KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
— Gabriel Hanot had thought it all through. When the football editor of L’Equipe, back in the early 1950s, dreamed up the European Champions Club Cup – on the model of the pre-war Mitropa Cup – he knew exactly how the venue for the final would be decided.
The first final would be played in Paris, at the old Parc des Princes, because the competition enjoyed a French genesis. After that, thought Hanot and his colleagues, the winners should enjoy the bonus not only of an automatic place in the competition the next season but also the right to host the final.
That worked for just two seasons. The Parc, indeed, hosted the first final in 1956 in which Reims lost 4-3 to Real Madrid. As per The Plan, Madrid accepted the charge of hosting the 1957 final.
But Madrid also won the second final, by 2-0 against Fiorentina in their own Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Fledgling European federation UEFA, which had taken over organisation of the competition, had to come up with a new format. Hence it was resolved that the venue for the final would be decided in advance and would, hopefully in most cases, prove a neutral choice.
Remarkably, considering that the European Cup was launched all of 57 years ago, only on three occasions has it been staged in the home stadium of one of the finalists. This season, of course, could be a fourth occasion because Bayern Munich are just 90 minutes away from going ‘home’ to a Champions League Final in their own Allianz Arena.
That shadow of expectation has been looming over Germany’s record champions for almost two seasons now. At the start of last year club boss Uli Hoeness, aware of the Allianz prospect, was pointing up the importance of finishing in the 2010-11 Champions League slots at the end of the Bundesliga season.
That is the reason Louis Van Gaal was sacked in spring of last year: Bayern were slipping out of the top three and Hoeness could not countenance the idea of being a mere spectator at ‘his’ Champions League Final.
That may still prove the case but at least Bayern have progressed within sight of that date with destiny.
The first team to enjoy the luxury of their own familiar dressing room, after Madrid in 1957, were Internazionale in 1965. They were home in the final against Benfica in a travesty of a match. Torrential rain had flooded San Siro. If it had been a domestic league or cup match it would have been postponed. Instead, the trappings of the occasions demanded that it went ahead.
Benfica were damaged far more severely than Inter. Eusebio, Mario Coluna and Co played expansive attacking football; Inter were the ultimate man-marking, sweeper-secured, counter-attacking outfit. The conditions worked against the Portuguese, in favour of the Italians.
Worse for Benfica, in the days before substitutes, goalkeeper Alberto Costa Pereira was injured in the first half and centre-back Germano had to go in goal. Inter’s Brazilian right winger Jair da Costa scored the only goal just before half-time and the 10 men of Benfica were duly drowned out.
Coincidentally, Italy was host nation the next – and last – time that one of the finalists were hosts. That was in 1984 when Roma, in their own Stadio Olimpico, were beneficiaries of the supposed advantage, against Liverpool.
The weight of fans’ expectation proved fatally destructive for Roma. Coach Nils Liedholm’s men were fortunate to be on terms at 1-1 at the end of extra time and the final went to penalties for the first time in its history.
Nerves, assisted by the shaky-leg antics of Liverpool keeper Bruce Grobbelaar, beat Roma as much as Liverpool’s cool heads in the shootout. Star midfielder Paulo Roberto Falcao refused to take a kick at all while Italian World Cup-winners Bruno Conti and Francesco Graziani both shot over the bar.
The overall score then: Hosts 2, Visitors 1.
The score ratio is similar (5:3) when counting occasions on which one of the finalists has come from the host country, though not city.
‘Home nation’ wins were recorded by Manchester United (Wembley, 1968), Ajax (Rotterdam, 1972), Liverpool (Wembley, 1978), Juventus (Rome, 1996) and Borussia Dortmund (Munich, 1997) while ‘home nation’ losers were Reims back in 1956 (in Paris) followed by Barcelona (Seville, 1986) and Manchester United (Wembley, 2011).
Adding the two scores together computes at 7:4 on. Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes would surely take those odds against Chelsea next month.
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