“They should just give Real Madrid the trophy and make another one for the team that earns the right to be humiliated by them in the final.”
Those were the words of Paul Osswald after his formidable Eintracht Frankfurt side were overwhelmed 7-3 by Los Merengues in a captivating climax to the 1959/60 European Cup.
It was certainly easy to subscribe to the German coach’s hypothesis that a Real triumph in the ensuing edition of the competition was a formality. That epic exhibition in front of 127,621 at Hampden Park ensured the Spanish superpower had won the first five instalments of the European Cup (Independiente, who won four straight Copa Libertadores crowns from 1972, remain the only other team across the globe to have ruled their continent for longer than three consecutive campaigns), while the margin of victory, which remains the biggest in the fixture’s history, emboldened the supposition the Merengue machine had evolved into an unconquerable conundrum.
In November 1960, however, shockwaves cannoned through planet football. Barcelona had fallen victim to their fierce enemies both home and away - 3-1 on both occasions - in their European Cup semi-final the previous season, but thanks to two equalisers against the run of play, snatched a 2-2 draw against their depleted hosts in their first round, first leg, consequently becoming the first side in 16 outings to exit the Bernabeu undefeated in the tournament. Then, courtesy of a breathtaking performance from goalkeeper Antoni Ramallets, an own-goal, two goalline clearances, three disallowed goals from the visitors, an injury to Pachin that meant, in the pre-substitute era, Real effectively had to play the last half-hour at a numerical disadvantage, and a glaring last-gasp miss from Marquitos, Barça won 2-1 at Camp Nou to edge through to the quarter-finals.
The result ensured that, fifty years ago to this day, a second name would be belatedly engraved on to the hallowed trophy. And though Real Madrid’s hegemony had been extinguished, the consensus was that Spanish supremacy would be upheld at the Wankdorfstadion in Bern, where Barcelona and Benfica prepared for battle.
The Catalan colossuses had, after all, passed an acid test by eliminating the European Cup’s hitherto exclusive kings, before navigating their way to the Swiss plateau; they had won La Liga the previous two seasons; and they boasted a devastating attacking quintet of Luis Suarez, Zoltan Czibor, Ladislao Kubala, Evaristo and Sandor Kocsis.
In Benfica’s only previous crack at the European Cup, elimination had befallen them in the preliminary round, and only one Portuguese team had reached the first round in the competition’s maiden five campaigns: Sporting, who were duly brushed aside 6-2 on aggregate by Standard Liege in 1958/59. As Águias had also benefited from a comparatively comfortable path into the final, with Hungary’s Ujpest and AGF of Denmark among their victims en route. Moreover, the Portugal national team, which comprised a bulk of Benfica players, had lost their last six internationals, including a 4-2 embarrassment by minnows Luxembourg. The prospective mismatch was epitomised by one Spanish newspaper’s declaration that Mario Coluna was the only one of Bela Guttmann’s charges good enough to get into the Barça line-up.
And though O Monstro Sagrado (The Sacred Monster) had been a long jump champion in his native Mozambique before embarking on the professional football path, the midfielder swiftly realised it was going to require an historic leap to overcome the seemingly insurmountable hurdle in front of his side. Indeed, Barcelona laid siege to their opponents’ goal from the outset, with Kocsis heading them in front and only some last-ditch tackles and bewildering saves from Costa Pereira keeping the deficit at a minimum.
Coluna said: “We barely got a kick in the first 30 minutes and were lucky to only be a goal down. If few had given us a hope going into the game, then nobody would have backed us to even make a game of it for long at that stage.”
A fairy tale two minutes changed all of that. On the half-hour mark, Coluna received possession in the centre circle, side-stepped Jesus Garay and unhooked the Barcelona defence with one of his patented through-balls. The recipient was Domiciano Cavem, whose firm, low cross presented Jose Aguas with his 11th goal of the campaign - and arguably the simplest of his prolific career. The habitually dependable Ramallets then suffered a faux pas that would haunt him for years, guiding a miss-hit Poncho clearance into his own net.
Abruptly, As Águias were ahead – and in the ascendancy, probing relentlessly for a third goal. They got it ten minutes after the restart, when a sumptuous Coluna volley found a seemingly non-existent space in the bottom-right of Ramallets’ net.
Barça were startled into life. However, despite hitting the woodwork four times during the last 35 minutes, their reward for peppering the Benfica goal was a spectacular yet solitary Czibor piledriver, which proved insufficient to prevent a 3-2 defeat.
“Nobody outside Lisbon gave us a hope,” explained Guttmann thereafter, “but we fought back to beat a team full of stars. It was an epic victory. We silenced the whole of Europe.”
But if Benfica hushed Europe with that result, they would need to make the continent tremble to retain the trophy. For, after overturning a 3-1 loss in their quarter-final, first leg by thumping Nuremberg 6-0 in Lisbon, and outmuscling a ground-breaking Tottenham Hotspur side in the last four, the mother of all examinations lay in wait.
Real Madrid had scored 24 times and conceded just twice en route to the final and were hellbent of recovering a prize they considered their private property. Miguel Munoz’s men appeared destined to accomplish that ask when Di Stefano and Puskas combined to establish a two-goal cushion just 23 minutes into proceedings, and the Hungarian’s treble-clincher, from another sumptuous pass from his Argentina-born sidekick, sent them into the interval leading 3-2.
Guttmann, a tactical revolutionary, directed Cavem to man-mark Di Stefano. It robbed Benfica of a creative outlet, but succeeded in disabling the crafty No9 putting chances on a plate for his hankering aide-de-camp. It proved a masterstroke. The 1962 European Cup final wouldn’t belong to Real’s 35-year-old global icons but to a largely unknown 20-year-old Guttmann had signed after a chance meeting in a Lisbon barber shop. Eusebio used the Olympisch Stadion stage for his break-out performance. Benfica, for whom Coluna equalised shortly after the restart, were propelled to a monumental 5-3 win by the explosive striker’s brace.
Guttmann recalled: “Teams would tremble when they played Real, and people said I would regret putting a kid in the team. It was nonsense: it you’re good enough, you’re old enough. And, my word, was Eusebio good enough.”
Perhaps it would have been according for the organisers to have sculpted the ‘other trophy’ for which Osswald jestingly called. It could have been contested by Barcelona and Real Madrid; the victims of an awe-inspiring Benfica side and two of the grandest upsets in European Cup final history. “Those nights were unforgettable, the stuff of dreams,” added Coluna.