Monday, 8 July 2019

Odense BK and the Miracle in Madrid

It was a tale that even Hans Christian Andersen himself could not have dreamt up. Michael Schjønberg hit the ball across the box where Jesper Hjorth left it for Morten Bisgaard to slot home, leaving Real Madrid absolutely stunned. In second half injury time Danish minnows Odense Boldklub (OB) had scored a goal that was to send the Spaniards crashing out of the UEFA Cup. One of Europe's most famous clubs had fallen foul to one of the great upsets of European club football history.

They called it 'Miraklet i Madrid', the Miracle in Madrid, 6 December 1994, a team who had never been past the first round of a European competition before from a country whose clubs had had little in the way of European success over the years came back from a home first leg deficit to knock out the most successful club in European football history.

OB at that time were one of the more successful teams in Danish football, league champions in 1977, they won two more league titles in the 1980s and had finished as high as second only two seasons previously. Domestic club football in Denmark, however, had been completely amateur until 1978 and only in recent years had it became fully professional. Real Madrid, on the other hand, were six times European Cup winners and had twice won the UEFA Cup itself, whilst playing in what was one of the strongest domestic competitions in Europe they had been league champions five times in the previous ten seasons and would go on to win the league crown again that campaign. Real Madrid's squad included big names stars such as centre back Fernando Hierro, Luis Enrique who would later join arch rivals FC Barcelona, Dane Michael Laudrup, signed from arch rivals FC Barcelona, a young Raúl who would go on to score 71 Champions League goals over the course of his career, and Chilean star Iván Zamorano. Almost all of OB's players, however, were completely unknown outside of Denmark. It truly was a mismatch of enormous proportions, and if you needed more proof of the gulf between the two teams well they had actually met in the first round of the same competition in 1990 and Real Madrid prevailed 10-1 on aggregate!

OB would meet Real Madrid in the third round of the 1994-95 UEFA Cup but their campaign started in the preliminary round where they eased past Estonian side Flora Tallinn 6-0 on aggregate, whilst a 6-1 aggregate victory over Northern Ireland's Belfast based Linfield in the first round followed. Real Madrid entered in round one and Sporting Clube de Portugal were defeated thanks to the away goals rule after a 2-2 aggregate scoreline. In the second round, Real Madrid dispatched of Dynamo Moscow 6-2 over the two legs to set up a tie with either German side 1. FC Kaiserslautern or of course Odense BK in round three.

Nevermind Real Madrid, beating Kaiserslautern would in itself be a tall order for OB. Kaiserslautern had finished second in the German Bundesliga the previous season, just one point behind champions FC Bayern München, and their squad included players such as Stefan Kuntz who would go on to play a key role in the Germany side that was to win the European Championships two years later, and an ageing Andreas Brehme who had been part of Germany's 1990 World Cup winning side.

In the first leg away in Germany OB more than held their own and with the match poised at 0-0 heading into the final 20 minutes took a shock lead. A thunderbolt long range strike from Carsten Hemmingsen, brother of club captain Michael, found the net from comfortably more than 30 yards out. Cue crazy celebrations from the men in blue and white. OB's lead only lasted two minutes, however, as a Ciriaco Sforza corner flew past everyone and into the net. A 1-1 final score meant it could be a fascinating second leg in Denmark's third largest city. OB's away goal gave them the advantage going into the second leg, and despite all the excitement promised the game actually finished goalless. Nonetheless, it was a massive result for OB, they had knocked out one of the bigger names in the competition and set up a dream last sixteen tie with the mighty Real Madrid.

The first leg of that last sixteen tie took place in front of a bumper crowd at OB's Odense Stadion and was a five goal thriller. A swerving effort from outside the box saw Michael Schjønberg give OB the lead on the stroke of half time and the locals couldn't believe it, little OB were 1-0 up against one of the biggest clubs world football. 22 minutes into the second half, however, Real Madrid found themselves level when a ball across the box saw Iván Zamorano slot home. José Amavisca fired the visitors in front two minutes later but OB were level eleven minutes from time when a thunderbolt strike from Hjorth found the back of the net. 2-2, unbelievable. That, however, was not the end of it though. Real Madrid's Danish international Laudrup along with his brother Brian was one of the country's star players, and far too good for the substandard Danish Superliga had made a name for himself abroad, most recently in Madrid. That night he was to hand the visitors victory. His low drive from just outside the box in the 90th minute settled the match and left OB with a mammoth task ahead in the second leg.

OB were only one goal down after the first leg but with Real Madrid having three away goals to their name OB would need to win the second leg by two clear goals if they wanted to progress to the quarter finals, a seemingly impossible task.

OB were inspired that night, and none more so than local lad goalkeeper Lars Høgh. Høgh's heroic performance prevented what would have a Real Madrid rampage as time and time again he made important saves to stop a truly dominant home side further their advantage from the first leg. Laudrup had a chance saved at close range, Alfonso saw a drive blocked, then Emilio Butragueño forced Høgh to make a brilliant save, Laudrup had another effort saved in the second-half, and Høgh was also on hand to save from a free-kick. For Høgh it really was the game of his life.

All those saves were all fine and well but OB actually needed goals if they wanted to progress, they'd hit the crossbar in the first half but finally got the breakthrough on 71 minutes. Hjorth played the ball through to Ulrik Pedersen who raced into the box and slotted home. A real sense of nervousness suddenly swept through the Bernabéu, the home side were still ahead in the tie but only just. 

Whilst Real Madrid continued to create chances they failed to find an equaliser, and it was in injury time that the inconceivable happened. Bisgaard had first entered the pitch thanks to a substitution less than ten minutes earlier and when he put the visitors 2-0 up right at the death it was one of those classic European away goal scenes where you could almost hear a pin drop. Of the 58 goals Morten Bisgaard scored across a career that included 101 appearances for Derby County, none was more dramatic than the stoppage time goal in Madrid. The OB players went wild pilling on top of each other, others were going crazy in the away team dugout, and those commentating on the match for Denmark's TV2 were getting more than a little excited, but almost all the rest of the stadium was in complete silence, they could not believe what they had just seen.

A small club from Denmark whom many Real Madrid supporters might not have even heard of before the pair were drawn together had dumped them out of the UEFA Cup in the most dramatic of fashion. Yes, the white half of Madrid would be crowned Spanish league champions at the end of the season, but it would always be the campaign in which they lost to little Odense Boldklub.

OB would ultimately suffer a 1-0 aggregate loss to Italian side Parma in the next round, which still stands as their most successful European campaign to date. 

Having made his senior debut for his hometown side in 1977, one club man Lars Høgh would in total make 817 appearances for OB in a career that spanned over twenty years, and now runs coaching courses in Denmark. Ulrik Pedersen retired from football in 2011 having played for several clubs in Denmark and now works as an environmental consultant. Randers born midfielder Bisgaard returned to OB in 2007 before retiring two years later, he'd originally left the club in 1998 and had spells with Udinese, FC København, and of course Derby. He now works as a TV commentator back home in Denmark.  

Almost 25 years on and OB's achievement seems just as incredible as ever, whilst in the current Champions League era where the continent's biggest clubs seemingly get richer and richer year by and year, and even more dominant season after season, it is a shock of which we may struggle to ever see the like of again. That night in Madrid, it really was the stuff of miracles. 

A version of this was publish on Pundit Freed and can be viewed here

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