Whoever says that first is all that counts should try telling that to Feyenoord. Ajax’s glorious run of three successive European Cups spanning 1971 and 1973 often eclipses the fact that it was the Rotterdam club that delivered the Netherlands’ maiden title of European club champion.
The Austrian coach Ernest Happel had led Feyenoord to extra-time victory over Celtic in the 1970 final in Milan – a year after the Rossoneri had vanquished Rinus Michels’ Ajax, the first Dutch side to reach the European Cup final. Comparatively shrouded by the majesty of their domestic rivals, Feyenoord enjoyed a fine first half of the ‘70s themselves, going on to capture the UEFA Cup in 1974 with a win over another British club, Tottenham Hotspur.
A side centred on captain Rinus Israel, club stalwart Wim Jansen and Wim van Hanegem (all three of whom had also played in the 1970 final) were also national champions in the year of the UEFA Cup win, but a spell of prolonged drought followed. League title number 12 didn’t arrive until a decade later, and by the time of the 2002 final, Feyenoord had won just two more.
Dortmund’s success was a far more current phenomenon. The city had been the birthplace of professionalism; the meeting which ratified the creation of the Bundesliga, Germany’s first national, professional league, had taken place there in 1962, a year before the competition started. It was no portent, with BVB not winning the Bundesliga until 1995. When they did, it opened the floodgates.
The seeds of that success had already been sown following the appointment of Ottmar Hitzfeld. He took Dortmund to the 1993 UEFA Cup final, where they were comprehensively beaten over two legs by Juventus, but the club was in motion. The Bundesliga title was retained in 1996, and then came the big one; revenge over a star-studded Juve with victory in the 1997 Champions League final in Munich. Captain and defensive kingpin Matthias Sammer – voted 1996 Ballon d’Or winner for his form and his role in Germany’s Euro ’96 win – had struggled with injury for much of the season, but returned to help keep Christian Vieri, Zinedine Zidane and company at bay.
After a miserable final season battling a chronic knee injury that claimed his career at the premature age of 30, Sammer quit in 1998. Poetically, he returned two years later as coach to rescue the club from their post-Hitzfeld uncertainty and four days before the UEFA Cup final, he captured the Bundesliga title again with final-day victory over Werder Bremen at the Westfalenstadion.
Feyenoord had also finished their own league campaign on the previous weekend, the day after Dortmund. They ended up third in the Eredivisie, a place lower than the season before despite being significantly closer points-wise to champions PSV than in 2000/01 (nine points behind, as opposed to 17).
The advantage they had in terms of home advantage, with De Kuip being the final venue, was however significant, given the legendary atmospherics of the old ground. This was the tenth European club competition final that had been held at De Kuip, which was also the venue for France’s dramatic Euro 2000 final win over Italy.
If there was plenty of historical precedent to the final, its atmosphere was firmly rooted in the present. The assassination of controversial politician Pim Fortuyn two days before had briefly threatened to cause the showpiece to be postponed, with tensions high and just a week to go before the general election. In the event both the final, and the election, went ahead as planned, with a minute’s silence before kick-off and the players wearing black armbands.
The legitimacy of clubs dropping out of the Champions League into the UEFA Cup may continue to divide opinion today, but in this case, ensured a high-quality final. The venue, however, was perhaps the defining factor. Dortmund were as well as supported as ever but a flock of red flares in the stands defined the landscape as the teams came out of the tunnel. The stands, looming in towards the pitch to create a claustrophobic environment, helped to define an intense, breathless match.
It always seemed likely Pierre Van Hooijdonk would emerge as a central figure in the final. Not only had he been the 24-goal top scorer in the just-completed Eredivisie season, but he had a further six in the UEFA Cup, including the stoppage time goal in the De Kuip quarter-final second leg which snatched victory away from domestic rivals PSV. Christian Wörns’ early challenge, cutting through the back of the big Dutchman, was as brutal an expression of the importance he commanded as could be imagined.
The pace of Feyenoord’s forward line suited the sugared tempo; with Bonaventuré Kalou on the right and Robin van Persie on the left, and both making early runs deep into Dortmund territory to tell full-backs Evanilson and Dede that they’d have their hands full.
The mania spread. Jens Lehmann, whose nerve had triumphed in the 1997 final’s penalty shoot-out for Schalke (which had been the last two-legged UEFSA Cup final) was panicked into a shanked clearance in the 10th minute that Shinji Ono returned back over his head, but wide of the target. Lehmann’s jittery clearances continued throughout.
It was by no means one-sided. Dortmund’s finesse was clearly greater, and Jan Koller’s dribble past Patrick Pauuwe quickly made clear that both defences has some nervous moments to come. Tomás Rosicky’s fleet-footedness then took him inside the right-back Christian Gyan, before he hit the contest’s first shot on target straight at goalkeeper Edwin Zoetebier.
Still, van Hooijdonk looked like the player most likely to shape the game. His curling free-kick from range dipped over the wall and smacked the static Lehmann’s post for the best chance yet. The paradoxes in his nature consistently made the big striker a magnetic character. A rebel at Celtic and Nottingham Forest, he was a beacon of commitment here. Next he showed delightful control to take the ball away from Jürgen Kohler before laying for Kalou, then clumsily flattened Dede in the follow-through, showing both sides of his game. A less understanding referee than Vítor Melo Pereira might have ended his game then and there.
