The planning to reach the European throne started at Marakana in mid 80s. Red Star had been achieving highly satisfactory results in European competitions in the previous two decades, putting together a team of players from its own junior school of football and occasionally bringing young and talented footballers from smaller, mainly Serbian clubs. The pair Džajić-Cvetković decided to take a different route, and engage the best players in the national market and thus create a team which would be capable of competing on a continental level straight away, and would, in a few seasons, become a candidate for European trophies.
The first step in the new direction was taken in the summer of 1986, when Red Star engaged two players from the team Dinamo from Zagreb – Bora Cvetković and Milivoj Bračun, and also the great talent of Yugoslavian football, Dragan Stojković from Radnički Niš. A year later, Dragiša Binić also followed in Piksi's footsteps, and together with Cvetković, he forms the fastest attack pair in Europe. Dinamo was left without another, the most talented player, Robert Prosinečki. Until the summer of 1988 the remainder of the highest quality players was wearing the red and white uniform: Dejan Savić and Darko Pančev. With some adjustments, the team would be ready for reaching the highest football heights.
Even though every year they changed coaches, Red Star managed to maintain the game style based on fast strikers and high quality midfielders, and the chance to eliminate the strongest team in that period, Milan, on the first attempt, was missed by little. During that season (1988/1999), our team lost the National Championship Title in a duel with Vojvodina (which would be of great importance in the future), so the second attempt to conquer Europe concentrated on the UEFA Cup. December 6th 1989 is one of the key dates on Red Star's journey to Bari and Tokyo – that's the day when brilliant team led by Šekularac suffered a terrible defeat in China and was eliminated in the third round of the UEFA Cup, thus learning the hard way the key lesson of football competing.
Favorable events continued to add up – Mile Belodedić spent the whole year on the team, perfecting the game on practice, but it wasn't until spring 1990 that he could play with the team. Šekularac is substituted by Ljupko Petrović, the man who took the National Title from the Red Star to Novi Sad. During the previous season, Petrović had coached Rad and collaborated with Red Star's junior player Vlada Jugović, a great talent with completely new characteristics for Serbian standards and the man who will push the limits of running abilities.
The club was seriously weakened by the captain Stojković's departure. He was, beyond any doubt one of the world's best players that year, which he confirmed in the World Championship in Italy. Piksi left Marakana for Marseille, without imagining that he would meet up with his ex club mates the following May. Even though they lost their captain, Red Star remained extremely strong, with every position occupied by an excellent player.
The scene was set in such a manner that Red Star won easily the second last title of the Champion of whole Yugoslavia, and the time had come for the minutely gathered team to prove itself on the most prestigious scene. There were no more excuses, even if the political situation hadn't been imposing some rush on Petrović and the players, every year the opportunity was missed would've brought uncertainty because the possibility of other players leaving the team through a huge transfer was rising with every year that went by.
Historical circumstances favored Red Star – the Champion of the best European league that year was the more than average team of Napoli, and the English Champion Liverpool was still suspended because of Heysel, which reduced the world-class opponent list to the team defending the Trophy, Milan, Real Madrid, Bayern from Munich and extremely powerful and ambitious Marseille. With some luck in the draw Red Star was expected to be able to reach the European Cup semi-finals, for the first time after 20 years, and anything was possible there.
Back in the days, Red Star was the club who had had by far most success in European competitions in the Balkans and the whole Eastern Europe region. Since the second European Cup semi-finals, when they were defeated by Fiorentina, our club stayed in European competitions until the spring time and reached the semi finals in all three European competitions six times. In the Eternal UEFA List, Red Star was very stable among the first 15 clubs, and according to the number of participations in European Cups it was outnumbered only by Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The team set by the draw set as the first Red Star’s opponent was the not so amusing Swiss Grasshopper, led by well-known Ottmar Hitzfeld (who had been defeated at Marakana for years earlier with the team Aarau); alongside at that moment still anonymous Alain Sutter and Ciriaco Sforza. The grasshoppers shocked the Marakana stadium with the leading goal scored by Peter Közle, nut Dragiša Binić, who had returned to the club that year after two years of playing in the West, managed to even the score. After 1:1 many Red Star fans were afraid of having to say good-bye to Europe during the autumn.
The return match at Hardturm stadium showed the real abilities of Petrović’s team. Prosinečki, started a series of scores in the European Cup, by netting the rival two times, while two more scores were gained by Pančev and Radinović. Therefore, another Közle’s goal didn’t upset anyone.
The second round provided a real spectacle at Marakana Stadium, because Glasgow Rangers were visiting Belgrade, with Walter Smith among their team. The Scottish champion wanted a good result on that October 24th, but the overcrowded Marakana with its supporters, inspired Red Star players to perform another magnificent match, during which chances at Chris Wood’s goal came one after another. Within minutes, in addition to Brown scoring an own goal, Prosinečki’s free-kick score doubled the advantage. Finally, Pančev provided a definite 3-0 result which led to an outburst of joy.
