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Back when the Champion’s League was still called the European Cup, a thirteen-old boy sits in front of the tv to watch the final between Barcelona and Sampdoria. No, he did not yet own a Barça jersey at that time – having travelled to Indonesia the previous summer, a trip on which his mother had spent a good three years worth of savings, there is no money for such frivolities this year. Besides, his mother hates soccer and can’t stand people watching it, so she has resigned herself to the bedroom, making way for yours truly. Anyway, if the young Barça fan (though not yet a culé) would have written a match diary from his living room couch that evening, it might have turned out something like this:
Remember the names, bee-yotch! If we end up winning the first European Cup in the history of our club, these eleven warriors will be the ones who, maybe won’t have gotten the job done, but at least started it. The babes in the woods among you should at least recognize some of the names in the line-up. Zubizarreta is of course our technical director, Laudrup is currently coaching Swansea and doing quite well and Sacristán Eusebio is leading (or ruining, depending to whom you ask) our B team. There is also a certain Josep “Pep” Guardiola on the pitch – his name might ring a bell. Zubi’s predecessor, fellow Basque Txiki Beguiristain, is on the bench, as is Sergio’s dad, Carles Busquets. For some reason I can’t quite explain, Bakero is one of my favorite players of that team.
Think of American love for football, baseball, basketballl combined and you still won’t get close to how passionate my country is about soccer. Holland counts 16 million people, of whom a staggering 1.5 million play at an amateur football club. Who knows how many are watching the final tonight. Of course, for those who had not yet turned on their television set, Johan Cruijff proves an extra incentive. Having left the club of his youth, Ajax, a few seasons ago after falling out with some of its board members, he is steadily turning around the fortunes of Barcelona, the club he had previously left the club he just left for. Tonight he can complete the circle by leading his team to the Holy Grail. Take a deep breath, and…
Kick-off! Playing from right to left, in London’s legendary Wembley stadium, Barça is clad in orange. The Italians are wearing whites shirts and blue shorts.
The ball soon finds its way to our opponents’ goalkeeper, a man who goes by the somewhat silly name of Gianluca Pagliuca. Thoroughly removed from my memory is whether or not I actually liked keeper uniforms in the early nineties. Unfortunately I suspect that I did.
Hristo Stoichkov, one of the undisputed stars of our team, is never afraid to take on his man. Attilio Lombardo, who later may or may not have admitted to stuffing his shorts with approximately two thousand firecrackers in the minutes before the game, runs across the field to stop him…
…which doesn’t go down all that well with the temperamental forward, of whom Cruijff had the following to say: “Before Stoichkov came we had a team of very nice people, but you can’t just have a team of very nice people”. In his first season with the club, a Spanish referee found out all there is to know about Bulgarian niceties, when Hristo stomped on his foot. He was suspended for two months, but still scored fourteen goals.
Another integral part of the dream team was Ronald Koeman, whose forward surges and pinpoint passes made him about ten times as much Piquenbauer than Gerard. As it stands, he was already given the quite brilliant nicknames of “snowflake” and “tintin”. It’s a good thing Catalans don’t speak Dutch all that well, for they might have simply translated his last name into the unflattering “cowman”.
For all of Fifa’s boneheaded decisions, they do make good ones from time to time.
Changing the rules so that a keeper cannot pick up a ball that is played back to him by a teammate has definitely been a good decision. If you think teams tactics are negative today, imagine defenders and keepers passing the ball back and forth a good 30-40 times per game. This final, however, is not one of those games, as both teams set out to play football.
After 10 minutes the score is still nil-nil. Barça are establishing their possession-based game which would define our style for decades to come. The players touch the ball one, maximum two times before passing to a teammate and mostly succeed in avoiding Sampdoria’s press.
It is still early in the game, when Barça receives a free kick not far outside of the penalty area. Our renowned set piece specialist lines up. Known for his killer right foot, Koeman could strike the ball with a caressing finesse or with devastating power. It must be said that he often prefers the latter.
