Estádio Nacional, Lisbon
25 May, 1967
Celtic – 2 (Gemmell, Chalmers)
Internazionale – 1 (Mazzolla)
Jimmy Johnstone, Celtic’s greatest ever player, would have turned 59 today had he not succumbed to a tragic motor neuron disease a decade ago. Bobby Murdoch and Ronny Simpson, two vital players for Celtic in that era are no more. Neither is the great Jock Stein. However, all of these famous players will never cease to exist from the hearts and minds of Celtic and football fans. A major reason for it has to be their legendary performance in the European Cup final in 1967. The “Lisbon Lions” they were named and the whole of Europe heard their roar after that final. Such was the mutual understanding and chemistry between the players that they played without numbers at back of their jerseys.
Hellenio Herrara’s La Grande Inter was the team to beat in mid-60s. They were the next great team following the footsteps of Di Stefano’s Real Madrid and Eusebio’s Benfica and had become the first team from Italy to capture back to back European Cup titles. Real Madrid knocked them out in quarter-final of 1965/66 season but they were back in the final again in 1967. On their way the Nerazzuri had dispatched defending champions Real with the 2-0 win in Madrid being one of the highlights of their campaign. Inter had lost out on domestic league and cup titles so the European Cup was their chance of redeeming the season.
Celtic were narrowly edged out by Bill Shankley’s Liverpool in 1965/66 Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final but they were aiming to go one better the following season. They had waltzed to the final by scoring 15 goals but were heavy under dogs against Inter. Celtic players had very little international experience while Inter had veterans of two European finals. The Hoops had already tasted domestic success, having wrapped up the double.
If there ever was a clash of styles, this was one. Stein was an overwhelmingly attacking coach while Le Grande Inter were one of the most successful practitioners of Catenaccio, the art of not conceding goals. This was effectively the clash of a team which believed in outscoring their opponents against one which believed keeping a clean sheet was the surest way to success.
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Celtic (4-2-4): Ronnie Simpson; Jim Craig, Billy McNeill, John Clarke, Tommy Gemmell; Bertie Auld, Bobby Murdoch; Jimmy Johnstone, Willy Wallace, Stevie Chalmers, Bobby Lennox
Internazionale (1-3-3-3): Giuliano Sarti; Armando Picchi; Tarcisio Burgnich, Aristide Guarneri, Giacinto Facchetti; Gianfranco Bedin, Mauro Bicicli, Mario Corso; Angelo Domenghini, Sandro Mazzola, Renato Cappellini
Both teams started cautiously and were guilty of misplacing a number of passes in opening few minutes. Celtic started the match in a 4-2-4 formation while Inter relied on their tried and tested Catenaccio with Armando Picchi playing as the sweeper in a 1-3-3-3. Initial exchanges dealt with Celtic trying to set-up their attacks through Jimmy Johnstone on the right-wing but the scot was expertly marshaled by Burgnich.
It was the Italians who go the first chance of the match, five minutes after kick-off. Picchi’s long pass released Cappellini on the left wing; the latter cut back, dinked past Craig and set-up Mazzola with a short cross. Mazzola dived in with a header from close range, only to see it being saved by Simpson. Celtic responded quickly as Johnstone cut back from the right-wing, past two Inter defenders to shoot straight at Sarti.
Two minutes later Inter took the lead. Mazzola slipped in a pass towards Cappellini inside Celtic penalty box. The Inter winger ran past Craig but was brought down with a shoulder charge as the referee had no doubts in pointing toward the spot. Mazzola stepped up and sent Simpson the wrong way. Inter had got the exact start they wanted. With a goal in the kitty they could now afford to sit back and defend something they were specialists in. In some curious way, the goal also gave Celtic an added impetus. The hoops came into the match looking to play attacking football and going behind gave them the license for all out offence.
Celtic soon made their intentions clear. Bertie Auld latched on to a loose ball just outside opponent penalty box and broke into a diagonal run, getting past two defenders. Seeing Sarti off his line Auld let loose a sharp left footer but his shot went just over the bar. With Inter preferring to sit back and defend, Celtic began to play a high line of defence with both full-backs going on frequent overlaps. Their apparent man disadvantage in midfield was completely negated by the metronomic distribution of Bobby Murdoch. Jimmy Johnstone on the other hand, was engaged in an intriguing battle with Burgnich, evident when the Italian pulled off an inch perfect tackle on 14th minute when Johnstone tried to break away after pouncing on a miss-pass.
On 27th minute a hashed clearance fell kindly for Murdoch inside whose volley went well over the goal. Few minutes after the half hour mark left-back Tommy Gemmell unleashed first of his many rasping right footers. Sarti was up to task as he pulled out a beautiful one-handed save to force a corner. Inter had almost their entire team in their own half. Mazzola managed to create a half chance for himself on 38th minute. His long ranger was never going to cause a problem to Simpson.
When the half time whistle blew the score-board read Inter 1-0 Celtic. British writer Neville Carduss’ famous quote “Scoreboard in an ass” could have been easily applied.
Three minutes into the second half Celtic thought they had the equalizer. The hoops were awarded an indirect free-kick inside the penalty box and Gemmell was set-up to take a crack at the goal. His shot from edge of the box took a deflection and almost crossed the line but for Sarti’s last ditch save.
By the hour mark Inter were defending for their lives. Celtic continued to pile forward as their opponent’s reluctance to venture out of their own half enabled center backs Clark and McNeill to move into more attacking positions. Celtic’s central defence was effectively their central midfield by the hour mark with a huge gulf of empty space remaining between Simpson and rest of the team. Along with high line of defence Celtic also started pressing high up the pitch leaving little margin of error for Inter players in terms of passing. The crowd also had enough with Inter’s tactics as the Nerazzuri players were being frequently subjected to jeers.
