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PHOTO: UC SAMPDORIA

Barça fans will always remember three images. That of Koeman scoring the winner, and that of Cruyff climbing over the advertising hoarding, and that of Alexanco lifting the cup. But they rarely appreciate what that night was like from an Italian point of view. May 20, 1992, may have sparked off celebrations in Barcelona, but the memories are far less fond in Genoa. Wembley 1992 is remembered very differently to the way it is in Catalonia. It marked the beginning of the end for the finest Sampdoria side ever, which came so close to glory and ended up so far from it. The club is now battling away in the Italian Serie B.

Berne, Vialli and pressure

Nobody in Italy is arguing about the quality of that FC Barcelona side under Johan Cruyff. But their view of how the title landed in Catalan hands is very different to the one Barça fans are used to hearing. “Sampdoria went into that final in the worst possible way; they weren’t used to coping with that kind of pressure. All of the attention was on rumours of Vialli being sold and people hadn’t forgotten the final in Berne three years earlier", says Claudio Mangini, who writes for Italian daily Il Secolo XIX.

In Switzerland, Barça had beaten Sampdoria 2-0 in the Cup Winners Cup Final, which the Italians themselves would win a year later against Anderlecht. "There were distractions all over the place”, observes Alberto Polverosi of ‘Corriere dello Sport’.

There is no arguing with that. Sampdoria landed in London four and a half hours later than expected, just 26 hours before kickoff. "That was a match between two teams that had never won the European Cup. One was a giant, the other was a small club, and it showed”, adds Stefano Zaino, a reporter for ‘La Repubblica’ and who watched the march live in the stadium.

Futile counter attacks

But despite the uncertainties, the game was a largely predictable affair. "Boskov told us to concentrate on defence. The idea was for Vialli and Mancini to surprise Nadal and Koeman on the counter attack, who were strong centre backs, but a bit slow”, Gianluca Pagliuca told fcbarcelona.cat. And the idea didn’t go too badly. They withstood the Barça onslaught, but failed to take the opportunities they had. "Boskov’s style, like that of Trapattoni (then at Juventus), was the response to Sacchi (then managing Italy). It was based on defence and counter attacks, you could almost say they were playing a completely different sport to FC Barcelona", comments Polverosi.

Goodbye to Vialli, Pari and Boskov

Lombardo was one of the most prominent players in that match, and won most praise from the Italian media. “Individually, I was pleased. Perhaps it was one of my best days, especially because of the stage and the circumstances. I did everything I could", he says. But collectively? "We were a small club that played the best we could. That makes you feel very, very proud, even though we lost” he admits.

Gianluca Vialli came close to scoring three times, and people still disagree regarding his performance that day. "It certainly wasn’t Vialli’s best game", says Pagliuca, although Lombardo feels the striker "played outstandingly". Fausto Pari, the midfielder whose job it was to mark Laudrup, offers that "Vialli had everything sorted with Juventus. President Paolo Mantovani wanted to sell him, and he was under too much pressure in that final. He wanted to leave with a goal and victory, and missed more than he would normally do”. The whole build-up to the game was overshadowed by rumours regarding Vialli’s imminent departure, and that game at Wembley was indeed the last he would play for Samp.

Pari has no qualms about admitting that before the final was played, he already knew he was leaving. "I signed for Napoli four days before the game. Vialli signed two days after we had lost”. Manager Vujadin Boskov also left at the end of the season, replaced by Sven Goran Eriksson. Mangini comments how there was no consoling the 30,000 'tifosi' who made the trip to London. "He was the fans’ favourite, but Vialli would have left even if we had won”. He had ambitions for bigger things than Genoa. The current Manchester City manager, Roberto Mancini, was another disappointment. "He wasn’t fully fit, and not up to his usual level”, declared our interviewees.

Not a foul

The decisive moment came in the 111th minute, a foul by Invernizzi on Eusebio on the edge of the area. Italian players and press alike are agreed on this. "It was not a foul. It was a very dubious decision, and very hard on us, especially given the moment when it happened”, says Pagliuca. But he doesn’t dwell on it too far. "Even if it hadn’t been given, we’d still have lost. It was our destiny”. The goalkeeper ordered a six-man wall, and three men, two from the wall, ran at Koeman as soon as the referee blew for the kick to be taken. The ball went straight through the gap. "In Italy they’re still debating whether it was Pagliuca’s mistake or not, because the ball went in on his side”, explains Zaino. The goalkeeper defends his case. "If the wall hadn’t opened, I’d have stopped it, but I didn’t see the ball until the very last second”. Had the game gone on to penalties, he is also confident. "We knew how they took their kicks. We had studied Koeman, Stoichkov, Laudrup... I’d have felt very comfortable with that”.

But it was Koeman’s goal that split the two. Pari didn’t want to keep his runners-up medal and threw it into the crowd. "Two days later, the fan who caught it asked if he could exchange it for a shirt, so now I do have the medal. But I don’t care about it. I’m not happy with it”, he insists. Some, like Lombardo, haven’t got over it two decades later. "It was painful to lose that way. Sampdoria will surely never get a chance like that again. That’s why the chance I missed still goes around in my head”.


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