In the man’s own words: “Sometimes I just like to shoot the ball into the wall as hard as possible, especially if I know that I will face them again – later on, they will know how to duck”.
This time around, he by-passes the wall. His shot troubles Pagliuca, but not nearly enough. The whole of Sampdoria breathe a sigh of relief… For now.
In minute 17 Sampdoria lets off their first shot but luckily for us, Lombardo aims wide.
Stoichkov, who would prefer Lombardo to not shoot the ball at all, gives an all too predictable response: he sends the Italian rolling over the pitch. The referee, honor-bound by an era in football when men were still men and the area from the neck down was fair game to studs up challenges, does not pull out a yellow card.
However, Lombardo is not so easily deterred. When Barça fail to clear a corner it is Sampdoria’s number 7 who blasts the ball over.
On the other side of the pitch, who other than Hristo Stoichkov tests Pagliuca with an excellent header, an exam the Italian keeper passes with an equally excellent save.
And thus the finalists are still bound by a goalless tie at half time. The game has been neither great nor terrible – Barça looked to dominate from the beginning but Sampdoria created two slightly more dangerous chances. Lombardo and Stoichkov have been the main protagonists by far. The Italian star forwards Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini have been pretty quiet, as is (I imagine) the whole of Catalunya, filled with angst over what is to come over the next forty-five minutes. An all too quick look at our trophy cabinet would reveal that Barça has never quite lived up to its status of one of the world’s great clubs. Having been founded ninety-two years ago, we find ourselves in what it is only our third European Cup final, a final that, to make things worse, we have never actually won.
Unwilling to let history repeat itself, Barça start the second half determined to score the opener. Striker Julio Salinas wriggles himself free for a shot at goal, and the tone is set.
Modern day Catalan foklore has it that Guardiola told Xavi he would one day take over his position as the team’s midfield lynchpin. Upon seeing Iniesta, he added, “and he will retire the both of us”. However, it is this writer’s humble opinion that rather than emulating señores Pep or Xavi, the previous Barcelona player Don Andrés most resembles is Michael Laudrup. Freed from the shackles of playing in the Serie A, the great Dane truly flourished under Cruijff. As elusive as he was elegant, his dribbles and passes were truly a pleasure to the eye. Here he sets up buddy Hristo for yet another…
… chance that goes begging. Barcelona is dominating the game in the beginning of the second half. Is it too early to start dreaming…?
Well, if you are you’re in for a rude awakening. Not happy with how things are going, the Italians start kicking us black and azurri. The yellow card stays neatly tucked in the referee’s pocket, and the free kick on the edge of the penalty area leads to nothing.
On the other side of the pitch, Sampdoria creates the biggest scoring chance of the match so far. The crowd have their fists raised in anticipation of the goal when Vialli shoots over from close range.
The game is finally opening up. When Sampdoria botch a free kick, Laudrup receives the ball in midfield…
… and releases Stoichkov with a defense splitting pass. The forward is now alone with the keeper…
…who has no hopes of stopping the shot. Time nearly grinds to a halt, as half a second seemingly lasts forever… It’s going in, it’s going in, it…
… bounces of off the post! Laudrup grabs his hair and exhales…
…while the more passionate Bulgarian screams in disgust. Surely there will be more chances to come?
This is turning into a truly spectacular game, an outright celebration of football. Both teams are looking to win this game and the hammer can drop at any given moment. Guardiola, twenty-year old lord and master of the Catalan midfield, looks up and find his passing routes blocked, while a midfielder is closing in on him…
… he turns…
… and turns, 360 degrees. The internet is still an unknown futuristic fantasy, a military experiment. Twenty years later youtube compilation videos will exist of Pep’s understudy Xavi Hernandez performing the same pirouette on bewildered opponents, while the man himself is on the sideline guiding F.C. Barcelona to their third and fourth Champion’s League medals. Today, on May 20, 1992, we simply applaud the brilliance of the move we just witnessed on the football pitch.
