The most successful club in the history of the Champions League.
Sounds pretty good, does that.
While there are some clubs who’ve reached the final of Europe’s elite club competition and faltered at the final hurdle, Real Madrid have made a habit out being perennial winners on the biggest stage.
With no less than 13 Champions League and European Cup wins to their name, their fans have been spoiled over the years with ‘success’ a commonly used adjective in the Madridista phrasebook.
This annoyingly triumphant football club stand head and shoulder above them all, but which of their European titles sits above the rest? Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that any glory in the Champions League and European Cup is an immense achievement, so whichever one comes up short, that does not entail that it’s bad.
All good? Right, let’s crack on.
1966 – what a year, eh? As much as the significance of that year to an English audience, those over in the white half of Madrid remember it for other reasons.
Their 2-1 victory over Partizan granted them their sixth European Cup title, but they did so by beating a side who’d lost three times in the build up to the final. The Serbian side were absolutely no pushovers (by any means) during the 60s, but given the calibre of victories we’re dealing with, this one will suffer as a result.
This was a great game. While 1-1 after 120 minutes may not suggest that, it was a pulsating and relentless final played between two excellent sides, who just so happened to be rivals on top of that.
However, while there is absolutely nothing wrong with winning any final on penalties, these are the parameters we’re working with, meaning the lottery of spot-kicks will deem Madrid’s 2016 victory over Atletico Madrid as not their greatest triumph.
Los Blancos also narrowly avoided a quarter final exit too, relying on a 3-0 home win in their tie with Wolfsburg to see them through as 3-2 victors on aggregate.
At this point in time, when the European Cup was in its infancy, there was simply no side better than Madrid. They boasted a wealth of talent that other clubs couldn’t even dream of, so when they took on Fiorentina – who had finished second in the Serie A that season – only one outcome was expected.
Second half goals from Alfredo di Stéfano and Francisco Gento did the damage in front of 120,000 spectators at their very own Santiago Bernabeu home.
Two European Cups down and a 100% record to boot. Not bad at all.
‘Yeah, but, they secured their third successive Champions League title’.
Yes, yes they did. And that’s an insane achievement. But they also had a significant helping hand from a particular German. Gareth Bale’s goal will go down in history as one of the greatest goals scored ever, but one cannot overlook Loris Karius’ two horrendous mistakes for the first and third goals.
Add to that the fact that Mohamed Salah sustained a…..forced injury and it taints the manner of their success somewhat.
‘BUT THAT’S COMPLETE NONSENSE HOW CAN YOU…!’
They’ve won the Champions League in more convincing ways, let’s frame it as that.
Madrid were not having the best of years. Really, really far from it, in fact. They could only muster a fifth place finish in La Liga, two points and two places behind their Champions League final opponents at the Stade de France, Valencia.
This Valencia side had just reached the final with a superb 5-3 aggregate win over Barcelona, so the fact that Madrid would run out 3-0 winners with a convincing display took many by surprise.
They utterly dominated from the outset and were worthy winners. People expected a vastly more even contest, but Valencia just didn’t show up on the day.
A full 32 years Madrid had to wait between European glory, having last lifted the trophy way back in 1966.
So when they returned to the biggest stage in club football on the continent, there was serious pressure on them to deliver. Facing up against an almighty Juventus side heading into their third successive final, with a lineup that containing the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Zinedine Zidane, Filippo Inzaghi, Edgar Davids and many others, their task was pretty difficult one.
Madrid’s side were pretty solid themselves, though, and in an evenly contested match up, one solitary opportunistic goal from Predrag Mijatović sealed the deal. A Bianconeri onslaught followed, but Madrid held on to reclaim the crown that had evaded them for so long.
The first side to win three successive European Cups and, at this point, the only side to win a European Cup at all.
Madrid asserted their dominance on the continent with the side that had brought them so much success, but they had to deal with an AC Milan outfit that harboured aspirations of their own.
