We have covered Marseille’s run to the Champions League group stages in this earlier preview article, as well as their Group A performances throughout the series, so let’s begin with a look at their opponents AC Milan and their season so far.
In the summer of 92/93 Milan manager Fabio Cappello was preparing for his first full season in charge, having been appointed midway through the previous campaign. Prior to taking over at Milan Capello had already established himself as a revered figure in Italian football, largely due to a playing career that spanned 14 seasons in Serie A with AS Roma, Juventus and laterally AC Milan, as well as featuring over 30 times for his country. By 1980 Capello’s career had been reduced to single digit appearances and was subsequently forced into retirement, which served as the perfect opportunity to move into coaching. He would work with Milan’s youth sides in the early 80s, which included prospects such as Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta, before joining the 1st team coaching staff under his previous manager Nils Liedholm. He would remain in that position until the end of the 86/87 season, at which point he remained at Milan within the executive staff despite not being selected as part of incoming Head Coach Arrigo Sacchi’s coaching team. Capello sat waiting patiently in the wings while Sacchi’s Milan side of the late 80s set about revolutionizing football, using an aggressive 4-4-2 pressing system that was in complete contrast to the cultural stereotype of Serie A sides of the time.
Despite European Cup victories in 1989 and 1990, by the summer of 1991 Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi had grown frustrated at that his side had finished runners up in Serie A to Napoli and Sampdoria. Ever the politican in waiting Berlusconi didn’t have the collateral to fire his manager, he would instead orchestrate a move with the Italian FA for Sacchi to take over the Italian national team in November of 1991, replacing the recently fired Azeglio Vicini after failing to qualify for Euro 92. This allowed Berlusconi to promote Capello into the role of Milan Head Coach, a move that many had regarded as an appointment out of convenience given Capello’s propensity to side with his owner. Whether Capello was a “Yes Man” or not, he guided Milan back to the summit of Serie A while going unbeaten throughout the rest of the 91/92 domestic campaign.
In the summer of 1992 Milan were a side already crammed with elite level players, however Berlusconi and Capello would embark upon a significant squad upgrade with a view to being more competitive across both domestic and European fronts.
There were very few subtractions from the side that summer, the only notable first team departures were Diego Fuser to Lazio along with the retirement of Carlo Ancellotti who would join Arrigo Sacchi as an assistant with the national team.
Capello’s first few additions to the squad were modest at best, with 18-year-old future Chelsea keeper Carlo Cudicini moving up from the youth team, highly rated Zvonimir Boban returning from a year long loan with Bari and future Derby County attacker Stefano Eranio joining from Genoa. These were merely a pre-cursor to the two deals that would set world records, the first of which being the capture of Marseille striker and Ballon D’or winner Jean Pierre Papin for 10M pounds. Berlusconi would repeat the feat later in the summer after sanctioning a 15M pounds transfer of Torino winger Gianluigi Lentini. The final signing of the summer came as part of the dismantling of Red Star Belgarde due to the civil war in the region, with highly regarded Yugoslavian striker Dejan Savicevic moving to Milan for a deal worth 4M pounds.
It’s one thing compiling a squad capable of winning, which Berlusconi had no doubt achieved, however actually achieving success is another matter entirely especially when your opponents are equally as active in the transfer market. In the summer of 1992 Juventus would recruit Luca Vialli, David Platt, Andreas Moller and Fabrizio Ravanelli, into a squad that already contained Roberto Baggio, Jurgen Kohler and Antonio Conte. Elsewhere Milan’s city rivals Inter would bring in Red Star striker Darko Pancev alongside Matthias Sammer, Fiorentina would sign the prodigious young duo of Brian Laudrup and Steffen Effenberg from FC Bayern Munich, Lazio finally completed the move to bring Paul Gascoigne to Rome along with Ajax midfielder Aaron Winter, Faustino Asprilla left Nacional in Colombia to join Parma, the Romanian duet of Raduciou and Hagi would sign for Brescia, and capping off what was a veritable who’s who of world football Roma would bring in promising Yugoslavian starlet Sinisa Mihajlovic to compliment the addition of Argentina striker Claudio Caniggia.
