REAL MADRID completed a hat-trick of European Cup wins in 1958, but they had to work hard for the top prize in a gruelling final with AC Milan in Brussels.
In doing so, Real also completed the double of domestic league title and European Cup for the second successive season. Nevertheless, football historians have always wondered if Real would still have been crowned champions of the continent if a brilliant young Manchester United team, managed by Matt Busby, had not perished in the snow of Munich airport in February 1958.
However, Real were still widely acknowledged as the team to beat, despite surprisingly changing managers in 1957, bringing in Luis Carniglia to replace the 37 year-old José Villalonga, who was sacked just after winning an unprecedented treble of European Cup, Latin Cup and La Liga. Carniglia, an Argentine from Buenos Aires, was previously coach at France’s Nice, who had played Real in 1956-57, so he was well known to the club.
An equally pivotal arrival in the summer of 1957 was José Santamaria, a 27 year-old Uruguayan who had impressed in the 1954 World Cup. A tall, strong centre half, nicknamed “the wall” for his solidity and commanding presence, Santamaria cost Real £ 45,000 , a significant fee in the late 1950s, but something of a bargain acquisition given his enormous reputation. Santamaria would go on to play for Spain to become one of a unique band to represent two countries in international football. His signing maintained the club’s policy of bringing in a star name every season.
There was another change to the Real line-up in the form of Juan Santisteban, who took over the role of long-time skipper Miguel Mūnoz in midfield after the old war horse’s retirement.
Real’s domestic campaign saw them go head-to-head with Madrid rivals Atlético, who kept pace with their illustrious neighbours all season. Real actually lost more games than Atléti and in the two La Liga games, were unable to beat them, both meetings ending in draws. The addition of Santamaria gave Real a meaner, more uncompromising defence with just 26 goals conceded versus 35 in 1956-57. At the other end of the field, Alfredo Di Stéfano, with his 19 goals, shared the Pichichi award given to the league’s leading scorer. Real also reached the final of the Copa del Generalísimo, losing 2-0 to Bilbao in Madrid.
In Europe, Real were faced with some strong contenders for their title: Manchester United and AC Milan aside, also in the competition were Scotland’s Rangers and Portugal’s emerging Benfica, a team managed by future Portugal coach Otto Glória. Benfica had run Real close in the last Latin Cup final in 1957.
Real had a bye in the Preliminary Round and faced Belgium’s Royal Antwerp in round one. It was a comfortable victory, 2-1 in Antwerp and 6-0 at home, with Héctor Rial, the Argentine-born Spaniard, netting a hat-trick.
Next would come Spanish rivals Sevilla, who had been granted entry as runners-up in La Liga in 1958. Sevilla were torn apart, with Di Stéfano scoring four times in an 8-0 first leg win in Madrid. The second leg, a formality, ended 2-2.
Real, quite simply, could not be touched and scored goals at leisure on their way to an inevitable third successive final. The semi-final saw them face Hungary’s Vasas, but another hat-trick from Di Stéfano as Real won 4-0 more or less guaranteed victory. Although they lost 2-0 in front of 100,000 people in the Nep Stadium, Real claimed their place in the Brussels final.
AC Milan had slalomed their way through a tricky path to Brussels, beating Rapid Vienna, Rangers, Borussia Dortmund and a patched-up Manchester United. Both finalists had scored 26 goals on route to the final.
Milan’s forward line included Uruguay’s Juan Schiaffino and Nils Liedholm of Sweden. Schiaffino had won the World Cup in 1950 with Uruguay, scoring one of the goals that beat Brazil in the decisive game in Rio. Liedholm was part of Milan’s famous “Gre-No-Li” trio of Swedish forwards and a cultured playmaker known for his elegant style. Just as dangerous was Ernesto Grillo, an Argentine midfielder who had joined the club from Independiente. Milan, though, had not defended their 1958 Serie A title well and were heading for a final league placing around mid-table.
Milan’s coach, Giuseppe Viani, produced the ideal dressing-room motivation for Real by claiming that 31 year-old Di Stéfano was past his best. It was a comment he was to regret, for “the blond arrow” was instrumental in Real’s victory, despite being shackled by Milan’s Cesare Maldini.
In Brussels’ ill-fated Heysel Stadium, the recently-completed Atomium in the background, a crowd of 67,000 saw a tense and unproductive first half with both teams seemingly probing for weaknesses. Schiaffino opened the scoring for Milan in the 59thminute and Di Stéfano levelled in the 74thminute. Grillo restored the Italian side’s lead but within two minutes, Rial equalised to send the game into extra time.
Real survived a major late scare when Milan’s Tito Cucchiaroni struck the woodwork and having kept their composure, they decided the final with a 107thminute winner from Francisco Gento, who needed two bites of the cherry to score past goalkeeper Narciso Soldan and his tired Milan defence.
Di Stéfano, speaking some years later, recalled 1958 as the most challenging of all his European Cup finals. “We stole it from Milan…they were our big rivals because they had phenomenal players. It was hard going, the toughest test of all.”
Interestingly, despite Real’s dominance of European Cup football, Spain failed to qualify for the 1958 World Cup, losing out to Scotland. In the finals, Real had just one representative, Raymond Kopa of France.
Real Madrid were not finished building, though – they pulled off another coup in 1958, one that would help to continue the legend and, ultimately, make football history.
Real’s team in the European Cup final of 1958: Juan Alonso, Ángel Atienza, Rafael Lesmes, Juan Santisteban, José Santamaria, José Maria Zarraga, Joseito, Raymond Kopa, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Héctor Rial, Francisco Gento.