RSC Anderlecht vs Austria Vienna, European Cup Winners’ Cup Final 1978

If ever there was a team to stamp its mark on the European Cup Winners’ Cup it was RSC Anderlecht. Going into the deciding game of the 1978 edition the Royal Sporting Club were now featured in three consecutive finals. Their record stood at 1-1: In 1976 they won 4:2 against West Ham, in 1977 they fell 0:2 to Hamburg.

Together with Club Brugge and Standard Liège RSCA stood at the forefront of a golden age for Belgian football. National champions Brugge had made it to the 1978 European Cup final. While their compatriots would lose to a supreme Liverpool side, Anderlecht were the clear favorites in the Cup Winners’ final. The Belgians had won six of their eight games in the competition, drawing another and losing just one. Only Hamburg in the Second round kept the aggregate score within a one goal difference. Lokomotiv Sofia, Porto and Twente hardly stood a chance.

Vienna, by contrast, inched their way to Parc des Princes where the final was staged. Cardiff City were beaten 1:0 on aggregate. Against Lokomotíva Košice they prevailed after two draws virtue of having scored the only away goal of the tie. Penalties were needed against both Hajduk Split and Dynamo Moscow. Curiously Split failed to convert even one penalty.

Nevertheless Vienna made it to the final. According to Elo the probability of an Austria win after 90 minutes stood at only 13%, forcing extra time would occur in one of every five cases.

An inkling of hope was derived from, as the French commentary introduced him, “numero huit, Pro’aschka”. Only 22 years old, playmaker Herbert Prohaska was already the focal point of the team. Against Anderlecht the seminal talent faced his stiffest test yet.

Anderlecht quicker out of the blocks

As the German referee Heinz Aldinger waits for the go ahead from the sidelines so Austria can kick off, the players stand around for a minute trying to keep warm. The whistle comes a bit unceremoniously but instantly five Anderlecht players dart forward to pressure the first pass back. Still in the center circle three of them combine to foul Prohaska. Welcome to the big stage.

There are hardly jitters from either side as the feeling out period is skipped and the match is immediately wide open. Both go forward with speed, trying to gap the midfield quickly on the ground. If anything, though, it feels like Austria are getting suckered into playing Anderlecht’s game and the underdog soon revert to putting everyone behind the ball.

RSCA look to stretch the field as wide as possible when in possession but shrink it vertically as the back-line sets up inside Austria’s half. They enjoy ample time moving the ball around as Vienna only press at around 35 yards in front of their goal. Joining the back four to speed up the ball distribution is Ludo Coeck. His target on each attack is getting the ball to Rob Rensenbrink.

Approximate formations and player movements for Anderlecht vs Vienna, May 3rd 1978

Approximate formations and player movements for Anderlecht vs Vienna, May 3rd 1978

Anderlecht’s most potent attacking threat is put under double coverage by Vienna. As soon as the 30-year-old receives the ball he is tackled. To better elude the opposition Rensenbrink soon falls back a bit from his forward position in order to turn and run at the defence once he gets the ball.

In such a fashion Rensenbrink blows by Obermayer to get into the box (12’), a tackle brings the forward down. It’s not enough for Aldinger to award a penalty and inconclusive on tape.

And it’s altogether unimportant as the very next Anderlecht attack produces the first goal of the day. Though, “attack” might be an overstatement: Austria’s build up, over their right side, fails at the second pass. Switching quickly Anderlecht take it forward. In the middle Rensenbrink makes a run for the near post. Franky Vercauteren sends in a low cross that, just before it gets there, takes a bounce and arrives waist-high. Rensenbrink, non-plussed, meets it airborne and guides the softest of volleys into the net past Hubert Baumgartner (13’).

Prohaska spurs on Austria

It takes a while for Vienna to regain composure and focus. For the most part Anderlecht need not show a lot of urgency while pressing, knowing full well that the first or second ball into the forward line will end up at their feet anyway.

They do however needlessly give away a free kick in central position, maybe 25 yards out. Thomas Parits had taken on four Belgians by himself. His courage was rewarded, a free kick the best he could have hoped for in the situation. Three Austrians stand over the ball with Prohaska directing traffic, teed up perfectly for a right footer to curl it over the wall into the left upper corner. Instead, two of the run-ups are fakes, to allow Felix Gasselich a chipped cross out onto the right wing. Robert Sara takes it out of the air, sends it across the face of goal where at the far corner Ernst Baumeister had snuck in. It’s a training ground move pulled off perfectly, alas goalkeeper de Bree had it scouted and smothers the cross (23’).

