As part of our UEFA Champions League final coverage, uefa.com will hear from stars of the three previous showpieces played in Rome. Here, former Juventus striker Gianluca Vialli recalls the victory over AFC Ajax in 1996.
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As part of our in-depth coverage of the UEFA Champions League final, uefa.com will be hearing from stars of the three previous showpieces to have unfolded at the Stadio Olimpico. Here, former Juventus striker Gianluca Vialli recalls the victory against AFC Ajax in 1996.
Vialli went into the game having already tasted defeat at this stage of the competition in 1992, when Ronald Koeman's thunderbolt gave FC Barcelona a 1-0 victory over his UC Sampdoria side in the European Champion Clubs' Cup final at Wembley Stadium. Four years later in Rome, Juventus and Ajax were deadlocked at 1-1 after 90 minutes, Jari Litmanen having cancelled out Fabrizio Ravanelli's early strike, and there were no further goals in extra time. Marcello Lippi's men eventually triumphed 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out.
"It was a huge opportunity; playing almost at home, in Rome, for a team that was reaching its peak and was ready to achieve something big. On a personal level, the feelings were very different. I felt a lot less calm than the others, who were just taking in the atmosphere. I'd already played in a final with Sampdoria in '92 at Wembley, a game which finished badly after I'd missed two or three good chances wearing the Sampdoria shirt for the last time. In '96 it was the same thing – I was wearing the Juventus shirt for the last time, so it was my last chance, probably, to win the European Cup. So I felt a lot of tension, a real weight on my shoulders, a real sense of responsibility.
"The match was very intense. I think both teams played well. Ajax had their game, their philosophy of how to play. They played in a very controlled way, with the defenders taking part, with wingers who were out very wide, a centre-forward in Litmanen who kept moving, controlling the ball. They man-marked, they did a lot of pressing, but they had this very attacking mentality. We had a very solid side. We were stronger than them physically, and I think mentally too, and from a tactical point of view Lippi always got it right. It was not a super-spectacular game because there weren't amazing chances. But from the point of view of everyone in the stadium or for the people watching on TV, there was a lot of tension because you felt that at any moment something important could happen.
"At the end of the 120 minutes, Lippi was casting an eye over everyone, checking the desire the players had to take a penalty. I was the first person he turned to and he said: 'Luca, do you want to take a penalty?' I said: 'Marcello, if you can find five crazy people who want to take one, I will happily just watch. If not, I am at your service.' Because if I'd missed that penalty, you can imagine that with what had happened to me in the past – with the lost final with Sampdoria – I don't think I could have lived the rest of my life very calmly. It would have had a tremendous psychological impact. So, thankfully there was [Gianluca] Pessotto, [Ciro] Ferrara, [Vladimir] Jugović, [Michele] Padovano and the fifth was going to be [Alessandro] Del Piero. We didn't need Del Piero because we managed to win it before. I remember I didn't even watch most of those penalties because I was draped over Ciro Ferrara and couldn't see.
"Lifting the cup as captain remains one of the most emotional moments of my career, which was long. It was the crowning moment of my career with Juventus, before I left and went to Chelsea, especially given what had happened with Samp four years before. There was joy, but more than joy it was a relief just to hold that cup in your hand, to raise it in front of your own fans, with my team-mates by my side – the joy of the whole group.
If I happen to see the TV pictures I get goose bumps because it really was a moment, a thrilling moment."