Goliath swaggered into Glasgow. Paco Gento, Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and companions had powered Real Madrid to the first four European Cup trophies. A fifth seemed a formality, 55 years ago to this Monday, against Eintracht Frankfurt at Hampden Park.
David nevertheless had reason to believe. West Germans were, after all, sporting miracle specialists. Max Schmeling, fighting in his opponent’s backyard, stunned Yankee Stadium with a devastating knockout of the hitherto never-been-down, undefeated Joe Louis in a heavyweight boxing classic. Fritz Thiedemann, riding striking stallion Meteor, became the first – and to date only – man to win Olympic medals in two equestrian disciplines. Armin Hary interrupted American hegemony and was en route to becoming the first non-American to win Olympic gold in the 100 metres since 1928. And West Germany, who had been decimated 8-3 by Hungary in the 1954 FIFA World Cup’s group stage, somehow overcame the same team 3-2 in the Final in what became known as ‘The Miracle of Bern’.
Eintracht’s hope heightened when Richard Kress fired them into an 18th-minute lead. It quickly disappeared. Canario produced a neat shoulder-drop and cross for Di Stefano to equalise. The Argentinian then pounced on a rebound to put Real ahead. Then, just before half-time, Puskas exercised his Herculean shooting power to make it 3-1.
Gento had wowed the 128,000 in attendance with his repertoire of flicks and tricks, but it was his supersonic speed that was behind the next two goals. First he outsprinted his man to win a penalty, which Puskas converted. Then the Spain winger raced down the left and crossed to present the Hungarian with a simple header.
Following an immaculate passing move, a trademark Puskas piledriver made it 6-1, before Erwin Stein pulled one back. Just 13 seconds after the restart, however, Gento, Puskas and Di Stefano combined sublimely, and the latter thumped the ball into the bottom corner to restore Real’s five-goal lead. Not even another Stein goal could take the gloss off one of the greatest performances in football history.
“It was the ultimate performance, one of extreme beauty,” recalled Puskas years later. “The atmosphere was something to behold – the stadium was packed and those fans were cheering our every move. Eintracht couldn’t get near us. It was art.”
Jose Santamaria added: “I don’t know if we’ll ever see another performance like that in a European Cup final. Paco, Alfredo and Puskas just tore them apart. Seven-three even flattered Frankfurt.”
It remains the highest-scoring European Cup/UEFA Champions League final. It remains the biggest victory in the fixture. Five consecutive crowns remains a record. That Real Madrid team, and that extraordinary exhibition, will remain forever legendary.