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Tournament of all-time greatest club teams: Part II, Group C and D


Editor's note: This is Part 2 of a four-part imaginary tournament between 16 of the all-time greatest club teams in soccer history. Part 1 can be found here.

THE IDEA: Is the present Barcelona side the best team ever? The debate feels futile: this side was great going forward; this side was great at the back; this side had so many great individuals it was impossible to stop them scoring; this side was so good defensively it could stop anybody from scoring. So let's add a structure; let's design a tournament in which the best sides can compete against each other, analyzing virtual games between the best teams there have ever been. It's guesswork, of course, but at least it's educated guess work.

THE FORMAT: It was decided to admit only post-World War II clubs sides, and that each club was permitted only one entrant. This is partly because these are the sides for which information is most readily available, and partly to try to prevent any one player appearing for two different teams. To an extent the 16 is arbitrary -- certainly Millinarios '49, Benfica '62 and Boca Juniors '78 can feel a little unfortunate to have missed out, and there are those who would argue for, say, Liverpool '77 over Liverpool '84.

THE RULES: The teams were randomly drawn into four groups, each team playing each of the others once, the top two from each group to qualify for quarterfinals. The games are arranged AvB, CvD; BvC, DvA; AvC, BvD; the first named team is the "home" side and plays not merely in its own stadium but under the rules of its era. Groups as follows:

GROUP A -- River Plate '42, Ajax '72, Flamengo '81, AC Milan '89

GROUP B -- Barcelona '11, Santos '62, Honved '54, Manchester Utd '99

GROUP C -- Penarol '61, Independiente '74, Dynamo Kyiv '86, Bayern '74

GROUP D -- Inter '65, Real Madrid '60, Estudiantes '68, Liverpool '84

Penarol '61 -- The first great side of the Libertadores, Roberto Scarone's side won the first two editions of the tournament in 1960 and 1961, playing fluid but tough football. Only defeat in the final to Santos -- in a replay -- denied them a third straight success.

Independiente '74 -- With the fabled understanding between Ricardo Bochini and Daniel Bertoni, Independiente dominated Argentine soccer and won four successive Copa Libertadores between 1972 and 1975.

Dynamo Kyiv '86 -- Dynamo may not have won the European Cup, but this was the apogee of Valery Lobanovskyi's football, a team that playing a neat, precise, hard-pressing style won a second successive Soviet title and was ruthless on its way to the Cup-Winners' Cup, winning every home leg by at least three goals.

Bayern Munich '74 -- Bayern succeeded Ajax as Europe's best team, its interpretation of Total Football, orchestrated by Franz Beckenbauer, taking it to three successive European Cups. As in the Dutch version, players interchanged positions almost at will, but there was no hard press, no high offside line. Six of the '74 side went on to win the World Cup with West Germany.

Here's how the games played out:

Penarol 0, Independiente 0 -- Group C began with a Platense derby, but the drama of the game rarely lived up to the atmosphere at the Centenario. Independiente's central midfield three quickly came to dominate Penarol's two, with Alejandro Semenewicz dominating Ernesto Ledesma as he tried to drop off the front line. The home side only occasionally got the ball wide to Juan Joya and Luis Cubilla, while the prolific inside-forward Alberto Spencer was starved of possession. For its part Independiente offered little, with Ricardo Bochini showing only glimpses of his creativity.

Dynamo Kyiv 1, Bayern Munich 1 -- A fascinating clash of two fluid styles, between the hard-pressing of Dynamo and the more languid, possession-based approach of Bayern. Both sweepers, Serhiy Baltacha and Franz Beckenbauer strode purposefully forward, while it quickly became apparent that the clash between Paul Breitner, accelerating forward from left back and Dynamo's right-sided midfielder Ivan Yaremchuk would be key. It was a Breitner charge 11 minutes into the second half that led to the opener, as he drew Volodymyr Bezsonov and then slipped in Franz Roth to cross for Gerd Muller. However, Dynamo's constant harrying eventually paid off and Vasil Rats found a pocket of space on the left to lay in Oleh Blokhin to level with two minutes remaining.

