In our first part, we followed Schalke’s on their journey to the UEFA Cup final. Here we experience the destination, a clash with Italian giants Inter Milan, a clash that would go down in the history books.
There they were. Their first European final. After decades worth of struggle, beleaguered expectations, relegation, scandals, Schalke was finally in the headlines for the right reasons. Schalke supporters endured 25 years without a title prior to 1996, two decades without any real success, three disappointing relegations, five long years outside the top flight and always in the shadow of their storied past. Now they were finally ready to write their own history. The final against Inter Milan was more than a final, it was an opportunity for the club to regain a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Even the final became a seemingly insurmountable obstacle for Schalke. Nevermind the fact that even the players themselves couldn’t believe they made the final. All eleven starters in the first leg went into the game already booked. Key players were one card away from suspension and missing the all important second leg. To add to that, Schalke had to play the first leg in Germany, always a disadvantage in a two-legged tie. Inter were obvious favorites going into this one.
Despite the caution Schalke players had to keep in mind they did not sit back. They came out more aggressive and took the game to the Italian giants who ended up creating just one meaningful chance throughout the 90 minutes. It was Marc Wilmots again who made the difference for the home side with a fantastic shot from 30 meters out to beat Pagliuca. To the surprise of Italians and coach Roy Hodgson, Schalke outplayed their opponents and got the all-important win in the end. Even more important was the fact that none of the players picked up a booking ahead of the second leg.
To Milan it was then for the club’s most important match in decades. 30,000 Schalke supporters made the trip. 25,000 filled the seats of the Giuseppe Meazza stadium and never stopped singing from the moment of arrival until they went back to Germany. And the players very much fed off the energy of the supporters. Büskens and Nemec combined brilliantly early in the game to set up Wilmots for the first chance of the game but Pagliuca’s diving save kept the Germans out. It was an early warning sign to the Italians.
Minutes later Mike Büskens unleashed a ferocious left footed free kick that Pagliuca again had to save to keep Schalke out. Schalke came to play. Slowly though, Inter got themselves back into the game and Djorkaeff sent a header just wide later in the game. The clock was winding down faster than the Italians could created chances and Schalke’s dream was only minutes away when disaster struck. Six minutes from time Paul Ince flicked on a seemingly harmless throw in that Chilean striker Ivan Zamorano toe poked past Jens Lehmann. An inconspicuous yet heartbreaking goal to concede for Schalke.
They were so close. Was it all about to shatter in front of them? Extra-time loomed. Again, new territory for Huub Stevens and his players, the kind of circumstances many Inter players have experienced in their careers. Suddenly Schalke were becoming nervous and Maurizio Ganz was unlucky to hit the post after he chipped a ball over Lehmann. The Germans were out of energy and penalties was a worst-case scenario for them, Thon and de Kock having missed earlier in the competition and Anderbrügge twice in the Bundesliga. But to penalties it went.
It was Anderbrügge who stepped up first though. Now was not the time for weak nerves. The Schalke midfielder put his missed spot-kicks aside and buried his with pinpoint precision and power. The pressure was on goalscorer Zamorano to do the same. He didn’t. Jens Lehmann would prove to be the hero of the day during the penalty shootout. And not for the first time in his career. Having been told which way Zamorano usually takes penalties, he remembered and immediately jumped to his left to save his shot. Next up was captain Olaf Thon. He too buried the ghosts of Brugge and buried his shot.
Inter would restore a little bit of faith when Djorkaeff scored next, even though Lehmann again guessed the right direction but missed the ball by millimeters. Martin Max, who had not scored any penalties before, stepped up next. He scored. Aron Winter needed to score to keep Inter in this. That’s when Lehmann started his mind tricks. He went up to Winter and told him that he’d stay in the middle, hoping to unsettle and throw Winter off. It worked. Winter shot wide and Schalke were one kick away from making history.
It was fitting that Marc Wilmots stepped up. He had scored five goals in the competition so far. All of them were crucial. And he was also one kick away from going down as a Schalke legend, if he wasn’t already. Pagliuca jumped left. Wilmots shot right. Schalke were champions of Europe. The Giuseppe Meazza stadium reached new decibel levels, produced by cheers, laughter, tears, disbelief and nostalgia for some of the older supporters. Their club had done the impossible.
Later after the game Olaf Thon paid tribute to Ernst Kuzorra and Fritz Szepan, arguably Schalke’s two greatest ever players who were part of their successful team in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He acknowledged that this team could never live up to their success. But in a way Schalke of 1997 walked hand in hand with the legends of the past, both in the history books and in the hearts of supporters everywhere.
The heart-pounding penalty shootout:
FC Schalke 04 – Inter Milan 1:0 (0:0)
Final 1st leg: May 7, 1997, Parkstadion, Gelsenkirchen
FC Schalke 04: Lehmann – Thon – Linke, de Kock – Nemec, Müller, Eigenrauch, Büskens (67. Max), Anderbrügge – Latal, Wilmots
Inter Milan: Pagliuca – Bergomi, Galante, Paganin, Pistone – Sforza, Zanetti, Winter, Fresi (62. Berti) – Ganz, Zamorano
Goal: 1:0 Marc Wilmots (70.)
Yellow cards: -/Galante
Attendance: 56.824 (sold out)
Inter Milan – FC Schalke 04 – 1:0 (0:0; 1:0) n.V., 1:4 i.E.
Final 2nd leg: May 21, 1997, Guiseppe-Meazza-Stadium, Milan
Inter Milan: Pagliuca – Bergomi (70. Angloma), Paganin, Fresi, Angloma – Zanetti (120. Berti), Sforza (82. Winter), Ince – Djkorkaeff – Zamorano, Ganz
FC Schalke 04: Lehmann – Thon – De Kock, Linke – Latal (111. Held), Nemec, Eigenrauch, Müller (98. Anderbrügge), Büskens – Wilmots, Max
Goal: 1:0 Zamorano
Penalties: 0:1 Anderbrügge, 0:2 Thon, 1:2 Djkorkaeff, 1:3 Max, 1:4 Wilmots
Referee: Jose Garcia-Aranda (Spain)
Yellow cards: Ganz, Zamorano, Djorkaeff – Eigenrauch, Lehmann, Büskens, Latal, Thon, Wilmots
Yellow-red cards: Fresi (89.)
Attendance: 83.434 (sold out)
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