If there were any doubts as to how well Capello could manage his new Milan squad then his start to the Serie A season certainly cast those aside, winning 9 of the opening 11 matches including a 1-0 away win over 2nd placed Juventus to open up a four-point gap at the top of the table. Milan continued their unblemished march to the title well into the new year, when a visit from Parma to the San Siro would see the champions lose their first league match in just short of two calendar years. A Faustino Asprilla goal would give Parma a 1-0 victory, which did more to dent Milan’s ego than their title ambitions as they still maintained a 9-point lead.
Milan had proven their ability to go all the way in the previous incarnation of the European Cup, however the bigger test lay in how they translated that experience into the new format of the Champions League group stages.
Milan’s first round opponents were Slovenian champions Olimpija Ljubljana, who had qualified for the first round after a 5-0 win over Estonian champions Norma Tallinn in the first ever Preliminary round. Milan made light work of their eastern European opponents, with goals from Albertini and Papin adding to a double from Van Basten to give them a 4-0 win in the first leg, followed up by goals from Massaro, Rijkaard and Tassotti to win 3-0 in the second leg.
Milan faced Czech champions Slovan Bratislava in the second round, which brought about a far tougher contest in the opening leg as the Italians could only narrowly win 1-0 through a second half goal from Paolo Maldini. Milan’s strength in depth proved too much for the Czech’s in the second leg, as goals from Boban, Rijkaard, Simone and Papin would seal a 4-0 win on the night and a 5-0 win on aggregate, sealing Milan’s progress to the Champions League group stages.
Milan were drawn into Group B alongside FC Porto, PSV Eindhoven and IFK Gothenburg, a group that many had regarded as the tougher side of the draw. FC Porto had won the European Cup in 1987, as had PSV in 1988 and IFK Gothenburg were twice winners of the UEFA Cup in 82 and 87 as well as reaching the European Cup semifinals in 1986. Albeit each clubs had undergone significant change in their playing squads by this point, each were institutions that were used to domestic success and in the new format were no longer inhibited by the old rules of knock out football.
Milan opened Group B with a home match to IFK Gothenburg, a squad full of future Swedish internationals and the legendary figure of Jonny Ekstrom returning to his first club after spells with Empoli, FC Bayern Munich and Cannes. Marco Van Basten was in wonderful form by this point in the season and would single handedly dismantle the Swedish champions with two goals in each half to give Milan a 4-0 victory.
Matchday 2 would see Milan travel to the Phillips Stadion in Eindhoven to face a PSV side led by Brazilian forward Romario. During his time in Holland he would score 98 goals in 110 domestic matches, form that he would extend into European competition with his double on matchday 1 getting PSV a well earned point against Porto and getting on the scoresheet again to cancel out Rijkaards opener for Milan. A Marco Simone strike would put Milan 2-1 ahead in the second half, a lead that PSV simply could not turn around.
Milan remained on the road for Matchday 3 as they faced FC Porto at the Estadio das Antas, a side who featured future Portuguese internationals Vitor Baia, Jorge Costa and Fernando Couto, as well as Bulgarian striker Emil Kostadinov. 55,000 would take in this must win match for Porto, who were still looking for their opening win of the competition. A second half wonder goal from Jean Pierre Papin would again tighten Milan’s grip on Group B, helping them maintain top spot with three wins out of three.
In the return game with FC Porto at the San Siro on Matchday 4, Milan would repeat their performance in Portugal by recording another 1-0 victory courtesy of a wonderful strike on goal, this time from right winger Stefano Eranio who crashed his strike into the top corner. Quietly in AC Milan’s shadow IFK Gothenburg were building some momentum of their own, recording wins over FC Porto on matchday 2 and back-to-back wins over PSV on matchdays 3 and 4, taking them to within a point of AC Milan.
40,000 spectators crammed into the Nya Ullevi on matchday 5 to witness one of Milan’s most professional performances of the competition. Gothenburg threw everything they had at Milan in search of a win that would keep their hopes of progression to the final alive, but on 70 minutes a marauding run down the left-hand side from Gigi Lentini was finished off with a cross into the front post and a clinical finish from Daniele Massaro. The Italian forward would not only give Milan the lead but on the stroke of full time would secure Milan’s place in the inaugural Champions League Final.
