Saturday, July 4, 2009

At the final Ajax cemented their so far shaky reputation – they won by clear 2-0, the European Champion’s Cup remained with them. From Dutch players perspective Arsenal may have been the most important opponent, but to outsider’s eye the final with Inter was more convincing: it was versatile team, capable of many different things. Sure, they were attack-oriented, highly skilled, and tremendously imaginative, but also they were superb tacticians and easily meeting particular modes of playing, depending on the opponents. Against Inter, Ajax were tough, played physical game, never shying away from hard tackles, dirty tricks, and committing fouls. Defensively, they outmastered the Italians in their own specialty, even more so, for traditionally the Italians met the opposition in their own half of the field, but Ajax never invited Inter in their own half, but mercilessly tackled them everywhere. The Dutch defense was triggered at the very moment they lost possession of the ball and their approach was Italian to boot. But they did not play the same way against teams with different approach to the game – extremely tactically versed, Ajax adopted the tactics of the opponent to their own benefit. Being faster and much more mobile than Inter, Ajax easily covered the whole field, looking that they had more players than Inter. However, they were still thinking primarily of attacks, and in them they were deadly – both goals looked more like mockery of Italian defense: Ajax shattered the black and blue defense to the point that the goals appeared easy, a kids task.
Inspiration and motivation went a long way too – Heinz Stuy, never much of goalkeeper, made fantastic save when no other than Sandro Mazzola erupted alone in front of him. Not many keepers ever saved their net when one on one with Sandro, but Stuy won the duel. There was nothing the Italians could do to end in a draw, neither defensively, nor offensively. As for winning – it was beyond the wildest imagination. Ajax controlled the game, its tempo, and its flaw. Clear winners.
It is hard to say what lessons the Italians learned from this final: most likely none, for they mostly blamed their young goalie Ivano Bordon for the loss. Inter’s titular keeper was injured and Bordon played. The mistakes he made cost Inter the cup – so was the Italian view. Ironically, the good-for-nothing Bordon was included in two World Cup Italian squads, becoming World Champion in 1982 (although he did not play a minute, having been reserve.) No changes were made in Italian football after seeing how deadly total football is – resulting in disastrous performance at 1974 World Cup. Italian football somehow failed to see the new football emerging with Ajax and West Germany. Inter looked hopelessly outdated in 1972 – with players like Mazzola, Facchetti, Burgnich, Boninsegna, the Brazilian star Jair, no less. And with promising talent like Bellugi and Oriali. They looked old… ancient, actually.

Final, Feyenoord Stadium, Rotterdam, 31 May 1972, att 61000

Ajax (0) 2 Internazionale (0) 0
47' 1-0 A: Cruyff
78' 2-0 A: Cruyff

Ajax (trainer Kovacs)
Stuy; Suurbier, Blankenburg, Hulshoff, Krol; Neeskens, Haan, G.Mühren; Swart, Cruijff, Keizer
Internazionale (trainer Invernizzi)
Bordon, Burgnich, Facchetti, Bellugi, Oriali; Giubertoni (Bertini), Bedin, Frustalupi; Jair (Pellizarro), Mazzola, Boninsegna
Referee: Helles (France)
Ajax players always superior, even when outnumbered.
Cruiff scores with unlikely header.
His second one was so easily done, it was mocking comment on ultra-defensive football. Note Keizer at the right: he captained Ajax more often than Cruiff.
Stuy winning one-one battle with Mazzola. Inter down (in contrast to the position of the players) everywhere.
Second Champions Cup indeed. Just in case there were any doubters left.