Ten of the greatest games in the history of the UEFA Champions League
These are the nights where football’s stars shine the brightest. And we were fortunate enough to be able to bask in their light…
In just a few short days, one of football’s greatest competitions — if not the greatest — will be making its long-awaited return to decide who will be crowned this year’s top-dog in Europe. The UEFA Champions League is finally back and for many of us, that means long nights of pure bliss as the sport’s top players will be putting out everything they’ve got in order to attain football’s holy grail and connect their name with the highly-coveted trophy.
But what can we truly expect from here onward? What do the knockout rounds of this tournament have to offer to someone who doesn’t really know much about the sport? What is it that makes the Champions League so appealing? Well, in order to answer that question, we’ve searched and found the ten greatest examples of all the thrills and excitement that this competition so handily provides to all of its spectators, especially during its knockout stages.
10. Bayern Munich-Juventus 2–2 (4–2 a.e.t., 6–4 on aggregate), Round of 16, 2016
There have been few better ties in the round of 16 than the Bayern Munich vs Juventus battle of 2016. The Bavarians were coming off a really difficult season that saw them reach the Champions League semi-finals and were aiming to go one step higher this season, while the “vecchia signiora” had gone all the way to the final and wanted to prove that they pull off that same feat yet again. With the first game in Turin ending in a 2–2 draw, it was expected that Pep Guardiola’s men would have an easy night and make short work of their opponents, considering their recent form.
But it’s never a good idea to underestimate a finalist. Juve demonstrated some marvelous defending and took excellent advantage of the gaps left in the German defense to claim an early 0–2 lead just after 30 minutes, thanks to goals by Paul Pogba and Juan Cuadrado. The home side didn’t know what hit them, yet Guardiola maintained his composure, made some solid changes from the bench, while his counterpart Massimiliano Allegri, seemed to crack under the pressure and caused his team to lose ground by taking off the excellent Sami Khedira to introduce the more attacking-minded Stefano Sturaro, in an attempt to finish the game.
Bayern found more ground in the Juventus defense and began to come forward in numbers, until eventually Robert Lewandowski made the most of a Douglas Costa cross to give the home side a lifeline. But it was a former Juventus player that would end up making all the difference between the two sides. After a long run deep into opposition defense, young winger Kingsley Coman chipped the ball towards Thomas Muller who rarely misses from that point, to bring the scores level 2–2 and send the game to extra time. After that, many chances were missed on both ends but ultimately it was Bayern who proved more concentrated at the final effort and with two more goals from fresh substitute Thiago Alcantara and Coman, they made their way to the quarter-finals.
9. Barcelona-Paris Saint-Germain 6–1 (6–5 on aggregate), Round of 16, 2017
The result of this game had all of Europe left awe-struck for weeks. It was so momentous that it actually now has its own nickname in Spain (“La Remontada”=”The Comeback”). Few could actually believe it was true. And how could they? When you lose the first game 4–0(!) you don’t really have any hopes of making it to the next round, do you? Unless you possess the quality of Leo Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez in your squad, that is!
With Paris Saint-Germain flying high after their triumph in the “Parc Des Princes” a fortnight ago and looking confident that they could double their wins against the — highly problematic at the time — Catalans, the game at the “Camp Nou” began with Suarez quickly showing the visitors who’s going to be the boss in the encounter just after three minutes.
The unbelievable pressure applied by Barca toward the PSG area paid off near the end of the first half when Layvin Kurzawa pushed the ball into the back of his own team’s net on the 40th minute, as the French champions were showing signs of not being able to keep up with Barca’s pace.
Yet even though the Catalans were able to find their way to a third, thanks to a successfully converted penalty kick by Leo Messi, the visitors struggled to pull one back with Edinson Cavani, widening the gap that separated the two teams yet again. Barcelona needed three goals and they only had 20 minutes, it was impossible.
Yet they did it in seven, thanks to a brace by Neymar (who scored from a free kick and a penalty) and a last minute goal by unlikely hero Sergi Roberto, who headed home a Messi set piece. Truly a night to remember for the entire city, which celebrated this triumph until the early morning hours…
8. Borussia Dortmund-Real Madrid 4–1, (4–3 on aggregate) Semi-Final, 2013
It’s a classic underdog story and also the night that Robert Lewandowski truly became a legend. In front of their fanatic supporters at the “Westfalenstadion”, the Borussia Dortmund players gave the performance of a lifetime. Despite the fact that they were lead by the “Special One”, Jose Mourinho, and possessed players in their lineup such as Mesut Ozil, Luka Modric, Gonzalo Higuain, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos and, let’s not forget, Cristiano Ronaldo, there was nothing Real Madrid could do to stop Jurgen Klopp’s men that night from embarrassing them.