The Scots finally had their richly deserved equalizer two minutes after the hour mark. A Celtic attacking move broke away as a short clearance fell for Clark. Clark passed the ball towards Murdoch who passed it towards right-back Craig. Craig had moved inside the Inter penalty box but seeing a jungle of players in front of him he rolled the ball towards an on-rushing Gemmell. Gemmell’s first touch was a thunderous right footer into the net – for once Sarti was nowhere near the ball. Once that goal went in it was all too evident that Celtic were hands on favorites to clinch the title – Inter didn’t look like scoring a goal anytime soon.
Two minutes after the goal the Murdoch – Gemmell duo once again combined to create a chance but the latter’s long ranger went just over the bar. On 65th minute Craig cut back from the wings and tried to find Chalmers with a short cross but Picchi managed to clear the ball, only as far as Murdoch on right-edge of the box. The right-half took a first time volley with his left-foot as Sarti pulled off another blinding save. Auld took the resulting freekick as Gemmell tested Sarti yet again with another rasping right footer.
Inter had no answer to Tony Gemmell in this period as the full-back frequently overlapped and cut back to take shooting positions. He was mostly finding the target so Celtic game plan for few minutes after the goal was to set-up as many shooting chances for Gemmell. In the five minutes that followed Celtic’s goal Gemmell tried his luck four times just outside the penalty box, though none of those resulted in a goal. On 70th minute he almost scored a fluke goal as his attempted cross towards Chalmers hit the cross-piece before falling into Sarti’s arms.
Eight minutes later Celtic came excruciatingly close to taking the lead. Gemmell’s cross led to miscommunication between Sarti and Picchi but Burgnich thumped the ball away from the goal-line to save his team. Thirty seconds later Auld floated a freekick as Murdoch nodded it towards the goal. The Inter ‘keeper was once again up to the task as he calmly plucked the ball out of thin air.
Six minutes before the final whistle Celtic had their winning goal. Murdoch started the move by releasing Gemmell on the left-wing. Gemmell cut back played a short pass towards Murdoch, who had followed up. Murdoch’s shot was heading for the goal before Chalmers stole past Picchi to ensure it went in.
Inter could have never clawed their way back to score an equalizer as they had been far too defensive in this match to suddenly start attacking again. Thousands of Celtic fans, who had made a long and difficult trip, raced to embrace their heroes as the final whistle went off. Celtic became the first team from outside of Latin Europe to win the European Cup. And they had done it with a squad which grew up within a 30 mile radius of Glasgow.
Key Differentiating Factors
Inter was far, far too cynical in the final, even by their usual Catenaccio standards. One of the strongest points of Herrara’s La Grande Inter was their precise and lethal their counter attacks – a thing which was completely absent in Lisbon. Despite their opponents often leaving space on the flanks Inter never tried to counter-attack. For long periods of the match Inter players didn’t manage to string five passes together, despite having skilled players like Mazzola and Fachetti in their line-up. It was incredibly disappointing to see a two time European champion team engaging in time wasting just 14 minutes into a final as Sarti and Picchi began passing between each other to run the clock down. For most of the second half, Cappellini was the lone Inter player in opponent half and his team mates’ only contribution for him was hopeful long balls. And their defending was also not to usual stratospheric heights. With Celtic overwhelming them in second half, Inter just relied on piling up players in the box – a far cry from the well organized tactical structure of Catenaccio. Sarti, somewhat a tragic hero in the final, was the only reason Inter didn’t lose by a record margin.
Tony Gemmell started practicing overlaps when news broke that Stein was about to join Celtic as he knew his coach preferred it. Gemmell’s overlaps were one of the most important factors in this match. As the match wore on he played as an attacking winger and bombed up and down the flanks constantly. He pushed back Domenghini while Burgnich was busy with Johnstone, leaving Inter completely open on the left-flank.
Johnstone was tightly marked by Burgnich in first half. The crafty Celtic forward dropped deeper in second half and played a free role. As a result of this Burgnich too was dragged all over Inter’s half as their defence slowly lost shape. With Burgnich often getting caught out of position Picchi had too much to do and eventually began to make mistakes.
Man of the Match
After he took over, Stein’s decision to switch Murdoch from inside-right to a right-half proved to be one of the catalysts of that golden era. The Telegraph described Murdoch in his obituary as “..a colossus as a ball-winner, yet simultaneously an archer in his delivery of the ball, and an intelligent and destructive passer over an unlimited range”. Murdoch was brilliant in Lisbon as he rarely misplaced a pass, picking out his team mates with effortless brilliance. As the match wore on his combination with Gemmell began to cause Inter unlimited problems as they found gaps in their defence time and again. The Celtic #4 also played important roles in both goals Celtic scored and was involved in both build-ups.
The final in Lisbon ended Inter’s golden era. Hellenio Herrara would soon leave the club and Inter would have to wait for over four decades to once again become the best in Europe. Armando Picchi, captain and one of the main protagonists of that Inter side would also leave the club as the 66/67 season ended.
Though Celtic didn’t win another European Cup after 1967, they would continue to show a level of consistency which no other Scottish team has ever show in Europe’s elite competition. In 1966/67 season the Hoops won every trophy they participated in and also became the first side in history to do the league – Cup – ECC treble. The Lisbon Lions couldn’t capture the Intercontinental Cup though, losing to Argentine Racing Club, an infamous anti-football side, after a three matches which were more like free for all brawls. They would reach the final one more time three seasons later, only to lose to Feyenoord Rotterdam. Celtic team and their fans also won hearts of neutrals after this final, a legacy that continues to this day.