During the return match at Ibrox Park, Pančev (known as Cobra) punished the rival again by using the attractive scissors-technique, after which the legendary McCoist was only able to even the result. The only bad thing about this double round with the Scottish team was that the captain Stevan Stojanović got injured, but Red Star had at that point secured a European spring, so there was enough time for Dika to recover from the injury.
In the third round the Red Star team, enhanced by Siniša Mihajlović, who was paid a million Deutsche marks, starts its German tour, against the opponent who was the last DDR Champion, Dynamo Dresden. The Saxon team was by far the easiest possible rival in the quarter-finals, where Marseille played against Milan, Bayern against Porto and Real against Spartak. The situation at Marakana quite the same as in October: the opponent was run down and sent back home with the final score 3:0, even Prosinečki’s free-kick scored again, and Binić and Savićević won the rest of the points.
The Dresden match had a bad beginning, a penalty shot for the host after only two minutes and a goal by Torsten Gütschow. However, a difference in game quality was soon noticed - Savićević and Pančev managed to turn the result around. The match was stopped in the 78th minute by the referee, due to an incident caused by the violent Dresden fans. UEFA awarded a 3–0 win to Red Star, and Red Star reached the European Cup semifinal for the third time in history.
The doors to the Trophy kept on opening – Marseille eliminated the official Champion, Milan and Real Madrid, which had scored 21 goals during the autumn in matches against Odense and Tyrol, was defeated after a disastrous encounter with Spartak. The last semi-finalist was Bayern, after its Victory in Porto.
The Bavarians had scored five victories in six matches, but none of the rivals were nearly as strong as Red Star. Although Red Star experience with Bayern was bad, (two sequential losses a decade earlier), the club was dominated by optimism, mostly outspread by traditionally moderately optimistic Dragan Džajić, who had announced a victory in Munich.
Roland Wohlfahrt’s score only temporarily gave the Bavarians the advantage, and this was the very player who will approach the top of the tragic list two weeks later. Red Star took the initiative at Olympic stadium.
Just before the half-time break, Prosinečki passed the ball to Binić, a quick run and a cross at the last goal-post followed, in addition, Darko Pančev accepted the ball – the result was 1-1.
At the beginning of the second half-time, Effenberg (who would cry for a long time inconsolably at Marakana, while the exhilarated fans would run all around him) loses a ball. Pančev served Savićević perfectly, he ran from centre to the penalty area, and was untouchable for Jurgen Kohler and Aumann is powerless- the result was 1:2. Unseen before, 15.000 Red Star fans on the North tribune went delirious.
And it was just the beginning. Fourteen days later everything went perfectly in the first half-time – Mihajlović outsmarted Aumann through a free-kick and Red Star gained a two-goal advantage.
Agony started when Augenthaler’s free-kick went through Stojanović’s arms and legs. Feet went cold, and five minutes later, Manfred Bender scored for a 1-2 result. Bayern evened the result and didn’t intend to stop there. In the last 30 minutes, chances came in a row in front of both goals, and Red Star’s destiny was on a razor’s edge – if Bayern was to score another goal, our team would need two scores to make it to the finals.
At that moment, luck was entirely on Red Star’s side: the first match scorer, the scorer in the first match, Wohlfahrt hits the goal-post and the ball returns just between two well-placed Bayern players. Then came the historical moment, Jugović conducted the ball along the diagonal and double-passed with Pančev. Prosinečki took over the ball, passed through the left side of the field and returned the ball to Mihajlović, after whose low cross Augenthaler clumsily starts off, Pančev confused Aumann, and – the sky opened up, the stadium exploded...
That’s when operation Bari starts. Ljupko Petrović takes the team to Italy a week before the finals so that they can prepare for the match with Olympique from Marseille with calm. Red Star had scored 18 goals in 8 matches up to that moment; the French Champion had scored 20, so the 100th European Cup Final was preannounced as a spectacle of offense. But, with the Trophy near-at –hand, both Petrović and Raymond Goethals opt for defense strategies.
after 120 of playing and just a few chances on both sides, the final decision was made through penalty shootout.
Prosinečki hit Olmeta’s net by a right medium-high-kick, while Stojanović defended Red Star goal from Amoros’ kick by bouncing to the right, during the first series. It turned out later that this was the crucial point of the game. Then came the scores, in the following order: Binić (just like Prosinečki), Bernard Casoni (restrained, into the right small net), Belodedić (sliding on the ground, into the very left angle), Papin (the same direction, a bit stronger and higher than Belodedić), Mihajlović (lower right, after digging up a significant amount of dirt) and Mozer (very elegantly, into the right angle).
A chance to triumph was given to Darko Pančev, the winner of the European Golden Boot – he aimed near the centre of the goal, kicked the ball hard, caught Olmeta out of step, enough for the biggest joy in the history of the club. Twenty thousand fans on Saint Nicola’s stadium and millions all over Serbia and the world got the most beautiful present.