European Cup Classic – “A victory in vain”: FC Bayern München v AC Milan, 1990

In 2015, there is something of a gulf between the German Bundesliga and the Italian Serie A. While the former was booming with full grounds and exciting football, the latter was in the doldrums both on and off the pitch – a situation best summed up by FC Bayern München’s 7-1 demolition of AS Roma in the group phase of the champions league and Parma FC’s financial collapse.

Turn the clock back a quarter of a century to 1990 however, and things were markedly different. While the top German teams were unable to match the success of the 1970s and early 1980s, Italian football had witnessed a renaissance, with AC Milan leading the way. With the money and influence of media mogul and politician Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian giants had transformed themselves into the kings of European football. Having won the famous jug-eared trophy in 1989 after a long and at times painful twenty-year wait, i Rossoneri (the “red-blacks”) were the team to beat.

In 1990, the holders had breezed through to the semi-finals, where they were pitted against FC Bayern München. It was the the ultimate clash between the star-studded team from Europe’s fashion capital and an aging Bayern side seemingly on the decline.

Jupp Heynckes’ team had made their way into the last four unbeaten, and with relative ease: after a 3-1 aggregate win over Glasgow Rangers that had featured a particularly memorable long-range missile from Klaus “Auge” Augenthaler in Glasgow, Bayern continued their unbeaten march into the semi-finals with home and away victories over Albanian champions 17 Nëntori Tirana (3-1 and 3-0) and 1988 champions PSV Eindhoven (2-1 and 1-0).

While many of Bayern’s high profile stars had long since left Bavaria – funnily enough, for the warmer climes and lucrative wages offered in Italy – Milan boasted a wealth of world-class talent. Full-back Paolo Maldini, already something of a legend at the San Siro. Captain Franco Baresi. Then there was the Dutch triumvirate of Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and the hero of Euro ‘88, Marco van Basten.

Nobody expected a solid yet unspectacular Bayern team to trouble the Italian giants, but these sorts of clashes never quite work out that way. Against the team later voted as the best club side of all time by World Soccer magazine, Bayern would more than play their part in a tie that provided over three and a half hours of nail-biting tension.

The first leg at the San Siro had been a frustrating one for Die Roten, with the home side edging it courtesy of a highly contentious seventy-seventh minute penalty from van Basten, by then something of a bête noire for many German fans.

The outrageous “dying swan” dive by Stefano Borgonovo that resulted in the award of the spot-kick had been truly nauseating to watch – not that this would have bothered one jot to the boisterous home supporters in the seething San Siro. Raimond Aumann guessed correctly in his attempt to keep out van Basten’s effort, but the kick was just too well struck as it skidded low to the Bayern keeper’s right.

With the Italians holding their slender lead everything was perfectly set up for the second leg at the Olympiastadion in Munich, which was to witness the sort of intense, nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat drama that defined many of these special midweek “European Cup nights”.

Having been kitted out in a strange white, “Brazilian blue” and red combination in Milan, Bayern were back in their traditional and wonderfully simple all-red ensemble in front of a seventy-two thousand strong crowd in fine voice – responding to the challenge and providing the inspiration for what would turn out to be their team’s best home display of the season. For a large and cavernous open bowl of a ground that had never really been the most inspiring footballing venue, the atmosphere was electric in spite of the constant springtime drizzle.

With Arrigo Sacchi’s side looking to defend their lead and Bayern in turn not wanting to risk giving away an unnecessary away goal, the match opened in a calculated, cagey fashion – effectively a game of chess on grass. Half-time arrived with the score still goalless and Milan hanging onto their narrow aggregate advantage, but the Bavarians continued to keep things under control and wait patiently for the right moment to strike, knowing that a goal at the other end would leave them needing three.

The game suddenly burst into life just short of the hour mark. The alert van Basten robbed Augenthaler of the ball deep inside the Bayern half before sending in an audacious lob that was acrobatically tipped over the bar by Aumann, and when the resulting corner looked to have sparked a fast counterattack from the men in red it was Olaf Thon’s turn to be dispossessed. With van Basten again charging towards the Bayern goal, skipper Augenthaler slid in with a perfectly-timed challenge to atone for his earlier error.

Still the drama continued. The next corner came in and Aumann could only punch it away towards the edge of the box, where Augenthaler against lost the ball, this time to Daniele Massaro. Playing a quick one-two with Frank Rijkaard, Massaro made his way into the box with just Aumann to beat, but the Bayern ‘keeper stood his ground brilliantly to keep out and collect the Italian’s slightly scuffed effort. With order restored as Aumann rolled the ball out to a red shirt, Bayern carefully worked their way up the pitch, winning a free-kick just inside the Milan half by the left touchline.

Taking the free-kick quickly with a short tap to Hansi Pflügler, Hansi Dorfner carefully took the ball inside, exchanging passes with Thomas Strunz before threading a lovely ball through the middle as the midfielder continued his run into the penalty area. Strunz calmly evaded a challenge from Paolo Maldini before rounding ‘keeper Giovanni Galli and sliding the ball into the empty net to round off a dramatic couple of minutes and give Bayern the lead on the night.

Having survived two Milan attacks in the space of a minute, the scores were now level on aggregate with everything back in the balance. The almost constant rain couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the home crowd, and the chorus of cheers as the languid Strunz calmly celebrated his goal was probably the loudest noise I had ever heard at a ground not particularly known for its acoustics.

