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Champions League: The First Copa de Europa

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LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28:  The UEFA Champions League trophy on display ahead of the UEFA Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC at Wembley Stadium on May 28, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: The UEFA Champions League trophy on display ahead of the UEFA Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC at Wembley Stadium on May 28, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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If you missed our UEFA Champions League: A Primer, you can find it here.

The first ever match of the European Cup was held on September 4, 1955. Sporting Lisbon and Partizan Belgrade (remember that name for later) played to a 3-3 draw. The first goal of the game was scored by Sporting Lisbon's Joao Baptista Martins. Just four days later, a goal by Real Madrid's Miguel Munoz in the 74th minute against Swiss side Servette FC secured a two goal, clean sheet win. This would kick off a five-year campaign of dominance from los blancos, though no one had the slightest clue at the time.

The road to the semi-finals would take them through Partizan Belgrade, the Yugoslavian side. It seemed pretty much lights out for the Yugoslavs--they were taken to the shed in Madrid on Christmas day, where madridistas would see their team notch a clean sheet and four goals.

All los blancos had to do was show up in Russia for 90 minutes and secure their spot in the semis...

Sounds pretty easy right? They did just hand them a four-nil spanking in Spain.

Easy is not what happened.

All Real Madrid had to do was hold the Yugoslavs, as they had a 4-0 lead on aggregate. But going from Spain in the winter to Belgrade in the winter is like going from Tattooine to the ice planet Hoth. Belgrade leaped out to a 3-0 lead, and if all the snow and slush on the pitch hadn't prevented a Belgrade shot from crossing the line, there might have been a completely different story to tell.

Real Madrid's defense cleared the ball, sealing Belgrade's fate and entry into the semi-finals where Italian side AC Milan waited. Los blancos were inching closer and closer to putting silverware into the trophy case. Santiago Bernabeu would want nothing less--the stadium he built was the envy of every European football club--and he had an outstanding team. Now they just needed the trophy to go with it.

On April 19, 1956 Real Madrid secured a home win, 4-2 over AC Milan. Jose Hector Rial would start the scoring in the sixth minute; goals were then added by Joseito, Alfredo di Stefano and Roque German Olsen. While los blancos gave up two away goals, they had the lead again going into AC Milan's home leg.

The second leg would take place on May 1st in Italy. Again, something about playing on the road did not agree with Real Madrid (anyone sensing a pattern here?). They would end up dropping the match 2-1, but would take home the win 5-3 on aggregate. This would secure their spot in the finals against French side Stade de Reims, and in Paris no less. It would come to no surprise which team the Paris crowd would be backing.

Parc de Princes would provide the stage with 38,000 in attendance on June 13th of '56 to see who would be crowned the first ever champions of Europe. Real Madrid would send out their best (as if it was ever in doubt) against the French side.

The Starting IX: Alonso, Atienza, Marquitos, Lesmes, Munoz (capt), Zarraga, Joseito, Marsal, Di Stefano, Rial, Gento

The first goal of the game would come within the first six minutes by a player that had signed for Real Madrid for the next season--Raymond Kopa. Funny how these things work out isn't it? Reims would jump out to a early two-goal lead, before Di Stefano put Real Madrid back in the match. Then, in the 14th minute, Rial's header from the corner brought the scores level as the match entered the half.

Riems would take the lead about an hour into the half, but it would not go unanswered as Manuel Marquitos would strike in the 67th minute, putting the teams right back where they started. It wouldn't be until the last 11 minutes in the contest that los blancos would go ahead, and try to keep it that way. Real Madrid would walk away the 4-3 winners, surviving a late scare from a Reims shot that would go off the cross bar.

Raymond Kopa who was set to join Real Madrid the following season had this to say:

"After what I have seen in this game, I don’t know why Real need me. Their team is complete."

And for your visual pleasure, check out the film highlights of the match from 1956. A part of me couldn't help but giggle at the grainy quality and what not.

Sources: European Cup History, RSSSF