MatchDay Memory–The Old Lady Reigns in Rome
I went to Oklahoma State University with a dream and the best of intentions. I also went there with the desire to get away from my parents and my life and everything that had come before. When I tell people that I went to OSU, I usually get a quizzical look and the question, How did you end up there? Oklahoma State ticked several boxes: after a decade in Michigan, I was looking for something different, my uncle was a professor in Stillwater, plus they had a decent journalism school, which is what I wanted to pursue (at that time). So in the summer of 1995, we packed up the family wagon and headed out there. My experience out in the middle of nowhere was a mixed bag, which may be discussed at a later date, but in the backdrop of everything was Juventus’ run to the Champions League Final.
Juventus were drawn in a group with Borussia Dortmund, Glasgow Rangers and Steaua Bucuresti, which they won with 13 points and 15 goals for, tying them with Ajax and Spartak Moscow as top scorers in the group stage. My footy support was still in its formative stages, so I actually knew more about Blackburn getting into a fight on the field during a Champions League Group game than about Juventus’ solid Group Stage performance.
Tangent alert!! In doing research on the game, I came across this little tidbit via Wikipedia:
Dynamo Kyiv won their tie against Aalborg BK, but, in their first group game against Panathinaikos, they were accused of a failed attempt to bribe referee Antonio Lopez Nieto to get a win. Despite an appeal, they were thrown out of the competition by UEFA and were banned for the subsequent two years. Aalborg BK replaced them in the group stage. Dynamo’s ban was eventually reduced to just one season.
What the what?!? I didn’t know anything about that. Four years later, Shevchenko and Rebrov would lead the team to the semis against Bayern.
By the time of the knockout stages, I had hitched my wagon to the black and whites, skipping classes to watch the Bianconeri beat Real Madrid and then Nantes in a high scoring semi-final. In watching the highlights against the Spanish team, I was struck by how many chances that Los Merengues missed in the first leg. The result could have been beyond the Italians had Real wore their finishing boots, but the fightback at Stadio delle Alpi was fierce and Padavano’s goal in the second half led the Italians to victory. Juventus didn’t make Real’s mistake in the semis, winning the first leg 2-0 in Turin and scoring early in France to put the pressure on the hosts. In the end, they lost 3-2 but were in the Final.
The Old Lady faced off against defending champions Ajax in the Final. I had watched Ajax beat AC Milan the year before thanks to Kluivert’s quick feet and toe poke (about 4:15 into highlights), so I knew the Dutch team was quite good. What I remember from the 1996 Final was when Ravanelli won the ball and took a shot from an impossible angle, I screamed NOOOOO!!!!, which quickly turned into YEEEESSSSSS!!!! The elation lasted until Litmanen scored just before halftime, and the game continued without any more goals through the second half and extra time.
Watching the highlights again, each team had several chances to win but the deadlock couldn’t be broken. I noticed that in the shootout, van der Sar guessed right on every kick but couldn’t catch up to the strikes from the Juventus players, while it has to be said that the efforts from Davids and Silooy of Ajax were poor. When Jugovic stepped up, I couldn’t stand it. Even now, my stomach flips as he strikes the ball. The ball hit the back of the net and weeks later I picked up one of my first jerseys ever. For a while I followed La Madama but eventually life took over but I still have that spring of 1996 to cherish when Juventus ruled Europe.