On This Day: Underdogs Marseille win first edition of UEFA Champions League against Van Basten’s Milan


Marseille faced off against AC Milan for the first ever winner of the UEFA Champions League since the re-branding of the competition.

It’s the 26th of May 1993, the Olympiastadion is hosting a historical event. Underdogs Olympique de Marseille are looking for their first-ever European title and to become the only French side to do so. Meanwhile the great Milan has just achieved back to back Serie A titles and are after their third European medal in four years. To add more drama to the contest, it is the first final of the UEFA Champion League.

Despite the underdog status, Marseille were led by Belgian manager Raymond Goethals who helped them win the league title for the past two years. The one in 1992 was however stripped off from the Stade Velodrome side after allegations of bribery were denounced.

Marseille president Bernard Tapie and general manager Jean-Pierre Menes bribed Valenciennes players ahead of a league game in order for the Olympians to be fresher during the Champions League final, one of the players refused the bribe and exposed the Marseille administration. Nonetheless, the game took place and remains a historical contest.

The French side enjoyed the presence of world-class individuals; experienced French internationals in captain Didier Deschamps, Fabien Barthez and Marcel Desailly. Upfront was Rudi Voller who had just led Germany to a World Cup achievement in 1990. Number 10 Abedi Pele who was just named African footballer of the year three consecutive times at the time (1991, 1992 and 1993) and was part of the Ghana squad that made it to the Africa Cup Of Nations final the year before in 1992, considered one of the best African players in history.

On the other hand, in the Rossonneri dugout was legendary boss Fabio Capello who was at the beginning of his memorable career. At his disposal was the flying Dutchman: Marco Van Basten and he wasn’t far from his prime. Van Basten had just won his third Ballon D’or the previous year and had won the competition two times already, if that wasn’t enough he won the Euros in 1988.  Prestigious names were present as well: Frank Rijkaard, a young Paolo Maldini, World Champion captain Franco Baresi and former Marseille man Jean Pierre Papin.

A red and white atmosphere filled the German capital, hopeful supporters expressing all sorts of emotions as pressure was mounting on the players in the tight tunnel.

The men in white and blue cut the red tape of the first-ever UEFA Champions League final, once Voller touched the ball, Capello’s men started their high pressure forcing Marseille to kick a long ball with no destination.

A dangerous free-kick for Milan in the tenth minute found Rijkaard’s head on the far post but, the Dutch defender couldn’t find the target.

The Milan players and supporters kept their composure as it was early in the game but, it looked like they knew other chances were going to come.

A corner found Maldini’s head near the penalty spot, the Italian however sent the ball above the bar. He held his head in despair disappointed that the mighty Milan were still level and the genesis of the failure started taking place.

Meanwhile, the Marseille supporters started believing more in the European dream, thinking that the gods will accord them a memorable night. Chants echoed through speakers, the backing and constant support through the lungs of the people of Southern France.

Credit: Goal.com

The first half was as animated as it can get but also one-sided, Marseille were yet to manifest a serious threat on Sebastian Rossi’s net. Daniele Massaro received the ball in the final third, dribbled his way to Barthez’s left side taking with him two men in white, the Italian ‘’marcatore’’ back heels the ball with elegance to an empty Van Basten. He turned with composure and from 12 yards struck the ball and Barthez was able to deflected the ball away.

Roberto Donadoni sent a curving long pass to Massaro who took a volley at the Marseille keeper, a double save is not enough to clear the danger but the defense managed to kick the ball out for a throw-in.

One of the few menacing attacks from the French side turned into a corner. Pele is set to take it, the Ghanaian looked at Boli and said: ‘’I’d forgotten how tall these guys are. Please don’t go for the far post, just make it look like you’re going there.’’

The defender followed these words and did so. Marked by Rijkaard (6 ft3 in) Boli (5 ft 11 in) managed to escape and sent the cross to the far post. Against all odds, expectations, scenario, statistics,  and numbers Goethals’ men opened the scoring right before half time.

The celebrations on the pitch were unlike the ones in the stands, the runners up two years from that day were about to finish the job, supporters were ecstatic, embraces and tears packed the white side of the Olympic Arena. While the players weren’t overly excited as they weren’t the dominant side and that goal was everything but a guarantee.

The second half started, the sides had changed, and the tables had turned. The Devil was becoming shy and anxious while The Phocaeans’ confidence exponentially rose, so were their ambition and determination.

The Marseille players looked like they had more than 15 minutes of a break while Capello decided to put Papin on the pitch, the former Marseille man knew his former side and was an exceptional striker.

He quickly drew danger by a flying header on target, however one that lacked power. He got into a fight following the chance with Eric De Mero who told him: ‘’Don’t waste your time trying too hard because the final is ours.’’ Most of the crosses that followed in the French box had hardly reached any men in red and black.

Credit: Goal.com

Marseille kept defending and persevering and sealed the game out, perhaps without attractive football but some would argue with desire, heart and belief as they became the first French side to win the competition and it was their first and only one so far.

Frenchmen in the stands were seen screaming ‘’blow the whistle!’’ in repetition until they heard the impatiently waited sound, it was the end of the game and the start of the celebrations. Fans held their heads in hands in both ends of the stadium in disbelief.


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