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Founding a dynasty: Madrid's European debut

Published: Friday 31 October 2014, 9.00CET
Champions Matchday's Sheridan Bird looks back at Real Madrid CF's first ever European Cup tie, a narrow win in Geneva in 1955 that began the road to 'La Décima'.
by Sheridan Bird
Founding a dynasty: Madrid's European debut
The match in Geneva was the start of Madrid's journey to the trophy in 1956 ©AFP

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Published: Friday 31 October 2014, 9.00CET

Founding a dynasty: Madrid's European debut

Champions Matchday's Sheridan Bird looks back at Real Madrid CF's first ever European Cup tie, a narrow win in Geneva in 1955 that began the road to 'La Décima'.

By 17.30 on 8 September 1955, frustration had reached a royal level in Geneva. At half-time, 17-year-old Prince Juan Carlos spotted Alfredo Di Stéfano. "People have come expecting a win!" said the young monarch. The future king of Spain's appearance only added to the 'Blond Arrow''s bad mood. Tough conditions and a dogged opponent had got the better of everybody.

Real Madrid CF were favourites when they met Servette FC of Switzerland at Charmilles Stadium in their first European Champion Clubs' Cup tie. The Blancos had won the last two Liga titles and their attack oozed quality and danger, notably from irrepressible all-rounder Di Stéfano, electrifying left-winger Paco Gento, versatile dribbler Luis Molowny and powerful goalscorer Héctor Rial. Skipper Miguel Muñoz offered brains, bulk and vision from midfield.

Yet Servette's coach Karl Rappan was a shrewd tactician who sacrificed attacking football for results. Rappan was credited with creating the system known as the 'Swiss Bolt', which the Italians later adapted into catenaccio. It involved the use of a sweeper and depended on swift counterattacks.

The safety-first approach paid dividends during the first half of their 1955 encounter. Servette marked their guests' front five and threw in some firm tackles, and the sides went in all square at the break. In Madrid's dressing room, irritated by the score and by the fact the early-evening heat caused his hands to swell up, Di Stéfano shouted: "Why can't we score against these watchmakers?" as he stuck his hands under a cold tap.


Di Stéfano and Madrid ultimately broke Servette's resistance

Future King Juan Carlos, known as the Prince of Asturias, was in Switzerland with his family, and the royal football fan entered the dressing room to chat with the team at the interval. The 'Blond Arrow' joked he would have kissed the visitor's hand had he realised who he was.

The second half continued like the first until the 74th minute, when skipper Muñoz broke the deadlock with a quickly taken shot that surprised Toni Rüesch in the Swiss side's goal. Then, a minute before the end, Rial combined well with Di Stéfano before finishing to double the advantage. A wretched evening became a job well done in a matter of 15 clinical minutes.

"It wasn't an easy match. It's never simple against a team which plays with the padlock as tight as Servette's," said Madrid coach José Villalonga. Rappan defended his tactics, saying: "If we'd used another system today and opened up, they would have scored a lot more goals."

Spanish newspaper Marca had little sympathy for cautious Servette, saying: "The Swiss played defensively with eight men in their area." If this was arguably the European Cup's first example of a team 'parking the bus', then Madrid's performance in the return leg was more reminiscent of a steamroller.

Watch: 1956 final

Villalonga's side won 5-0, with two goals from Di Stéfano and one each by Molowny, Rial and Joseito. Such devastating home form carried the Blancos to the first European Cup final. On 13 June 1956, Madrid beat Stade de Reims in Paris to become the first European champions, the Blancos coming from 2-0 down after ten minutes to win 4-3.

Spain's heir apparent was suitably impressed by their groundbreaking triumph. The 'Blond Arrow''s hands, so uncomfortable in Switzerland, lifted the prestigious trophy. They didn't relinquish it until 1961.

Last updated: 31/10/14 13.07CET

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