Real Zaragoza's goalkeeper from their famous win over Arsenal regards David Seaman as a hero, rather than a villain
Standing at one end of the Parc des Princes, with the spectre of penalties looming, Andoni Cedrún watched on as his team-mate Mohammed Alí Amar, better known as Nayim, struck the ball high into the Paris night sky.
As the folk song which echoed around the schoolyards would later claim, it was an audacious attempt from the halfway line, but in reality it was just inside Arsenal's half, off to the right near the Real Zaragoza technical area.
Cedrún is a big man, and with hands like shovels. Tall, he makes the loose-fitting jersey of the 1995 final almost look like it was tailored to fit him. Looking back on that game 21 years later, he draws particular attention to the forgotten goal of the final - Juan Esnáider's opener for the team from Aragón.
"From the other end of the pitch, as soon as it left his foot, I knew it was in. Because he hit it with all the characteristic fury of Juan Esnáider."
While that's not the goal that everyone remembers, it is a moment that encapsulates the dynamic of the game quite well. As both Cedrún and Miguel Gay, a journalist who covered the game at the time for the Heraldo de Aragón noted, this was a meeting of two very different visions of the beautiful game.
"Arsenal played a typical British style of football," recounts Gay, who now works as the press officer for Real Zaragoza, "but they had a number of impressive players. David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Ian Wright up front, Martin Keown, Nigel Winterburn - a really brilliant team. It's true that they didn't play in the same way as Zaragoza, but they had won the Cup Winners' Cup the year before."
In the opening minutes, that clash of styles was more than evident. Wright tangled with Zaragoza's Francisco Higuera in the centre circle, the two squaring up to each other and almost coming to blows.
Nayim, who arrived at Zaragoza from Tottenham in 1993, was more than familiar with the Londoners. Once again, he confronted an old rival, and it didn't take long for the contempt that familiarity had bred to show through. John Hartson went in on a late tackle from behind, and dragged his studs down the calf of his opponent, earning the Welshman a very early booking. Nayim and Lee Dixon were at each other's throats for the opening half hour. Absence had not made the heart grow fonder in this case.
When Arsenal got the ball they looked to shift it forward quickly; the plan was to hit Hartson and release Wright. Zaragoza, by contrast, played triangles and moved the ball along the ground, trying to play wide to exploit the space provided by Alberto Belsué's stamina and pace from right back.
The experience of Stewart Houston's side (who took over as caretaker after George Graham was sacked in February) told in the opening period, with the likes of Tony Adams and Paul Merson, who had won the title against Parma one year earlier, helping their team to settle into the game despite Zaragoza's superior technical skill.
Image: Arsenal manager George Graham celebrates with captain Tony Adams (left) and goal scorer Alan Smith (right), after the team paraded the European Cup Winner's Cup through North London. John Stillwell / PA Archive/Press Association Images
No strangers to the big stage, Arsenal began to look comfortable, but for the Spanish side, this was all new territory.
They had been absent from European competition since the 1980s, and just a few years earlier had been fighting for their top flight survival.
A Sporting Project
"There's a before and after to this story," explains Cedrún. "and it all started with a famous game against Murcia to avoid being relegated to the second tier in the 1989/90 season."
As Gay notes, the man in charge of that project was club president Alfonso Soláns Serrano, who took over in 1992. "He just let the sporting directors do their work in collaboration with the manager Víctor Fernández. They created a very competitive squad with first class footballers, a number of whom had come from Real Madrid, like Jesús Ángel Solana, Santiago Aragón, and the captain for the final, Miguel Pardeza," one of the legendary Quinta del Buitre.
That quality was coupled with the experience of those already in the team who suited the project, such as Cedrún, while young players with a hunger to win titles came through the ranks, notably Belsué, who became a Spanish international.
Their fortunes turned around quickly, and from being on the verge of relegation, they were beaten finalists in the final of the Copa del Rey in 1992/93 season. 12 months later, they went one better and claimed the trophy, qualifying them for the Cup Winners' Cup.
Their route to the final started with two games away from home, as Zaragoza were not allowed to use their Romareda stadium. A win against Feyenoord saw them take a trip to England to play Chelsea, giving them a taste of the type of game that awaited them in the final. A 3-0 win at home was almost overturned at Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea scored three times to make things too close for comfort.
"Uff, it was really difficult," recalls Cedrún. "We suffered in that game a lot, and finally a goal from Santi Aragón got us through.
"Chelsea were true proponents of the English style of football, as were Arsenal. Both played with a lot of intensity, pressure, they did everything quickly. They won the ball and then attacked at speed. Their aerial play, both offensively and defensively, was very strong."
