Part two of the feature series sees Chelsea secure their second major European trophy in an unforgettable campaign

Welcome back to ‘The Countdown to Baku’ – looking back at our successful campaigns in European football. In the first part, we saw Chelsea win their first ever European trophy by winning the 1970-71 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, beating the mighty Real Madrid in the final.

In the second part of this feature series, Chelsea endured snow blizzards in Norway, hostile crowds in Spain and an unforgettable comeback at Stamford Bridge – which all lead to a night to remember in Stockholm.

So let’s continue with part two – the 1997-98 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup campaign.

Team photo of the 1997-98 Chelsea first-team squad

HOW THE CLUB QUALIFIED

Chelsea qualified for the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup by beating Middlesbrough 2-0 in the FA Cup Final. Goals from Robbie Di Matteo and Eddie Newton helped the Blues capture their second FA Cup and the first major trophy for the club in 27 years – the last one being the 1970-71 Cup Winners’ Cup.

Robbie Di Matteo scoring after just 42 seconds in Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Middlesbrough in the 1997 FA Cup Final (Photo – Guardian)

FIRST ROUND
vs Slovan Bratislava (Chelsea won 4-0 on Agg.)

Chelsea started off their European campaign and quest for a second Cup Winners’ Cup trophy against the Slovakian side Slovan Bratislava.

The Blues won the first leg with a comfortable 2-0 victory with goals from Robbie Di Matteo and Danny Granville and went into the reversed fixture in Slovakia in complete control.

In the second leg, Ruud Gullit’s men made sure of progressing to the second round with another comfortable 2-0 victory as goals from Gianluca Vialli and Di Matteo once again allowed Chelsea to win the tie overall 4-0 on aggregate.

Scores & Scorers:
• 1st Leg – 2-0 (Di Matteo 6′, Granville 80′)
• 2nd Leg – 2-0 (Vialli 27′, Di Matteo 60′)

SECOND ROUND
vs Tromsø (Chelsea won 9-4 on Agg.)

Chelsea progress past Slovan Bratislava made it so that the Blues would come up against the relatively unknown Norwegian side Tromsø in the second round. After their encounter however, Tromsø became very memorable for reasons you would never expect.

Chelsea were braced for the cold when they travelled to Norway for the first leg, but there was no way of preparing themselves for the blizzard that swept into the Alfheim Stadion midway through the match. Much to Chelsea’s annoyance, the officials ignored their appeals to abandon the game when the snow carpeted the bobbly pitch.

They were already trailing 2-0 thanks in part to an Ed de Goey howler, but luckily the authorities had a secret weapon: an orange ball. A brace from Gianluca Vialli meant that Chelsea came away with a 3-2 defeat, but with two crucial away goals.

To say Gullit and the team were furious that the match was allowed to continue and the result in general was a huge understatement.

And that frustration clearly showed back at Stamford Bridge two weeks later…

In the second leg, Chelsea didn’t just win, they obliterated their opponents. Goals from Dan Petrescu, Gianfranco Zola, Frank Leboeuf and a hat-trick from Vialli lead to a 7-1 win on the night and a spectacular way to show your progression into the next round.

From the depths of snow hell in Norway, things were about to get a lot more hotter (& hostile) on the streets of Seville.

Scores & Scorers:
• 1st Leg – 2-3 (Nilsen 6′, Fermann 19′, Årst 86′ ; Vialli 85′, 90′)
• 2nd Leg – 7-1 (Petrescu 12′, 85′, Vialli 24′, 60′, 75′, Zola, 43′ Leboeuf 54′ (pen) ; Johansen 39′)

QUARTER-FINAL
vs Real Betis (Chelsea won 5-2 on Agg.)

Up next for Chelsea in the Quarter-Finals were the Spanish side Real Betis, easily the toughest opponent the Blues were paired off in the tournament so far.

Well, on paper at least. In a very atmospheric and hostile Estadio Benito Villamarín, Chelsea took the game to Betis in their own backyard and came away with a brilliant 2-1 victory thanks to an early brace from Tore André Flo.

In the second leg, Chelsea, went behind early to a Finidi George goal for Betis to level the score on aggregate (although Chelsea still lead via away goals), before goals from Frank Sinclair, Di Matteo and Zola gave Chelsea a 3-1 win on the night and a 5-2 aggregate win overall in the tie.

Scores & Scorers:
• 1st Leg – 2-1 (Alfonso 46′ ; Flo 7′, 12′)
• 2nd Leg – 3-1 (Sinclair 30′, Di Matteo 50′, Zola 90′ ; George 20′)

SEMI-FINAL
vs Vicenza (Chelsea won 3-2 on Agg.)

