European Cup Quarter-final: Aston Villa vs Juventus
Back in March 1983, Aston Villa were the holders of the European Cup. Just a month prior, they had defeated Barcelona to win the European Super Cup. Despite these accomplishments, they were not given much of a chance when they were drawn against Juventus in the two-leg European Cup quarter-final.
Even as a kid then, MOMS was certainly pessimistic going into the game. The year before in 1982, I’d been conscious of my first World Cup in Spain, and fallen in love with the Brazil team of Zico, Socrates, Eder and co. I only mention that Brazil team, because they were pretty much the only star performers from the 1982 World Cup that weren’t in the Juventus team that faced Villa over two legs.
For starters, the Italian champions had key members of Italy’s World Cup-winning team, including captain Dino Zoff in goal, hard man Gentile, World Cup final scorer Tardelli, and the tournament’s top scorer Paulo Rossi, who famously scored a hat-trick to knock out favourites Brazil.
Rossi then scored a brace in the 2-0 semi-final win against Poland. However, the game could have been different if Poland’s mercurial talisman Zbigniew Boniek had not been suspended. Boniek, who had also scored a hat-trick in the World Cup against Belgium, was snapped up by Juventus from Widzew Lódz after almost single-handedly taking Poland to the semi-finals.
Juventus also acquired the best player from the other losing semi-finalist, France. St-Etienne’s Michel Platini, the French midfield maestro, would later lead France to win the European Championship and be widely regarded as the world’s best player at the time.
In short, Juventus were an improved and turbo-charged version of the World Cup-winning Italian team. It was an uphill task for Villa to overcome, especially considering that Peter Withe was the only member of the 1982 European Champions deemed good enough for the England squad in the World Cup, and even Withe was a mere bench warmer.
Aston Villa vs Juventus – Villa Park
The task became even more challenging from the first minute of the first leg at Villa Park when Paolo Rossi gave Juventus the lead in the opening minute. Although Villa managed to equalize with a second-half goal by Gordon Cowans, Boniek’s late winner sealed the tie’s fate.
Juventus vs Aston Villa (Turin)
In the return leg in Italy, Villa found themselves two-nil down with less than half an hour played, eventually losing 3-1 and 5-2 on aggregate. With Liverpool also being eliminated at the quarter-final stage by Widzew Lódz, it was the first time since 1976 that an English team failed to lift the European Cup.
Ironically, despite being favorites in the final against Hamburg, Juventus were beaten 1-0. Villa’s best chance against Juve would have probably have been a one-off game, considering their experience from the previous year’s final.
Aston Villa’s Exile from the Champions’ League
Since 1983, Villa’s goal has been to return to the top table of European football. However, their European ventures have been limited to short-lived appearances in the UEFA Cup. In the current format, where the top four in the Premiership qualify for the Champions League, Villa would have qualified twice if the format had been implemented in the 1990s.
When Randy Lerner took over as chairman from Doug Ellis, his primary goal was Champions League qualification. Despite backing Martin O’Neill in the transfer market, the club fell short. The gamble on high-wage players to achieve this goal has largely contributed to the club’s recent struggles.
There has been a noticeable decrease in ambition from Lerner, with the chairman seemingly content to balance the books and prioritize the business aspect over on-field aspirations.
Given the money-driven nature of modern football and the dominance of the “Sky 4” in English Champions League qualification, many believe that Villa’s involvement in the tournament they once won is unlikely. However, there is still hope.
Aston Villa’s academy has kept the club’s name in the consciousness of European football with impressive displays in the NextGen series, essentially the Youth Champions League. If some of these players make their way into the first team and provide a supply line for Paul Lambert’s long-term plan of building a hungry competitive team, then with a few quality additions, Villa cabreak back into the top half of the table (hopefully as early as next season) and have another chance.
As supporters, the most important thing is to never give up. That night in Rotterdam in 1982 gave us the credentials and the right to dream. On the bright side, we did get our revenge against Juventus for 1983 by beating them in the final of the Peace Cup in 2009!