AC Milan's Juan Alberto Schiaffino and Real Madrid CF's Alfredo Di Stéfano were at the height of their powers in the 1958 European Cup, as Champions Matchday recalls.
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In 1958, only one team had ever won the European Champion Clubs' Cup: Real Madrid CF. In the 1956 and 1957 finals, Alfredo Di Stéfano was on the scoresheet as the Blancos defeated Stade de Reims 4-3 and beat ACF Fiorentina 2-0.
Madrid – and their inspirational Argentinian – made it three finals in a row in 1958. This time, they faced AC Milan. As Di Stéfano recalled: "They were our big rivals because of the players they had like Maldini, Liedholm, Schiaffino ... phenomenal players in their team."
Even in such a stellar side, one player stood out: the Uruguayan-born centre-forward Juan Alberto Schiaffino. Slender and small, Schiaffino was a brave, opportunistic striker with an unerring positional sense in the penalty area.
The son of an Italian who worked as a clerk at Uruguay's national racecourse and a Paraguayan housewife, Schiaffino had claimed the equaliser against Brazil in the 1950 FIFA World Cup final, won 2-1 by Uruguay. In 1954, the Rossoneri prised the former bakery worker away from CA Peñarol of Montevideo. Two Serie A titles later, the man who team-mate Cesare Maldini said had "a radar where his brain should be" faced Di Stéfano for the second time.
Both Schiaffino and Di Stéfano had scored when their teams met in the first leg of the 1956 semi-final. Madrid edged that tie 4-3 on aggregate. Just over two years later, on a balmy May evening in Brussels, the Argentinian and the Uruguayan combined to produce an enthralling European Cup final.
Milan were as defensively strong as any great Italian side of the era, but with Schiaffino and Niels Liedholm they were also not short of flair. Schiaffino had notched four goals en route to Brussels, including the clincher in a preliminary round replay against SK Rapid Wien. He then scored three of the five goals that knocked out a stricken Manchester United FC, mourning eight of their players killed in the Munich air crash.
Madrid had cantered to the final, putting eight past R. Antwerp FC in the first round and hitting ten against Sevilla FC – with Di Stéfano getting four in the quarter-final first leg. His hat-trick in the semi-final first leg against Hungarian champions Vasas SC sealed a place in the decider.
Di Stéfano and Schiaffino were very different men. The Milan forward was rather reserved, once noting: "I wasn't lucky to become a footballer, it was my destiny." Di Stéfano, the 'Blond Arrow', swaggered on and off the field. Before the final he predicted the match winner, telling winger Francisco Gento this would be his moment. "He told me only you can win this game with one of your runs," said Gento. "I was fortunate to score the decisive goal. He was the best player there has been, he was my teacher."
The showpiece lived up to expectations. Once again, both men registered – Schiaffino first, finishing off a quick counter on the edge of the area. Shortly afterwards, winger Ernesto Cucchiaroni rattled the post for the Italian side. With 15 minutes left, Di Stéfano equalised, taking one touch to control the ball and another to smash it past Milan keeper Narciso Soldan. After another goal for each team – and a shot off the bar from Liedholm in the last minutes of normal time – Di Stéfano's prediction came true in extra time when Gento's low shot skidded past Soldan.
Looking back, Di Stéfano admitted this was the "toughest final" of the five he – and Madrid – won in a row between 1956 and 1960. "It was really hard going. We were never in front until we actually won it, which didn't happen until extra time when Gento got the goal that clinched the cup," he told UEFA.com.