Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The UEFA Cup started with little fuss – the first round rarely produced sensations and this time it was not different. Royal Antwerpen (Belgium) eliminated Aston Villa, beating the English both legs (4-1 and 1-0), but in all fairness Villa were quite weak. A bit bigger surprise was the elimination of Napoli (Italy) from Torpedo (Moscow). It was not that Napoli were big favorites – it was just because Torpedo were not a strong team even among the Soviet clubs. The only real bomb was dropped by International (Bratislava). The Slovaks had a very good team at the time, but this was a case of ‘very good for a small club’ and their opponents were Real Zaragoza. The Spanish were hardly powerhouse, yet, they were unquestionable favorites, a class, at least, above the Slovaks. Well, so it was before the opening match in Bratislava.
The result left little doubt who was stronger and it was not the Spanish team. Destroying Zaragoza, Inter wetted their appetite and managed to reach the 1/8 finals - their next opponent was AEK (Athens), considerably weaker enemy.
The home game in Bratislava was all Inter, with AEK playing defense. It did not help the Greeks.
Ladislav Petras had one more strong game, helping him to reestablish himself in the future European champions, the national team of Czeshoslovakia. Nicolau (far right), one of the better Greek players, was clearly not of the same rank… Inter won 2-0, but Czechoslovakian commentators detected trouble and warned about it – AEK was not toothless. Inter had difficulties in the second leg – at home turf, the Greeks attacked and 3-1. The away goal propelled Inter ahead, where they were paired with Stal (Milelec). This time the adversary got the upper hand.
Grzegorz Lato (centre, in white) troubles two defenders at once – Paljatko and Jurkemik. Lato was superstar since his great performance at the 1974 World Cup. Jurkemik still was little known outside Czechoslovakia – he had to wait until the summer of 1976 and European Championship finals. In the fall of 1975 class was Polish side, or so it appears on this picture. In reality, the opponents were pretty much even: Inter won 1-0 in Bratislava; Stal – 2-0 in Mielec, and the run of the likeable Slovaks ended.
The other unusual event happened in the Second round and it was more related to politics than to football: fearing protests against Spain, Lazio refused to play its home game against Barcelona and the Catalans were awarded 3-0 win. After that there was little doubt who will continue – and Barca won the second leg at home 4-0. Given the right-wing Fascist aura of Lazio and the separatist Catalan nature of Barca, the politics leading to abandoned match were incomprehensible: were Lazio’s fans against Franco or against democracy? And how was protesting Spain by booing the most anti-Spanish club? Anyhow, Lazio was gone.