How did the Miracle of Milan come about?

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FC Bayern host Inter Milan at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday for the final Champions League game of 2022. There have been a number of memorable encounters between these two European giants, including a thrilling two-legged affair back in 1988.

In December 1988, Bayern made the 500-kilometre journey to Milan. The atmosphere was tense on the trip since they had to beat Inter Milan at the dreaded Giuseppe Meazza, in front of 75,000 spectators, in the second leg of their third-round tie in the UEFA Cup. They needed to overturn a 2-0 deficit away at one of the best teams in the world at the time. Only a few in the team believed in a happy ending.

Olaf Thon, midfielder: “The first leg had already settled the matter. We were clearly beaten at home at the Olympiastadion, basically had no chance. Of course, we went to Milan with a certain amount of hope, but Italy was the leader in world football at that time, and Inter were the leaders in Italy.”

Hans Dorfner, midfielder: “We were criticised to the hilt. From the press, from the football experts. We were also dissatisfied as a team with the result and so were charged up. But we carried the FC Bayern winning gene in us.”

Klaus Augenthaler, captain: “We obviously encouraged each other, but those were hollow words. Actually, we all just wanted to come out of it with decency.”

Inter Milan won 2-0 away at Bayern Munich on 23 November 1988.
Bayern were easily beaten 2-0 in the first leg after goals from Nicola Berti and Aldo Serena.

The world of football at the end of the 1980s looked very different than it does today. Not the Premier League, not the Bundesliga, but Serie A was the strongest league in the world. The best teams, the best players, the most money. Everything that had rank and name wanted to and was moving to Italy. Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Carlo Ancelotti work their magic at AC Milan, while Aldo Serena, Giuseppe Baresi and Walter Zenga were doing their stuff at Inter. And as of the summer of 1988, two ex-Bayern men in Lothar Matthäus and Andreas Brehme were also there.

Hans Dorfner: “I’d always dreamed of a game like this. Firstly, the Giuseppe Meazza – the San Siro, 75,000 spectators, it still sends shivers down my spine. That was motivating. After Lothar's move, I often took his position in midfield. A game like the one against Milan was, of course, an opportunity to prove myself. After all, Lothar was the best teammate I ever had - now he was my competitor. In a direct duel with Lothar Matthäus, I simply had to put in a top performance.”

Olaf Thon: “I already had four years of national team experience at the time of the Inter game. I’d played in Rio, in the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid. But the pressure I felt in this situation, and in this stadium, that was new to me too. Before the game, Jupp Heynckes and Uli Hoeneß gave flaming speeches to motivate us even more. I particularly remember Uli's incendiary speech. He enticed us with a double bonus.”

Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes at the press conference: “We will redeem ourselves and not let our guard down. Inter are not that big a team. If we score an early goal, they'll be trembling.”

Hans Dorfner: “The Italians, voluntarily or involuntarily, then got us even more worked up for the game. We were not allowed to warm up on the pitch before the game. They simply didn't let us on the pitch, but took us to a small gym deep in the San Siro. It was dark and stuffy and not suitable for a proper warm-up programme. No step-ups, no long balls. I was really annoyed and so was the rest of the team. Because of this warm-up, we were also in a completely different rhythm than usual. If they had let us on the pitch, we might have played like we did in the first leg. So we were all the more fired up for the game.”

FC Bayern Hans Dorfner Olaf Thon Inter Milan
Full commitment: Hans Dorfner (left) and Olaf Thon in an aerial duel against an Inter player.

The Giuseppe Meazza was filled to capacity long before kick-off. Fireworks were set off, clouds of smoke drifted through the rows. The fans even set fire to part of the stands. The Bayern game was also a dress rehearsal for the spectators ahead of the following weekend against AC Milan – their most important domestic game of the season. Were the Italians perhaps already thinking about the derby?

Olaf Thon: “The game started really well for us. We didn't let ourselves be surprised. I would even say the opposite. The opponent was surprised by us. We didn't hide. You can count games like that on one hand from a team like Inter Milan.”