Instead, that fate befell someone else, in the most cruel way possible, on the half-hour. Kohler miscontrolled on the edge of his own penalty box, was mugged by Jon-Dahl Tomasson, and subsequently dragged the Dane down. The inevitable red card and penalty followed, in the last match of the 36-year-old World Cup winner’s career.
It was typical of the frenetic encounter developing that we swiftly moved on from Kohler’s misery. Feyenoord captain Paul Bosvelt and Lehmann squabbled over the ball and squared up before van Hooijdonk put an end to the arguments, smashing the spot-kick low to the goalkeeper’s right. As the red lights and smoke billowed through the air Stefan Reuter, only passed fit a few hours before the game, dropped back into defence to cover.
Dortmund almost conjured an instant reply, Feyenoord’s terrible attempt at an offside trap from a Rosicky free-kick was easily sprung, and Márcio Amoroso snuck round the back of van Hooijdonk to poke into side netting at full stretch. Zoetebier then fisted away Rosicky’s next free-kick, before Tomasz Rzasa blocked Evanilson’s follow-up, pummelled from outside the area.
While Sammer’s side showed fight, their discipline was beginning to waver. Another quick break saw Amoroso clumsily foul van Persie, and boot the ball away in frustration as the referee whistled. Van Hooijdonk again retained his sang froid, and curled an almost identical free-kick to before, but this time dipped it a few inches inside Lehmann’s post to put the Dutch two up. The striker tore his shirt off as De Kuip erupted.
The adrenalin of Feyenoord was plain to see, with Bosvelt the nominal holder, but bringing the ball forward to begin attacks. This impetuousness offered Dortmund their most likely route back into the game, and van Persie was extremely lucky to escape a second booking for a studs-up lunge on Koller. His recklessness was not an isolated incident, and Reuter inexplicably went unpunished for a borderline rugby tackle on Tomasson.
At the start of the second period, Dortmund’s manner suggested they had been eating raw meat at half-time, jogging on the spot, or perhaps both. With the manner of a side used to winning, they sought to wrest the match back.
Almost immediately, from Ewerthon’s through ball, Pauuwe’s untidy challenge on Amoroso brought the latter Brazilian to the ground inside the penalty area.
It was just a yellow card despite Dortmund protest, but Amoroso converted pen with ease, into the same corner that Van Hooijdonk had placed both his strikes. Amoroso, the scorer of a semi-final hat-trick against Milan, was determined to make it happen any which way he could, and received a deserved booking for trying to engineer another penalty for a non-existent challenge from Bosvelt.
The next twist was quite in keeping of the scattregun nature of the final, as Feyenoord quickly restored the two-goal gap. The excellent Ono lifted the ball forward from Rosicky’s heavy touch. With van Hooijdonk casually strolling back from a passive offside position, Tomasson scampered clear, and smashed a right-foot shot past Lehmann.
A precise Ono cross then found Tomasson in acres of space, but he hammered the chance to seal the trophy high over the top. Koller quickly showed him how a volley should be executed, bringing the Germans back into the match. His cute chested touch from Pauuwe’s clearance took the ball wide of Bosvelt and he hit a sumptuous shot over Zoetebier into the top corner.
Now, BVB’s fans started to make the noise. Left-back Dede was by this point so far advanced that Dortmund almost playing three at the back, an interesting take on playing with ten men, but wholly in keeping with the mood of the moment. Van Hooijdonk was pressed into defensive action, making a diving block from a goal-bound Amoroso drive.
Rather than the ten men physically failing, it was the eleven. The extent of Feyenoord’s creaking resolve was made plain by the sight of the seemingly indefatigable Bosvelt bowing and gingerly feeling his left calf. With a quarter-of-an-hour still to go, Feyenoord were trying to hold the ball in the corner.
Referee Pereira seemed to give up on spotting every incident in an increasingly malevolent atmosphere. Christian Wörns, in a running battle with van Hooijdonk throughout, got away with a hefty (and blatant) elbow into the striker’s face, and then somehow avoided conceding a penalty for a late challenge on the surging Bosvelt. In a final twist, Wörns almost grabbed the equaliser, but narrowly failed to connect with a Rosicky set-piece as the clock ticked down.
Lehmann came up for a series of corners as time ran out and as the ball came out from one, he chased and won the ball back from Bosvelt as he ran it clear in the direction of the open net, showing Dortmund’s unbelievable stamina and commitment. But it was unrewarded. The whistle went, and Dortmund’s chance of following Juve and Ajax in winning all three major European trophies had slipped away. As they collected their runners-up medals, Koller stopped for a rueful pat of the trophy, while an animated Lehmann lingered to seemingly tell off president Lennart Johannson.
In an interesting twist of fate, Feyenoord’s victorious coach Bert van Marwijk went on to succeed Sammer as Dortmund coach in 2004, before later returning for a second spell at the head of a then-struggling Feyenoord. Despite going onto lead his country to the brink of the World Cup, this final still stands out in the van Marwijk canon; the tigerish nature, and the quality, of the opposition means that the value of Feyenoord’s achievement only seems to augment with time.
Andy Brassell is an acclaimed football writer and the author of 'All or Nothing: A year in the life of the Champions League', he is also a regular presenter on BBC 5Live's World Football Phone-in. twitter.com/andybrassell