After the brilliance in Betis, Vicenza stood in Chelsea’s way of reaching their second Cup Winners’ Cup Final (& European final overall). And this tie turned to be an unforgettable classic.

In a very tense and nervy affair in Italy, Vicenza secured a cagey 1-0 win thanks to Lamberto Zauli’s winner early on. Chelsea were unable to get a valuable away goal and when the Blues returned to Stamford Bridge, it nearly came back to haunt them.

With the home crowd creating a raucous atmosphere, you could hear a pin drop when Pasquale Luiso scored in the first half-hour to put Vicenza in the lead on the night and 2-0 up on aggregate. Chelsea now needed three goals to make the final. Another ‘amazing European night’ at SW6 was about to begin.

Gustavo Poyet – who had only returned from a serious cruciate knee ligament injury that had him sidelined for six months – scored within two minutes of Luiso’s opener and gave Chelsea hope going into the second half.

Within five minutes of the restart, Zola scored a rare header to put the hosts 2-1 up on the night, but still trailing on away goals. Then with fourteen minutes left, Mark Hughes wrote himself into Chelsea history.

The veteran Welshman came off the bench, thundering home a spectacular left-foot volley into the bottom far corner to give the Blues a crucial third goal, helping Chelsea get a 3-1 win – winning 3-2 overall on aggregate – and complete one of the best comebacks in the club’s history.

Scores & Scorers:
• 1st Leg – 0-1 (Zauli 16′)
• 2nd Leg – 3-1 (Poyet 34′, Zola 50′, Hughes 76′ ; Luiso 32′)

FINAL
vs VfB Stuttgart (1-0, Zola 71′)

With Chelsea reaching only their second European final, Bundesliga side VfB Stuttgart stood in their way from becoming a two-time Cup Winners’ Cup winner.

With the match being played at the Råsunda Stadium in Stockholm, the match proved to be a difficult one for all players due to the poor condition of the pitch and wastefulness of both teams, most notably in the first half.

Then with twenty minutes left to go in the second, Gianfranco Zola – who was nursing a injury and clearly not 100% fit – came on for Flo and within thirty seconds, became the hero.

Initially losing the ball just inside the Stuttgart half, Zola carried on running up the pitch and got onto the end of Dennis Wise’s clipped ball. And when Zola found space in the penalty area, with goalkeeper Franz Wohlfahrt quickly coming off his line, the Italian unleashed a right-footed missile into the roof of the net.

Despite Petrescu getting sent off late on, Chelsea held on for a 1-0 victory and win their second European trophy.

Zola’s winner instantly became an unforgettable moment for the Chelsea supporters and helped go a long way towards making the diminutive forward become a club legend and one of the greatest players to ever play for Chelsea.

UEFA SUPER CUP
vs Real Madrid (1-0, Poyet 83′)

Only months after beating Stuttgart, with the amazing night in Stockholm still fresh in the memory of everyone connected to the club, Chelsea would compete in their very first UEFA Super Cup fixture against the current Champions League winners Real Madrid.

The match against the seven-time European Cup/Champions League winners was seen as arguably the biggest game in the club’s history, with it being seen as a true test as to how far Gianluca Vialli’s side had come along since he took over from Ruud Gullit six months earlier.

Contested for the first time since its permanent move to the Stade Louis II – home of Ligue 1 side AS Monaco – the Super Cup was now a one-off match, a change to the traditional two-legged format, and acted as the curtain-raiser for the new season.

And the match capped off a wonderful summer for Chelsea as Poyet’s strike nine minutes before full-time made the Blues win the Super Cup for the very first time and their third European trophy overall.

In the space of just fifteen months – Chelsea had won the FA Cup, League Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup and Super Cup. Success down at SW6 had finally started to become a regular thing.

With two major European trophies in the space of just four months, Chelsea were arguably (for at least one season) the best team in Europe. Pretty impressive when you consider the Blues only had won one major trophy (the FA Cup in the previous season) in the last 27 years before the double dose of European success.

FA Cup in 1970, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1971.

FA Cup in 1997, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup (along with the Super Cup) in 1998.

Sometimes, lightning does strike twice…

Chelsea captain Dennis Wise and goalscorer Gianfranco Zola lifting the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup trophy

Join Tom Overend in part 3 as we look at how the London rivalry between Chelsea and Arsenal still holds the same importance in Europe despite the issues the two clubs currently face domestically…

Terry Sazio

• Part 11970-71 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup
• Part 3 – ‘From Highbury to Baku’
• Part 4 – The Road to Baku’ (The 2018-19 UEFA Europa League campaign)
• Part 5 – 2011-12 UEFA Champions League
• Part 6 – 2012-13 UEFA Europa League

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