If FC Steaua Bucuresti need any inspiration going into the first leg of Thursday's UEFA Cup semi-final against Middlesbrough FC, they need look no further than former goalkeeper Helmut Duckadam.
The Romanian goalkeeper leapt into the folklore of both the club and European competition by saving all four penalties taken by FC Barcelona during the shoot-out that won Steaua the European Champion Clubs' Cup 20 years ago at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in Seville. Duckadam became a hero by saving from José Ramón Alexanko, Angel Pedraza, 'Pichi' Alonso and Marcos Alonso. Only two of the eight penalties were converted as the Romanian side won the shoot-out 2-0 after 120 minutes of football had failed to produce a goal.
"I always had a dream about reaching a final and being the decisive player," said Duckadam in an exclusive interview for UEFA's 50 Years of European Club Football commemorative book. "In Seville l had the chance to turn the dream into reality. It was all down to me in the shoot-out. Alexanko took the first penalty. I chose to move to the right and he shot to the right and so I managed to save it. The second one was less simple. I tried to think like Pedraza. He would be thinking that when I’d made one save to the right then I would dive to my left. So he shot to the right and I managed to save the second penalty as well.
The third one by Pichi Alonso was simpler. Any goalkeeper who has made two saves to his right is bound to go left for the third one. He shot to the right and I moved right again and saved the third one as well. With the fourth penalty I had a problem. I was seriously wondering what Marcos would do - whether he would copy the other three or shoot to the left. I decided to change side and moved to the left. Marcos also chose that side" - and that was how Helmut Duckadam saved four penalties.
Tragically, the final was a swan-song for the 26-year-old hero. That summer, he was on holiday on the Black Sea when he started to suffer pain in his arm. His wife called a doctor who diagnosed a thrombosis and flew him back to Bucharest for an emergency operation. The surgeon told him later that if much more time had passed, amputation would have been necessary to save Duckadam’s life. "I was lucky then and I was lucky to play the final. I had felt some discomfort in my arm but I didn't know what was wrong. The tests eventually showed that it was a blood clot and my career was over. If I had complained to the doctor before the final, I probably wouldn't have been allowed to play it."
Marius Lacatus took one of the two penalties Steaua scored that night. Now Steaua's executive president he would finish his career as the club's most successful player, counting ten Romanian titles and the UEFA Super Cup among a myriad of honours. He had Duckadam to thank, though, for the greatest club prize of all. "At that time I was only 22 years old," he told uefa.com. "I was a crazy boy and I accepted to shoot a penalty kick, without thinking of what might happen if I didn't score. If I had been older, I wouldn't have dared take a penalty. After I scored, I thought more about the player who would have had to take our last penalty, Ilie Barbulescu. But Duckadam was in such fantastic shape. And I thought, seeing how he is holding one penalty kick after another, how lucky Barbulescu was because in the end he didn't have to take one. It was a fantastic day, with a fantastic goalkeeper."
Additional reporting from Paul-Daniel Zaharia.
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