The European Champions Cup. At a glance, the first thing to note is crowd violence and other infractions of the rules. English clubs were banned because of their violent fans, but the violence already infected the whole continent – Real Madrid had to play their home leg against Napoli behind closed doors and in the second round had to play away from Madrid their home leg. Albanian champion Partizani was expelled from the tournament after their first leg against Benfica. The Yugoslavian saga of the 1986-87 championship ended with Vardar (Skopje) representing the country in this tournament, but the actual champion was Partizan (Belgrade) by court ruling. Quite a mess.
Apart from that, some interesting surprises: Napoli, arguably at their peak with Maradona leading, was eliminated in the first round by Real Madrid. Even punished to play without fans on the stadium, Real won the first leg 2-0 and and in the second Maradona and company managed only a home tie 1-1. The other surprise in the first round was the elimination of Dinamo (Kiev) by Glasgow Rangers – true, Rangers made expensive strong team, but Dinamo was practically the excellent national team of USSR. In the second round the current Champions Cup holders FC Porto lost to Real Madrid both legs – twice 1-2. In the ¼ finals Real Madrid took the scalp of Bayern – 2-3 and 2-0. Here was the end of the road for Glasgow Rangers too, eliminated by Steaua (Bucharest) 0-2 and 2-1. Steaua looked like going to triumph again – they certainly were not one-time wonder. But it was not going to happen – Benfica eliminated them in the ½ finals 0-0 and 0-2. In the semi PSV Eindhoven stopped Real Madrid without actually beating them – both legs were tied, but the Dutch won on away goal – 1-1 and 0-0. It was already second lucky victory of PSV – they eliminated Girondens Boredeaux in the ¼ finals exactly the same way, somewhat benefiting from lucky draw, giving them the second leg at home in both ¼ and ½ finals. Thus, the finalists were Benfica (Lisbon) and PSV Eindhoven. A tough one – Benfica wanted to come back to the top of Europe, to repeat at last their great years in the first half of the 1960s. PSV Eindhoven wanted to emerge from the shadow of Ajax and Feyenoord at last – after all, they never managed so far to succeed internationally the way the other two big Dutch clubs did. Both finalists were kind of ‘jinked’ – for years, no matter how strong teams they had, they failed to concur Europe and even sunk to secondary positions in their countries – FC Porto was internationally better and so were Ajax and Feyenoord. Anyhow, the Dutch seemingly had the stronger squad at the moment – as far as individual names count. The Dutch revival was better pronounced than the similar Portuguese revival, so PSV was more expected to win the final. Their European cmapiagn so far was flawless – they lost only one match and that in the opening round of the tournament (the away match against Galatasaray – 0-2 – but they already had won the first leg 3-0). Benfica had somewhat easier easier draws all the way to the final (Partizani Tirana, AGF Aarhus, Anderlecht and Steaua) – the Dutch faced Galatasaray, Rapid Vienna, Girondens Bordeaux and Real Madrid. All that meant nothing when the referee started the final.
There was something symbolic in the captains of the opponents: Gerets, who went through huge misfortune because of his involvement in the Belgian bribing scandal earlier in the decade and Sheu, already a veteran from the largely weak and unfortunate years of Benfica, when they won nothing and lost a lot of respect. The captains, like the clubs, had a lot in stake – may be their last chance to get back respect, to prove they were winners.
The match itself was nothing much… both teams were dedicated to attacking football, fast and surprisingly clean, but typically 1980s – it was difficult to create a scoring opportunity. Defenses got the upper hand always. Both goalkeepers had little to do, especially van Breukelen. It may have been the tactics – Benfica used somewhat old-fashioned strict lines. In defense Mozer played wonderful match, but hardly ever reached the central line – he patrolled deep back, killing Dutch attacks. Ahead, Benfica soon became predictable and ineffective – Pacheco, operating on the left wing was always passed to, but Gerets won every duel. By the end of the first half it was clear that nothing good may happen this way and the best would be either to look for the other wing (where Magnusson operated in the first half), or move Pacheco far away from Gerets. Which Toni and his assistant Eusebio realized and started the second half with Pacheco moved to the right wing and Magnusson to the center. Did not work better, unfortunately – looking always for Pacheco severely limited the attacking options of Benfica – speedy and dangerous Chiquinho and to a large degree Magnusson were isolated, did not get balls. The aggressive and competent Dutch defense had no trouble destroying repetitious, but always the same attacking efforts of Benfica, which midfielders kept further back and rarely helped the strikers. Elzo was the moving force there and he was also the only danger, for Sheu was surprisingly quiet. But in any case the Dutch always had numerical dominance and destroyed any attacks at early stage. Benfica had only one scoring opportunity in the regular time and it came late in the second half, created by their substitute Vando, who was a bit more effective against Gerets than Pacheco.
