Real Zaragoza 2
(after extra time;
score at 90 minutes 1-1)
David Seaman's heroic European Cup-Winners' Cup campaign turned to ashes in Paris last night as the Arsenal goalkeeper conceded a nightmare goal.
Having performed miracles in the semi-final penalty shoot-out against Sampdoria, Seaman was mentally preparing for a repeat as the final drifted into its final minute of extra time.
Suddenly, from 45 yards out on the right touchline, there came an up- and-under of the type more usually seen in this stadium during rugby union's Five Nations' Championship.
It swirled in the muggy night air then, as Seaman sought to regain his ground, it dipped under the Arsenal crossbar with the helpless goalkeeper managing just a despairing, but hopeless touch. It was a wicked ball to deal with, but he is the England goalkeeper.
Seconds later the final whistle blew and Arsenal's brave attempt to become the first club to retain the trophy was over. And, as if the nature of the loss was not bad enough, it was inflicted by Nayim, who for five years until 1993 had strolled in midfield for Tottenham, Arsenal's bitterest rivals.
Nayim said: "I was going to pass to a team-mate but I looked up and I saw Seaman coming out so I just kicked it. I was very lucky. It's my first goal against Arsenal after playing against them half a dozen times. For me it's something special as a former Tottenham player."
The goal gave Zaragoza their first European title in more than 30 years. Their only previous triumph was in the old Fairs Cup in 1964.
Afterwards, in the bowels of the stadium, a numb-looking Stewart Houston refused to blame Seaman, preferring to talk of a "magnificent strike".
"We had the semi-final game against Sampdoria which was a big twist," added the Arsenal manager. "Tonight there was another sting in the tail and it went against Arsenal."
Seaman said: "I was in the right position to sweep up. It was the worst moment of my career. As soon as he hit it I knew I was in trouble. You don't expect someone to shoot from there but he meant it."
Outside a few chairs were broken by Arsenal fans, upset at being penned in to watch the Spaniards celebrating for half an hour. But that was a rare example of poor behaviour by the Gooners. More typical of the way they have conducted themselves in Europe generally, and Paris yesterday, was the sight of fans leaning out to swap scarves with Real Zaragoza's players - Nayim included - on the lap of honour.
If the game took a while to catch light, it eventually became an inferno. And, until that fateful final minute, it was Seaman's flame which burned brightest.
He made two marvellous saves early in the second half, while Arsenal, disrupted by a double substitution, were on the ropes. When Miguel Pardeza burst past Tony Adams and Steve Morrow on 50 minutes he stood up well to parry a thunderous shot; then, seven minutes later, the impressive Alberto Belsue crossed from the right, Juan Esnaider dummied and Seaman raced from his goal to deny Higuera at point-blank range.
Seaman also produced a stunning stop early in extra-time. A short corner was worked to Nayim and Javier Aguado headed his cross towards the far corner. Seaman finger-tipped it against a post, then gathered the rebound as the pounding boots closed in.
In front of him there were some sterling performances in an uneven Arsenal display. Hartson, who scored Arsenal's equaliser, again played above his years and experience; Ian Wright had few chances to complete his unique record of scoring in every round but chased everything; Stefan Schwarz was at the hub of all the good things in midfield and broke up many of Zaragoza's.
But on the flanks Paul Merson and Ray Parlour drifted through the game while Lee Dixon was the only defender to match the customary standard.
Arsenal had few chances - the official record gave them six attempts (three on target) and Zaragoza 22 (seven on target). It seemed a fair reflection, Arsenal had equal time in possession but created little of note with the midfield reluctant to support Wright and Hartson.
Wright had provided the only first-half threats, tamely heading Parlour's cross at Andoni Cedrun after 24 minutes then beating beating the stand- in goalkeeper only for Fernando Caceres to block his cross. In the second period Merson had a header cleared off the line from Hartson's cross.
For Zaragoza the hard-working Pardeza and more economic Esnaider looked a cut above everyone. The pair could have won the game in normal time. Esnaider scored with a stunning drive from 25 yards to put Zaragoza ahead on 67 minutes. Then, after Parlour and Merson had combined to set up Hartson to equalise eight minutes later, Pardeza was brought down by Dixon in the box.
There were eight minutes left and, as the Arsenal held their collective breath, the Italian referee waved play on and a tame period of extra-time ensued.
Then came the goal Seaman will try to forget - but always remember. The T-shirts will probably be on sale at White Hart Lane on Sunday.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Linighan, Adams, Winterburn (Morrow, 47); Parlour, Keown (Hillier, h-t), Schwarz, Merson; Wright, Hartson.
Real Zaragoza (4-3-2-1): Cedrun; Belsue, Caceres, Aguado, Solana; Poyet, Aragon, Nayim; Higuera (Garcia Sanjuan, 66; Geli, 114), Pardeza; Esnaider.
Referee: P Ceccarini (Italy).
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