Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Cup Winners Cup was more than routine affair: practically no surprises. Critics of the tournament easily found targets – smaller clubs played here and the difference of quality really showed, for even middle of the road teams of stronger country were able to demolish similar second tier clubs, but from weaker countries. Giant results amassed, especially in the opening round - 9-0, 7-0, 6-0, 6-2, 5-1 – and not between, say, Liverpool and some amateurs from Malta. The amateurs were there alright, but their opponents were half-good: Borac (Banja Luka), for instance. The only real surprise came from one of those half-baked clubs: BSG Sachsenring (Zwickau). The East Germans, hailing from the city manufacturing the infamous Trabant cars, reached the ½ finals. They steadily eliminated Panathinaikos, Fiorentina, and Celtic. Alas, the impressive names distort the picture – none of the loser was in good shape at the time. Of course, it did not matter much – for Sachsenring it was tremendous run.
The surprise winners from Zwickau: standing, from left: Krieger, Henschel, Dietzsch, Stemmler, Brautigam, Schubert, Toss (?), Schykowski, Pfeifer (?), Lauch (?).
Bottom: Blank, Leuschner, Reichelt, Lindl (?), Croy, Braun, Voit, Nestler.
Fairy tales eventually end and the end of Sachsenring was new fodder for critics of the tournament: Anderlecht easily won both legs at the semi-finals 3-0 and 2-0. It was not real fight, signifying only the weakness of the whole tournament – if toothless clubs were able to appear at the semis, what would be next? Cup winners of the same mold?
Anyway, Anderlecht went to the final with confidence. The other finalist was West Ham United – they prevailed over Eintracht (Frankfurt) by one goal: lost the first leg in Germany 1-2, but managed 3-1 victory in London. Thus, Anderlecht was the second Belgian club to reach European final this year. It was also traditionally the most respected Belgian club in Europe – constantly strong, yet not so strong to be real contender. And tradition affected predictions: English clubs, no matter how they played at home, were tough in Europe and most likely to win a final. However, Anderlecht was playing at home – for Brussels was awarded to be the host of the final.
The English did not appear rattled by the inconvenience and the match turned out to be greatly entertaining. Both teams rushed into relentless attacks and to the great surprise of many Anderlecht proved to be more interesting and innovative team. Nevertheless, the Hammers scored first. Then Anderlecht scored two goals, but Robson equalized in the 68th minute. Five minutes later Rensenbrink scored a penalty, but nothing was decided yet – three minutes before the end Anderlecht scored again, but to the last whistle the Hammers attacked trying to equalize. It was fun to watch, there was no a single dull moment, many goals, and change of fortune. Tension to the end and at last Anderlecht won their very first European trophy.
Final, Heysel Stadium, Brussels, 5 May 1976, att 58000
RSC Anderlecht (1) 4 West Ham United (1) 2
28' 0-1 WHU: Holland
42' 1-1 A: Rensenbrink
48' 2-1 A: Vander Elst
68' 2-2 WHU: Robson
73' 3-2 A: Rensenbrink (pen)
87' 4-2 A: Vander Elst
RSC Anderlecht: Ruiter; Lomme, Van Binst, Thissen, Broos; Dockx, Coeck (Vercauteren),Haan, Vander Elst; Ressel, Rensebrink
West Ham United: Day; Coleman, Lampard (A.Taylor), T.Taylor, McDowell; Bonds, Brooking,Paddon; Holland, Jennings, Robson
West Ham United, failing to win second European Cup: back row, from left: Billy Bonds, Trevor Brooking, Tommy Taylor, Marvyn Day, Kevin Lock, John McDowell, Frank Lampard.
Front row: Billy Jennings, Keith Robson, Alan Taylor, Bobby Gould, Graham Paddon.
And the winners – this squad became instantly familiar and it was here to stay. Anderlecht was fueled by Dutch total football power – Arie Haan, who as most of his former teammates moved to another post – a playmaker now – and immediately influenced his new team. Robbie Rensenbrink was a mega-star since 1974 World Cup. Ruiter was solid between the goalposts and earned his first – and only – cap for Holland. Was included in the Dutch squad for the finals of the European Championship, but did not play. The forth ‘tulip’ was Ressel – less known than his compatriots, but no stranger to success either, for he played in Feyenoord before joining Anderlecht and won the UEFA Cup with them. The rest of the squad was mostly Belgian national team players – van Binst, Broos, Thissen, Dockx, Coeck, Vander Elst. But there was something else as well – by 1976 there were a few European clubs practically using 12 players in the game: the regulars plus an eager youngster, typically a product of the club’s youth system, who was a reserve not that much because he was still weak and unexperienced, but because the main team was incredibly competitive. Liverpool with Fairclough, Dinamo Kiev with Buryak, St. Etienne with Rocheteau, Bayern with Rummenige. Anderelecht’s answer was Vercauteren and after the victorious final Europe got to know him as well. Such players were symbol of health: the leading clubs were obviously ready to keep their place at the top of international football. And now, finally, Anderlecht were among the leaders too. And with class and flair, to say the least. The critics of Cup Winners Cup were silenced for a change.