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The night Barça won the Cup Winners Cup 4-3 against Fortuna Düsseldorf in Basel is one that anyone old enough to remember will never forget. For the first time ever, Barça fans travelled en masse for a major European final, and those who were there saw the club lift its first continental trophy since the Fairs Cup in 1966.
FCB hadn’t reached a final for a decade, and with this game coming in the midst of the transition of Spain from dictatorship to democracy, the journey to the Saint Jakob Stadium was not just about football. It was about showing the world what Catalonia was about. After two disappointing losses in finals played in Switzerland, Berne (1961) and Basel (1969), Barça took an incredible 30,000 fans with them in 1979, and at a time when hooliganism was rife around Europe, the civilised, friendly behaviour of the Barça fans made a very welcome change.
The team itself was not enjoying the best of seasons. Struggling in the league (they’d eventually finish fifth), they were also out of the Spanish Cup. French manager Lucien Müller had been sacked and Joaquim Rifé replaced him – a man who was determined to bring out the fighting spirit in his players. And he succeeded.
The courage and dedication of the players that night was extraordinary. Migueli was playing with a back injury, while Krankl’s wife had just suffered a serious traffic accident. There were so many difficulties to overcome, but the Barça spirit shone high and proud that night in Switzerland.
End to end thriller
It was also a time when there were concerns about the future of European football. Negative tactics were producing some tediously dull matches. Finals rarely lived up to expectations, and there even were calls for changes in the laws to encourage more goals. But this final was an exception to the rule. It was an absolute cracker.
Rifé picked the following side: Artola, Zuviría, Migueli, Albaladejo (De la Cruz, min 58), Costas (Martínez, min 67), Neeskens, Rexach, Sánchez, Krankl, Asensi and Carrasco. It was already 2-2 by half-time, with Sánchez and Asensi twice putting Barça ahead only for the Germans to equalise, with Rexach missing a penalty as well. The second half was more in keeping with European football of the age – it was a dull scoreless affair and the game went into extra time.
In the 103rd minute, Barça went back in front when Rexach converted a Neeskens cross. Eleven minutes later, Austrian Krankl, who topped the Liga goalscoring that season, made it 4-2 following a delightful move by young Carrasco. Although the Germans soon pulled one back, Barça managed to hang on for a famous victory.
It was an emotional sight to see the Catalan flags being waved with such fervour at the Saint Jakob Stadium, scenes that were repeated when the team returned to Barcelona, where just a few years before, such a display would have been illegal. May 1979 was indeed a very special time for so many people, and 35 years later, it still brings back fond memories for the people who experienced it.
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