In the first of a special series of articles to mark UEFA's Golden Jubilee, Alfredo Di Stéfano looks back at the early days of the European Champion Clubs' Cup.
When the European Cup started, how did the players think it would turn out?
Alfredo Di Stéfano: We thought it was going to be something like the Latin Cup, perhaps a bit better. Of course, it's incredible how the European Cup just got bigger and bigger until it ended up being what it is today. Real Madrid [CF] were really just another club, one of those taking part from the start. But as time went by, it's true that we became one of the teams that really helped galvanise the tournament.
In the first round of the first European Cup, in 1955/56, you won 2-0 against Servette [FC] in Geneva, and then 5-0 in the return game in Chamartín when you scored your first two European goals...
Di Stéfano: Servette were admittedly not one of the best teams in Europe, but that doesn't mean we didn't have to work hard to win. In Geneva, we didn't score until the 79th minute, through Muñoz, and then Gento got the other one in the very last minute. It's true that we managed to win the return leg fairly easily. Everything seemed to go our way.
Then came the difficult part: winning 4-0 against [FK] Partizan at home, but losing 3-0 in Belgrade. The legend nearly got cut short there and then!
Di Stéfano: Yes, it was an incredible match in Belgrade. We had to play in snow and ice, and to make it worse Milutinovic scored a very early goal.
What was harder: the game against Partizan or the first final in Paris against Stade de Reims, which must have been like an away match for you?
Di Stéfano: No, the Paris final wasn't the hardest; the toughest was the third, when we stole it from [AC] Milan, who had players like Maldini, Liedholm, Schiaffino... we were never in front until we actually won it, which didn't happen until extra time, when Gento got the goal that meant the title. I tell you, it was really hard going, the toughest test of all.
I can imagine that there were other matches in those early years that were also just as demanding as any final...
Di Stéfano: The game against [SK] Rapid Vienna, who had a formidable team with Zeman in goal, Happel in the centre of defence, Hanappi in midfield and the Korner brothers leading the attack. We won the first game 4-2 in Madrid, but in Vienna they were already 3-0 up after only 42 minutes. I was lucky to score after about 60 minutes, and that meant we had to play a third match to settle it, in Madrid. Joseíto and Kopa got a goal each and we went through.
Let's move on to the great days of European glory and the Glasgow final in 1960 against Eintracht Frankfurt, a match that has gone down as one of the most dazzling in the history of the game…
Di Stéfano: That final caused a big sensation because of the result. Ten goals in a final - what an incredible spectacle! But I still have to say that the hardest final for us and by far the best was the Brussels final against Milan. It was unbelievable.
This is an abridged version of an exclusive interview by Luis Arnaiz of Don Balon, a member of the European Sports Magazines group. You can read the full interview in A Bola (Portugal); Don Balon (Spain); Fanatik (Turkey); Foot (Belgium); Kicker (Germany); La Gazzetta dello Sport (Italy); Sport Express (Russia); TIPS-bladet (Denmark); Voetbal International (Netherlands); World Soccer (UK).
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