Next in our series of unlikely European winners, we look at Dinamo Zagreb’s triumph in the old Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.

BY CHRIS ETCHINGHAM

Dinamo Zagreb are one of those few European teams who can offer a true legacy. They brought players of the quality of Zvonimir Boban, Luca Modric and Robert Prosinecki through their ranks, were one of the teams who dominated the domestic scene and also played their part in the break up of a country to which they belonged. On an international level, arguably their greatest moment came with their triumph in the 1967 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, beating Leeds United 2-0 in a two legged affair. Their road to European glory was not easy and on several occasions they nearly came unstuck, but with a grim determination that has come to define the club’s ability to survive through several incarnations, they managed to pull off one of the most unlikely of victories.

Dinamo were managed by Branko Zebec, a former Yugoslavian international who would later win titles in Germany with Bayern Munich and Hamburg before losing in the European Cup Final to Nottingham Forest.

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After struggling through a first round win where they needed a coin toss of all things to beat Spartak Brno of Czechoslovakia, they then needed away goals to beat Dunfermline Athletic having lost the first leg 4-2. A famous 3-0 second leg victory over Juventus at their own Maksimir Stadium gave them a 5-2 aggregate victory and set up a semi-final tie with Eintracht Frankfurt; they were on the cusp of the final. The first leg was a total disaster as Frankfurt ran out 3-0 winners and a miracle was needed for Dinamo to progress through to the final. Yet a miracle is exactly what they achieved as they ran out 4-0 winners with Rudolf Belin scoring the decisive goal with an extra time penalty. The unbelievable had happened and Dinamo were in the final where they would play Leeds United.

The final was a two legged affair with the first match to be played in Yugoslavia. Dinamo felt they had unfinished business having lost in the 1963 final to Valencia. Despite Leeds having a vast array of stars such as Jack Charlton, Billy Bremner and Norman Hunter as well as being managed by Don Revie, Dinamo were by no means the underdog, their victories in previous rounds over Juventus and Frankfurt had seen to that. They had not conceded a goal at home in European competition for two years – “the pride of Croatia, if not the whole of Yugoslavia”. Leeds were also at a distinct disadvantage in that the match was being played at the end of August, just a few weeks after the start of Leeds’ domestic season. They had started the season poorly with defeats to Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers and after a long break over the summer they could not blame any lack of performance on fatigue.

There was, though, an air of over confidence coming from the Leeds camp. Revie admitted that he was “surprised” by Dinamo’s form and captain Bremner believed that with a bit of luck “we shall not have to wait much longer to give our fans something to cheer about”. The normally meticulous Revie had also not compiled a pre-match dossier on his opponents, had he done so he would have seen key players such as Belin, whom the Yorkshire Post described as “a great fighter” and Slaven Zambata who they also described as “Yugoslavia’s alleged answer to Jimmy Greaves”.

One key factor in the first leg was the heat in Zagreb which slowed the tempo of the game. Leeds started with Rod Belfitt as a lone striker and a five man midfield. Their plan was to contain Dinamo, and whilst being happy to concede possession, Dinamo were to be allowed nowhere near Gary Sprake’s goal.

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The game started as a tit for tat affair as both sides had their chances, Michael O’Grady from 25 yards out forced a save from Zlatko Skoric in the Zagreb goal and Marijan Cercek on the Dinamo wing managed to send in several dangerous crosses, though Charlton and Bremner were marshalling the defence well. However, after 39 minutes the Leeds defence could hold out no longer and Danial Piric crossed for Cercek who had bullied his way past the Leeds defence to head past Sprake. Leeds were furious as they felt that the Spanish referee had missed a foul by Cercek on Charlton, the irony being that up until that moment the referee had been very whistle happy.

If Leeds thought that half time was to bring them some respite they were very much mistaken. Twice Revie’s team talk was broken by locals poking their heads into the dressing room, interrupting him mid flow.

