Sunday, November 2, 2014

Forgotten Great Team: Steaua București 1986-1989


Please also see my All-Time World Cup Team Index.

GalatasarayFenerbahçe SK, Beşiktaş Red Star Belgrade, FK PartizanSteaua București

When it came to forgotten great teams of European football, Steaua București of the late 1980's was seldom mentioned.  Their 1985-1988 European Cup triumph was often perceived as being lucky.  His critics would say the strength of their team was assisted by political interference by the Romanian dictatorship.  However, one could not deny the fact that they were European Cup winner in 1986, the semi-finalist two years later, and then, followed by another Final appearance in 1989.

Romanian domestic football was dominated by two clubs, Steaua București and Dinamo București.  Steaua București was tied to the Romanian army while its rival Dinamo Bucharest was the club of the Secret Police.  From the 1960's onward, Dinamo București domianted Romania's Liga 1.  The 1980's began with them winning three straight Liga 1 titles.  Then, in 1983, Romanian Dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu's eldest son, Valentin, took over Steaua București.  Suddenly, the balance of power shifted to Steaua București.  In 1985, Steaua București won its first league title in 6 years.  They would win four more league titles and four cup titles before the collapse of the Ceaușescu dictatorship in 1989.  They went undefeated for 119 domestic games from 1986 to 1989, setting up a world record.

Their domination, however, was filled with controversies. Their players were exempted from the compulsory military service.  They took players from other clubs often in questionable circumstances. For example, they borrowed Gheorghe Hagi from Sportul Studențesc for the European Super Cup in 1987.  He supposed to be a guest player for one game, but he joined them permanently after scoring the only goal of the game.   There were also a lot of accusations of favoritism from referees, officials, etc. In the Romanian Cup Final of 1988, they scored at the 90th minute mark to break the 1-1 scoreline against Dinamo.  The goal would have sealed their victory, except the referee ruled it offside.  Valentin Ceaușescu protested against the decision by pulling the team off the field.  Dinamo, then, won the game by default and was presented with the trophy.  The next day, the referee changed his mind and Steaua was declared the winner.     

While the Ceaușescu dictatorship could control events in the domestic completions, it could not alter results outside Romania that put Steaua București on the map in Europe.  The rise of Steaua in Europe coincided with the rise of Romania's national team.  Romania surprised the football world in 1984 when it qualified ahead of World Cup winner Italy and Euro 1980 semi-finalist Czechoslovakia for the Euro 1984 in France.  At the time of the Euro 1984, Romania only had a single player from Steaua and he would depart the club after the tournament.  László Bölöni who was the star of the Qualifying campaign joined them immediately afterward. Three members of the squad, including Gheorghe Hagi, also followed him to the club throughout the 1980's.

The European Cup 1985-86 was an interesting year.  The English clubs had won 7 of the last 9 European Cups, but were banned from the completion after the Final in Heysel.  Thus, Everton was out of the touranment.  Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge of Aberdeen.  Hellas Verona was the surprise winner of Serie A, the season before. It featured Hans-Peter Briegel and Preben Larsen-ElkjaerMichel Platini's Juventus and Terry Venables' Barcelona FC were the favorites, but they met in the quarter-final with Barcelona progressing through to the semi-final.  Barcelona then came from behind to beat IFK Goteborg to reach the Final with Pichi Alonso scoring a hattrick in the 2nd leg.
Steaua București had an easier route to the European Cup Final.  They beat all of their opponents by winning in the home leg.  In the first round, they eliminated the aging Allan Simonsen's Vejle.  They lost the 1st leg before destroying Vejle in the 2nd leg.  In the second round, they again lost in the 1st leg to Honved and used home field advantage to oerturn them in the 2nd leg.  In the quaterfinal, they drew FC Kuusysi of Finland away and then, won the home leg by a single goal.  In the semi-final, they met Anderlecht that featured Morton Olsen and Enzo Scifo.  In the first leg, Steaus put up a stubborn defense in Belgium and only lostbthe match 1-0.  On the return leg, Steaus destroyed them by the score of 3-0.  

The European Cup Final of 1984-1985 was played in Seville, Spain. Due to travel restriction, only 200 Romanian fans were allowed to attend the Final.  They were outnumbered by the 50,000 Barcelona fans at the stadium.  Despite its storied history, Barcelona had never won the European Cup.  Diego Maradona left two seasons ago, but the team still had Bernd Schuster and Steve Archibald.  Expectations were very high for Barcelona. On the other hand, Victor Pițurcă and Marius Lăcătuș were two of Steaua's top players at time of the Final. Pițurcă was the top scorer at the club. Lăcătuș, nicknamed "the Beast" by the Steaua fans were the secondary striker. He would get more international recognition 4 years later at the WC Finals in Italy.

From the start of the match, Steaua parked the bus at the back.  Sweeper Miodrag Belodedici was the hero of the night by controlling Steaua's defense.  After 120 minutes of dull football, the game went into penalties where the drama finally began.  Helmuth Duckadam saved all four of Barcelona's penalties to seal the victory for Steaua. It would be the first ever European Cup victory for an Eastern European club.

Eight months later, Steaua captured their second European trophy when it beat Dynamo Kyiv of Igor Belanov and Oleh Blokhin 1-0 at the European Super Cup in Monaco.  Gheorghe Hagi made his debut with the club.  They would reach the European Cup Final again in 1989, where they were destroyed by Arrigo Sacchi's AC Milan. By the end of 1989, the Romanian people overthrew the Ceaușescu regime.  The best Steaua players moved aboard and marked the end of the Steaua dynasty in Romanian football.

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