The Polish striker began his crescendo just five minutes after the kick off, yet Ronaldo was able to provide the “merengues” with a way back into the game just on the dying breaths of the first half. Lewandowski picked up where he left off and managed to find his way to yet another three goals in a space of fifteen minutes into the second half, making a shambles out of the star-studded Spanish defense who couldn’t find a way to deal with him. Final score: 4–1, with the Germans going to the “Santiago Bernabeu” a fortnight later to survive with a 2–0 loss and make it to the Champions League final of 2013.
7. Chelsea-Barcelona 4–2 (5–4 on aggregate), Round of 16, 2005
This was truly a game to remember, as both side put all the qualities they had on full display. After coming back from a 3–1 loss at the “Camp Nou”, the renewed Londoners were feeling quite confident that they could pull off something good despite the size of their opponent. On the other end, for Barca it was almost expected that they could disqualify such a team that did not have the same level of European success as them.
Yet once the game kicked off, it was the blues that showed the Catalans who’s boss. With a goal from Iceland legend Ejdur Gudjohnsen on the eighth, another provided by Frank Lampard on the 17th and a third by Irish winger Damien Duff two minutes later, Chelsea had very swiftly dismantled Barca’s advantage.
But they were quick to celebrate as the visitors’ ace-in-the-whole, Brazilian play maker Ronaldinho, was there to put them back in the game. First through a successful penalty kick conversion and then, by an inspiration of pure beauty that left even the great Petr Cech watching helplessly as the ball somehow landed into the back of his net, Barca had found their way back into the driver’s seat.
In the second half it was a game of cat-and-mouse, but eventually it was captain John Terry that came to Chelsea’s rescue, heading the ball into the back of the net and securing their way into the final eight.
6. Manchester United-Real Madrid 4–3 (5–6 on aggregate) Quarter-Finals, 2003
A number of the world’s greatest players made their way to the theater of dreams to give the performance of a lifetime on the night of Wednesday April 23rd 2003. On the one side was Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, with Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ryan Giggs, Juan Sebastian Veron, Fabien Barthez, Rio Ferdinand and David Bekcham and on the other were the original “galacticos”, Real Madrid, who possessed players such as Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Fernando Hierro, Steve Mcmanaman and Ronaldo.
In fact, it was the latter who eventually forced the crowd at the “Old Trafford” to stand up and give him a standing ovation for his performance on the night. But let’s take things from the start. Just after 12 minutes, the “phenomenon” was able to give the visitors lead, but the Dutch striker found the equalizer United had been looking for just before half time. A smart through ball by Zidane found the run of Roberto Carlos in the heart of the United defense, with the Brazilian left-back feeding the ball to Ronaldo who doubled his own tally and also his team’s, putting Madrid back in the driver’s position.
A few minutes later, a shot by Veron from inside the area was diverted by Ivan Helguera into his own net to bring the scores level yet again, but Ronaldo once more came to the rescue, shooting from outside the box to put the ball behind Barthez and complete his hat-trick.
Substitute David Beckham was the response Sir Alex Ferguson needed, as the English superstar scored from a trademark free kick to bring the two teams level for the third time in the evening and gave his team the win in the closing minutes after a clever lob by van Nistelrooy wasn’t properly cleared by goalkeeper Iker Casillas, with Beckham beating his eventual teammate Roberto Carlos to push the ball past the line and into the back of the net.
It was truly a night to remember for the crowd at the “Old Trafford” as there will rarely be such a game full of so many high quality players.
5. AS Monaco-Real Madrid 3–1 (5–5 on aggregate, AS Monaco qualify), Quarter-Finals, 2004
Yet another humbling defeat for the “galacticos”, this one came a bit earlier in the decade during a season that favored the underdogs in both club and international competitions. After all, who could forget Greece’s rise to glory in the Euro of 2004?
