On This Day: CSKA shock the European Cup holders Barcelona (1992)
Back then, you could beat them.
There is a delicious and rarely seen genre of European shock that loosely follows the narrative of a slow-burning horror movie. It starts sedately for the big side, who breeze along jauntily while getting a comfortable result in the first leg. But then, from nowhere, they suffer a Hitchcockian descent into trouble. A walk in the park becomes a desperate fight for survival, and usually there are no happy endings.
One of the best examples came in 1992-93, when Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona suffered an unthinkable defeat to CSKA Moscow. It remains the only time in the Champions League era that the holders have been knocked out before Christmas. CSKA were not a great side – they subsequently failed to win a single match in a modest group with Marseille, Rangers and Brugge – but, as it so often the case with Russian sides, they clicked for a short, devastating spell of PlayStation football (or, rather, given that this was in 1992, Sensible Soccer).
The tie had started comfortably for Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona. A 1-1 draw in Moscow, secured by Txiki Begiristain’s equaliser, seemed to be more than enough. When Begiristain scored again to put Barcelona 2-0 up after half an hour of the second leg, coolly rounding Dmitry Kharine after a lovely through ball from Hristo Stoichkov, the job was apparently done. Indeed the muted celebration of that goal, and the first from Miguel Ángel Nadal, suggested that this was just a mundane day at the office for Barcelona. All they had to do was dot the ‘I’s, cross the ‘T’s and cross out the CSKA.
Sometimes, however, the box seat can get too comfortable. If Barcelona assumed they could just run the clock down, a nasty surprise awaited them. The timing of CSKA’s first goal, lifted in off the bar by Yevgeni Bushmanov on the cusp of half-time after a forensic through-pass from Oleg Sergeyev, was crucial. As it marinated for the next 15 minutes, Barcelona had to contend with a fear that had not been there before; equally, CSKA had an unexpected shot of hope.
Barcelona were numbed into impotence, and there was a certain inevitability when the scandalously unmarked Denis Mashkarin plunged to head a left-wing corner past Andoni Zubizaretta in the 57th minute. Barcelona’s nightmare was completed four minutes later when, from the excellent Sergeyev’s precise cut-back, the substitute Dmitri Karsakov flicked the ball behind his standing leg and into the far corner.
Zubizaretta spread his arms limply, as if to ask what the hell was going on. Nobody had a clue, and the passage of time wouldn’t make the result any more explicable. Cruyff’s Dream Team continued to hoover up domestic titles, whereas CSKA finished ninth and 10th in the next two seasons. They won only one tie in any European competition in the next 12 years, and that was against Iprottabandalag Akranes of Iceland. As results go, this was the mother of all outliers.
This article originally appeared in The Blizzard. If you’re not a subscriber, you’re an idiot