Independiente 3, Dynamo Kyiv 1 -- In Avellaneda, Independiente was superb, inspired by Bochini. Dynamo pressed with its usual ferocity, but with Daniel Bertoni and Austin Balbuena wide on the flanks and the short stocky Bochini dropping deep to create the play, it struggled to cut off Independiente's angles. The first goal stemmed from the almost telepathic understanding between Bochini and Bertoni, the playmaker turning rapidly and playing a ball inside Anatoliy Demyanenko for Bertoni to run on. Baltacha moved to close him down, but that just left Balbuena free to score. A Bochini curler from just outside the box made it 2-0 just before halftime. Ihor Belanov pulled one back after Ricardo Pavoni had been caught in possession, but another well-timed pass from Bochini laid in Bertoni to settle the game.

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Bayern Munich 3, Penarol 0 -- Penarol simply couldn't cope in midfield. Already overmanned three-to-two in the center, the forward movement of Beckenbauer and the two fullbacks made the task of Edgardo Gonzalez and Walter Aguerre impossible. The game was settled by three goals in 12 first-half minutes. First Muller pounced after a long-range drive from Georg Schwarzenback had been parried by Luis Maidana. Then Uli Hoeness clipped in a low strike from the edge of the box after fine approach play from Jupp Kapellmann. And Muller added his third of the tournament from the penalty spot after being sent sprawling by Roberto Matosas.

Penarol 0, Dynamo Kyiv 2 -- Penarol's old-fashioned style was exposed again by ruthless opponents. Gifted as its forwards were, Penarol simply couldn't get the ball, and when it did it tended to fall foul of Dynamo's rigorous offside trap. Pavlo Yakovenko and Oleksandr Zavarov reveled in the space they were offered in central areas, as they wore Penarol down with pass after pass. It looked as though, for all Dynamo's dominance, it might go in level at halftime when Rats broke the deadlock with a spectacular angled drive, and Blokhin laid in Belanov for the second as Penarol overcommitted in search of an equalizer late on.

Independiente 1, Bayern Munich 1 -- This was an enthralling, aesthetically pleasing game between two sides committed to working the ball in search of an opening. The use of Semenewicz to check Beckenbauer's forward runs unsettled Bayern, but it was the visitors who went ahead on 20 minutes, Muller again capitalizing after a defensive lapse from Ricardo Pavoni. Patient approach play got Independiente back into it, though, Balbuena clipping in a neat angled finish as he cut inside onto a Ruben Galvan through ball.

Inter ' 65 -- Inter was the king of catenaccio, but Helenio Herrera's Inter wasn't as crushingly negative as is often believed. Giacinto Facchetti was a pioneering attacking left back, and Sandro Mazzola and Luis Suarez creators of great ability. Three scudetti and two European Cups in four years tells its own story.

Real Madrid '60 -- Certain performances remain indelible: Madrid's fifth successive European Cup was won with perhaps its greatest display, a 7-3 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt at Hampden Park that influenced an entire generation who watched it. This was Alfredo di Stefano, Paco Gento and Ferenc Puskas (the only man to appear for two sides in this tournament) at their peak.

Estudiantes '68 -- Great football wasn't always nice. Osvaldo Zubeldia's side could play, but they also specialized in the dark arts, with opponents accusing them of jabbing them with pins and winding them up with highly personalized insults. It was effective, though, as three successive Copa Libertadores proves.

Liverpool '84 -- A fourth European Cup in seven years, and a seventh league title in nine (not to mention a third straight League Cup). Joe Fagan's first season in charge of Liverpool could hardly have been more successful, but he, of course, was only the custodian of the tradition ignited by Bill Shankly and nurtured by Bob Paisley and passed on to Kenny Dalglish.

