What they got to see was Emeric Ienei’s team surviving a smattering of Barcelona chances for 120 minutes, with Miodrag Belodedici imperious at the back for a side content to smother their opponents. This was no free-flowing classic. The appropriate word might even be ‘dour’ but it did at least yield surprises, not least when Ienei subbed in his assistant coach, 36-year-old Anghel Iordănescu, who hadn’t played competitive football in nearly three years.
Eyebrows were also raised when Barça boss Terry Venables withdrew key duo Bernd Schuster and Steve Archibald – a tacit admission that his attacking plans were not working. And the game remained goalless until it eventually headed to penalty kicks, setting the stage for Duckadam’s appointment with destiny.
“My dream as a teenager was to play a big game and be the hero, but I didn’t dare to imagine myself in a European Cup final,” he says. “Somehow, penalties were my speciality. I used to stay behind with my colleagues after training and we made bets on penalties. I used to take them myself. But how could I dare picture myself in a European Cup final? And how could I imagine myself winning it on penalties?”
Whatever he once imagined, the 63-year-old has now had almost four decades to reflect on that night – and how another shortcoming in Steaua’s preparations possibly played into his hands. “There were two journalists who tried to get us videos of our opponents’ games. The only match I didn’t see was Barcelona’s 3-0 [semi-final second-leg] win against Göteborg, which ended in a penalty shoot-out. They probably thought I knew how they’d taken their kicks just a few weeks before, but I never had a clue.”
And the crowd of about 70,000, mostly hoping he would fail? “The stadium was massively dominated by Barcelona fans. When our players took their kicks, the crowd made an incredible noise. On the other hand, when Barcelona’s players got close to the ball… the silence of a cathedral. That helped me concentrate. They didn’t want to bother the Barcelona players, but it turns out they helped me more. I refused to watch my team-mates take their kicks. I just laid on my back watching the sky.”
“When I tell the story it seems easy, doesn’t it? But in a European Cup final, it’s a bit more complex”
Had he been looking, Duckadam would have seen Mihail Majearu and László Bölöni fail with Steaua’s first two attempts. Just as well, then, that his mastery of mind games was on a different level. “The first one was the most difficult. It was a matter of chance, inspiration, luck – call it what you want. I made a guess for the shot [José Ramón] Alexanko took. It was the kind of kick a keeper loves to save: not high, not powerful. Had I gone the other way, everyone would have said Alexanko kept his nerve.
“With the second I started applying logic. I put myself in the shooter’s boots. I wasn’t interested that we’d missed our opening penalty. [Ángel] Pedraza was next. I thought about what I would do if I was him. Pedraza hit it hard and it was the most powerful of the four. I went to my right again. He thought I’d change direction. I was very fit. I had strong legs and could push myself to the limit and save it.
“Barcelona’s third was the easiest to stop. Pichi Alonso thought, ‘OK, he went right twice but he won’t push his luck.’ I was there when the ball came and saved it with confidence. And for the final penalty, I played an effective mind game. First, I let Marcos [Alonso] think I was going to my left. Then, as he got closer to the ball, I moved right a bit and finally dived left. He saw me moving and thought I’d keep going right.
“When I tell the story it seems easy, doesn’t it? But with 70,000 people around you in a European Cup final, it’s a bit more complex.” Undoubtedly so, which may be why Duckadam still remembers every flinch and muscle flex during the 2-0 shoot-out triumph. And why millions of Romanians can still recite the words screamed by the TV commentator when the man in green made his fourth and final save: “Duckadam stops it! We are finalists! We’ve won the cup! The European Cup is coming to Bucharest!”
For the players, this was the time to bask in glory. And not just any old glory: a groundbreaking first for a team from behind the Iron Curtain. But after taking photos with the trophy they were at a loss for what to do next, that old Soviet Bloc mentality stifling their reaction. “We didn’t know how to celebrate,” says Duckadam. “We were in a state of shock. I see teams celebrating nowadays and I think of us. We didn’t know what to do. It hurts me that we didn’t know how to celebrate that huge achievement.
“We went to the hotel and drank a glass of wine, some champagne and that was pretty much it. The next day, in the city, it was extraordinary. Barcelona were rivals of both Sevilla and Betis, so people kept inviting us to drink beer and give autographs on banknotes and napkins. It was amazing for us, coming from a closed, communist country.”