The Champions League semi-final meeting at the Vicente Calderon between Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich will mark the first time that both teams have met since the infamous 1974 European Cup final at Heysel Stadium in Brussels. With neither side able to break the deadlock during the first 90 minutes, the match headed into extra time where a Luis Aragones goal in the 114th minute seemed to have sealed a remarkable triumph for the Spanish side.
However, eerily similar to the horror of the 2014 final, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck's long range effort in the final seconds found its way into the back of the net and offered Bayern an unbelievable lifeline. Atleti hearts were broken and a replay two days later in the same venue came too soon for a team that was still recovering from the heartbreak they had recently suffered. Uli Hoeness and Gerd Muller each grabbed a brace as Munich strolled to their first European Cup. The difference in both clubs' fortunes afterwards is a sign of the effect, that winning, or losing, in a final of this magnitude can have on a team.
For Bayern, the victory marked the beginning of their rise as a European superpower. Up until their win in Brussels, Munich had struggled to make an impact on the continental level. They had managed to bring home the Cup Winners Cup at the end of the 1966/67 season but the Holy Grail of the European Cup still eluded them. The appointment of Udo Lattek as their head coach in March 1970 seemed to be a turning point in the Bavarian club's success. Lattek would lead them to 3 successive Bundesliga titles (1972, 1973 & 1974) and the club's emergence as one of Europe's best also occurred under his command. The win in Brussels was the first of three European Cups in consecutive years for Munich, their attack spearheaded by the brilliance of Gerd Muller while their defence was kept organised due to the leadership of captain Franz Beckenbauer. History looks fondly upon this once-in-a-generation team which consisted of several of the world's greatest to ever play the beautiful game. Having the best players doesn't always translate to success on the pitch of course, with Munich's stranglehold on Europe's premier competition loosened following their 1-0 win over Saint Etienne in 1976, but their status as one of the best was cemented forever.
The contrasting success of Bayern and Atletico, winner and loser, triumph and despair is painful. When looking at Bayern's dominance following the 1974 final, one can only ponder ‘What If?' when comparing their fortunes to the Rojiblancos' after the match-up in Brussels. In the years prior to their heart breaking defeat, Atleti had tasted a fair amount of success domestically. 3 league wins in 7 years preceded the Brussels finals, while the Copa del Rey had been won 4 times since 1960. It was no surprise to see a team capable of achievements of this sort, find themselves in such a prestigious position in Brussels. The only trophy which had evaded the Spanish outfit was the one which they chased the most. A disappointing 3-1 aggregate defeat in the 1970-71 semi-finals to Ajax and a soul-crushing extra time second round exit to Serbian side Vojvodina in 1966 only hardened the players' ambitions to bring home Europe's biggest prize. It seemed as if their domestic success had given them the belief they needed to finally collect their long-awaited winners' medal and in turn, push Atleti into the upper echelon of football's greatest. But, as the 1974 squad learnt and the 2014 group can relate to, football can be devastatingly cruel.
Champions League preview
Champions League preview
Following the agonizing defeat, Atleti would only reach the pinnacle of the La Liga table once over the next 22 years. The lone victory came in 1976-77, which meant qualification for the competition that had caused them so much hurt in the past. A narrow one goal margin would send Club Brugge through to the semi-finals at the expense of Atletico, with the defeat signalling los Colchoneros' 20-year absence from the tournament. Club legend Luis Aragones, all too familiar with the misery of the 1974 final, would take over as manager following the defeat to Munich and managed to hold the club to an adequate standard during his reign. As mentioned already, they conquered their Spanish rivals in La Liga two years on from the contest while they also secured the Copa del Rey the season prior, in 1976. Success, however, was scarce and the scars of the 1974 final seem to have never healed.