The second half started with Leeds very much on the front foot with O’Grady going close again and Hunter hammering a free kick just wide. They couldn’t make the early pressure count and after an hour Dinamo doubled their lead with Krasnodar Rora making a run from the wing and half volleying a cross past Sprake to make the score 2-0.

From then until the end of the match, Dinamo had the increasingly heated match under control. Following the game Leeds pointed to key injuries and the heat as reasons that they lost, but they still held out hope for the second leg, Revie believed that “having seen Zagreb at Frankfurt, I think that they are a far better side at home than away”.

The build up to the second leg, which was to be played on September 6th, was overshadowed by Leeds’ insistence that ticket prices for the match should be raised from their usual levels, though chairman Harry Reynolds insisted that any extra revenue would be ploughed back into the club to aid ground improvements and maintenance.

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Perceived wisdom prior to the match was that Revie should have picked the big centre forward Alan Peacock; his extra height would trouble the Dinamo defence. Instead, Revie picked Belfitt and Jimmy Greenhoff up front. Also selected was Paul Reaney in midfield alongside O’Grady, Bremner and Johnny Giles. It was considered an overtly negative team selection by Revie who could point to the recently introduced away goals rule. If Dinamo did score a goal, Leeds would suddenly need four to win the competition. Mike O’Grady recalled in later years that “Revie was really defensive…he filled our heads with the opposition…you’d be sat there thinking ‘God, just let us play’”. Dinamo, unchanged from the first leg, were again at best condescended by the Leeds camp. Revie continued to point to their performance in the away leg against Frankfurt and Bremner reaffirming his belief that “they are nothing special”.

Dinamo, however, believed that their job was only half done and felt prior to the match that their best chance of victory stood not with out and out defence but to take the game to Leeds.

The hosts began the match in a positive manner with Giles heading wide with Skoric beaten in the Dinamo goal. Giles, making only his second appearance for Leeds of the season was proving the difference between the two teams. Dinamo, for all their talk of open and attacking play, were doing their best to kill the game at every opportunity. Though with Cercek and Zambata as their attacking outlet, Leeds were unable to totally abandon their defensive duties. As Leeds began to over elaborate their attacks it became clear that the Dinamo defence was made of stronger stuff than what Bremner and Revie had thought. Leeds began to adopt a more route one tactic which again was easily absorbed by the Dinamo defence.

Charlton had become a virtual centre forward and tried to connect with the constant number of crosses and set pieces which were played into the Dinamo penalty area. On the occasions that Skoric was beaten, Charlton had his goal disallowed for a foul on the keeper and another shot cleared off the line. If further proof were needed that it wasn’t to be Leeds’ night, Marijan Brncic headed a corner onto his own crossbar.

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The final whistle blew and Dinamo had done it, they had survived the Leeds onslaught and won. The Yorkshire Post declared them “worthy winners” and praised both their attack and defence, before pointing out Leeds’ own shortcomings – not having Jimmy Greaves in the team though was one slightly unfair criticism.

The victory in the 1967 Inter Cities Fairs Cup was Dinamo’s only triumph in Europe and they had achieved it the hard way. From the luck of a coin toss against Spartak Brno, to the magnificent victory against Juventus, the comeback against Frankfurt and the stubbornness against Leeds, they were worthy winners. They had been underestimated by Leeds but left Yorkshire with the grudging admiration of their hosts, which was maybe best summed up by a young Leeds fan whose lack of geographical knowledge also shone through…”Krauts” he kept shouting throughout the game before turning to the person stood next to him and adding “good footballers though”.

YOU CAN FOLLOW CHRIS ON TWITTER @CArmband AND CHECK OUT HIS BLOG https://emancipationforgoalposts1.wordpress.com/ HE IS ALSO THE HOST OF THE NEW TWFP PODCAST AND THE AWARD WINNING MAN ON THE POST PODCAST

 

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