After sixty-six minutes, Cruijff decides to shake things up a bit. Julio Salinas makes way for Andoni Goikoetxea, one of Barça’s tricky Basque forwards.
Vialli breaks through for his second scoring opportunity of the game. Koeman, at times more comfortable creating chances than preventing them, is unable to stop him. Luckily for us, however, the forward aims straight at Zubizarreta. This should be a wake up call for our defense.
But it’s not. Again, Sampdoria break through, and again it is Vialli who finds himself eye to eye with our goalkeeper. This time he tries to beat us with a delicate lob…
… surely it is going in! Half of Catalunya cover their eyes with their hands as they can’t bear to watch. Fans of the club from Genoa wildly jump up and down…
Needlessly so. At the pace of an autumn leaf, Vialli’s lob drops ever so gently to the wrong side of the post. For the third time this game, Gianluca failed to put his team ahead. He would not receive a fourth opportunity.
Barcelona are rattled. Juan Bakero slows down the tempo with a hard foul on Cerezo and a tussle ensues. Of course Stoichkov is in the mix, too.
In the last fifteen minutes of the game, both Vierchovod and Goikoetxea try their luck at goal. Extra time is getting closer by the tick of the clock.
A few minutes before time, Barcelona commit a foul in a dangerous position. The game will be decided by a free kick…
… but Roberto Mancini won’t be the taker!
German referee Aron Schmidhuber blows the whistle after 90 minutes and pocket change. The second half has been truly spectacular. Both teams had their chances to win the game, but Gianluca Vialli in particular should prove more successful in kicking himself than in kicking the ball into the net.
Night has fallen in London when the teams prepare for extra time. Having lost the European Cup on penalties to Steaua Bucarest six years ago, we definitely want to decide the game in the next thirty minutes. Sampdoria win the coin toss…
… and off they go!
The first opportunity is for Stoichkov, but he is tightly defended and shoots well wide.
Then Manini capitalizes on some dodgy goalkeeper positioning from a corner. Well, he would have had he not headed the ball way over.
Both teams continue where they left it after an excellent second half. The winning goal can fall on either side of the pitch. Extra time it may be, but they are playing like there ain’t no tomorrow.
After a long spell of possession for Barcelona, left back Juan Carlos sets up José Marí Bakero, but Pagliuca saves…
… and one of the 25.000 culés who traveled to London exhales deeply. One out of four European Cup finals make it to extra time and right now, the tension is mounting, as any mistake made can be a fatal one.
Fifteen minutes to go, as the first half of the prongation period is finished. The neck-breaking pace of the last sixty minutes are long gone, as tired legs and a more cautious approach have slowed the game down.
Around the 120 minute mark, Invernicci fouls Eusebio about five yards outside the box.
Vialli, on the bench after having been taken off some ten minutes earlier, can’t bear to watch. Surely he knows who is going to take the free kick.
Ronald Koeman lines up. It is an indirect free kick, so Juan Bakero takes the first touch, which will allow the defenders an extra half-second to run towards the ball in order to try to block the shot.
Wall? There is no wall… As Koeman is about to unleash hell towards the opposite goal, Pagliuca moves towards the left, anticipating a curler…
… and is completely unable to stop the missile that Snowflake has just launched at him. 1-0 Barcelona!!!!
Scorer of countless free kicks, Koeman is brought to tears by the one he just put in the back of the net…
…While Cruijff rushes off of the bench in order to instruct his team. “I knew that if my players did not lose their heads, we would hang on to our lead”, he commented after the game.
Hanging on to our heads is not something even remotely on culés minds, though…
Nor is drawing back into our own half in order to defend the lead on the mind of the team.
And while Sampdoria anxiously tries to make the most of the few remaining minutes…
…Barça is content to let time run its course.
The game ain’t over til the man in a ridiculous black uniform blows his whistle. And when he does, we have finally done it. Futbol Club Barcelona has secured their first ever European Cup and the players run the pitch in celebration.