PSV Eindhoven also suffered from their structural approach – Lerby, Ronald Koeman, Gerets, and Nielsen were the prime movers and shakers. Three defenders and Lerby, who generally started attacks from very deep back. Great coverage of the whole field, but the problem was that PSV’s strikers were isolated and especially in the first half only making the numbers – Kieft and Vanenburg almost touched the ball. Thus, the four players of the deep back started and finished attacks – but starting an attack from so far behind limited the finish also far from Benfica’s net: long shots from Koeman, Lerby, and Nielsen, which, if on target at all, did not trouble alert Silvino. Such emphasis on defenders placed explains why PSV Eindhoven played with 5 defenders – van Aerle generally covered for his teammates going constantly ahead, but also PSV practically played without strikers. However, with time, PSV Eindhoven took the upper hand, putting Benfica in defense. Yet, the visible supremacy materialized with dangerous opportunity only from the 70th minute on. And blew away their scoring chances – Vanenburg missed 3 chances, but it was Linskens missing a 100% scoring opportunity. A desperate efforts by Silvino and finally Mozer blocked Vanenburg once and after that Silvino made two great saves. It was 0-0 at the 90th minute and it was 0-0 after extra-time.
In the penalty shoot-out it was goal for goal, all kickers focused and giving no chance to the goalkeepers. 5-5 and then the Dutch made it 6-5. Veloso stepped in and…
van Breukelen saved.
The Dutch jumped from the grass – no voodoo-ceremonies back than, the teams watched the penalties sitting in the center – and
run to embrace their goalkeeper. The moment of triumph at last.
Gerets received the Cup
The usual smiles and lifting the coveted Cup.
Well, who was the real hero? Gerets, Koeman – or still van Breukelen, whose save won the trophy?
Final, Neckarstadion, Stuttgart, 25 May 1988, att 70000
PSV (Eindhoven) (0) 0 SL Benfica (0) 0 aet
PSV won 6-5 on penalties
PSV (Eindhoven) (trainer Hiddink): Van Breukelen; Gerets, Van Aerle, R.Koeman, Nielsen, Heintze; Vanenburg, Linskens, Lerby; Kieft, Gillhaus (Janssen 107)
SL Benfica (trainer Toni): Silvino; Veloso, Dito, Mozer, Alvaro; Elzo, Sheu, Chiquinho, Pacheco;
Rui Aguas (Vando 57), Magnusson (Hajiri 111)
Referee: Agnolin (Italy)
Penalty shoot-out details:
PSV: Koeman, Kieft, Nielsen, Vanenburg, Lerby and Janssen scored
Benfica: Elzo, Dito, Hajiri, Pacheco and Mozer scored, Veloso (shot saved)
Well, the curse of Bela Gutman still worked… Benfica lost. Eusebio failed to win the Champions Cup as a coach (well, assistant-coach), Toni failed to win it both as player and as a coach. Sheu had to finish his career with blemish of never achieving anything internationally with his beloved club. It was a good team – Silvino was worthy replacement of Bento, the Brazilians – Mozer, Elzo, Chiquinho, and Vando (or Wando) – were very strong, Mats Magnusson provided Northern stable efficiency and seriousness, Moroccan talent Redoune Hajry (or Hajiry) was reliable substitute, Sheu, Veloso, Pacheco, Rui Aguas were solid Portuguese stars and national team players. It was very, very good team, which lost only on the chancy penalty shoot-out. But lost…
At last PSV Eindhoven won the European Champions Cup – finally they came even with Ajax and Feyenoord and also were a great part of the Dutch revival. Given the squad and the final match as well, they seemingly deserved to win: they were the stronger team at the final and created more scoring opportunities. However, they did not score and did not win… which evoked the old problems from the 1970s: great team, but unable to win when matters most. Ambition and talent were there, the team had very strong campaign, but… their last 5 matches in the European tournament were all ties and they prevailed either on away-goal rule or, at the final, on penalty shoot-out. That left a bit of doubt about their real class – especially because the names clearly spelled out ‘class’: Guus Hiddink coaching Gerets, Lerby, Nielsen, van Breukelen, van Aerle, Heintze, Kieft, Vanenburg, Gillhaus, and having more talent than available positions, so Frank Arnesen (Denmark) and Hallvar Thoresen (Norway) sat on the bench. By names, PSV Eindoven was much heavier than Benfica and should have won – as it happened, they were only slightly dominating… and it could have been the already mentioned difficulty with the leading players from the defense: PSV’s game was based on Lerby, Ronald Koeman, Gerets, and Ivan Nielsen in every phase of the game, thus isolating great scorer as Kieft and Vanenburg. Defenders defending, organizing the play in midfield and finishing attacks – it was limiting creativity and the usefulness of almost half the team. A well organized opponent was able to reduce the danger coming from 4 players covering the whole field all the time – concentrate on them and pretty much forget the others, for the ball was not going to them anyway and those four no matter how fit and skillful were still defenders and had to keep their minds on defending all the time. Yet, the boys won and it was great – such players deserved to win big, especially Gerets and Lerby, who were getting old. With reservations or without, PSV Eindhoven won the European Champions Cup at last and it was great and largely fair.