There are five Serie A sides in the round of 16 – the 1979/80 UEFA Cup was the sole previous time a UEFA competition has been so dominated by one nation.
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In 1975, VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach became the first German side to lift the UEFA Cup. Just five years later, the competition would be dominated by Bundesliga clubs like never before.
This was off the back of a decade of two UEFA Cup wins and one European Cup Winners' Cup for German teams and three straight European Champion Clubs' Cups for FC Bayern München, as well as FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship triumphs for West Germany. Then came the 1979/80 UEFA Cup, when five West German sides got through to the third round, four of them progressing to the semi-finals. Not since that seminal season have five clubs from one nation reached the last 16 of a UEFA competition – at least not until five of Serie A's finest advanced to this term's UEFA Europa League round of 16.
Even the 1978/79 campaign had three West German teams in the last four, FK Crvena zvezda – who would lose to Borussia Mönchengladbach in the final – being the odd ones out. Gladbach again made the final the following year, 1980, but were pipped on away goals by Eintracht Frankfurt. Hamburger SV (the 1977 Cup Winners' Cup winners), meanwhile, were beaten by Nottingham Forest FC in the European Cup decider, while the national side claimed their second European crown in eight years.
This was a time when outstanding individualists like Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Günter Netzer, Bernd Hölzenbein and Jupp Heynckes were being replaced by the next generation: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Horst Hrubesch and a young Lothar Matthäus. Udo Lattek grew into Germany's most successful club coach ever, Pál Csernai brought zonal marking to the fore and Hennes Weisweiler's attacking football became the basis for coach education in Germany. For many observers, the Bundesliga was the benchmark.
"We played with a mix of power and technique," said Bernard Dietz, captain of the 1980 European champions. "Suddenly you were allowed to play football on Wednesday nights as well, suddenly you got out of your daily routine."
Fusing the traditional German virtues of fighting spirit, strength and stamina with these great individuals resulted in a potent cocktail. "I believe we played good football," said Hrubesch, who scored both West German goals in the EURO '80 final against Belgium. "You can see it in the players. If you go back in time, there are Beckenbauer, Overath, Netzer and others."
There were drawbacks to such supremacy, however. "On the one hand, it was nice for German football," said Bernd Hölzenbein, who landed the 1980 UEFA Cup with Eintracht and infamously prompted a frantic search for the trophy after taking it home with him. "However, somehow the internationality was lacking. It was a bit weird. Actually, we should have played someone like Juventus after our triumphant semi-final – but then again, we would probably have lost."