REAL TRIUMPHANT ONCE AGAIN
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS' CUP FINAL
Bayer Leverkusen 1 (Lucio 13) Real Madrid 2 (Raul 8, Zidane 44)
Real Madrid have won the European Champions' Cup for a record ninth time following a 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden tonight.
A wonder goal by Zinedine Zidane on the stroke of half-time ultimately decided a final played at a high tempo throughout – with underdogs Leverkusen perhaps unfortunate not to take the game into extra-time.
Hampden was a riot of colour, an arena full of passion, with the Real Madrid support outnumbering their German opponents by perhaps four to one. Real struck as early as the fourth minute when a quickly-taken long throw by Brazilian Internationalist Roberto Carlos caught the Leverkusen defence by surprise, Raul reacting quickest to stab the ball into the corner of the net past the stranded Jorg Butt.
The German side – who had already finished runner-up in both League and Cup in their own country – might have crumbled at this early setback, but instead struck back within four minutes when Lucio out-jumped the Madrid defence to head home a Bernd Schneider cross.
Swiss Referee Urs Meier had scarcely endeared himself to Rangers fans with his shocking performance at Ibrox last August when he sent off Michael Mols but lamentably failed to take the same action against Turkish goalkeeper Rustu Recber (a decision that arguably cost the Ibrox men a place in this season's Champions' League). The official wasn't too impressive tonight either – his indecision at a Real corner had to be seen to be believed.
Leverkusen had taken heart from their equaliser, and might even have taken the lead in 23 minutes when Thomas Brdaric broke free on the left but chose to go it alone when the square ball to Neuville would surely have paid dividends. Real goalkeeper Dominguez Cesar blocked his effort.
Brdaric was not long afterwards substituted by Dimitar Berbatov – and was clearly unhappy as he left the pitch.
Bayer had had the better of the first-half – yet found themselves behind at the interval when a magnificent left-foot volley from some eighteen yards by Zinedine Zidane from a Roberto Carlos cross found the net.
The opening stages of the second-half were tighter, with defences on top.
Real sprang a surprise on the hour when they replaced Luis Figo with Steve McManaman. The Portuguese superstar had been ineffective, but his departure must have lifted the opposition.
Seven minutes later the Spanish maestros were obliged to change goalkeepers when Casillas replaced the limping Cesar.
Leverkusen were pushing Real back into defence as the finishing line hovered into view, although a swift break might have settled the outcome when Fernando Morientes was inches away from a McManaman cross.
The closing ten minutes were a veritable siege on the Madrid goal. Michael Ballack should have done better than blast his shot well wide when he burst through in 82 minutes, then Berbatov headed over from a Basturk cross three minutes on.
Real almost finished it in 86 minutes when a superb solo run by Santiago Solari was foiled by a one-handed save from Butt.
As the clock reached ninety minutes there were gasps within the arena when the fourth official indicated seven additional minutes.
Bayer took heart from that information, and hurled themselves towards the Real goal.
Jorg Butt came forward to lend assistance, only to head wide a Carsten Ramelow free-kick, and then a Berbatov effort was cleared off the line.
The final whistle brought enormous relief and joy in the Madrid camp.
Once again the Spanish giants had triumphed at Hampden, but many neutrals in the Hampden crowd must have felt sympathy for the losing side.
Triumphant Real Madrid Coach Vicente Del Bosque was jubilant afterwards:
"I am very happy with the performance of my team. This is a special year for Madrid. Leverkusen were great sportsmen and fought to the end. They have had a marvellous year and deserve great respect.
Bayer Leverkusen Coach Klaus Toppmoller was upbeat:
"We played very well – it was a brilliant match. Zidane is a world-class player and scored a brilliant goal. I was proud of our effort and proud of what we have achieved this season. We were hurt by the absence of Ze Roberto and Jens Nowotny. We were in control before the loss of the second goal, which was demoralising. I tried to impress on my players that you don't play in the Champions' League Final every year."
The ghosts of Di Stefano and Puskas may still haunt Hampden, but this was a memorable final nevertheless.
BAYER LEVERKUSEN Butt; Sebescen (Kirsten 64), Zivkovic, Lucio (Babic 19), Placente; Schneider, Ramelow, Ballack, Brdaric (Berbatov 37); Basturk, Neuville
UNUSED SUBS. Juric, Vranjes, Dzaka, Kleine
REAL MADRID Cesar (Casillas 67); Michel Salgado,Hierro, Helguera, Roberto Carlos; Figo (McManaman 60), Makelele (Conceicao 72), Zidane, Solari; Raul, Morientes
UNUSED SUBS. Guti, Karanka, Munitis, Pavon
REFEREE Urs Meier (Switzerland)