Monday, December 31, 2012

The shift of power was clearer in the European club tournaments. Nothing really drastic – same countries, but different clubs. As far as the tournaments go, there is something risky: winners of this domestic season qualify for next season in Europe. Few summer months rarely suffice for major ups or downs, yet, nothing guarantees that a great squad now will be in the same form after vacation and transfer period. As a rule of thumb nobody expects big names suddenly falling to pieces or a miniscule club having great team out of the blue: the usual favourites and outsiders remain, at least before the competitions begin. Actually, longer – as long as a 'favourite' goes ahead no matter how. The UEFA Cup was rather normal in the fall of 1976: favourites winning at the expense of real small fry. Unfortunately, the draw cannot be entirely beneficial for the biggies and some pairs opposed strong clubs – thus, Ujpesti Dosza, FC Porto, Ajax, and Manchester City , losing to (in the same order) Athletic Bilbao, Schalke 04, Manchester United, and Juventus. To me the hardest was Ajax – Manchester United – as a fan of both clubs, it was tough to chose. I was hoping for revival of both clubs, in a sense, it did not matter who went ahead; in the same time it was sad to see either club eliminated so early. Ajax was still shaky, so the better at the time rightfully qualified for the next round. In retrospect, the losers above 'deserved' elimination – one or another way, all of them were going downhill at the moment. The winners were going up to some degree, but it was a case of suprising results – just tough, fairly equal pairs, one had to be out. Real surprises were few: AEK (Athens) eliminated Dinamo (Moscow) in overtime (2-0 and 1-2), Celtic (Glasgow) lost to Wisla (Krakow) 2-2 and 0-2, and Inter (Milano) eliminated by Honved (Budapest) after 0-1 and 1-1. The Italians struggled, but even this was not exactly unexpected, considering the general decline of Italian football in the last 5-6 years: Inter was a surprising loser, but not Cesena, eliminated by 1.FC Magdebourg. Milan was perhaps most emblematic – they eliminated Dinamo (Bucharest), but with great difficulty: 0-0 and 2-1.

The 1/16 finals produced even fewer surprises: Milan confirmed its suspect form by struggling against Akademik (Sofia). The Bulgarians won the opening leg 4-3 and given the historic difference of class, the second leg in Milano was not a walkover – Milan won 2-0, but really! 5-4 against small Bulgarian club – something was very wrong with Milan. And so was with Barcelona – they barely survived the Belgian KSC Lokeren, thanks to away goal – 2-0 and 1-2. Juventus had tougher luck – once again going to Manchester, this time to face United. Just like Manchester City, Juve lost 0-1 away, but did a bit better at home, winning 3-0 – vs 2-0 against City. I am not sure was it some relief for the Citizens to see United beaten by more goals then City, but I was surely unhappy. Yet, it was still a matter of fairly equal draw, where the win would go either way. Some other confrontation were similar, although involving not so famous clubs, including the elimination of Wisla (Krakow) by RWD Molenbeek (Brussels). The only bomb was dropped by AEK – after eliminating Dinamo (Moscow), now they faced Derby County. There was no question who will continue... even after the first leg in Athens, where AEK won 2-0. Only three goals were needed to restore justice... yes, there were three goals scored, but in the Derby County's net. AEK won again – 3-2.

In the third round Barcelona was clearly the luckiest – they had an easiest draw and progressed confidently after two large wins against Osters IF (Sweden): 3-0 and 5-1. May be too confident wins... The rest of the pairs were more or less between equals, so nothing really out of normal – Milan's play with fire finally ended: Athletic thrashed them 4-1 in Bilbao and the heroics of Milan were not enough at the end. They were short of a goal, winning 3-1 in Milano, and Athletic went ahead. More dramatic was the battle between Queen's Park Rangers and 1. FC Koln. Both clubs strong and playing their best football, the challenge was exciting. QPR built solid 3-0 lead in London, but what could be enough against Germans? On home turf they scored 4, however QPR managed to give one back and qualified for the next round thanks to the away goal. 'Normal' results end here, though – two major upsets were delivered: RWD Molenbeek took the scalp of Schalke 04. Granted, Schalke were not exactly great at the time, but still favourites against lesser Belgian club. It was not a walkover, yet, Schalke was unable to win at all – RWD Molenbeek advanced after 1-0 at home and 1-1 in Gelsenkirchen. And finally – AEK dropped a third bomb. The victim this time was Crvena zvezda. AEK won 2-0 in Athens and survived the barrage in Belgrade. They lost, surely, but scored precious away goal – 1-3 – and thanks to it moved up to ¼ finals.

On the surface, the ¼ finals were not all that problematic – with a single exception, the Spanish derby between Athletic and Barcelona, the rest was seemingly easy draw for the favourites. And even the Spanish pair appeared predictable – Barcelona was the likely winner. But one has to remember that Spanish football traditionally is triangular – it is not only Barcelona vs Madrid, but Basques against Spanish and Catalonians as well. If anything, the Basques are fighters and they clinched the victory – 2-1 and 2-2. Tough in Spain, but easy in Italy – Juventus practically eliminated 1. FC Magdebourg in East Germany, winning the first leg 3-1. In Torino, there was time for economy – 1-0 was enough to keep the East Germans humble. The other two ¼ final pairs went wrong... Feyenoord was expected to win, but apparently RWD Molenbeek built confidence and ambitions by progressing that far, and they were hungrier – they kept Feyenoord at scoreless tie in Rotterdam and clinched 2-1 win in Brussels. One fairy tale continued, the other however was surely to end – AEK were simply lucky so far. True, they eliminated much stronger opponents, but that is precisely the pure luck. Underestimated so far, but no doubt QPR had learned the lesson. AEK became ambitious, yet, QRP, if playing seriously, would be too much for the Greeks. Most likely QPR learned no lesson – they won with confidence in London, 3-0. Then they had to realize that two legs mean two matches... AEK won 3-0 in Athens, and after fruitless overtime the winner was to be decided by penalty shoot-out. Penalties were not the forte of British teams – to their own peril, the Brits somewhat think even now that shoot-outs are not the right way to produce a winner. Hence, shoot-outs were British weakness – and AEK won dramatically 7-6. Second fairy tale continued, bigger than RWD Molenbeek's – so far, AEK eliminated Dinamo (Moscow), Derby County, Crvena zvezda, and Queen's Park Rangers. Coming close to the final.

