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Di Stefano, Kopa & Puskas - The true Galacticos

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distefanopuskasEvery sport boasts of a long list of stand-out performers, gems that lit up their game for however brief a moment. Their glory captured in a time capsule, forever evoking memories of a bygone golden era. Football has been fortunate to be littered with magical moments throughout its existence. Numerous sides can lay claim to being the greatest of them all. But greatness is largely a subjective exercise, built on individual experiences and emotions. But then there also exists the empirical truth. Most "great" sides ruled the roost for a couple of seasons, flashing brightly for a brief period in football's long history. But Real Madrid proved to be the exception as they flattened everything in their path for almost a decade. The legendary Madrid side captured five successive European Cups between 1956 & 60, a record that hasn't been under threat in the years since and is unlikely to ever be broken.

On the 50th anniversary of Madrid's famous 1960 European Cup win, BBC Sport official named that Madrid side of Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas (both in above pic)and Gento as the best footballing side in the history of the game. They got the unanimous vote over other great sides like the Ajax team of the early 70's, Bayern Munich of the late 70's, the Milan side of 1994 and the current Barcelona outfit.

distefanoMadrid's signing of Di Stefano right under Barcelona's nose in 1953 was the first step in their path towards domination. He made his debut on the same day as he passed his medical and joined the squad that also included future Manager Miguel Munoz. Madrid proceeded to win the league that year, thus ending their 20 year title drought. President Santiago Bernabeu (the man after whom the stadium is named) was one of the leading figures in the birth of the European Cup. The players responded to the challenge admirably as they reached the final in their first attempt, eliminating the likes of Milan and Partizan Belgrade en route. They lifted the inaugural European Cup in Paris in 1956 by beating Stade de Reimes 4-3 in the final, with Di Stefano scoring one and Hector Rial grabbing a brace.

Madrid ran out winners the following year too as they lost only once en route to the final. In the showpiece event at their own Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, they beat Italian side Fiorentina by two clear goals, with Di Stefano getting on the score sheet once again.

Madrid were relentless on the home front too as they collected four successive League titles from 1955-58. They added a 3rd European crown soon after clinching the League title in 1958 as they overcame AC Milan in an entertaining final at Heysel. At full-time the game was deadlocked at 2-2 as extra-time beckoned. Gento settled the tie with a monumental goal in the 107 minute.

The side that boasted Di Stefano in attack, Gento and Raymond Kopa down the wings and the rock solid Santamaria in defence decided to make another valuable addition and it was none other that Ferenc Puskas. The 31 year-old arrived at the Bernabeu for a final shot at glory and boy did he take his chance with both hands.

The Hungarian scored an incredible four hat-tricks in his first season at Madrid as he led them to yet another European Cup final. They scored 14 goals en route to the final in Stuttgart which included a famous semi-final victory over cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid. Stade de Reimes lay in wait once again for Madrid and they duly dispatched the French side 2-0.

Madrid's magnificence over the last five years had left most wondering if there was still a higher ground left to be achieved. And it was Madrid themselves who showed the rest of the world that peak as they achieved footballing immortality on that famous night in Glasgow. The team, coached by ex-player Miguel Munoz, made it through to the finals for the 5th year running. They enthralled their fans with some spell binding attacking play as they scored an amazing 24 goals in 3rd rounds before the final. The iconic sem-final against arch-rivals Barcelona ended in a hammering for the Catalans as Madrid ran out 6-2 winners.

Eintracht Frankfurt stood between Real and another European triumph. The Germans were renowned for their quick attacking football and they took a shock lead in the 18th minute. With their European Cup defence hanging in the balance, Real were shocked into consciousness and soon equalized through Di Stefano. In a couple of minutes Real were up 2-1 thanks to a slip up from the opposition goalkeeper. The goal gave Madrid confidence as they began to spray the ball around with panache. Puskas scored four times in the next 30 minutes while Di Stefano completed his hat-trick to make it 7-3 to the team in white.

The performance has been eulogized multiple times, by fans inside Hampden Park, pundits following the game and the players involved. It was football at its purest. A performance of art fit to be placed alongside works of Picasso, Van Gogh or Beethoven. The Brazilian side of 1970 is often touted as the single greatest football side in history, but Madrid of '60 can surely lay claim to the corresponding award on the club-front.

On the 50th anniversary, Di Stefano reflected, "We hadn't even heard of them (Eintracht) because there weren't televisions or videos to see how they played. So what we did against every rival was run and fight for 70 minutes and during the 20 remaining minutes we would put on a show for the fans. After they scored and had another ball hit the post, we got mad and ended up scoring seven. Every team at that time was the champion of their respective league so we couldn't trust anyone. We, however, felt like champions, and always thought about winning because losing would send you home."

Later that year, Real would defeat Montevideo Penarol in the first ever Intercontinental Cup to be crowned the best club in the world. Real went on win five more League titles by 1965 and added a total of 8 in the next decade. They added one more European Cup in 1966 after which they experienced a barren spell that extended till 1998.

Real were handed the European Cup on a permanent basis after the 1960 victory and were also crowned the "Best Club of the 20th Century" in 2000. These were the original Galacticos, stars even before the advent of Television. Successive Presidents have tried recreate the glory days, with Florentio Perez's Galacticos of the early 00's the only one coming close. But football has never seen the likes of Di Stefano, Gento, Kopa and Puskas since and is unlikely to ever produce a crop of payers capable of repeating their feats.

The most often used starting 11 that year for the Whites, in a 3-4-3 formation, is as follows:

Rogelio Dominguez (GK),Marquitos (D),Santamaria (D),Pachin (D),Jose Vidal (M),Jose Zarraga (M),Canario (M), Gento (M),Del Sol (F),Di Stefano (F),Puskas (F)

Achievements between 1955 and 1960:

La Liga: 1954–55, 1956–57, 1957–58
Copa del Rey: 1958, 1960 (runners up both the times)
European Cup: 1955–56, 1956–57, 1957–58, 1958–59, 1959–60
Intercontinental Cup: 1960

Individual Acclaim:

Ballon d'Or: Raymond Kopa (1958), Di Stefano (1959) and Puskas (1960)

Photo 1 by: Aftonbladet Arkiv