Champions League Archives

Champions League Archives Part IX: 1993-1999—The European Cup Becomes the Champions League

1992/93 European Cup – Controversy, Red Tape and a Basile Boli

The format continued as per the previous season but UEFA introduced rules that clubs could not field more than three foreign players in a match which came in handily to Leeds United. The Yorkshire club had drawn Stuttgart in the first round and lost 3-0 in Germany. In the return game Leeds had managed a valiant 4-1 win but this still left them foul of the away goals rule. However, it transpired that Stuttgart had fielded a fourth foreign player and as a result UEFA awarded Leeds a 3-0 victory which meant the tie was deadlocked. A play-off was then ordered in a neutral venue, Barcelona, which Leeds won 2-1.

Their reward was a second round meeting with Glasgow Rangers which prompted the highly publicised Battle of Britain tag which Rangers won with 2-1 victories both north and south of the border. Holders Barcelona relinquished their title before the group stage as CSKA Moscow beat them 3-2 at the Camp Nou to secure an aggregate victory.

In the group stages, Milan who now had Fabio Capello as their manager and Jean-Pierre Papin upfront, sailed through with six wins from six games. In the final they faced Marseille, who were runners-up two years earlier. A 44th minute header from Basile Boli was enough to separate the sides to give France its first European Cup. The celebrations were short-lived however as the club was found guilty of match-fixing their final Ligue 1 game so they could focus on the Milan tie. Marseille were stripped of the French title, relegated and barred from defending the European Cup.

Final (Munich) Marseille 1-0 Milan

 

1993/94 European Cup: Milan Dazzle Once More

There was a slight amendment to the format as now the top two teams from each group would meet in one-legged semi-final where the top finisher from each qualifying group was given a home tie.

After Marseille’s match-fixing and subsequent sanctions, the French side became the first champion to be barred from defending its trophy. Manchester United made their long-awaited return to the European Cup after over 25 years in the wilderness. They displayed signs of ring rust as they were eliminated by Turkish side Galatasaray on away goals.

Milan, who strengthened their defence by signing Marcel Desailly from Marseille, finished top of their group and faced Monaco in the semi-final. Barcelona who had also won their group faced Porto. Both ties resulted in comfortable 3-0 wins. away Milan were rocked with the news Costacurta and Baresi would both miss the final held in Athens.

Both Barca and Milan had won their domestic league titles, the Rossoneri based on a sound defence and Barcelona with Stoichkov and Romario running amok in La Liga. With Milan missing Costacurta and Baresi for the final, Barcelona sensed an opportunity against a team who had only scored 36 goals in 34 league games. Yet the final was entirely incongruous with the majority of the season as Capello outsmarted Cruyff with his bold offensive tactics right from the kick-off. Milan were 2-0 up at half-time and then scored another two within 15 minutes of the restart.

“Barcelona were certainly a good side but we knew how to exploit them and we went for it ruthlessly. We played an almost perfect game. We completely stifled difficult opponents and gave them almost nothing.”—Paolo Maldini

Final (Athens): Milan 4-0 Barcelona

 

1994/95 European Cup: You Won’t Win Anything With Kids

After Johan Cruyff left Ajax to play for Barcelona the three-time consecutive European Cup winners went through their own drought but this only lasted several years. In the late 1970s the club still managed to win a domestic double and when the prodigal son returned in the early 1980s they won back-to-back Eredivisie titles.

Furthermore the club had combined all the necessary ingredients in producing more than its fair share of excellent academy products. Milan stars Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten were products of the Ajax academy and once they moved on it was Dennis Bergkamp who led Ajax to the Dutch title and a first UEFA Cup title.

Bergkamp was sold the following summer to Internazionale but Louis van Gaal had faith in an array of academy graduates which included twins Frank and Ronald de Boer, Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Michael Reiziger and Winston Bogarde. The club added invaluable experience by re-signing Rijkaard.

This tournament saw the Champions League really take shape as there were four groups of four teams with the top two from each group qualifying into a quarter-final stage knockout tournament. Holders Milan were grouped with the young exciting Ajax side and the Rossoneri were beaten twice: 2-0 in Amsterdam and; 2-0 in Milan as Ajax qualified comfortably. The holders laboured through to the knock-out rounds, as in addition to the aforementioned defeats, UEFA docked them two points after crowd trouble.

