By Ken Pendleton - Perhaps the greatest compliment paid to Real Madrid after its 7-3 demolition of Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup final was from their opponents. By way of acknowledging just how outclassed they were, formed a receiving line to honor Real after the trophy presentation.
Eintracht were hardly a slouch side and many experts thought they would end Real’s four-year reign as European champions. After all, they had five internationals, which was quite a large number at that time, had won the German championship in a canter in 1959, and, most impressively, they had demolished Rangers 12-4 on aggregate in the semifinals. By contrast, Real had failed to win the Spanish title for the second year running and their two biggest stars, Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas, were both in their mid thirties.
Although Di Stefano, who was born and raised in Argentina, never played in the World Cup, everyone who is old enough to have seen him play, puts him in the same sentence with Pele and Diego Maradona when they argue about who was the greatest ever.
He was Total Football all by himself. It was, as former teammate and then coach Miguel Munoz remarked, like having “two players in every position.” He scored in the first four European Cup finals and could shoot – “any open net was an unforgivable crime meriting immediate punishment” – and pass with devastating accuracy with either foot. He was never content to let the game come to him. Instead, he used his legendary stamina to chase it from one end of the pitch to the other for the entire 90 minutes. He dictated the attack, organized the defense, admonished every mistake, and even dispossessed his own teammates when they dawdled on the ball.
Ferenc Puskas was very nearly his equal. He was not nearly so versatile, he was too tubby to run all over the place, and he relied almost entirely on his left foot. But, as Danny Blanchflower, the captain of the great Spurs sides (Yes, there once were great Spurs’ sides) of the early sixties opined, “When you have a left foot like that, you don’t need a right one.” Indeed, he didn’t. He led the Spanish League in scoring four times and scored 83 times in 84 matches for his native Hungary before defecting to the West after Soviet tanks rolled into his country in 1956.
All but two of Real’s starters were internationals and Paco Gento, nicknamed El Supersonico for the way he flew down the left wing, was vital to their attack. But the importance of their two biggest stars was more than emphasized by the fact that they scored all seven of Madrid’s goals.
The game started out well enough for Eintracht, as their tactics put Real on the defensive. Stein, their center forward, took up wide positions and thus allowed the wingers, Kress and Meier, almost unimpaired access to the center channels. It all came together in the 18th minute when the inside right, Lindner, released Stein on the right wing and his cross found an unmarked Kress, who beat the Spanish goalie, Dominguez, at the near post.
Up to this point, Real had struggled to string together their passes, in part because Eintracht’s inside left, Pfaff, had dropped deeper than normal to help out with Di Stefano. This was only a temporary obstacle. Given the mores of the game at the time-you rarely if ever impeded play by committing professional fouls and you never asked more than eight outfield players to drop back to defend-Real had more than ample space to turn the screws.
It only took eight minutes for Real to equalize, the left halfback (roughly the modern equivalent of a wingback), Zaraga, collected a hasty clearance, promptly made a cross-field pass to the right winger, Canario, who beat his man to the endline of the penalty box before crossing to an unmarked Di Stefano for a simple finish.
Three minutes later Di Stefano had his second simple finish after Loy, the Eintracht goalie, spilled a shot by Canario.
After that, Eintracht still had their chances, especially since Real were always far more committed to attack than defense, but they simply did not have enough answers for all the question Real were posing. Gento was racing up and down the left wing, trying, truth be told, enough tricks to make Christiano Ronaldo blush. Del Sol, the inside right, was constantly changing positions with the aim of creating space for Puskas. And Di Stefano would pick up the ball from deep positions, set the attack going, with a pass or a stroll through midfield, and, often as not, somehow manage to finish the move.
The Irish footballer and writer Eamon Dunphy claims that the players who are good at finding space are inevitably the same players who are abandoning their marking. That it is all but impossible to attend to defensive and attacking duties at the same time, if for no other reason than that you are too tired to be creative by the time you work to win the ball. That may generally be, but somehow-through drive, stamina, skill, and vision– Di Stefano managed to square the circle and do everything at the same time.
Many have claimed that this was the best game ever, but that is a little hard to accept. The competitive phase of the match ended no later than in the 48th minute, when Puskas converted the penalty Madrid were gifted after Gento was allegedly obstructed. It was a preposterous call, but Frankfurt were already down 3-1 after Puskas slammed a shot into the roof of the net after Eigenbrodt gave away the ball in his own area.
The fact of the matter is that many of the goals were products of inexcusable blunders. Real’s fifth goal, by Puskas, was down to incredibly slack marking. Eintracht’s last goal, which Stein scored when they were five goals behind, occurred because Vidal made an appallingly casual backpass.
There was one wonderful goal. After Stein had scored to narrow, if that’s the right word, the margin to six to two, it took all of 13 seconds for Madrid to string together five passes before Di Stefano raced in and fired a 20-yard shot past Loy.
I think there are two reasons, one good and one bad, that this match has come to occupy such mythical status.
The Real players generally claim that their toughest match was against AC Milan in the ’58 final, which they won 3-2 after extra time. They overcame 2-0 and 3-1 deficits before overcoming Reims, a now obscure French club, in the inaugural final in 1956. The problem is that those games were not televised, they are in the dustbin that is oral history, and thus there is a tendency to reward all of Real Madrid’s success by embellishing what we can actually witness and verify.
On the other hand, whatever lacked by way of drama and sound defense was more than compensated for by sheer flair. After Madrid scored their seventh and final goal, they put on an exhibition the likes of which will almost certainly never be seen again. Virtually every possession was full of party favors with a purpose: step-overs, back-heels, dummies, blind passes, swerving shots, varied tempos, and positional switches. Only God, Loy, and the woodwork stopped them from scoring again.
The final meaningful move occurred when Puskas dropped into a deep position and released Di Stefano-who else-into the inside channel he had just vacated. Di Stefano seemed certain to join Puskas by scoring his forth, as he nonchalantly beat Loy and raised his arms in celebration, only to see the ball carom off the post.
Never mind, the point had been made. Real Madrid stood as the now five-time champions of Europe and at the time the only club to win the European Cup. Closer to achieving perfection than anyone thought possible. Nowadays the losing players would have buried their heads in shame at the margin of defeat and fumed about how their opponents were trying to embarrass them. Eintracht’s players, to their great credit, instead formed a line of honor to pay tribute to the astonishing display they had just witnessed, even if they were the victims.