Torino, Mondonico and the UEFA Cup That Nearly Was

The remarkable story of Torino and their journey to the UEFA cup final of 1991/92 surprisingly begins in Serie B.

Il Toro started the 1989/90 season in Italy’s second tier of professional football and after a hard fought campaign became Serie B champions. Coached by Eugenio Fascetti, the team finished ahead of Pisa by just two points and returned to the promise land of Serie A.

For the up coming campaign Fascetti was replaced by former player Emiliano Mondonico, who was charged with the modest aim of keeping the Granata in the division. Mondonico surpassed all expectations however and to the delight of Torino fans, even finished above city rivals Juventus securing a UEFA cup berth for the 1991/92 season.

So with a nucleus of home grown talent, Toro embarked upon a remarkable and ultimately controversial European campaign. All ties throughout the competition were two legged home and away affairs and Torino started their European adventure away at Icelandic side KR Reykjavik. A two goals to nil win for the Italian side was then followed up by a convincing 6-1 demolition back in Turin including two goals from Belgium midfielder Enzo Scifo.

Next up was Portugese side Boavista and after a 2-0 home win Toro went to Portugal and secured a 0-0 draw. The first sign of controversy appeared as Torino goalkeeper Luca Marchegiani was abused for almost the entire game after his clash with Boavista midfielder Marlon Brandao in the first leg. Despite this, Marchegiani (who temporarily became the world’s most expensive goalkeeper when he moved from Torino to Lazio for £6m) kept a clean sheet as the Turin side progressed.

The third round and a visit to Greece awaited as the Granata took on AEK Athens. Despite falling behind to a Daniel Batista goal Toro hit back to take the lead with two goals in three minutes thanks to Wálter Casagrande and Giorgio Bresciani. But with time running out AEK levelled the game with a goal from Refik Šabanadžović to leave the tie perfectly poised after the first leg. Back in Turin, Casagrande scored his second goal of the tie allowing the Italian side to edge through courtesy of a 3-2 aggregate win.

The quarter final draw was kind to Torino as they were drawn against Danish side Boldklubben 1903. Casagrande continued his rich vein of goal scoring form as he and Roberto Policano got on the score sheet in a valuable two goal away win. The Danes proved to be no trouble in Turin and an Ivan Nielsen own goal saw Toro progress comfortably. The semi-finals awaited.

With two Italian sides in the last four, an all Italian final was on the cards. But the Serie A duo were in the presence of European elite. Torino were paired with Spanish giants Real Madrid whilst the other remaining Italian side, Genoa, faced Dutch side Ajax. Under coach Louis Van Gaal, the Amsterdam side were reinvigorated and returning to former glories and they duly dispatched Genoa 4-3 over the two legs.

Torino, who only three seasons back had played in stadiums such as Como’s Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia and Monza’s Stadio Brianteo, now travelled to the legendary Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid to play their semi-final first leg in front of over 90,000 fans.

A tight and tense affair left the first half goalless but after 58-minutes Wálter Casagrande gave the Turin side a shock lead continuing both his and the teams fine form in the competition. Real didn’t take long to respond and just two minutes later Romanian legend Gheorghe Hagi levelled before a Fernando Hierro goal completed the come-back. The game finished 2-1 leaving Toro with the mammoth task of having to beat Madrid in Turin.

On the 15th of April, 1992, history beckoned for the men from Turin as Los Blancos stood in their way of a place in the UEFA Cup final. The stakes were raised early in the game when Madrid defender Ricardo Rocha put the ball into his own net after just seven minutes. Balancing defence with attack Torino pushed to find a winning goal. It came with 15-minutes remaining when the talented midfielder Luca Fusi scored to earn Torino one of the most famous victories in their long and illustrious history.

A Final to Remember

 The two legged final began in Turin and Torino, perhaps suffering from the occasion, fell behind to an early Wim Jonk goal. But the ever dependable Casagrande soon levelled proceedings only for Ajax to re-take the lead via the penalty spot. Not to be out done, in the 86th-minute Casagrande continued his remarkable UEFA cup campaign by netting his sixth goal of the competition. Toro would travel to Amsterdam level but the Dutch side held the advantage with two away goals.

The second leg in Amsterdam produced controversy and perhaps one of the most iconic images in UEFA cup history. Desperately pushing for a goal, Torino had hit the woodwork three times before Roberto Cravero looked to have been fouled in the Ajax penalty area. However referee Zoran Petrović was unmoved and failed to award the Italians a spot kick. The decision left coach Emiliano Mondonico exasperated. In way of protest, the Italian coach lifted his chair above his head, frantically gesticulating towards the officials but to no avail and after a goalless second leg the Dutch side won on away goals.

Despite the disappointment of losing out in the final, Torino went on to finish third in Serie A, again qualifying for the UEFA cup. Unfortunately for Toro fans however, the controversial final against Ajax was the closest the club has ever come to winning a European competition.

Words by Mark Neale: @neale_mark