Elsewhere Paris Saint-Germain, spearheaded by Liberian George Weah, swept away a strong group which included Bayern Munich to finish with a 100 percent winning record. Manchester United’s woes continued as they were thumped 4-0 by Barcelona at the Camp Nou and lost 3-1 to IFK Goteborg to be edged out on goal difference.

In the semi-finals Ajax showcased their style as they beat Bayern 5-2 in Holland. Meanwhile the holders picked up form by beating Benfica and then PSG, without conceding a single goal in the process, and so Ajax faced Milan in the final.

The game was billed as youth versus experience. Milan had eight players from the previous year’s final and Baresi was back to marshal the defence. In contrast, Ajax’s side had an average age of just 23 which included the 32-year-old Rijkaard. Prediactably Ajax’s creativity was stifled by Milan’s organised defence but in contrast to the 1994 final the Italians lacked much attacking intent. Ajax had the advantage of younger legs and their freshness counted late in the game as Patrick Kluivert scored the winner five minutes from full-time.

Ajax won the tournament without losing a single game—a feat not achieved since 1973 when Ajax won their last European Cup—and also won the Dutch title being undefeated the entire season.

Final (Vienna): Ajax 1-0 Milan

 

1995/96 European Cup: Juventus Triumph in Rome

Holders Ajax repeated Milan’s achievements from 12 months earlier by advancing all the way to the final in an attempt to successfully defend their trophy. The Dutch side had endured another heavyweight group, as they had to contend with Real Madrid, and just as Milan had suffered the previous year, Ajax beat the Spaniards both home and away.

Blackburn Rovers had won the English title but their debut Champions League season was one to forget as they garnered four points in their group. The most memorable incident of their forgettable campaign occurred in Moscow when two of their own players, David Batty and Graeme Le Saux, started fighting each other.

Marcello Lippi had been hired by Juventus to revive the clubs fortunes as La Vecchia Signora had failed to win a league title in almost 10 years. Cigar-smoking Lippi was an instant hit as he delivered a domestic double in his first season enabling Juventus to embark on an overdue European Cup campaign.

The Bianconeri had quality from start to finish. Angelo Peruzzi was in goal with Pietro Vierchowod and Ciro Ferrara as central defenders. In midfield, Antonio Conte, Didier Deschamps and Paulo Sousa relentlessly outperformed their midfield peers enabling a prolific three-man attack to wreak havoc among opposition defences. The attack revolved around youngster Alessandro Del Piero, who displayed such ability that he eventually replaced the deemed irreplaceable Roberto Baggio. Gianluca Vialli had been signed from Sampdoria and the silver fox, Fabrizio Ravanelli, completed the trio.

The Italians made easy work of their group but they faced Real Madrid in the quarter-finals. Raul had given Los Blancos a 1-0 lead to take to Italy but that was cancelled out by a Del Piero freekick and Padovano fired in the winner.

Juventus beat Nantes in the semi-finals while Ajax almost came unstuck as they lost 1-0 to Panathanaikos in Amsterdam. 74,000 optimistic Greeks were in attendance in Athens as they hoped to avenge their 1971 European Cup final defeat but a Jari Litmanen double inspired the Dutch side to a 3-0 win and a successive final.

Despite their youth Ajax had the experience of playing in a recent CL final but Juve were playing on home soil as the final was held in Rome. Litmanen cancelled out Ravanelli’s opener with no further goals in regulation or extra-time. Juventus won via penalties to win their second European Cup.

Final (Rome): Juventus 1-1 Ajax (Juve won 4-2 on penalties)

 

1996/97 European Cup – Ricken Secures European Cup for Der General in Style

Defending champions Juventus further strengthened their ranks with the signing of Zinedine Zidane from Bordeaux and Christian Vieri from Atalanta. With the rising French star on board, Juve powered through a group, which included Manchester United, conceding just one goal in six games. Juve recorded 1-0 wins over the Red Devils in Turin and Manchester but Alex Ferguson’s players still qualified from the group.

In the quarter-finals the Red Devils faced Porto, who they comfortably beat 4-0. Having won the domestic double twice in three years, it seemed their performances in Europe were now bearing the fruit of their domestic dominance and therefore the semi-final against German side Borussia Dortmund was considered just a formality.

