When Barca sowed the seeds for global domination

Barcelona's status as one of the biggest clubs in the world was cemented on the fateful night of 20th May, 1992, as they lifted their first ever European Cup.

Ronald Koeman, Barcelona European Cup Final 92
Noah Tan

By Noah Tan

It was the stuff of dreams in Wembley stadium.

The "last" European Cup final played between two teams who had never won the tournament before, decided by a moment of genius.

The "Dream Team", made up of footballing greats such as Pep Guardiola, Michael Laudrup, Romario, Ronald Koeman and Hristo Stoichkov, managed by the de facto inventor of "Total Football" Johann Cryuff, finally brought the largest prize in European club football to Catalonia with a 1-0 win over Sampdoria.

For Barcelona, this win ended an agonizing 37-year wait for the European Cup, helping them shed the tag of perennial underachievers in the process and lending credence to the notion that they were indeed the generation's most talented team.

Despite having been at the forefront of Spanish football, the Blaugrana had long been mocked by their arch-rivals Real Madrid for their lack of success in a competition the Los Blancos had won an incredible six times by then.

That triumph in 1992, which brought the European Cup back to Spain for the first time since Real had won it in 1966 proved to be the catalyst for Barcelona to evolve into the powerhouses they are today.

"That win at Wembley is where everything began," Koeman declared.

"That win gave us a tranquility and a confidence to maintain a style that is now admired around the world; and I think will be forever."

But while all the attention of the 1992 European Cup final was on Barcelona, it would be an injustice to omit mention of their opponents in the final, the Vujadin Boskov managed Sampdoria.

As much as the Blaugrana were famed for their free-flowing, expansive style of football, the Genoa-based club's playing philosophy emphasised tactical discipline, solidity at the back and rapid counter-attacks.

It may beggar belief now but at the time Sampdoria, fuelled by the funds of businessman Paolo Mantovani, were one of the biggest teams in Italy and were enjoying the best phase in their history.

Led by the country's most feared strike-partnership in Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini, Samp had forged a great bond within the team which helped them upset the established Italian order by winning their maiden (and to date, only) Serie A title in the previous season.

Writing in Calcio: A History of Italian Football, John Foot said:"[Sampdoria's] success was built on an unbreakable squad unity.

"Seven of the championship team used to hang out together, calling themselves the Seven Dwarves."

Samp were now eyeing a bigger prize, and Barcelona had their work cut out.

"People at the club were not confident," Koeman said of the jittery atmosphere surrounding the team before the big game.

"In their minds they still recalled six years earlier when they had lost on penalties to Steaua Bucharest in Seville. We could feel the weight of expectation, of what the city wanted. The pressure was high.

"The players, though, had a belief.

"We had won the title playing fantastic football under Cruyff and Barca had beaten Sampdoria in the Cup-Winners' Cup in 1989.

"Before the game in the dressing room, Cruyff just said to us: 'Enjoy it and give everything you have.'"

As expected, both teams started the game cautiously, with neither willing to commit too many men forward for fear of being punished.

The first real chance fell to Barcelona. From a free-kick nearly 35 yards away from goal, Ronald Koeman, a renowned set-piece specialist, fired a fierce shot at goal which Sampdoria custodian Gianluca Pagliuca had to palm away.

It was a warning sign for Sampdoria as Cryuff's men started to take control of the game. Sampdoria reacted by committing more men behind the ball, leaving Mancini, Vialli and the dangerous Attilio Lombardo up front to lead their counter-attacks.

With their wealth of attacking talent, it was unsurprising that the Blaugrana came close to scoring on several occasions, with only the in-form Pagliuca standing in their way from taking the lead, as the Italian international made save after astounding save to keep out Laudrup, Eusebio and Stoichkov.

At the other end of the pitch, Mancini was proving a real threat playing in the "hole" for Boskov's men, linking up play well with his wingers and setting up several chances for Lombardo and Vialli.

But Vialli was profligate. The future manager of Chelsea had no less than three gilt edged chances to score but failed to find the target on each occasion.

A mix of good fortune, excellent goalkeeping and wasteful finishing meant that the game, despite growing increasingly open as it progressed, went into extra-time with neither side having scored.

As fatigue started to set in during extra-time, gaps started opening up in both side's defences, but neither Sampdoria or Barcelona could really fashion a genuine chance of note.

It seemed destined (and a shame) that the winner of the "last" European Cup would be decided by a penalty shootout.

That was until Eusebio was fouled at the edge of the Sampdoria penalty box.

A twitter of anticipation rippled around the stadium as Koeman stepped up to take the free-kick once again.

As was usual Barcelona, two players stood over the ball (one player would roll the ball to the other who would stop it); Stoichkov got the ball rolling, Bakero stopped it, Koeman ran forward and struck it sweetly with his right foot through a hole in the onrushing Sampdoria wall.

Like a bullet, the ball went straight into the corner of the net past Pagliuca's hapless dive, and the Spanish half of Wembley erupted.

It was a free-kick of immense beauty. Powerful, accurate and direct. Unstoppable.

Expectedly, the goal deflated the spirits of the Sampdoria players, who to their credit, did try their best to make a comeback, but it was too little, too late.

Barcelona were delirious but for Sampdoria, it was a crushing blow from which they never fully recovered.

"It was the worst evening of my life at Sampdoria," Mancini would later say.

"The next day it was even worse though: you realise clearly what a chance you wasted.

"I wanted to win so badly. That cup had always been nailed in my head, and I only managed to brush past it."

The significance of Barcelona's win was not lost on manager Cryuff.

"Winning [the European Cup] is so big, it's very difficult to understand when you win it," Cryuff remarked about his side's achievement.

"You know it's big, but it's much bigger than you realise. And that's what you find out, not at the time, but later. When you travel the world, and play here and there, people still talk about it."

Sure, it was a hardly convincing win by Barcelona, and had Vialli not been so wasteful in front of goal, the outcome may have very well been different.

But win the European Cup Barcelona did. They did not know it then, but their triumph would serve as the platform from which they would go on to become the modern-day kings of the beautiful game.



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