The Greatest Match of All Time?
May 18th 1960: a balmy yet breezy night in Glasgow. This was the time and the place for the 5th European Cup Final, to be played between German champions Eintracht Frankfurt and the mighty Real Madrid.
It would become a match for the ages and the night that this new competition for Europe’s best club teams would suddenly come of age.
Real Madrid were the dominant team in Europe – the only team to have tasted success in the competition having won the previous four. Heavy favourites, the Spanish giants boasted some of the great names in World Football with an attack consisting of the great Alfredo Di Stefano and legendary Hungarian forward Ferenc Puskas.
Frankfurt were no pushovers though – they’d won through to the final with a thumping 12-4 aggregate win over Glasgow Rangers (hoping to reach a final on home soil).
Nevertheless, it was with some surprise that the German outfit took the fight directly to their more illustrious opponents, pressing the defending champions back from the kick-off and taking a deserved lead in the 18th minute to the undoubted surprise of the near 130,000 fans in attendance.
The prospect of a huge upset had suddenly become very, very real – for Real Madrid.
Of course, what marks the true greats in any sport is the ability to produce your best when it really matters, on the big stage. And in Di Stefano and Puskas, Madrid had two of the greatest. Sparked into action by Frankfurt’s early onslaught Real came roaring back; producing over the next hour some of the most devastating attacking football ever seen.
Mesmerising the German defence with their speed, movement and skill Real pressed forward with a relentlessness that no team could possibly have withstood. The clinical Puskas punished Frankfurt with four goals while the magnificent Di Stefano helped himself to three – the only time two players from the same team have scored hat-tricks in a final – as Real ran riot.
To their credit, Frankfurt never gave in, managing two more goals of their own as this astonishing match ended with Real claiming their fifth successive Euro crown with a 7-3 win that would live long in the memory of those who witnessed; a game which is regularly cited as the greatest game of all-time.
Fast Forward 42 Years…
Between that amazing match and the end of the century, Real would remarkably only win the cup on two more occasions (1966 and 1998).
But with a new century came a new period of success. They won their 8th title in 2000, heralding in the era of the Galactico’s. An era with new names to rival the legend of Puskas and Di Stefano; the era of Raul, of Figo and, leading them all, of Zidane.
In 2002 the European Cup (known now as the Champions League) would return to Hampden Park; and amazingly it would be Madrid arriving at the final as strong favourites.
But the parallels to 1960 didn’t end there.
As in 1960, Real had to get past rivals Barcelona in the semi-final before meeting somewhat unheralded German opposition in the final. This time however, it would be Bayer Leverkusen providing the challenge – who, like Frankfurt all those years before, had vanquished British opposition (Manchester United) in the semis.
It would have been asking a lot for the match to have lived up the 1960 vintage but it would nevertheless prove to be memorable in its own right.
Madrid legend Raul gave the Spaniards an early lead before being pegged back by Lucio’s equaliser. The stage was set for one of the big guns to step up the way that their predecessors managed.
Enter Zinedine Zidane. The French world cup winner and arguably the best player in the world at the time would cement his place among the greats on the stroke of half-time with a stunning left-foot volley for one of the great goals in the history of the tournament.
It would be the winning goal and, standing upon the shoulders of past giants, Real Madrid were once again the toast of Europe.