As Real Madrid and Juventus prepare to face off in the Champions League Final, we here at the Real Champs decided to take a look back at the last time these two sides met in the Final. Kristofer McCormack takes a look back at the 1998 final and the lesson both sides learned that night.
The Wilderness Years
Between 1966 and 1998, Real Madrid won 23 domestic titles, including 16 La Ligas. Only at Real Madrid could a trophy-laden era such as this be known as the wilderness years. The wilderness years refers to the gap between Real Madrid’s sixth and seventh European Cup.
In 1998 the drought was entering its 32nd year. During that time, AC Milan had closed to within one cup of Madrid’s record of six, a whole new format had been introduced and even FC Barcelona had won a European Cup. After three decades the drought looked set to continue for years to come. Enter stage left, Fabio Capello.
Fabio Capello sets up Real Madrid
Lorenzo Sanz was elected president of Real Madrid in 1995, he brought with him AC Milan manager, Fabio Capello. The Italian had built a dominant side during the 1990s that dominated Europe and had dismantled Barcelona 4-0 in the 1994 Champions League final.
Capello brought in Pedja Mijatović, Davor Sucker, Raul, Seedorf, Fernando Hierro and Roberto Carlos. On these foundations, Madrid won the 1996-1997 league title. Capello departed Madrid after that campaign leaving a world class squad in the hands of Jupp Heynckes. It was the first time Capello had set Real Madrid up for glory, it wouldn’t be the last either.
1997-1998 La Liga horror show
Heynckes entered a dressing room that John Toschack likened to “going into Baghdad”. The German made things worse by being very soft on the squad when they needed a strong personality. The 1997-98 league campaign was an indictment of Heynckes’ approach, Real Madrid won just 5 of their 19 home games, Morientes was the club’s top scorer with 12 goals and the club finished fourth, outside of the European places.
The only reason the manager remained in charge was Los Blancos’ scintillating European form. They had lost just once throughout the whole campaign, conceding just five goals. In the semifinals they overcame the holders, Borrusia Dortmund, setting up a date with Juventus in the final.
Madrid headed to the final venue in Amsterdam a few days early to escape the media backlash of their season at home. Few believed that Madrid could win the final, especially against this Juventus side. The Old Lady were in their third final in a row, looking to reclaim their crown from 1996. Their team had stars such as Edgar Davids, Del Piero, Didier Deschamps and Zinedine Zidane.
Pedja Mijatović had been one of Madrid’s standout players en route to the final. Despite such good performances, the Montenegrin had failed to score a single goal, something that really bothered him as they prepared for the final. His friend and teammate, Fernando Sanz assured him that he would score and win the Cup for Madrid.
The story that follows has entered Madrid legend, during the night Fernando Sanz awoke, convinced that Pedja Mijatović would score the winner in the final. In the other room, Pedja had also convinced himself that they were going to win. He even told his roommate Davor Suker that they were going to win 1-0 and he was going to score the winner.
From the first whistle, Real played very defensively and attempted to phase out Zidane from the game. As the game wore on, Madrid was beginning to get the upper hand, Karembu had marked Zidane out of the game and Juve looked very vulnerable without their best player. Midway through the second half, Roberto Carlos attempted a hopeful shot which deflected off a defender and fell to Pedja Mijatović 8 yards out. He rounded the keeper and scuffs the ball into an empty net and then runs to Fernando Sanz on the bench to celebrate.
Midway through the second half, Roberto Carlos attempted a hopeful shot which deflected off a defender and fell to Pedja Mijatović 8 yards out. He rounded the keeper and scuffed the ball into an empty net and then ran to Fernando Sanz on the bench to celebrate.
The goal wasn’t pretty, but it felt like destiny as the man himself explained in an interview with Sid Lowe for his book Fear and Loathing in La Liga:
"“It was scored in the sixty-sixth minute, Real Madrid won the European Cup for the first time since 1966. We played Juventus; black and white stripes like Partizan Belgrade, the team Real Madrid beat in ’66, my team, the team where I played. Destiny.”"
Madrid continued to hold out against waves of Juve attacks. Lorenzo Sanz had to leave his seat in the stands because he was too scared to watch. After 25 minutes of Juventus attacks, the final whistle blew and Real Madrid’s wait was over. At the most unlikely of times from the foot of an even more unlikely hero, Real Madrid were champions once again.
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Jupp Heycknes unsurprisingly was sacked soon after the Cup triumph and he wouldn’t be the last manager to see the ax. Madrid went through 5 managers between 1997 and 2000. During this period the squad also saw an unneeded overhaul.
When Real Madrid reached the final two years later, just 4 of the starting 11 had played in Amsterdam. The departures included Mijatović who couldn’t get into the team over Raul and Morientes.
29 years after that night in Amsterdam, Madrid and Juventus go head to head for club football’s most prestigious crown. A lot has changed for both of these teams since 1998, but both sides will remember what they learned that night.