At this return game for the Champions League quarter-finals, the Monegasques were considered heavy outsiders, since they had already lost the first game at the “Santiago Bernabeu” 4–2 and were up against the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Raul, Roberto Carlos, etc. A team that possessed not one, but three Ballon d’ Or winners in their ranks.
Despite all that, the home side had shown a good attitude all season long and were going into the game with nothing to lose. It was a hard-fought contest and it became even more of an uphill battle when Raul opened the score on the 38th minute to put Real in the driver’s seat.
Yet this contest was far from over and French winger Ludovic Giuly was able to bring his team back into the game just before the break and send the two sides level into the dressing rooms, with Monaco now needing only two goals to be the ones to celebrate a momentous achievement.
Just three minutes after the two sides came back into the pitch, former Real Madrid striker Fernando Morientes became the writer of a horror script for his previous club, which six minutes after the hour mark was made a reality by the star of the night, Giuly, who smashed the ball into the back of Iker Casillas’ net to give AS Monaco fans something to remember for many years to come!
Eventually they would make it all the way to the final, but it just wasn’t meant to be for them, as they would lose the trophy at the hands of Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto 3–0.
4. Liverpool-AC Milan 3–3 (3–2 after penalties) Final, 2005
It’s been dubbed “The Miracle Of Istanbul”. Countless of TV specials, documentaries and interviews have been made in honor of this one game. It has become a trademark of what the UEFA Champions League can give to spectators. And why wouldn’t it? Within a matter of minutes, one side made the journey from Hell to football Heaven and back again.
Liverpool, who that season had struggled to survive through the group stage as they barely made it out alive against Olympiacos thanks to a last minute trademark Steven Gerrard goal from outside the box, were somehow able to stay alive all the way up to the final. Their opponents, one of the most impressive sides to play in the Champions League: AC Milan. They possessed quality in the face of players such as Kaka, Hernan Crespo, Andriy Shevchenko, Clarence Seedorf, Jaap Stam, Alessandro Nesta, Andrea Pirlo, Paolo Maldini and many, many more. They were the favorites for this game and the title.
Something that they confirmed from literally the first minute of the game when Maldini made the most of a Pirlo set piece to score the fastest ever goal in a Champions League final. AC Milan only continued to dominate their opponents and they capitalized on that pressure in the final minutes of the first half, with a brace by Crespo, thanks to assists provided by Kaka and Ukranian striker Andriy Shevchenko.
But what happened in the next 45 minutes blew everyone’s mind. Liverpool, who were left for dead, found their way back into the game! On the 54th minute, Gerrard headed in a John Arne Riise cross from the left and, as if that wasn’t enough, only two minutes later Vladimir Smicer scored again for the Merseyside reds after blasting a shot from long range past Brazilian goalkeeper Dida. And just four minutes later, Liverpool were awarded a penalty and a golden chance to bring the scores level. Xabi Alonso stepped up and although initially he was beaten by the international portiere, he was quick to put away the rebound and complete his team’s sensational comeback.
Not much else happened for the rest of the game or the extra time that was added on and so the two sides were left to settle their differences on the penalty shoot-out. The Italians proved a lot more nervous from the spot, with Jerzy Dudek beating both Serginho and Andrea Piro to give his side an early 0–2 advantage, as both Dietmar Hamann and Djibril Cisse successfully converted their own spot kicks. But, as Jon Dahl Tomasson and Kaka scored for AC Milan, Riise missed and it was all left to Shevchenko to keep his team alive. However the Ukranian legend was being beaten by Dudek and the trophy returned to Anfield after many years!
3. Barcelona-Chelsea 2–2 (2–3 on aggregate), Semi-Finals, 2012
Not as spectacular as our last entry, yet this one was a true nail-biter. With Chelsea now in the hands of former legend Roberto Di Matteo and Barcelona, who seemed like an unstoppable force in previous seasons, now struggling, it was a bit like a David vs Goliath battle. Yet Chelsea had managed to come away with a win at the “Stamford Bridge” and were headed to the “Camp Nou” to take whatever they could get and with their hopes held high.
With Barca playing their ‘tiki-taka’ style of football that had made them famous and let them to success in previous years and trying to open the English defense, Chelsea weren’t giving way. Yet even when they did, and the Catalans found their way to Petr Cech’s goal through Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta, after captain John Terry had been sent for an early shower, the London blues were still able to find a response and pulled one back through Ramires during injury time of the first half.