Austria favor a similar tactic going forward to Anderlecht’s 4-3-3 with wide forwards stretching the field horizontally. On defence, however, Erich Obermayer drops behind the back-line to act as sweeper. In turn his colleagues in defence would venture forward to bolster numbers in midfield. Distribution around the back falls to Gasselich, whilst Prohaska connects midfield and attack.

Ten minutes after the opener Prohaska is gliding through midfield, side-steps one tackle and times a through ball for Karl Daxbacher perfectly, negating the Anderlecht off-side trap. De Bree is out quickly again to prevent a shot. One of many times de Bree would stifle Vienna’s attempts with very good anticipation.

Austria are very fluid in midfield. Daxbacher and Gasselich will switch sides, drift outside, or go forward to offer Prohaska another option in the attacking line. The underdogs have re-grouped after the opening goal and showed that they can pose a threat going forward if Anderlecht are snoozing on the press.

Anderlecht’s individual class wins the match

The Belgians, in turn, going forward are, on the day, very reliant on the individual class of their forwards, and whoever in midfield moves up. Rensenbrink and Vercauteren combine in an artistic one-two over the left wing, resulting in a shot a foot off target (29’).

Two more such pieces of individual quality should put the final to bed before half-time.

Anderlecht earn a free-kick in a similar position to Vienna’s earlier. Without the fanfare, though, Rensenbrink takes a short run-up and curls the ball around the far side of the four man wall putting enough bend on it to tuck it into the inside of the post for his brace (44’).

From kick-off a visibly rattled Vienna side get stuck quickly. Gilbert Van Binst is the fastest on the counter attack and is sent into space on the right wing. A first deft touch takes him around Obermayer, his only opposition on the path towards goal. A second touch slots the ball into the lower far corner of the goal for the deciding 3:0. Mercifully the match isn’t re-started again until fifteen minutes later.

Having had a chance to re-group Vienna are caught between pushing on to pull a goal back and usher in an unrealistic comeback, or to simply shut up shop to prevent catching another three or four at the back and thus entering complete debacle territory. Valiantly the underdog side chose to push on and take control of the game in the early stages of the second half. Rarely, though, do they actually get into dangerous areas.

For Anderlecht, though, that is all too easy. François Van der Elst has no trouble breezing past two Austrians on a counter attack, but maybe finishes his move too early as he shoots still 20 yards out, missing the goal by inches (58’).

Debacle Territory, next exit

It’s all too easy for Anderlecht, indeed: Vercauteren tees one up for Benny Nielsen, sending a long ball up from just inside his own half. The Danish forward, back to the goal, 28 yards out, controls the pass with his chest, and falling backwards pulls off a volley shot earning a corner (63’).

Whatever steam Vienna had coming out of the break, it’s gone mid-way through the second half. The Austrian side are bent out of shape, opponents are left unmarked and get too much time and space on the ball as demonstrated by Nielsen’s not-quite-zlatanesk effort. The offense is reduced to “give it to Prohaska and let him figure it out”. Even after the introduction of Alberto Martinez and Fritz Drazan for Daxbacher and Morales respectively, Schneckerl has little to work with at this stage of the match.

It would be an exercise in cruelty to go through every wasted Anderlecht chance heretofore. Suffice it to say, the 4:0 could, and in all likelihood should have come sooner. With eight minutes to go van Binst ventures into the attacking third, takes the ball to the edge of the box. Obermayer is on him but the Belgian feints, pulls inside and, still from the outside of the box, curls a shot into the far upper corner of the goal.

Unfortunately for the neutral viewer Austria were only able to stay competitive for the first half hour or so. Even that was in some part down to Anderlecht playing it lax on defence in midfield. Afterwards the match was really as lopsided as it had appeared on paper beforehand.

Awards

  • Man Of The Match: Rob Rensenbrink, for putting Anderlecht on the path towards victory; as dangerous as one could have hoped going in.
  • Best Hair: Benny Nielsen.
  • Viewing Recommendation: Borderline, interesting enough for the attacking prowess of Anderlecht, but altogether a bit too uncompetitive. Highlights are a must, though, for the goals alone.

The full match, as always, can be found over on footballia, highlights below. If you liked this write-up, please consider giving us a like over on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter to receive notifications of future installments.

About Sebastian

Sebastian writes and talks about football of all eras in German and English. His series of Retro Match Reports focus on British, German and Italian football history. For YYFP he is currently working his way through the late '70s and early '80s. Follow Sebastian on Twitter: @maltacalcio.

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