The Valencia file – Cork, Tipperary and the kidnapped Valencianista…
Following the first meeting of the clubs in the autumn of 1962, it would be nearly forty years before Celtic and Valencia would be drawn together again. With a few notable exceptions, both had struggled to emulate their successes of the sixties, Valencia’s three consecutive Inter-Cities Fairs Cup Finals from 1962, the first two of which were successful, and Celtic’s European Cup triumph of Lisbon 1967, after going close in the Cup-Winners’ Cup, twice reaching the last four only to lose out by a single goal.
The duopoly enjoyed by Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spanish domestic football meant that European Cup appearances would be few and far between for Valencia until competition format changes in the late nineties allowed additional sides to qualify from the major leagues. Los Che would be national champions on just three further occasions by the end of the millennium.
In 1970, the legendary Alfredo Di Stéfano was appointed as Head Coach at the Mestalla, leading Valencia to the title in his debut season, their first since 1947. They would come close to meeting Jock Stein’s Celtic in the following season’s European Cup, eliminating Union Luxembourg and Yugoslavs, Hajduk Split, before losing both legs to Újpest Dózsa, the Hungarian champions then crashing out to Celtic in the next round, the Quarter-final, in March 1972. It would be three decades before Valencia would win La Liga again.
They finally enjoyed a third European trophy win in 1980, with Di Stefano back in charge for a second spell, when they lifted the Cup-Winners’ Cup. His side, spearheaded by Argentina’s World Cup hero, Mario Kempes, and driven forward by German midfielder, Rainer Bonhof, beat Denmark’s BK1903, Rangers, Barcelona and Nantes, before a 5-4 penalty shoot-out win over Arsenal in Brussels. Future Celtic manager, Liam Brady, playing one of his last games for the Gunners, missed from the spot that evening, as indeed did Kempes. The Irishman signed shortly afterwards for Juventus, against whom he had impressed greatly in the Semi-final clashes.
In 1999, Claudio Ranieri enjoyed success at the Mestalla, in his final season at the club, finishing in a fourth-spot which allowed access to the Champions League and beating Atletico Madrid to lift the Copa del Rey. The Italian then left Valencia to join the club he had just defeated in the Final, before moving on to manage Chelsea.
Argentinian, Hector Cuper then picked up the reins, having achieved phenomenal success with Real Mallorca, taking them to the European Cup-Winners’ Cup Final and qualifying for the Champions League with a third-place La Liga finish. He would also lead Valencia into new territory, coming desperately close to winning the Big Cup by reaching the next two Finals.
In the 1999/2000 Champions League campaign, Valencia topped a tough First Stage group including Bayern, PSV and Rangers, before finishing second to Manchester United in the next sectional stage, Fiorentina and Bordeaux dropping out. They then eliminated Lazio and Barcelona, before losing 3-0 to Real Madrid in the Stade de France, in the first-ever European Cup/Champions League Final between two clubs from the same country.
The following year was even more heart-breaking for Cuper’s side. Once again, they topped their initial Group, finishing ahead of Lyon, Olympiacos and Heerenven. In the next stage, they swapped places with Manchester United, winning a group which also included Sturm Graz and Panathinaikos. The knockout phase saw Valencia beat two English sides, old foes Arsenal and Leeds United, setting up a San Siro showpiece with Bayern, a 1-1 draw in a match of three spot kicks followed by a 5-4 shootout defeat from the Germans. They, thus, have a rather unique record, both winning and losing a penalty decider in a European final by the same 5-4 score.
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