Guardiola became desperate and used all he had to try and find that last goal that would give his team the ticket for the next round, yet in doing so he left his defense greatly exposed. Something that a striker with the quality of Fernando Torres couldn’t help but take advantage of and with a goal in the dying minutes of the game, left Barca fans thinking that this was the end of an era and Chelsea supporters celebrating their team’s qualification to the 2012 final.
2. Real Madrid-Bayer Leverkusen 2–1, Final, 2002
You know the times when a single moment can make a whole game worthwhile? Well, this was one of them. The Real Madrid vs Bayer Leverkusen final of 2002 that took place in Glasgow’s Hampden Park certainly was an entertaining match that ended 2–1, with the German underdogs quickly equalizing Roberto Carlos’ early goal (8') with their own Brazilian international defender Lucio (13'), but it seems that none of that really mattered.
It was that moment of magic that took place right on the 45th minute and just as players were getting ready to head into the locker rooms that grabbed the attention of the whole world and immortalized this game in people’s memories forever.
Zinedine Zidane saw the run of Roberto Carlos on the left wing, with the Brazilian feeding a high ball back to the French play maker. What he did next could not be anticipated by anyone inside the stadium. From outside the area, while standing still, he twisted his right leg and blasted the ball into the right-hand corner of goalkeeper Hans-Jorg Butt, with everyone at the stadium standing to applaud what they had just witnessed.
If it was a painting, it would’ve been a ‘Mona Lisa”. If it was a movie, it would’ve been an instant classic. If it was a song, its sound would’ve been remembered forever. What happened next or previously on that final has very little significance. Yes, Real Madrid added yet another Champions League trophy to their collection. But it was what Zidane offered the world on that night that will always be remembered…
- Manchester United-Bayern Munich 2–1, Final, 1999
And we end our list with one of the most suspenseful games ever seen in the history of UEFA Champions League finals. The undoubtedly two most in-form teams of the 1998–98 season, Manchester United and Bayern Munich, who had both completed the double in their domestic competitions, winning both the championship and the cup, were after the “cherry on top” which would’ve been the ideal way to end the year.
The venue was Barcelona’s “Camp Nou” and there were tens of thousands of fans from both sides. Both teams were under the care of some truly magnificent managers as both Sir Alex Ferguson and Ottmar Hitzfeld went on to have great careers in the sport. The game, however, began a little one-sidedly, as Bayern showed a whole lot more discipline on the pitch and attempted to find an early goal.
And find it they did, as just after six minutes Mario Basler took a clever free kick right underneath the wall of United players to put it behind Peter Schmeichel who was left helpless to react. As the minutes went by, the “red devils” attempted to pile on the pressure, yet this was all according to Hitzfeld’s plan who felt comfortable leaving the ball to United and hitting them on the counter.
Bayern themselves had several opportunities to score again and finish the game which they failed to make the most of, with Mehmet Scholl, Carsten Jancker and Stefan Effenberg failing to hit the target. On the other end, it looked like a comfortable night for Oliver Kahn and his defense who were cruising toward the trophy as the mostly young and inexperienced team from Manchester were watching the minutes go by without being able to find a way to the Bavarian goal.
Sir Alex decided it was time to throw all he had into the game, since there was nothing left to lose, so he took off midfielder Jesper Blomqvist and striker Andy Cole from the match replacing them with veteran forward Teddy Sheringham and fellow striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. With barely seconds to go until the end of the game, David Beckham flung a corner into the Bayern area, with the ball falling to Sheringham who found the long-awaited equalizer for Manchester United!
As if that wasn’t enough, just seconds later yet another corner by Beckham landed on the feet of Nicky Butt who took the shot from outside the area, bouncing off the foot of Solskjaer and past Kahn to land into the German net for the second time in less than 2 minutes!
Manchester United had literally stolen the Champions League trophy from under the hands of Bayern Munich in the dying minutes of the game, on yet another final that proves what this competition is all about.
Moments of glory, moments of disappointment, feelings changing from one minute to the next. Thrills, shocks, passion, excitement, and so much more. This is what football at its highest level is all about. This is what the UEFA Champions League is all about. Even if your team isn’t playing, there are so many reasons to watch it. And we, for one, are so glad that it’s back!