However, led by the “der General” Ottmar Hitzfeld, the Bundesliga side were enjoying a successful period in their history and contained Die Mannschaft stars European Player of the Year in Matthias Sammer, Andreas Moller and Karl-Heinz Riedle in their ranks.

Die Schwarzgelben travelled to Old Trafford after a 1-0 win at the Westfalenstadion and 20-year-old Lars Ricken scored inside 10 minutes to stun United. Despite sustained pressure from United Dortmund held out to contest their first European final since the 1993 UEFA Cup where they lost 6-1 on aggregate—to Juventus.

Dortmund would meet their old conquerors again as Juve beat Ajax comfortably in the semi-final with an aggregate 6-2 score.

Notwithstanding home advantage that the final was played in Germany, Juventus had strengthened considerably since the previous year and looked odds-on to successfully defend their trophy. The Bianconeri started well but two Borussia corners were converted by Riedle to give the Germans a 2-0 lead. Juve fought back as they struck the woodwork more than once and finally Del Piero scored in the 65th minute to give Juve hope. The optimism was short-lived as three minutes later substitute Lars Ricken raced through and lobbed Peruzzi from 35 yards to seal a famous 3-1 victory.

Final (Munich): Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Juventus

 

1997/98 European Cup: Los Blancos Return to Winners’ Podium after 30-Year Hiatus 

This tournament marked a historical shift in the parameters of the competition. No longer would domestic league winners and defending champions solely enter the tournament as runners-up in domestic football were invited to the competition and the number of groups in the Champions League expanded from four to six. The top teams would qualify for the quarter-finals and then the two best performing runner-up teams would join them.

Juventus were again paired with Manchester United and it was the Red Devils who took top spot. Juve however performed well enough to take a runners-up spot and in the quarter-finals a frustrated United lost to Monaco on away goals while Juve strolled past Dynamo Kiev 5-2 on aggregate. In the other half of the draw it was Real Madrid against Germany. Los Blancos beat Bayer Leverkusen in the quarter-finals and then holders Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals to set up a showdown with Juventus who themselves reached their third successive Champions League final.

Lippi described the meeting of two European giants as a “dream final”. The game was settled in the second half as Predrag Mijatović scored midway through the second half to win Real Madrid’s seventh European Cup—their first in 32 years.

Final (Amsterdam): Real Madrid 1-0 Juventus

 

1998/99 European Cup: A Historic Treble for Manchester United

Alex Ferguson had been fortunate to keep his job at Old Trafford given the high expectations of supporters. Three years into his reign the 1990 FA Cup served as a catalyst to his success at United as the Red Devils won an array of trophies during his 25-year tenure.

At this point in time Manchester United had won four of the last six English championships, including the FA Cup double twice (1994 and 1996) but the biggest club prize alluded them. Ferguson’s fledglings in Beckham, Scholes, Butt, Giggs and the Neville brothers had all matured and complemented the likes of Schmeichel, Stam, Irwin and Keane perfectly. Furthermore the recent signings of Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham bolstered a strike force which already contained Andy Cole and Ole Gunnar Solskjær.

The Red Devils were grouped with Barcelona and Bayern Munich making progression to the knock-out stages all the more difficult, but two 3-3 draws with Barcelona plus two draws with Bayern meant United qualified as a runner-up.

In the quarter-finals a 2-0 win at Old Trafford over Internazionale set them on their way to the semi-finals where they would meet Juventus for the third season running. The first leg was held at Old Trafford and Juventus scored an early away goal to dent United’s hopes before Ryan Giggs equalised late on. A score draw in Turin would be enough for United to at least force extra-time but two Inzaghi goals inside 15 minutes left the Mancunians with a mountain to climb. Roy Keane scored from a corner midway through the first half and he led by example as Yorke and Cole incredibly turned the tie on its head.

United would meet group opponents Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou. The Germans had also held their nerve to beat Andrei Shevchenko’s Dynamo Kiev in the semi-final. A recurring theme in United’s season was their resolute ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and the final was their greatest conquest having been 1-0 down in the 89th minute of the match to win 2-1 in stoppage time. Where Liverpool failed in 1977, United miraculously won an unprecedented treble.

Final (Barcelona): Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munch

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