On May 30, 1973, Juventus fell 1-0 to Dutch giants Ajax in the European Cup final at the Red Star Stadium in Belgrade.
A Johnny Rep headed goal after just four minutes was enough to earn a star-studded Amsterdam side their third consecutive European Cup success.
Ajax were by far the most talented football team of the era, as ‘Total Football’ swept the continent and the likes of Johann Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Ruud Krol and Arie Haan created a style and philosophy that is remembered still to this day.
The Bianconeri were very much the underdogs going into the match and preparations had been somewhat marred by allegations that the Serie A champions had tried to influence Portuguese referee Francisco Lobo before the first leg of their semi-final against England’s Derby County.
Lobo had reported that a man named Dezso Solti, who had worked with Inter as an agent in the 1960s, had offered him money to favour Juventus during the game. UEFA carried out an investigation and though Solti was banned from football, the commission decided that the Italian side were in no way connected with him; no sanctions were imposed.
Juventus had spectacularly sewn up the league title in Italy and arrived for the final in Romania much earlier than their Netherlands counterparts to prepare for the clash. Czech coach Cestmir Vycpalek rather confidently picked an attacking line-up, with three strikers starting the match in the form of Roberto Bettega, Pietro Anastasi and Jose Altafini.
With Azzurri internationals such as Dino Zoff in goal and a midfield comprising of Franco Causio and Fabio Capello, Vycpalek was more than entitled to feel his team had enough to bring home the trophy to Italy and the wealthy Agnelli family who owned the Serie A giants.
In contrast, the Ajax squad turned up much later, with wives and girlfriends in tow, as they had done in previous matches looking at ease and apparently free from any pre-match tension.
The more relaxed Dutch began the game confidently and had already hit a post through Cruyff a minute before the 21-year-old Repp converted a Horst Blankenburg cross. The youngster sent his looping header over Zoff and into the net, after having out-jumped his marker Gianpietro Marchetti.
With just four minutes gone, the goal visibly shook the Turin-based outfit as Ajax took complete control for much of the first half. Their style dominated proceedings as their pass-and-move tactic in all areas of the pitch left Juventus chasing shadows. Just before the end of the opening 45 minutes, Gerrie Muhren came close to doubling the lead after having been cleverly set up by the magnificent Cruyff.
Juventus tried to impose themselves in the second half and did just that as they exploited space on the flanks, but pressure was sporadic and the Dutch masters continued to look the more dangerous. Blankenburg was a huge problem for the Italians, as the centre back would often join the attacks unmarked, giving his team an extra option when going forward.
The Bianconeri also struggled to contain Cruyff, who drifted into all areas of the field making the trademark Italian man-to-man marking job almost impossible.
Ajax nearly doubled the lead towards the end of the tie with Barry Hulshoff heading onto the crossbar from a Piet Keizer cross, and as referee Milivoje Gugulovic blew for full time, the side coached by Stefan Kovacs had, in truth, strolled to their third consecutive European Cup success.
This victory meant that Cruyff and his teammates had earned the privilege of keeping the trophy permanently, just as Real Madrid had done back in 1967.
Fortunately for Juventus fans, the loss would be avenged 23 years later as the Bianconeri once again faced Ajax in the 1996 final on home soil, in Rome, with the Italians triumphing after a penalty shootout.