Sunday 16 December 2018

UEFA's last two legged final and the heroes from Gelsenkirchen

In the news recently has been the very heated Copa Libertadores final between Buenos Aires rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate. The Copa Libertadores is basically the Champions League of South America but unlike UEFA's version the South Americans have always played their final over two legs as opposed to a one off match at a neutral venue (although as of next season that will change to single game like it's European equivalent). However whilst in Europe the finals of the Champions League and European Cup as it was previously known have always been standalone one off matches, until just over twenty years ago European football's second competition then known as the UEFA Cup did actually play it's final over two legs. With all the drama of the recent two legged Copa Libertadores final reaching fans all over the world, I thought I'd look back at that last time a European final was played over two legs. 

In 1998 Paris St Germain's Parc des Princes stadium hosted the first even single match final of the UEFA Cup, but a year earlier when FC Schalke 04 faced Internazionale it was still a two legged affair, the last of it's kind for a European final.

In the city of Gelsenkirchen fans of local side Schalke hadn't expected their team to reach the UEFA Cup final, and when they got their they saw as most people did their Italian opposition Internazionale from Milan to be definite favourites. Schalke hadn't had any real success for years and their loyal support never expected much else. As for Inter they had already won the competition twice that decade, and their two European Cup wins in the 1960's showed they were no strangers to big European finals. 

Schalke's route to the final included aggregate victories against Club Brugge and Valencia whilst Inter had a 7-1 aggregate win against Portuguese side Boavista as well as victories against Anderlecht and Monaco as part of the five rounds they navigated before reaching the final.

The first leg took place at Schalke's old Parksatdion home. The hosts dominated much of the game with the Italians having only one meaningful chance during the match, and Schalke ended up winning the game 1-0 thanks to a brilliant Mark Wilmots shot from just over 30yds out that beat Gianluca Pagliuca who was between the posts for Inter.

For the second leg roughly 30,000 fans travelled to Milan from Gelsenkirchen many without tickets.  Mike Büskens and Jiří Němec combined early on to set up Wilmots only for him to see his shot saved, whilst minutes later Pagliuca in the Inter goal was in action again saving from a left footed Büskens free-kick. Schalke were showing their intent.

Eventually though Inter began to find their way back into the contest, Youri Djorkaeff sent a header wide in the second half before Inter levelled up the tie late on. Chilean striker Iván Zamorano toe poked past a Jens Lehmann after Paul Ince flicked the ball onto him.

Was the dream dying for Schalke? Time would tell. There were 30 minutes of extra time still to be played and if needed penalties after that. Schalke became nervous and Inter had more chances, but no one could find the net and the match would have to be settled by the dreaded penalty shoot-out.
Ingo Anderbrügge had already missed two penalties in the Bundesliga that season but when he took the first penalty of the shoot-out he had no trouble finding the net. This was followed by Lehmann saving an effort from Zamorano meaning it was advantage Schalke.

Schalke captain Olaf Thon then scored as did Djorkaeff for Inter. 1-2. Martin Max made it 1-3 and then it was Dutchman Aron Winter who stepped up for the home side. Winter fired his shot wide and Schalke were one successful spot-kick from victory.

For what could be the decisive kick it was Wilmots who stepped up. Could he go down in Schalke folklore? Yes he could! Pagliuca dived to the right, Wilmots hit the ball to the left, the ball found the back of the net, and Schalke 04 had won the UEFA Cup!

Schalke had done their research for the shoot-out, Dutch coach Huub Stevens had details of which side the Inter players preferred to strike the ball to from the spot, left or right. Lehmann had even studied previous penalties on a laptop. Basically when it mattered most Schalke had an advantage, they were the team in the know, they were team who came out on top and won the UEFA Cup.

Seven days later Schalke's arch rivals Borussia Dortmund won the Champions League so their UEFA Cup success was soon overshadowed. For Schalke however success had become a rare occurrence and this victory would definitely be cherished. 

In the two decades that followed there would be domestic cup success and several runners up finishes in the Bundesliga as Schalke built upon their UEFA Cup success, whilst for Inter they would actually go on to win the UEFA Cup the following season with various domestic league cup titles following in the years to come as well as a Champions League trophy in 2010.

1997 however was the year that Schalke won the last ever two legged European final, one of the most fondly remembered cup final wins in their history.

Final 1st leg: May 7, 1997, Parkstadion, Gelsenkirchen

FC Schalke 04  1–0 Inter Milan 1-0 (0-0)

FC Schalke 04: Lehmann – Thon – Linke, de Kock – Nemec, Müller, Eigenrauch, Büskens (67 Max), Anderbrügge – Latal, Wilmots

Internazionale: Pagliuca – Bergomi, Galante, Paganin, Pistone – Sforza, Zanetti, Winter, Fresi (62  Berti) – Ganz, Zamorano

Goal: Marc Wilmots (70)
Referee: Marc Batta (France)
Attendance: 56.824

Final 2nd leg: May 21, 1997, San Siro, Milan

Internazionale 1–0 FC Schalke 04 (1-1), AET Schalke won 4-1 on penalties

Inter Milan: Pagliuca – Bergomi (70 Angloma), Paganin, Fresi, Angloma – Zanetti (120 Berti), Sforza (82. Winter), Ince – Djkorkaeff – Zamorano, Ganz

FC Schalke 04: Lehmann – Thon – De Kock, Linke – Latal (111 Held), Nemec, Eigenrauch, Müller (98 Anderbrügge), Büskens – Wilmots, Max

Goal: Iván Zamorano (84)
Penalties: 0-1 Anderbrügge, 0-2 Thon, 1-2 Djkorkaeff, 1-3 Max, 1-4 Wilmots
Referee: Jose Garcia-Aranda (Spain)
Attendance: 83.434

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