Capello was able to rotate his squad heavily on Matchday 6 as Milan welcomed bottom side PSV to the San Siro, which is perhaps fortunate as Milan were entering the game on the back of a 3-1 loss to Juventus, perhaps showing that his first choice 11 were in need of a rest. Capello would introduce the lesser lights of Cudicini, Nava, Gambaro, de Napoli and Evani into the starting line up, but with little to play for PSV used this match more as a photo opportunity. Two early goals from Marco Simone would give Milan all the comfort in the world, playing out the remainder of the match with relative ease as Savicevic narrowly missed a chance to extend their lead further.
Milan’s six wins in Group B while maintaining 5 clean sheets and conceding a solitary goal is as near perfect a run to the final as the Champions League has ever witnessed. With the competition growing in later years the feat of 6 wins would be repeated, however the dilution of quality certainly pales in comparison to Milan’s achievement.
Back in Serie A, Milan remained on course to lift the title however since their loss to Parma at the end of March they had accumulated 6 draws, 1 loss and 1 win from the following 8 matches. This wasn’t exactly sparkling form headed into the Champions League Final, especially given opponents Marseille were finding their groove at just the right time in Ligue 1.
To compound pressure further on both Milan and Marseille, each would resume the final two matches of their domestic season after the Champions League final, both requiring at least 1 more league victory to claim the title. With the Final taking place on Wednesday May 26th 1993, this would give them just 3 days preparation before taking to the field again on Sunday May 30th, which through the lens of modern scheduling appears like it’s from another planet.
The last time Milan and Marseille met in this competition was at the Quarter Final stage of the 90/91 European Cup. In the 1st leg at the San Siro Ruud Guillit would open the scoring for Milan, capitalizing on a defensive mix up in the Marseille back line before slotting the ball past a stranded Pascal Olmeta. Marseille responded on the half hour mark with a move orchestrated by the close control of Abedi Pele as he dribbled past Roberto Donadoni and Carlo Ancelotti with consummate ease, before slipping a pass to Chris Waddle at the top of the box. The Englishman took a touch to steady himself before threading the most exquisite through pass to Jean Pierre Papin at the back post, who’s first time finish under Pazzagli would bring Marseille level to 1-1. Both sides continued to threaten in what was a wonderful end to end game, but as neither could claim the winner it would be advantage to Marseille headed into the second leg with the away goal.
In the return match at the Stade Velodrome both sides went out to attack, registering multiple chances throughout the opening forty five minutes. Evani would go closest for Milan at the start of the second half, with a wonderful left foot strike from a free kick tipped over the bar from Olmetta in the Marseille goal. On 75 minutes Marseille would launch a counter attack down the left hand side, to which Milan’s well drilled back four retreated into their defensive shape like a synchronized swimming troop. Pele lofted a ball toward the top of the 18 yard box to Papin, who supplied a flicked header over to Chris Waddle on the right wing who was afforded an extra yard of space due to Milan left back Paolo Maldini attacking the cross instead of covering his man. Waddle timed his movement toward the ball perfectly, striding forward before unleashing a right foot volley that whipped across the Milan goal and into the bottom corner. This was a goal of genuine world class quality that was fit to win any match, however the record books don’t show this as a 1-0 Marseille win as in the final few minutes the match descended into chaos.
Two of the large floodlights at the Stade Velodrome experienced power failed in the 90th minute, which was seized upon by the opportunistic executives of Milan who would take to the field to withdraw their side from the match hoping the abandonment would give them the chance of a replay. UEFA would instead rule in favor of Marseille and award the French champions a 3-0 victory due to Milan’s forfeit.
There is little doubt that Marseille and AC Milan were the two best sides in Europe in 1993, so for the two to meet in the Champions League Final was a dream come true for the neutral. The match would take place at the home of FC Bayern Munich, the Olympiastadion in Munich, Germany, where 65,000 fans would be in attendance for this showpiece event for the ages.