It’s unlikely that Steaua Bucharest will ever make the Champions League final.
In the modern game, power and wealth are concentrated on western Europe and by the same token in post-communist eastern Europe there are fewer examples of a favoured establishment club being able to operate as a quasi-national team, pilfering their opponents’ best players.
Steaua were last in the Champions League group stage in 2013-14, and before that it was 2008-09, but in a four-year spell at the end of the 1980s they reached two European Cup finals as well as making a semi-final appearance.
Their 1984 domestic league title was actually their first since 1978 but it paved the way for a five-in-a-row and every member of the starting team – and quite a few reserves – was a past, present or future Romanian international. While they had never previously made it past the first round of the European Cup, that duck was broken in 1985-86 as they beat Vejle of Denmark, Hungary’s Honvéd, Kuusysi Lahti (Finland) and Anderlecht of Belgium to make it all the way to the final.
However, their opponents Barcelona – managed by Terry Venables – were strong favourites to win the competition for the first time, having beaten Sparta Prague, Porto, Juventus and Gothenburg on the way to the Seville decider.
In Steaua’s first season, 1947-48, they had worn the Romanian colours in a kit of red and yellow striped shirts with blue shorts but the yellow was phased out and red became the first choice, accented in blue. That meant a colour-clash for the final and Uefa decreed that both sides should change – the only previous time that had happened in a European Cup decider was when Manchester United beat Benfica in 1968.
Blue tended to be Steaua’s change-kit colour but that was also the case for Barcelona. While they were five years into a 16-year stretch where they would not need to wear a second strip in the league, they did often have to change in Europe and they were clad in the light blue shirts that had been used away to Sparta Prague. A patriotic yellow might have been an option for Steaua, but instead they wore white for the first time in their history – an uncrested version of the adidas ‘Aberdeen’ template (though never worn by Aberdeen during their time with the German firm).
One quirk is that both sides had shorts with pockets – Steaua on the back and Barcelona on the front.
After a scoreless draw, the game went to penalties and Steaua goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam was the hero in the shootout as Barcelona failed to score any of their four, 2-0 the score on spot-kicks.
While Steaua’s defence of the title ended in the 1986-87 second round as Anderlecht exacted revenge, they made it to the 1987-88 semi-finals, losing out to Benfica. Then, in 1988-89, they were back in the final after seeing off Sparta Prague, Spartak Moscow, Gothenburg and Galatasaray. Once more, a continental power opposed them, though Milan’s 1987-88 Serie A win was their first since 1979 and it was their first European final since losing the 1974 Cup Winners’ Cup decider to Germany’s Magdeburg.
Again, there was a kit-clash and again both sides had to change for the game in Barcelona. However, this time, with Milan opting for all-white – though different to their usual change kit, setting a pattern for finals that would last until the mid-1990s – it was Steaua in blue, the Aberdeen template again used. A crest was now present though the red numbers were questionable, with their legibility affected as sweat darkened the blue of the shirt as the game went on.
With lighter blue shorts and socks, Steaua were in effect the opposite of how Barcelona had looked in 1986, perhaps hoping to ensure that they would score all of their penalties if a shootout was needed. Unfortunately for them, there was no question of it getting that far as two goals each from Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit gave Milan a convincing 4-0 win.