Wednesday 22 November 2017

Video: Champions league final: Blues' Munich trip is not mission impossible

Simon Hart

"Liverpool had surmounted the terribly unfair challenge, which UEFA will now ensure will never happen again, of having to beat opponents in their own hot and hostile backyard."

These words appeared in a contemporary match report of the 1984 European Cup final when Joe Fagan's Liverpool overcame the odds at the Stadio Olimpico, home of their opponents, Roma.

It was the third final of its kind, but unlike the first two occasions -- which yielded home triumphs for Real Madrid in 1957 and Internazionale in 1965 -- this time the hosts were beaten. Alan Kennedy's penalty ensuring a 4-2 success for Liverpool in the concluding shoot-out after a 1-1 draw.

Contrary to the reporter's assumption, however, it has now happened again and Chelsea's players tonight seek to match Liverpool's feat of 28 years ago when they take on Bayern Munich on the Bavarian's home turf. It is a tall order yet Liverpool's example suggests it is by no means a mission impossible.

Those were different times, of course, and Chelsea, unlike Liverpool in Rome, have at least had the benefit of training on the Allianz Arena pitch.

difficult

Mark Lawrenson, the ex-Ireland and Liverpool defender, remembers being sent "to some park and you wouldn't walk your dog on it, it was that bad. Joe Fagan said: 'They obviously want to make this as difficult as possible for us.'"

But Liverpool, already three-times European champions, were not easily intimidated. They had, in Graeme Souness, a man on a mission on his last appearance before joining Sampdoria. The Scot led Liverpool on a circuit of the pitch before the game -- "they gave us unbelievable stick," Lawrenson says of the fans -- and sent out the same defiant message to Roma's players in the tunnel.

Kennedy, Lawrenson's old defensive colleague, takes up the story. "I remember standing next to them in the tunnel and they looked taller than us, with an air of confidence about them. But Graeme Souness was looking them straight in the eye and saying, 'I'm as good as you if not better than you and I'm going to prove it out there.'"

Liverpool had already showed their hosts they would not be rattled when filing past the Roma dressing-room singing the Chris Rea song 'I Don't Know What It Is But I Love It' at the moment Nils Liedholm, Roma's Swedish coach, was giving his team talk. "They must have thought: 'Oh my God what are they doing?'" adds Lawrenson.

Liverpool's story offers Chelsea encouraging parallels. Like Liverpool in 1984, they have won at Benfica in the quarter-finals and defended a 1-0 lead in the away leg of their semi-final. Where Chelsea performed the miracle of Camp Nou, Liverpool won 2-1 at Dinamo Bucharest with a display that led Bobby Robson, the watching England manager, to declare it, Lawrenson recalls, "the best away performance in club football I have ever seen".

Liverpool were ready for Roma and Kennedy believes the same should apply to Chelsea. "They must take heart from their performance against Barcelona... We had players on the pitch who didn't need telling what they had to do."

Fagan's instruction to his players in Rome was to get an early goal to quieten the home crowd and both Anfield old boys warn Chelsea against sitting back.

Bayern have been unstoppable at home in this season's Champions League, posting seven straight victories, but playing a final in front of your supporters brings its own pressures. Just ask Francesco Graziani, the former Roma striker. One of two home players to miss his spot-kick in 1984, he begins our conversation with: "You're making me cry just thinking about it."

As a measure of the expectations on Roma in 1984, it is worth recalling that on the day final tickets went on sale, there was a near-riot as 15,000 people turned up to find only four tickets booths open. "Against Liverpool, perhaps we were too nervous, perhaps we felt too much expectation," Graziani says.

Like Bayern, Roma had a 100pc home record en route to the final, confirming their place with a 3-0 success over Dundee United that overturned a two-goal defeat in Scotland. Graziani dismisses the rumours that Roma bribed the French referee, Michel Vautrot, that night and instead dwells on their misfortune against Liverpool. "If we had money to spend on a referee we would have done it for the final," he laughs, citing the "possible foul" by Ronnie Whelan that led to Roma goalkeeper Franco Tancredi spilling a cross in the lead-up to Phil Neal's lucky early goal.

He also points to the misfortune of Roberto Pruzzo, scorer of Roma's equaliser, who left the fray because of illness but does acknowledge the "character" shown by Liverpool, who passed the test of nerve in the first European Cup final shoot-out. Liverpool had lost a dress rehearsal 5-1 to their youth team and Steve Nicol missed their first kick but, with Bruce Grobelaar performing his 'spaghetti legs' routine, Bruno Conti and Graziani both missed.

"I'd never seen before a keeper like Grobelaar who was acting like a clown," Graziani admits. "We all try to distract our opponents and he did that better than us." For Kennedy his decisive conversion provided "probably the greatest feeling you could ever have" but Roma's loss had a tragic postscript. A decade later to the day, their captain, Agostino Di Bartolomei, shot himself dead after suffering from clinical depression.

Looking back, Conti -- now Roma's academy director -- says it was inexperience that cost the Giallorossi that night. Like Graziani, he insists home advantage was more a help than hindrance, though another veteran of a home final is less sure.

Sandro Mazzola's Inter beat Benfica at San Siro in 1965, retaining the trophy they had won in Vienna in 1964, yet he remembers an uncomfortable victory. "There was more tension than if we'd played elsewhere... It was more difficult than a final played abroad for us," says Mazzola. "Our supporters really got behind us, but at the same time that only increased the sense of responsibility.

"(Bayern) shouldn't try and rush things because they're in front of their fans. It is not easy. They need to keep clear heads." Chelsea will wish otherwise, and history gives them hope.

home comforts?

1957 Real Madrid 2 Fiorentina 0

In only the second season of the European Cup, Real retained their title in front of 124,000 at the Bernabeu. Alfredo Di Stefano and Francisco Gento struck. Real would retain the trophy for a further three years.

1965 Internazionale 1 Benfica 0

Having beaten Real the previous season, Helenio Herrera's side retained the trophy at San Siro, thanks to Jair da Costa's goal shortly before the interval.

1984 Liverpool 1 Roma 1

(aet, Liverpool win 4-2 on pens)

Roma lost out at the Stadio Olimpico. Phil Neal put the English side ahead, but Roberto Pruzzo equalised. Penalties were required, with Bruce Grobbelaar's wobbly legs going down in folklore as the Reds won for a fourth time in seven years. (© Independent News Service)

James Mariner

Irish Independent

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