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1972 European Cup Final (Rotterdam)

Ajax 2 Internazionale 0
Ajax: Stuy, Suurbier, Hulshoff, Blankenburg, Krol, Neeskens, Haan, Mühren; Swart, Cruyff, Keizer (capt)
Scorer: Cruyff (2)
Internazionale: Bordon, Bellugi, Burgnich, Giubertoni (Bertini), Facchetti, Bedin, Oriali, Mazzola (capt), Frustalupi, Jair (Pellizzaro), Boninsegna

The European Cup was now an increasingly important competition for the continents top clubs. Huge crowds and millions of television viewers were watching now and the economic rewards for successful teams were getting ever greater. This meant that the pressures on players to avoid defeat were getting stronger and stronger. Despite the rise of Ajax, negative football was rife throughout the competition and violence on the pitch was becoming increasingly common. In addition, the importance of the competition to supporters had resulted in an increasing number of unsavoury incidents off the pitch. In response to this worrying trend, UEFA made it clear at the start of the season that they would clamp down on any such misbehaviour from now on. Unfortunately their resolve was tested as early as the second round.

The game between Borussia Moenchengladbach and Internazionale had started in exciting fashion with the Germans 2-1 ahead after 22 minutes, but then the controversy really started. With half an hour gone, a Coke can was thrown from the stands and hit the Inter goalscorer Roberto Boninsegna on the head. The home crowd suspected that the Italian was over reacting, but he was carried off, nonetheless, and replaced by the young Ghio. This appeared to throw the Inter team completely as they conceded three goals in the five minutes before half-time to leave them 5-1 down at the interval. In the second half things went from bad to worse as they were unable to replace the injured Jair because they had used up all their substitutes, and had Corso sent off for kicking the referee. The nine men eventually went down 7-1 to effectively put them out of the competition.

Inter appealed to UEFA that Borussia should be disqualified owing to the Boninsegna incident. The ruling body were in no mood to be lenient – they had just expelled Panionios of Athens from the UEFA Cup and banned five of their players because of a ‘lack of discipline’ in an earlier match – but rather than throwing the Germans out, they decided that the match should be replayed in Berne with Borussia being fined £1,000 and being banned from playing at home for one game. Franco Manni, Inter’s general manager expressed his satisfaction at the verdict, but the Germans were furious. Manager Hannes Weisweiler protested: ‘This has practically defrauded us of victory.’ Vice-chairman Helmut Grasshof was equally unhappy: ‘Unbelievable. There is no provision in UEFA rules for a replay.’ Borussia appealed against the decision, but the only concession they received was to play the replay on home soil in Berlin.

What had originally been the second leg now became the first leg as the sides met in Milan two weeks later. Around 1,200 policemen were on duty for the game as the 90,000 spectators were subject to searches for weapons, missiles and fireworks. Drinks inside the stadium were only sold in cartons. Inter were without Corso who had received a one year ban from UEFA for his attack on the referee, but Boninsegna had recovered sufficiently to start the game and he was on the scoresheet as the Italians won 4-2. The return game failed to produce a goal, although a savage Italian tackle did result in Ludwig Muller’s leg being broken . Thus this unsavoury tie was ended with Internazionale progressing through to the quarter-finals, but with a bad taste left in the mouths of many.

After steering Ajax to the European Cup, coach Rinus Michels was lured to Barcelona and was replaced in the Amsterdam hot seat by the Romanian Stefan Kovacs. With the departure of Vasovic, the German Blankenburg became a regular in defence, with the young Ruud Krol and Arie Haan playing at full-back and in midfield respectively. Ajax were now playing what became know throughout the world as ‘total football’ with players constantly changing positions and being comfortable in any role on the pitch. The Dutchmen started their European Cup defence with comfortable wins over Dynamo Dresden and Marseilles, before being drawn against English champions Arsenal in the quarter-finals. Making their first appearance in the competition, Arsenal had been the last side to beat Ajax in Europe having knocked them out of the Fairs Cup at the semi-final stage in 1970 and so were able to approach the tie with confidence. But, despite taking the lead in Amsterdam through a Ray Kennedy goal, Arsenal were always second best in Amsterdam and eventually went down 2-1 thanks to a pair of goals from Muhren. The tie was effectively sealed in London when Arsenal midfielder George Graham put the ball into his own net early in the game, and Ajax were through to another semi-final.