Coming close, but no closer – AEK faced Juventus in the semi-final. The Italians knew how to learn lessons and underestimating was hardly in their character. They were too much for the Greeks – the fate was decided in Torino, where everything became painfully clear: 4-1 for Juventus. Try scoring 4 goals to Dino Zoff. Try coming near to Dino Zoff, actually. AEK did not come close even to a goal – Juventus won in Athens as well, 1-0. RWD Molenbeek fared better – Athletic was still considered not that great opponnent and Belgians ever play seriously, on top, if not above, their abilities. Neither club won a match, but the Basques managed to score away goal in Brussels. After 1-1 and 0-0, they went ahead. RWD Molenbeek at least exited unbitten and unhumiliated.

The end of a dream: captains Morini (Juventus) and Papaioannou (AEK) shaking hands before the match ending 4-1 Juventus.

Juventus vs Athletic. Two clubs with long history and big standings in their respective countries. Also two clubs so far never winning anything in Europe, unlike all of their great enemies. No wonder, both opponents were highly ambitious. Given the traditions, the history, the mentality in both countries, the final was not to be a pinnacle of exciting football, but rather heavy clash. And true to expectations, it was not memorable final. A careful affair, full of trickery, stifling and suffocating the game. Both teams were defensively-minded, did not shy away from time-wasting and simulations. There were plenty of killers in each team, and if the finals were not condemned as particularly vicious, the reason may be that both teams were the same, so there was no clear victim to be seen. Juventus looked mightier on paper, but the boys from Bilbao were especially tough bunch. They had stars as well – Iribar, Alexanko, Guoicoechea, Irureta, but it was the collective toughness to matter. As for Juventus – their line-up speaks for itself. In front of 75 000-strong crowd, Juventus clinched Italian-style victory at Stadio Comunale – 1-0. Tardelli scored in the 15th minute.

Final 1st Leg, Stadio Comunale, Turin, 4 May 1977, att 75000

Juventus (1) 1 Athletic Bilbao (0) 0

15' 1-0 J: Tardelli


Zoff; Cuccereddu, Gentile, Scirea, Morini; Tardelli, Furino,

Benetti; Causio, Boninsegna (Gori), Bettega

Athletic Bilbao

Iribar; Oñaederra, Escalza, Guoicoechea, Guisasola; Villa, Irureta,

José Angelo Rojo, Churruca; Dani, José Francisco Rojo

Bettega looking deadlier than he was in reality in the first final leg.

Tardelli gets the ball from Bilbao's net – he just scored.

The second leg at San Mames was attended by almost half of the Torino's audience, but it was Basque crowd. Juventus again scored early, steering the match in the traditional Italian pattern. The hosts were not some continental or British club, though. Tooth for tooth they fought and finally won 2-1.

Final 2nd Leg, San Mames Stadium, Bilbao, 18 May 1977, att 43000

Athletic Bilbao (1) 2 Juventus (1) 1

7' 0-1 J: Bettega

11' 1-1 AM: Churruca

78' 2-1 AM: Carlos

Athletic Bilbao

Iribar; Lasa (Carlos), Guisasola, Alesanco, Escalza; Villa,

Churruca, Irureta; Amarrortu, Dani, José Francisco Rojo


Zoff; Cuccureddu, Morini, Scirea, Gentile; Causio, Tardelli,

Furino, Benetti; Boninsegna (Spinosi), Bettega

Athletic in attack, Juventus in defense. Hopeless defense? Let's say the usual Italian defense.

Athletic won, but the EUFA Cup went to Torino... Bettega's away goal decided the outcome. The result is unusual, even unfair, but rules are rules. The point is, there was no clear winner – perhaps the most equal of finals. There is not convincing argument in favour of Juventus, yet, it was not unfair victory, like some of the finals of the 1970s, where sympathies were on the losing side. Here, either team would have been unconvincing winner. Both played similar tactics – 4-4-2; both were rough killers of football; both professed philosophy of winning only, football actually unimportant for the aim.

First ever European trophy for the Old Lady! At last! It was barely won, but won.

Athletic Bilbao – brave, if not great finalists. Very disappointed at the end. With time they found reason for some pride, calling themselves 'sub-champions'. Alas. second best is not trophy holder.
What a team!And what a successful year for Juventus! The spell was broken – Juve just started winning internationally. Shall I mention Trapattoni? He had to be mentioned in 1977, when he was not yet the world-famous coach – no need of mentioning today, thanks to the same 1977. Juventus played attacking football approximating total football – against weaker opponents. Against strong teams, it was old tried and proven catenaccio, slightly modified, but defense was coming first as ever. 4-4-2 formation, but let's not count those who were skilled in defending.