1969/70 European Cup – Period of Dutch Dominance Begins
Ajax were considered the likeliest Dutch club of becoming the first European champions due to their domination of the Eredivisie, the rise of their young superstar Johan Crufff and their progressive improvement in European competition. However, Feyenoord had beaten Ajax to the Eredivisie title in 1969 and therefore became the Netherlands’ representatives for the 1969/70 European Cup.
In the early stages Feyenoord caused shockwaves by eliminating defending champions Milan and so the rest of Europe took notice of the team from Rotterdam. Milan were not the only high-profile club to suffer an early exit as serial winners Real Madrid were beaten by Standard Liege.
English champions Leeds United started strongly as they scored 24 unanswered goals in their first six games to reach the semi-finals. There the Whites participated in a Battle of Britain as they faced Celtic. The Scots started as underdogs but they won the first-leg at Elland Road courtesy of a solitary goal scored by George Connelly within 60 seconds of kick-off. In order to accommodate the substantial level of interest generated for the return match the second-leg was moved to Hampden Park.
The highest ever attendance for a European Cup match (over 135,000) witnessed Celtic pile on early pressure to secure victory but it was Leeds’ Scottish captain Billy Bremner who drew first blood as he scored from 30 yards to level the tie on aggregate. However, two goals inside five early second-half minutes swung the momentum back into Celtic’s favour and the Scots booked their tickets for the Milanese final.
After conquering the defending champions (Milan), Feyenoord beat Legia Warsaw in the other semi-final to meet Celtic in the final. In contrast to The Bhoys’ past European Cup final, against Benfica, Jock Stein was fairly dismissive of his opponents which would haunt him as the sides were level 1-1 after full-time. With the clock counting down in extra-time Ove Kindvall scored a decisive winner and Feyenoord became the first side from the Netherlands to be crowned European champions.
Final (Milan): Feyenoord 2-1 Celtic
1970/71 European Cups – Big Guns Missing
As much as this year’s tournament was memorable for the beginning of a dynasty, it was also notable for the absences of Europe’s biggest clubs. The following teams had all failed to qualify: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Milan, Inter, Manchester United, Liverpool, Leeds United and Benfica. With a seemingly easier run to a final holders Feyenoord fell at the first hurdle as they lost to Romania’s UT Arad.
Ajax knocked out the previous year’s finalists Celtic with a 3-0 win in Amsterdam which the former winners could not overcome. With all former winners being eliminated, a new name would join the illustrious list of European Cup winners.
Everton and Borussia Monchengladbach were the first two sides in the competition’s history to contest a penalty shoot-out where the Toffees prevailed. Everton’s journey would then come to a premature end as they lost to Panathanaikos of Greece on away goals in the quarter-finals.
The Greeks, managed by Ferenc Puskas, also won their semi-final against Red Star Belgrade on away goals to face Ajax in the final to be held at Wembley. Dick van Dijk and Arie Haan scored in London as Ajax won 2-0 and won their first European Cup.
Final (Wembley): Ajax 2-0 Panathanaikos
1971/72 European Cup – Adventurous Attacking Football Teaches Catenaccio a Lesson
The previous year Johan Cruyff had won the Ballon d’Or by a landslide vote as he became the first player to amass over 100 votes in the 15-year old award, eclipsing the likes of Di Stefano, George Best and Eusebio. Ajax continued where they left off and they overcame robust challenges from Arsenal and former champions Benfica to reach the final.
Internazionale’s route to the final was anything but straight forward. In the earlier stages, the Nerazzurri faced Borussia Monchengladbach. They were trailing 2-1 in Germany when Inter player Roberto Boninsegna was struck on the head with a projectile thrown by the German fans. He went off injured, which many thought was an overreaction, and the incident clearly ruffled Inter into as they conceded three goals in quick intervals to leave then 5-1 down at half-time. In the second half the Italians’ evening became even less enjoyable as Jair was injured but Inter had already used up their full substitution quota. In addition, Corso was sent-off for kicking the referee so Inter finished the game with nine players and let in another two goals to lose 7-1.