That power told in the early stages of the final, as Arsenal created the better chances. Both sides were nervous, and clear-cut opportunities were few and far between. An intervention from Solana was required to stop Wright finding the back of the net before Fernández's side got close to the rhythm of the game.
It became a battle, with tackles from both sides flying in. Keown was bloodied and suffered a nose injury after a clash with Ray Parlour; Esnáider and Adams clashed, with the big Arsenal man gesturing to him after a tackle that he wanted a handshake by way of apology. The Argentine was having none of it.
Image: Arsenal FC's Tony Adams, front, and Real Zaragoza's Juan Eduardo Esnaider look for the ball during the European Cup Winner's Cup final at the Parc Des Princes. Lionel Cironneau / AP/Press Association Images
As stunning as the volleyed opening goal was, it was canceled out shortly afterwards by a far scrappier one from Arsenal. Parlour broke down the right, and cut the ball back to the find Merson thanks to a favourable bounce. He gave it to Hartson, who pulled his shot to the left (by accident or design), catching the defence on the back foot.
With the score level, Fernández gestured from the bench for his players to take a touch, pass the ball and start to move it again. By his side, Jesús Villanueva held a cigarette between his fingers, a picture of calm when it seemed that his team were anything but.
From Hero to Villain
In truth, Arsenal had scarcely deserved that equaliser. A fantastic piece of defending from Belsué denied them on the line, but aside from that the best chances had all come from Zaragoza. The only reason Arsenal were even still in the game was, as Cedrún notes, thanks to the efforts of David Seaman.
In truth, he made at least three brilliant saves. He denied Pardeza a great chance just a few minutes into the second half. Later, a ball across from Belsué found Higuera alone in the middle of the box, and Seaman denied him with a point blank save.
In the first half of extra time, he went full stretch to touch a header from Aguado on to the post and gather the rebound. That save was so good, even Esnáider had to pat him on the back and congratulate him.
Despite all that, Nayim's stunning strike is the moment that decided the game. Perhaps, given that he was drafted in as a substitute for the final in place of injured Juanmi, Cedrún has a somewhat deeper understanding of what Seaman must have gone through.
"In that goal, you can glimpse the destiny of the goalkeeper," he muses. "For me, it was a golazo, but right there is when the goalkeeper can become a hero or a villain. In a game, a player can miss a number of opportunities and score one goal, but a goalkeeper can be brilliant for a whole game, and then in one moment become a villain. That's what happened to Seaman.
"The job of a goalkeeper entails moments like that. As much happiness and joy as I felt in that final, I also knew that what happened to Seaman can happen to any goalkeeper. And that's why it's such a specialised position. It's so difficult.
"You can equally be terrible all game and make two important saves towards the end, or save two or three penalties in a shootout, and you're the hero. Seaman was almost faultless in that final, he was a hero for them. It's how you look at it, really."
A strike from distance in the last minute of extra-time, the goal might have seemed like a fluke, but Gay notes that it was anything but.
Having been at Tottenham for so long, Nayim was familiar with his opponent, he knew the position that Seaman liked to occupy in the box.
"He didn't score that goal by chance," says Gay. "As he explained later, he knew what he was doing. He shot with certainty and with determination. He wanted to shoot from there, knowing how Seaman played and that his single strike of the ball could become a moment of magic, which is exactly what happened.
Where Are They Now?
By Gay's estimate, 16,000 fans of the club traveled to Paris, while back home the entire city of Zaragoza, and to a greater extent Spain as a whole, was captivated by the game and glued to their screens.
He notes that it was the moment that Real Zaragoza "were seen as a club who deserved to be on the European stage. All the outlets here in Spain recognised them as such, and it earned the team the admiration of the international press too."
The spirit of that night, and the goodwill felt towards the club has never been lost, claims Gay, but things haven't reached the heights of that night in Paris again. Great players have come through the ranks or joined the team since, hoping to bring glory back to Aragón, such as Diego Milito, or Pablo Aimar.
Image: Ross Kinnaird / EMPICS Sport
As David Seaman knows all too well, what goes up must come down, but Zaragoza fans are hoping that more magical moments, like Nayim's bolt from the blue that dropped out of the sky in the Parc des Princes, await them in the future.
"This city, and the name on the crest of Real Zaragoza, deserves to be in the top tier. La Liga is waiting for us. At the moment we're suffering, suffering in a dark place," says Cedrún. "But I believe we're starting to rear our heads again to try and touch that sky once more."
Still, we'll always have Paris...