LONDON (AP) — In the 60 years since Partizan Belgrade and Sporting Lisbon played out a 3-3 draw in the first European Cup match, the competition now known as Champions League has become the most important club football tournament in the world.
For many players whose national sides have little or no chance of winning the World Cup, the Champions League is perhaps the biggest tournament. On Saturday in Berlin, Barcelona and Juventus will both be looking to notch up a further milestone in their illustrious histories.
Barcelona is looking for its fifth triumph in a competition that Spanish rival Real Madrid has won a record 10 times. Juventus, the team from Turin, will be hoping to join Inter Milan with three — both are still way short of the seven won by Italy’s leader, AC Milan.
For the hundreds of millions of expected viewers, the hope is that two of Europe’s biggest clubs can deliver a memorable final. If history is any guide, they’re unlikely to be disappointed.
From Real Madrid’s 4-3 win over France’s Stade des Reims in 1956 in Paris to its 4-1 victory over Atletico Madrid last year in Lisbon, the final has invariably provided a suitable climax to the European club season.
Changes in the 1990s, such as the introduction of a group stage and the expansion of teams to include non-champions from the stronger leagues, may have bloated the competition but they certainly haven’t diminished its grandeur.
The teams that have won the competition live long in the memory, even those supposedly smaller sides, such as Red Star Belgrade, Steaua Bucharest and FC Porto.
Real Madrid, with Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas and Argentina’s Alfredo Di Stefano at the fore, led the way when winning the first five tournaments, most memorably in the final of 1960 when the team routed Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in Glasgow.
Once Madrid’s early-era dynasty came to an end, others enjoyed periods of dominance, from Portugal’s Benfica and Inter Milan in the 1960s to Ajax and Bayern Munich in the 1970s. English clubs, notably Liverpool, then enjoyed success until 1985 when 39 people died during fan violence at the final between Liverpool and Juventus in Brussels.
English clubs were then barred from all European competitions until the country had dealt with hooliganism. By the time they returned in the early 1990s, football had moved on with Italian clubs, notably AC Milan, increasingly successful — between 1989 and 1998 there was only one final without an Italian side.
Since then, clubs from Spain, Germany and England have been regular finalists. But perhaps no team has exerted as much dominance in the new millennium as Barcelona, which on Saturday will be aiming for its fourth triumph since 2006. To win, Juventus will have no bigger task than containing Lionel Messi, who is arguably the best player in the world.
The Associated Press has been there covering the finals through the decades. Attached are some of the great moments in European Cup final history as captured by photographers from the AP.
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