Fellow Dutch side Feyenoord were up against a Benfica side that still revolved around Eusebio in attack, now supported by young wingers Nene and Jordao. Feyenoord took a 1-0 lead to Lisbon for the second leg and with ten minutes to go in the Stadium of Light, they were on their way to the last four as they trailed 2-1 and so led on the away goals rule, but from then on, Benfica took complete control, scoring three times for an apparently comfortable 5-2 aggregate win. Joining Benfica and Ajax in the semi-finals would be Internazionale, who had followed their controversial win over Borussia Moenchengladbach with victory on away goals over Standard Liege, and Celtic who reached their third semi-final in six years with a 3-2 aggregate win over the Hungarians of Ujpest Dozsa.

The semi-final draw paired old rivals Celtic and Internazionale together. When the two sides had met five years earlier, attacking football had been the victor, but this time it was negativity that prevailed. Two 90 minute games and a further 30 minutes of extra-time failed to produce a single goal and so the two sides had to take part in a penalty shootout in Glasgow to decide who reached the final. The crucial penalty was Celtic’s first, from substitute Dixie Deans, that sailed high over the bar. Mazzola, Facchetti, Frustalupi, Pellizzaro and Jair all converted their penalties for Inter and so it was the Italian side that gained some revenge for their defeat in Lisbon in 1967 and made their way to the1972 final. There they would meet Ajax who had scored the only goal of the four semi-final matches thanks to a header from Swart in the first leg against Benfica.

Only four players who had started the 1967 final, Burgnich, Facchetti, Bedin and Mazzola, were in the line-up against Ajax, but their style of play was very familiar. Under the guidance of coach Giovanni Invernizzi, Inter decided that their best hope of victory came from defending in numbers until the last twenty minutes when they would launch a final push for victory. All Ajax had to do was make sure that they got ahead before that point in the game. At half-time in Rotterdam it seemed as though the Italian tactics might prevail. Inter had sat back with only Boninsegna up front and allowed Ajax to attack them. The holders had run and run, probing and pressuring, but they had been unable to find a way through. Facchetti, under pressure, had turned the ball onto his own post, a twenty yard shot from Krol had also hit the woodwork, while a goal ten minutes from the interval was disallowed for pushing by Swart. But still the well drilled Inter defence remained strong and the game remained goalless with the Italians plan appearing to be working.

Just two minutes into the second half, the deadlock was finally broken. The Ajax full-backs had been getting forward and putting crosses into the penalty area throughout the match and this time it was Suurbier who sent a deep cross towards goal. This time the Inter goalkeeper Bordon collided with his own defender Burgnich as he went for the ball. Unfortunately for the young goalkeeper the ball fell to Johan Cruyff who turned instantly and stroked the ball into an empty net to give Ajax the lead they deserved. Inter were then forced to become more positive and Stuy in the Ajax goal was forced to make one good save from Boninsegna, but the game was won on 77 minutes when Cruyff headed a Keizer free-kick home to make the score 2-0.

Just as five years earlier, Inter’s defeat in the European Cup Final was welcomed throughout Europe. Newspapers from all over the continent celebrated the fact that catenaccio had been beaten by total football. According to ‘The Times’: ‘Ajax proved that creative attack is the real lifeblood of the game; that blanket defence can be outwitted and outmanoeuvred, and by doing so they made the outlines of the night a little sharper and the shadows a little brighter.’ In Holland ‘De Telegraaf’ ran a nine page special on the game with words like ‘superstar’ and ‘triumph’ liberally splattered across its headlines, while ‘Algemeen Dagblad’ declared: ‘The Inter system undermined. Defensive football is destroyed.’


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