Real Madrid and the UEFA Champions League. Some would say that the relationship between the two is a better love story than Twilight.
It was during the 50s and 60s which saw the beginning of Real Madrid dominating Europe, winning the European Cup (as it was known back then) 6 times between 1956 and 1966. This was an era that saw legendary players such as Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Gento produce football that will be remembered for eternity.
Since those iconic years, the Madridista faithful would not experience such European success for quite some time. There were plenty of Spanish La Liga and Copa del Rey titles that made their way to the Real Madrid trophy room, but not the competition they crave the most.
That European title drought would finally end in 1998.
During the 1997/98 season, Real were performing below par in La Liga despite boasting high calibre footballers such as Roberto Carlos, Fernando Hierro, Clarence Seedorf and Raul just to name a few. Out of the title race in La Liga, Real began to step up in the UEFA Champions League and beat German opposition in Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund (the then defending champions) in the quarter finals and semi finals respectively to book their place in the final in Amsterdam. Ironically, it was Real’s German coach Jupp Heynckes lead who got them there.
Standing in Real’s way of that elusive Septima and 1st of the Champions League era were Italian giants Juventus.
The Bianconeri had made it to the final in the previous two seasons, beating Ajax on penalties in 1996 and losing to Borussia Dortmund a year later. They went into the final with a side that had Champions League final experience with players such as Alessandro Del Piero, Edgar Davids and of course Zinedine Zidane (a future Real Madrid legend).
In a tight and tense final at the Amsterdam Arena on 20 May 1998, the deadlock was broken in the 66th minute when Roberto Carlos’ low drive into the penalty area deflected through to Predrag Mijatovic who slotted home from close range.
In what proved to be the only goal of the game, Los Merengues would finally witness European success after 32 years in the wilderness.
It proved to be a very crucial victory as the club finished outside the Champions League spots in La Liga that year and hence would have missed out on the following season’s edition if they had fallen in Amsterdam.
Since winning their 7th European title, Real Madrid have gone on to win Europe’s top club prize a further 6 times. This brings their total to 13 European Cups/Champions Leagues, 6 clear of 2nd placed AC Milan.
With such an obsession and success on the European stage, it’s easy to see why those associated with Real Madrid claim the Champions League to be “their” competition.
- Rayan Adasi for www.footballretro.com