Sunday, July 1, 2012 ESPNsoccernet: July 2, 7:48 PM UK
A brief history of the European Cup
The Champions League is a child of the Fifties. It began life in 1955 as the European Cup and, as with the European Championship, it was conceived in France: Gabriel Hanot, editor of the French football paper L'Equipe, came up with the idea after receiving extremely favourable reports about a similar tournament in South America.
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The first European Cup, which took place in 1955-56, involved 16 champions from around Europe, although English sides did not take part for a further two years. The great Real Madrid side of Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano won the first five tournaments, the last with an epic 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in 1960.
There were two wins for Benfica and both Milan clubs in the Sixties, as well as first triumphs for Celtic, who then lost in the 1970 final to Feyenoord. But, Feyenoord aside, the Seventies was the age of the dynasty: Ajax's Total Footballers won three in a row, as did Franz Beckenbauer's Bayern Munich straight after.
Then came the invasion of the English, who won seven of the next eight tournaments. Four went to Liverpool; two, incredibly, to Nottingham Forest, and the other to Aston Villa. Hamburg, in 1983, were the only non-English side to win in that time.
Juventus, who lost to Hamburg in the 1983 final, eventually won their first European Cup by beating Liverpool in Heysel in 1985, a victory that was completely overshadowed by the tragic death of 39 fans before the game.
English sides were banned from Europe for the next five years, in which time the tournament was won by Steaua Bucharest, Porto, PSV Eindhoven and then Milan in both 1989 and 1990. They are the last side to retain the trophy.
Red Star Belgrade beat Marseille on penalties in 1991, after the most anti-climactic final in living memory. That was the last European Cup to have a straight knockout format. UEFA introduced a group stage in 1991-92, when Ronald Koeman's howitzer finally gave Barcelona their first European Cup, and then changed the name of the tournament to the Champions League.
Over the next five years there were victories for Marseille, Milan (who thrashed Barcelona 4-0 in an unforgettable final in 1994), Ajax, Juventus and Borussia Dortmund. Then UEFA moved the goalposts: in 1997-98 they allowed the league runners-up to enter the tournament, and two years later extended it further to included some third - and fourth-placed teams.
It was around this time that Real Madrid reminded everyone why they are so heavily associated with the tournament, winning in 1998, 2000 and 2002 - the latter thanks to Zinedine Zidane's astonishing volley against Bayer Leverkusen.
In between those came a first European Cup in 31 years for Manchester United, who scored twice in injury-time to beat Bayern Munich, and a first in 25 years for Munich, who beat Valencia on penalties in 2001.
Penalties also decided the 2003 final, when Milan beat Juventus in the first all-Italian final, and 2005, when Milan lost to Liverpool despite leading 3-0 at half-time. It soon became known as the Miracle of Istanbul.
Those two shoot-outs sandwiched a remarkable triumph in 2004, when year later Portuguese side FC Porto surprised everyone - except their young manager Jose Mourinho, who announced himself to the world by winning the tournament.
Porto aside, the heavyweights continued to dominate the tournament: Barcelona were victorious in 2006 and 2009, with Milan beating Liverpool in 2007 and Manchester United overcoming Chelsea on penalties in the first all-English final in 2008.
The new decade began with Mourinho becoming only the third man to win the European Cup with two different clubs, this time giving Internazionale their first victory in 45 years. But Barcelona soon got their hands back on the trophy with a stunning 3-1 win over Man Utd the following season.
Neither Barcelona nor Manchester United could keep up their fine final run in 2011-12 though as Chelsea shocked everyone by reaching the final and beating Bayern Munich on their home turf (4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw) to give Roman Abramovich his first taste of European silverware.
The tournament had changed hugely since its inception, but it was still the one that everybody wanted to win.