Giuseppe Viani’s men had finished a lowly ninth place in Serie A, but their league form didn’t transfer onto the European stage, where they were formidable throughout. Los Blancos would secure victory with a 3-2 win after extra time, but it was at this point the most closely fought final to date.
South Americans Juan Schiaffino and Ernesto Grillo were on fire for Milan, but they were no match for Di Stefano, who was fundamental in Madrid’s success.
It’s fair to say all those not affiliated with Madrid were pretty broken after this. It looked for all the world as if the tactical gameplan that Diego Simeone implemented and his side had followed to the letter was going to work. They were 1-0 ahead with just one corner left to defend.
But while we all felt a collective pain for Atletico, you have to commend Madrid for their persistence. They battled until the very last kick, with their captain marvel coming up clutch in the dying seconds.
With that header they had crushed Los Rojiblancos’ spirits, and they turned the screw even further with three goals in extra time. That victory not only ended a 12-year wait, but capped off one of the most dramatic and hard fought Champions League finals in recent memory.
The first ever European Cup. In place now was a competition that would go on to blossom into the absolute pinnacle of European club football, so putting your stamp on it from the off was an almighty statement to make.
They may not ring a bell with many supporters now, but at the time, Reims were a force to be reckoned with in football. The French side were among the upper reaches of Ligue 1, having won the league title just one year earlier.
Taking on Madrid in the final, an engrossing tie that was saw seven goals scored went by the way of the Spanish side who, with victory, had already written their names into the history books whether or not they would taste further success (spoiler: they did).
Trailing 3-1 after 67 minutes, goals from Marquitos and Hector Rial turned the game on its head, setting the tone for what was to a long and romantic affiliation with the competition.
Coming into the match in Glasgow as favourites, that doesn’t take anything away from Madrid’s victory over Bayer Leverkusen. The German club were forging a side to be reckoned with, having come within a whisker of lifting the Bundesliga title that term.
En route to the final they’d navigated their way past Liverpool, but it wasn’t until they eliminated Manchester United in the semi-finals when people truly started to sit up and take notice.
Known predominately for having one of the greatest goals scored in the competition’s history by Zidane, the final was incredibly closely fought and also saw Madrid forced into a making a change in goal 68 minutes in. 20-year-old Iker Casillas came on.
They were battered by a Leverkusen barrage for much of the second half, but held on to claim their third Champions League crown in two years with a 2-1 win.
There is no brushing over the notion of winning FOUR European Cups in a row. Not least the fact that there had only been FOUR European Cups played up to this point.
Once again Reims were the side holding up the final hurdle, but this Madrid side was so good it didn’t really matter who they would play. Just Fontaine and co. were helpless to stop the Madrid machine from dominating the match, despite the French side being one of Europe’s toughest sides at the time.
Enrique Mateos set the ball rolling with less than a minute on the clock, and Di Stefano sealed the deal mere moments into the second half. Simply put, Madrid were untouchable.
Juventus were very, very good this season. They are most seasons, but it finally looked like they were going to end their long wait for a Champions League crown. This was by no means assured, though, since Real had secured La Liga that term and had Cristiano Ronaldo and co. on top form.
And 20 minutes into the tie it looked like Juventus’ night. They were all over their opponents, but failed to make their dominance count. There was an element of fortune to some of the goals, but to leave Cardiff with an emphatic 4-1 win over a European powerhouse is not to be sniffed at.
Their counterattacking was ruthless at times, and ignoring Juan Cuadrado’s red card, they were worthy winners. A superb victory.
There are many ways to win a final. But perhaps the way Madrid won the 1960 final was the perfect way.
What happened at Hampden Park against Eintracht Frankfurt was a mauling. Utter devastation.
Madrid ran out 7-3 winners – a competition record final scoreline – to hand them their FIFTH CONSECUTIVE European Cup title. They were imperious against the Germans, at one point leading 7-1 courtesy of a Di Stefano hat trick and four goals from Ferenc Puskas.
Can that ever be bettered? Seven goals for a fifth consecutive title? I think not.