For most of us, Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League triumph over Juventus in 1997 is simply a nice piece of football trivia we hope to use in that inevitable pub quiz question one day.
Sandwiched between the great Milan, Ajax and Real Madrid sides of the late 1990s, it’s easy to glance over Dortmund’s name among past winners of club football’s biggest prize.
But well over 20 years after their victory in the final, Dortmund’s stunning performance in Munich that evening remains one of the great Champions League stories of recent times.
At the height of Serie A’s dominance, Juventus – coached by the brilliant Marcello Lippi – went into the 1997 final as the reigning European champions, having overcome Ajax in the previous year’s final.
They were also the overwhelming favourites, considered every inch as dominant on club football’s biggest stage as Liverpool or Real Madrid are today.
Boasting the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Alen Boksic, Didier Deschamps, Ciro Ferrara, Christian Vieri and Alessandro Del Piero, that season’s trophy had the Turin-based club’s name written all over it.
But Dortmund had other ideas.
With Ottmar Hitzfeld in charge, BVB had progressed significantly in the preceding years; winning the German domestic double in 1995 and 1996 and reaching the UEFA Cup final in 1993.
And by the time the 1996/1997 season rolled along, Dortmund had a squad of some pretty classy players.
Andreas Moller was at the peak of his powers in 1997, Karl-Heinz Riedle and Stephane Chapuisat were a useful forward duo and Lars Ricken was one of Germany’s brightest young talents.
And among Dortmund’s trove of gifted players was one man credited with doing the dirty work; Paul Lambert – signed by Hitzfeld on the back of his performance against Dortmund in the UEFA Cup for Motherwell the previous year – was the club’s midfield enforcer.
Much like Nemanja Matic’s position alongside Paul Pogba at Man United or Claude Makelele’s role at Chelsea and Real Madrid previously, Lambert was the hard-tackling man in the middle who broke up play and allowed his more-technical teammate Paulo Sousa to do the fancy stuff.
On their way to the final, Dortmund overcame Auxerre and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having progressed from the group stage alongside Atletico Madrid.
In contrast, Juventus stormed to the final, topping their group with ease before dispatching Rosenborg and Ajax.
In the final, Lambert was given the small task of shackling Zidane and snuffing out the side’s main creative outlet.
The Glaswegian had put in a stellar performance in both legs of the semi-final victory over Man United, later receiving praise from Roy Keane in the Irishman’s autobiography (no small feat).
But it was his performance in the final that has since defined his playing career.
On his way to becoming the first British player to win the European Cup with a non-British club, Lambert marked the future-World Cup winner out of the game, not allowing him the space to reign supreme over the midfield like he was used to doing.
Stifled for large parts of the game, Zidane could do nothing but watch as Lambert went onto claim the Man of the Match award and even set-up Dortmund’s opening goal with a well-worked cross.
As Dortmund finished the game as 3-1 winners, one of the enduring shots of the final is the look of horror on Lippi’s face at full-time as his star-studded side were beaten.
Riedle scored a first-half brace before Del Piero entered the fray and to score after an hour, only for Ricken to secure the win with lob over Juve goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi a whole 16 seconds after coming on from the bench.
The final defeat would be the first of many for Juve, as they would go on to lose the following season’s final too, this time against Madrid.
In fact, no club has lost more Champions League finals than them, with further defeats in 2003, 2015 and 2017.
As for Dortmund, their most successful team remains the 1996/97 side – a group of unquestionable class and a gritty Scotsman.
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