How the games played out:

Inter 0, Real Madrid 0 -- It promised so much, but it delivered so little. For all Helenio Herrera's bluster about his side not being defensive, it contented themselves with frustrating Madrid. When the visitors had the ball, it packed men behind it, and when Inter won it back, Madrid, without natural ball-winning capacity struggled to get it back. With Jair neutralizing Paco Gento and Canario and Giacinto Facchetti effectively canceling each other out, there wasn't even any room on the flanks.

Estudiantes 0, Liverpool 1 -- An ugly, bad-tempered game, in which Liverpool prevailed by keeping its calm in the face of severe provocation. Only when Graeme Souness flattened Carlos Bilardo with a ferocious foul just before halftime did Liverpool threaten to lose its discipline, but the refereeing standards of 1968 ensured the Scot got away without even a caution. Phil Neal negated Juan Ramon Veron, but the real key to an impressive away win was Liverpool's patience in possession, Souness, Sammy Lee and Ronnie Whelan calmly rotating the ball, until a chance finally presented itself 14 minutes from time, Ian Rush sweeping in from close range as Estudiante failed to clear a corner.

Liverpool 2, Inter 0 -- Liverpool perhaps felt it owed Herrera's Inter after its controversial defeat to Inter in the 1965 European Cup semifinal. Now, as then, Inter wilted at Anfield, its defensiveness simply drawing Liverpool on to it, with Craig Johnston doing a fine job of pinning Facchetti back and thus denying Inter an outlet. Both Liverpool goals came down the left, Whelan getting behind Jair and combining with Dalglish to slip a pass inside for Rush, who turned smartly and hooked a shot into the corner. Dalglish then added the second just after halftime, stroking a precise finish just inside the post as Rush laid Lee's pass back into his path.

Real Madrid 2, Estudiantes 1 -- Estudiantes set out to rile Madrid, Alfredo Di Stefano in particular, but at Chamartin the home crowd proved the more significant factor. Although Estudiantes took a shock lead after 19 minutes, Veron heading in a left-wing corner, Madrid never looked unduly ruffled, its smooth passing at times making its opponents look sluggish. Gento laid in Di Stefano to beat Alberto Poletti at his near post just before halftime, and Puskas got the winner just after the hour, taking Del Sol's pass, jinking on to his left foot and rattling a fierce drive in off the post.

Inter 2, Estudiantes 0 -- It was a brutal game, and but for lenient refereeing, Estu's Carlos Pachame wouldn't have been the only man sent off, dismissed for throwing a punch at Gianfranco Bedin in a melee in injury time. Bedin, it seemed, had reacted to a provocation from Bilardo, grabbing his shirt to provoke the brawl. Poor challenges flew in from the start, but it was Mazzola, aloof from the fray, who put Inter ahead after seven minutes, calmly sidestepping Polletti and rolling into an empty net. That forced Estudiantes to attack, and the second came just after halftime, Facchetti dispossessing Felipe Ribaudo, exchanging passes with Mario Corso, and laying in Luis Suarez to secure Inter's passage to the last eight.

Real Madrid 3, Liverpool 1 -- Liverpool's patient approach for once came unstuck, simply encouraging Madrid onto it. Possession was almost equally shared, but Madrid looked far more dangerous with it, and it took the lead just before halftime, Puskas bisecting Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson with a deliciously-weighted pass and letting in Di Stefano to score. An equalizer early in the second half, volleyed in spectacularly by Lee, gave Liverpool only brief respite and two goals from Puskas, a neat close-range volley from Gento's cross and a tap in after Bruce Grobbelaar had parried a Di Stefano drive, ensured Madrid would top the group.

Through to the quarterfinals:

Ajax '72Milan '89Barcelona '11Santos '62Bayern '74Independiente '74Real Madrid '60Liverpool '84

Jonathan Wilson is the author of Inverting the Pyramid; Behind the Curtain; Sunderland: A Club Transformed; and The Anatomy of England. Editor ofThe Blizzard.