The Italians cried foul and appealed to UEFA to have Germans removed from the competition. UEFA rejected this notion but annulled the 7-1 result and ordered a replay of the German tie. The Italians were satisfied with the verdict but the Germans were furious. They sides were made to play the second-leg in Italy and Inter won 4-2. The replay of the German leg was held in Berlin amid a huge police presence and a 0-0 draw eliminated the Germans from the competition.
Inter then beat Standard Liege on away goals to meet Celtic in a repeat of the 1967 final. The game failed to match the classic from Lisbon as both sides played out a dour 0-0 draw with included extra-time. After 120 minutes with no goals Inter held their nerve to win on penalties 5-4.
The final was held in Rotterdam, the home of Ajax’s greatest rivals Feyenoord, where the holders took the initiative, piled on the pressure but Inter repelled all of their attacks. However, Inter were one-dimensional in possession as they solely looked for Boninsegna upfront. Two instinctive finishes from Cruyff in the second half ensured that creative, attacking football prevailed over catenaccio.
Final (Rotterdam): Ajax 2-0 Internazionale
1972/73 European Cup – Perfect Movement and Harmony
Although the Netherlands had won the last three European Cups Le Oranje had struggled in the European Championships. West Germany on the other hand, full of Bayern Munich players, had just won the European Championships and therefore the Bavarians were strong contenders to steal Ajax’s crown.
Ajax however had reached their zenith as a playing group. Club kings of the world (they added the Intercontinental Cup and the European Super Cup to their array of recent silverware) had destiny in their own hands and they proved this early on as the Amsterdam club was drawn to play Bayern in the quarter-final stage.
Bayern adopted a catenaccio approach in the first leg in Holland as they attempted to play a counter-attacking game. Just as it looked like their plan was working, Ajax opened the scoring thanks to some fortune following a fumble from the usually reliable Maier. This prompted a return to confidence for Ajax as the holders second three more times to win the first-leg 4-0. Despite losing Cruyff to injury Ajax still took the lead in Germany (5-0 on aggregate) before an own-goal and Muller scored a couple of consolation goals.
In the semi-finals Ajax faced another stern test in Real Madrid but the champions were clinical as they won both at home and away. In the final, they would face Italian opposition for the second year running but this time Juventus. The Bianconeri had beaten English champions Derby County in the semi-finals with an attacking display which much of Europe thought Italian teams were incapable of. The Italians took a 3-1 lead with them to England where Derby missed a penalty and then had a player sent-off for violent conduct. Juventus drew 0-0 to reach the final but before they could celebrate the referee from the second-leg complained to UEFA that he had been offered a bribe by Dezso Solti—a former agent for Inter, where there had been previous allegations of bribery in the 1960s. UEFA ruled that there was no connection between Solti and Juventus.
The final was held in Belgrade and although Juventus had an expensively assembled team thanks to the millions of the Agnelli family, Ajax’s players, bar one, had invaluable experience of playing in European Cup finals. The exception was Johnny Rep and it was he who rose to score a header after just five minutes. Ajax dominated the final and should have scored more but regardless the legendary Dutch side displayed their superiority with their flawless movement and poise. They had won their third successive European Cup which put them in the same bracket as Di Stefano and Puskas’ Real Madrid side of the 1950s.
Cruyff became the greatest exponent and teacher of ‘totaalvoetbal’ [Total Football]. His vision of perfect movement and harmony on the field was rooted in the same sublime ordering of space that one sees in the pictures of Vermeer or church painter Pieter Jansz Saenredam. It was the music of the spheres on grass—David Winner, the author of Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football
Final (Belgrade): Ajax 1-0 Juventus
- Champions League Archives Part I – The Birth of the European Cup
- Champions League Archives Part II: The 1950s—Real Madrid’s Five Star Era
- Champions League Archives Part III: Early 1960s—Latin Nations Continue to Rule
- Champions League Archives Part IV: Late 1960s—The First Non-Latin Winners
Categories: Champions League Archives