Klaus Augenthaler: “I think they had already mentally moved on from this last-16 tie. After all, they had beaten us comfortably in Munich, so they wanted to somehow manage the second leg. And they had the derby against AC Milan was coming up four days after the second leg. Inter's attention was only focused on that fixture, which was to our advantage.”

A short corner on the right of the penalty area in the 33rd minute landed at Stefan Reuter. His cross found the head of the comparatively small Thon between the Italian defenders. Walter Zenga in the Inter goal was able to deflect the header but was powerless against Roland Wohlfarth's follow-up. It was the beginning of a red storm.

Bayern Olaf Thon 1988 goal Inter Milan
Midfielder Olaf Thon was directly involved in the opening goal.

Giuseppe Bergomi, Inter Milan legend: “The game at the San Siro was like a curse. First Brehme got injured early on, then we conceded three goals in a few minutes through Wohlfarth, Augenthaler and Wegmann. I didn't always look good for those goals.”

Olaf Thon: “Fortunately, I didn't run into Lothar Matthäus too often in the game. There was one situation when he chased me. And he was faster than me. That was the same Lothar Matthäus who man-marked Diego Maradona."

But even Matthäus couldn’t save Inter Milan from Bayern that day. In the 37th minute, after a run from Augenthaler, the ball landed with Dorfner, who served Hans Pflügler on the left flank. Pflügler's cross from half-field found Augenthaler's again just 12 yards from goal, and his header found the left-hand corner. Spurred on by drawing level in the tie, Bayern continued to push on, much to the despair of Inter coach Giovanni Trapattoni. Dressed smartly in a beige winter coat, he had to watch with a worried look as his team was caught cold.

After an Inter attack, Norbert Nachtweih cleared on the right to the feet of Johnny Ekström, who let the ball drop to Reuter. Reuter won two duels on the halfway line before the ball landed centrally with Ekström again. With space and good vision, Ekström was able to serve Jürgen Wegmann, who slid the ball past Zenga from 11 yards out.

Lothar Matthäus Raimond Aumann 1988 UEFA Cup Inter Milan Bayern Munich
Two Bayern legends: Lothar Matthäus played for Inter, while Raimond Aumann had the game of his life in the Bayern net.

Tuttosport (newspaper): “A brief earthquake destroyed a monument of Italian football. First Inter lost Brehme, then their heads.”

Corriere dello Sport (newspaper): “All the Germans were in excellent form, except for Matthäus. And he, of all people, played for Inter.“

Hans Dorfner: “But then we conceded this totally unfortunate goal before the break. That gave Milan hope again.”

Klaus Augenthaler: “If Milan had scored another goal, we would’ve been out. We knew what to expect after the restart.”

Olaf Thon: “The defence had to stand firm in the second half. And fortunately it did. Inter put a lot of pressure on us, and they were incredibly dangerous, especially at corners and from set pieces. It was a game of one goal.”

Raimond Aumann 1988 Giuseppe Bergomi Inter Milan Bayern Munich
Raimond ‘The Wall‘ Aumann made a save against Giuseppe Bergomi.

Giuseppe Bergomi: “In the second half, Aumann produced the most incredible saves. One time Lothar Matthäus left six or seven Bayern players standing, took his shot, and Aumann did it again. I still don't know how he saved it”.

Aumann made saves against Morello, Matthäus, Serena. He was the man of the match and was celebrated as "the hero of the San Siro". Bayern won 3-1 to progress to the quarter-finals.

Klaus Augenthaler: “We stayed clever and played for time. The Italians were furious. Even when the game was over, they still wanted to get at us. Giuseppe Bergomi and goalkeeper Walter Zenga even chased me into the dressing room!”

Hans Dorfner: “The game against Inter was one of the greatest, maybe even almost the highlight of my career. It was a special result and I was able to fulfil my dream of playing in front of 75,000 people at the San Siro. I don't talk much about my professional career today and don't talk much about games. But when I do, that night in Milan is always there.”

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