Roared on by the 72,000 crowd, Die Roten continued to press. Strunz sent the ball narrowly over the target as he lost his footing on the slippery pitch, and even defender Roland Grahammer was making swashbuckling runs through the middle of the pitch. This was unlike any Bayern game I had seen before: the 6-6 DFB-Pokal draw against Schalke in 1984 had been full of goals and excitement and even the 1987 European Cup final had offered moments of high drama, but this was the first time I had really felt this amount of almost relentless tension. This was not just any old cup tie, but Europe’s finest slugging it out and throwing everything at each other in search of the continent’s biggest prize. It was like Rocky Balboa against Apollo Creed: the solid and dependable slugger against the dancing showman.

The Bayern coach could probably smell Milanese blood as he threw on striker Alan McInally for Thon with eight minutes remaining, but even with the crowd roaring them on Die Roten were unable able to find the crucial second goal that would have seen them through to the final. As the clocked ticked towards the end of the ninety minutes, everything was intriguingly set for a further half hour of extra time. If the scores remained the same after that, the dreaded Elfmeterschießen awaited. As if we could have withstood any more drama.

Seven minutes into the additional thirty Heynckes replaced the tiring Ludwig Kögl with the versatile Manfred Bender, but just four minutes after that – disaster. On as a sixty-eighth minute substitute, first-leg villain Borgonovo struck again. Not with a dive this time, but an equally outrageous looping shot over Aumann from a position that at first sight looked clearly offside. I’d sit there waiting for the linesman’s flag, but it never came. With penalties no longer a factor, Bayern needed two more goals to go through.

In a series of red waves, the home side stormed forward. Soaked to the skin, but roared on by the expectant crowd. McInally charged to the byline and whipped in a cross into the box towards Bender, who despite being slightly wrong-footed managed to get his shot on target but straight at Galli. The men in red were relentless, with both substitutes providing plenty of energy and pace.

Something had to give, and just three minutes into the second period of extra time the hard-working but unheralded Dorfner picked out substitute Bender down the left, who sent a firm and perfectly directed first-time cross into the penalty area. Sliding in to meet it at the far post was the inevitable McInally, whose shot bounced into the ground before floating up and over Galli and into the back of the net. With twelve minutes remaining, hope had been rekindled.

2-2 on aggregate but still behind on away goals, Bayern needed another. The red wave continued to flood forward, but with spaces now opening up all over the soggy and slippery pitch it quickly became something of a free for all. Roland Wohlfarth scuffed a shot wide, before Borgonovo at the other end – yes, him again – beat the advancing Aumann at the edge of the box before inexplicably scooping the ball high over the crossbar with the empty goal at his mercy. Then, Bender ended up agonisingly short of the ball, sliding in at the far post as the elusive leather sphere skidded on the slick surface across the Milan penalty area.

When the final whistle blew, it was little more than a victory in vain. The team was loudly cheered off the pitch, but once again they had fallen just short when it really mattered.

This, however, was different. This was not a Bayern side that had simply thrown away their chance of victory, but a team that had punched far above its weight and given everything they had to offer against a team that was rightly considered to be one of European and World football’s leading powers. If anything, the Bayern side of 1989/90 was arguably more competitive than that of 1987 and even 1982, and had been desperately unlucky not to reach the final. Unsurprisingly, Milan went on to win the showcase event against Portuguese champions SL Benfica, thus retaining the coveted Henkelpott.

FC Bayern’s quest for glory in Europe’s showcase tournament would last another decade, when they reached the final in 2001 and overcome Valencia CF to win their fourth title – ironically, in Milan’s San Siro. Jupp Heyckes’ side may not have reached the final in 1990, but that semi-final second leg in a wet and soggy Olympiastadion remains one of the club’s most memorable evenings. A victory in vain in may have been, but it was one firmly fixed in the memory bank of every fan that had been around to experience it.

European Champions Clubs Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg
Olympiastadion, München, 18th April 1990

FC Bayern München – AC Milan aet 2:1 (1:0, 1:0)
Strunz 58, McInally 108 / Borgonovo 100

Aggregate 2:2, AC Milan win on away goals

FC Bayern: Aumann, Grahammer, Augenthaler (c), Kohler, Pflügler, Dorfner, Kögl (96. Bender), Reuter, Strunz, Thon (82. McInally), Wohlfarth

AC Milan: G. Galli, Baresi (c) (106. F. Galli), Tassotti, Costacurta, Colombo, Maldini, Massaro, Rijkaard, Evani, Stroppa (68. Borgonovo), van Basten

Referee: Soriano Aladren (Spain)
Attendance: 72,000

Adapted from Rick’s current work in progress, The Pain and the Glory: Thirty-three Years with FC Bayern München

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London-based but with his heart firmly in Fröttmaning, Rick Joshua's love of German football goes back more than thirty years and has witnessed everything from the pain of Spain '82 and the glory of Italia '90 to the sheer desolation of Euro 2000. This has all been encapsulated in the encyclopaedic Schwarz und Weiß website and blog, which at some three hundred or so pages is still not complete. Should you wish to disturb him, you can get in touch with Rick on Twitter @fussballchef. This carries a double meaning, as he can prepare a mean Obazda too.

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