September 16, 1987 was a red-letter day for Valletta FC.
In the 1980s it was still possible for local clubs to draw famous clubs in European competitions. Many were the big names that visited the islands before UEFA adopted the seeding system for the top teams in the early stages of its competitions.
Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Celtic are but a few of the many big clubs that played here in the 1960s and 1970s. The Maltese clubs welcomed these encounters with open arms, if anything for the much-needed income they generated.
In 1987-88, two of the three Maltese participants came up against strong teams in the first round of the competitions.
In the Champions Cup, Ħam-run Spartans were drawn against Rapid Vienna, a club steeped in history and tradition. Valletta did even better when, in the UEFA Cup, they were pitted against Italian giants Juventus.
Sliema Wanderers, however, were not so lucky. In the Cup Winners’ Cup they were drawn against unknown Vlanzia Shkoder.
The Wanderers hoped to beat the Albanians but Shkoder were no pushovers as Sliema found out to their disadvantage.
In Albania, Vlanzia won 2-0, a result that kept Sliema hoping. The Blues, however, played well below their best in the return leg at Ta’ Qali. They lost 4-0 in front of their own supporters.
The Spartans, playing the first leg away from home, lost heavily to the Austrian champions. They were beaten 6-0 with three of the goals coming in a 12-minute spell.
In the return game, Ħamrun improved considerably.
The 6-0 drubbing they received away from home kept their supporters away and playing in a nearly empty stadium, the Spartans adopted a tight, defensive game to limit the damage. Rapid Vienna only won 1-0.
In reality, the Austrians had nothing to play for. Having built up such a commanding lead at home, they took it easy and were happy with a minimum victory.
In contrast to the Ħamrun-Rapid tie, the Valletta vs Juventus encounter attracted a huge crowd to the National Stadium.
Many expected the Italians to parade new signing Ian Rush who had joined Juve from Liverpool for a then record sum of £3.7 million.
The Welsh striker, however, was declared unfit and watched the game from the VIP area.
Valletta were returning to the European scene after a lapse of three seasons. Their last appearance was in 1984-85 when they were eliminated from the Champions Cup by Austria Wien (8-0 on aggregate).
Valletta’s 1987 game against Juventus brought back to mind their 1972 encounter against Inter. That day they were beaten 1-0 at home and 6-1 at the San Siro.
The Citizens tried their best to contain their more illustrious opponents but in truth they could do very little. At the end, they lost 4-0 with three of the goals coming early in the first half.
In Turin, Juventus were expected to run riot against Valletta but, surprisingly, the Citizens played much better away from home. They still went down 3-0 but with more attention, they could have ob-tained a better result.
On at least two occasions, Valletta had clear-cut chances to score and reduce the arrears.
In Malta the two teams lined up as follows:
Valletta: R. Mifsud, R. Briffa, P. Curmi, F. Grioli, K. Laferla, D. Fenech, M. Cremona (M. Gerada), J. Camilleri, N. Saliba, J. Zerafa, M. Taliana (A. Busuttil).
Juventus: Tacconi, Favero, Cabrini, Bonini, Brio, Tricella, Mauro (Buso), Magrin, Alessio, De Agostini (Vignola), Laudrup.
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