleyed home to make it 3-1. The second half had only just begun when Litmanen struck again to make it 4-1. From then on Ajax produced an exhibition of exhilarating football and were only once troubled - Danny Blind handled in the penalty area and, although Bayern were awarded a penalty from which they scored, Blind was only shown a yellow card, thus avoiding a suspension from the final. In the dying moments of the game substitute Patrick Kluivert sent Marc Overmars clear and he made no mistake as he made it 5-2 to Ajax. Ajax had been playing some amazing football all the way through the competition, but this win elevated their performance to a new level and was worthy of propelling them to their first European Cup Final for 22 years.
-Ajax v Bayern Munich
The Milan team would include eight of the players that had so impressively crushed Barcelona a year earlier. In addition, they had their influential captain Franco Baresi marshalling the defence after being suspended from the previous final. So the holders were full of players experienced in playing at the highest level of European football. Ajax, on the other hand had a team packed full of youthful inexperience. Former Milan hero Frank Rijkaard had returned to Holland to play for Ajax and at 32 was very much the elder statesman of the team. But even with Rijkaard in the side, Ajax still only had an average age of 23 with youngsters like Reiziger, Seedorf, Davids, George, Overmars and the De Boer brothers taking to the field. Ajax’s semi-final performance, coupled with memories of Milan’s thrilling victory over Barcelona to win the previous final promised an exciting game and gave hope to fans of both teams as they arrived in Vienna.
As so often proves to be the case, the final failed to live up to expectations. Shorn of the injured Savicevic, Milan resorted to their defence and their offside trap to dominate the game, and so the young Ajax forwards struggled to impose their attacking passing play on the game. The Dutch side began brightly, but slowly the Milan defence took control. The most exciting moment of the first 45 minutes came when Desailly threw himself at the ball in his own area with his foot up around Litmanens head. When a free kick was awarded to Milan, Ajax manager Louis Van Gaal leapt in the air with fury and was subsequently given a stern talking to by the Romanian referee. The best chances of the first half came in the last five minutes when Van der Saar in the Ajax goal was twice called into action to save from both Desailly and Simone. During the first twenty minutes of the second half, however, Louis Van Gaal made two substitutions, replacing Seedorf and Litmanen with two teenagers, Nwankwo Kanu and Patrick Kuivert. With only one man under the age of 25, Milan began to tire and the game started to open up.
With five minutes to go until extra time was to be required, the deadlock was finally broken. A Milan attack was thwarted when Van der Saar punched clear and the ball was played away by Overmars and Davids. Suddenly the ball was on the edge of the Milan penalty area with their former player Rijkaard. He patiently waited for the run from Kluivert and when it came, the young Dutch forward bustled his way through the defence and poked the ball past Rossi in the Milan goal. Milan coach Fabio Capello immediately brought on Lentini and Eranio, but it was too late, the trophy belonged to Ajax once again.
This win was revenge for the 1969 final when Milan had thumped Ajax. It was also a win for youth over experience, attacking play over defensive play, and for bringing through young players from the youth team against an expensively assembled squad. For Milan it was the end of an era for their league position was insufficient to qualify them for the next years Champions League. But for Ajax the future was bright. Their young exciting team had produced football worthy of a club that had previously fielded the likes of Cruyff and Neeskens. If this young team could stay together they could surely emulate the achievements of the Ajax side of the 70’s. But for now that was all in the future. Louis Van Gaal and his youngsters had triumphed, they had beaten Milan three times to win the competition, and the European Cup was back in Amsterdam once again.
1995 European Cup Final (Vienna)
Ajax 1 Milan 0
Ajax: Van der Saar, Reiziger, Blind (capt), Rijkaard, F de Boer, Seedorf (Kanu), Litmanen (Kluivert), Davids, Finidi, R de Boer, Overmars
Milan: Rossi, Panucci, Baresi (capt), Maldini, Donadoni, Desailly, Boban (Lentini), Albertini, Costacurta, Massaro (Eranio), Simone
You can find details of all the results on the RSSSF website here.