Helmuth Duckadam and the dream shootout that won Steaua Bucharest the 1986 European Cup

Helmuth Duckadam and the dream shootout that won Steaua Bucharest the 1986 European Cup

This feature is part of Virtuoso

It was Andy Warhol who conceived the concept of 15 minutes of fame. According to the art icon, everyone at some point would have theirs. The modern world of reality television and social media has certainly begun to make his statement appear more and more realistic.

Back in the 1980s, however, these occurrences were fewer and farther between. As the world now appears to be getting smaller, then the Iron Curtain divided the globe. Many corners of the football world were still shrouded in darkness and paranoia and, as such, players could go from unknowns to superstars in the blink of an eye.

Romania was one such country, ruled by dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu who, after gaining a surge in popularity during the early part of his regime, had soon descended the country into chaos. Economic failure, coupled with lowered living standards and reports of human rights abuse, threw the Eastern European country into the depths of despair. The resulting revolution, trial and execution of both Ceaușescu and his wife on Christmas Day 1989 gave the Romanian people hope for a new future and much bridge building.

Amidst this turmoil, Steaua Bucharest won five straight league titles between 1984 and 1989, as well as orchestrating an assault on the European Cup. Steaua were managed by Emerich Jenei and boasted the likes of Miodrag Belodedici, Victor Pițurcă and Marius Lăcătuș in their ranks. The one man who would best go on to personify this era of success for the Roș-Albaștrii, though, was their erstwhile goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam, in honour of his heroics on one particularly special night in Seville.

Duckadam was born close to the Hungarian border in Semlac, western Romania. He began playing for his local side before joining nearby UTA Arad in 1982 and it was there that he caught the attention of the national team. Following a single appearance for the Tricolorii, he was snapped up by the country’s most successful club, Steaua Bucharest.

Valentin Ceaușescu, the eldest son of Nicolae, was a keen football fan and soon became involved at the capital’s army club, serving as president. Whilst his involvement was never fully explained, rumours of match-fixing, bribery and corruption were often levelled at the club’s door. A reason behind Steaua’s domination of Romanian football or unsubstantiated lies from their rivals? Any power that was wielded domestically held no weight on the European Cup stage, though, where Steaua set out to achieve what no other Romanian side had.

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The champions easily despatched of Vejle and Honvéd before a narrow win over Finnish side Lahti set up a semi-final with Enzo Scifo and Anderlecht.

The absence of English clubs, with the European ban administered after the Heysel disaster, had left a gap in the tournament that Steaua were keen to exploit. A 1-0 loss in Belgium was converted into a 3-0 win back in Bucharest and, suddenly, Spanish giants Barcelona awaited in the final, a game to be played at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in Seville, where a partisan crowd were fully expected to roar the Blaugrana to victory.

Barcelona had traversed a more difficult set of fixtures than their Romanian counterparts to make the final; wins against Juventus, Porto and a penalty shootout win over IFK Gothenburg had led them to Seville. With Terry Venables at the helm and fellow Brit Steve Archibald leading the line, they were confident of lifting their first European Cup.

A stifling night in Andalusia drained the life out of the game. Barcelona talisman Bernd Schuster, particularly uncharacteristically off-key, stomped out of the stadium when given the hook by Venables. The game sputtered towards extra-time and an inevitable penalty shootout, where one man was ready to take his place in history.

Despite winning the dreaded shootout in the semi-final, Duckadam chose not to study the penalties from that game. For the Steaua custodian, it was all about putting yourself in the mind of the penalty taker; a psychological battle. A keen poker player, Duckadam knew how to keep his cards close to his chest and was supremely aware of how important the first penalty would be.

Steaua’s usual penalty taker, Mihail Majearu, stepped up first only to see Urutti palm his effort away. Advantage Barcelona. Duckadam took his spot on the line, placed both hands on his thighs and adopted a bowing pose. José Alexanco’s drive was the perfect height for Duckadam who leapt to his right, the ball nowhere near the corner to evade the fists of the Steaua man. All level, and when Urutti denied Steaua for the second time, the onus was back on Duckadam to keep his team on level terms.

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The conundrum the ‘keeper faced was whether Ángel Pedraza would expect him to dive the opposite way to the first penalty. Duckadam took off to his right again, seeming to read Pedraza’s mind. This time the penalty was much better, low and into the corner, but Duckadam’s strong right hand steered it away. Two penalties each, both saved.

Lăcătuș was next for Steaua and, almost in protest at the lacklustre offerings so far, smashed the ball in off the underside of the bar to break the deadlock. Pichi Alonso had come off the bench for Barcelona and looked to level. Surely Duckadam would dive to his left this time. Alonso placed it the same side as the previous two. Duckdam dived high but was able to trap the ball between his body and the turf. He volleyed the ball into the Seville night sky in jubilation, immediately apologising to referee Michel Vautrot after his display of over-exuberance.

Gabi Balint made it 2-0 to Steaua and it all came down to Marcos Alonso, the son of Marcos senior, winner of several European Cups with Real Madrid in the 1950s. Perhaps presuming that Duckadam was only capable of diving to his right, he stroked the ball to the opposite side but the Romanian was there again to meet the shot. He leapt to his feet and was enveloped by his teammates. The Romanian champions had won the European Cup and Helmuth Duckadam had saved all four penalties he faced.

Duckadam was on top of the world, or at least the continent, but shortly after this achievement, he disappeared from football with a serious arm injury. Rumours were rife. Had Ceaușescu’s jealousy at Duckadam’s newfound fame led the Steaua president to shoot his goalkeeper in the arm? Perhaps Duckadam had got too big for his boots and some of Ceaușescu’s intermediaries had paid him a visit?

Duckadam reappeared some three years later playing for a lower league side. The Romanian revolution meant that many of the nation’s star players had sought pastures new in the big European leagues. Now in his 30s, that ship had sailed for the man from Semlac. He revealed his injury was caused by a blood clot which had caused him to lose all sensation in his arm following a fall the summer after the final.

Yet Duckadam bore no ill will to the freak injury that curtailed his career, saying that it could have been much worse; it could have occurred before the game that made him a legend, that gave him a place in European Cup history, along with his 15 minutes of fame.

By Matthew Evans @Matt_The_Met

Edited by Will Sharp @shillwarp

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