Jari Litmanen was the top scorer in the 1995/96 UEFA Champions League with nine goals, but holders Ajax came up short in the final against Juventus.
The former Finland forward, now 48, reflects on success and failure with UEFA.com.
On beating AC Milan in the 1995 UEFA Champions League final …
We were really confident. We knew that we had beaten the reigning champions twice that season [2-0 home and away in the group stage], and we had played some very good and convincing football. The AC Milan team was full of players who had won several finals and lost one. Having such experience, AC Milan was at a different level than we were, but anything can happen in one match.
Patrick [Kluivert] has said this more than once when asked: that his goal was one of the ugliest goals of his career, but by far the most important. Everyone in our team definitely agrees. Now that time has passed, it feels more important that he got that ugly goal. It was such a liberating goal for our team. Of course, we had all dreamt of that trophy when we were young children.
On facing Juventus in the 1996 final …
Marc Overmars got injured in December and he was on the sidelines for the rest of the season. We were never able to completely replace him in the Champions League. We didn’t have another player like that. Michael Reiziger was suspended from the final. He had played consistently for nearly two years and was a very important piece of our defence. Kluivert also had a knee injury. He just came back in time for the final.
It was a 1-1 draw in normal time against Juventus. Then there were no goals in extra time and Juventus won on penalties. Some of our normal penalty takers were missing. We were pretty thin on the ground in that penalty shoot-out. It is also a skill to be able to take penalties in a shoot-out. The Juventus players remained very calm.
On Ajax’s chances in 2018/19 …
I see the very same signs [with Ajax] as the early 90s and mid-90s and also the early 2000s. There are talented young players in the team, a few more experienced players. The last two years have been very good. A good example is the Europa League final two years ago, when Ajax played Manchester United. That season, in fact, was a step forward internationally and there were signs that a new rise could be ahead.
The strengths of Juventus are well-known. The defence is very tight, there are several very disciplined players defensively and up front they have more than one player capable of scoring. Of course, every time Cristiano Ronaldo plays in any team, he will be the focus and certainly not without reason. Goals decide matches, and Cristiano Ronaldo can score goals wherever he plays.
It is obviously a different time, but of course my heart is with Ajax. I can remember Ajax’s history from quite far back. In 1973 Ajax won the European Cup final 1-0 [against Juventus]. In 1996 Ajax lost to Juve in the final and in 1997 we also lost [against them] in the semis. These two clubs have history in big encounters. Juventus are definitely the favourites. They have much more experience in these kinds of matches.
Ajax have, however, shown that when everything goes well, they have lots of possibilities and we may get quite an even tie. Of course, I hope that Ajax go through.