“Die Meister, Die Besten, Les Grandes Equipes, The Champions!”othing sounds as sweet for a football fan as hearing these words played to that magical piece of music, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Every season, every year, we have teams fighting to win and reach the promised land of club football, the UEFA Champions League, previously known as the European Cup.The best teams, the best stadiums, the best players and the best fans have made the European Cup an event rivalled in atmosphere and quality, only by the FIFA World Cup. And winning the most coveted club football trophy in the world is no easy task. Ask Arsenal, Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain. They know.With the addition of more teams, more stages and more matches, winning the Champions League is right up there. And, the drama, spirit and excitement increases with the passage of every round. Indeed, the business end of the Champions League has given us so many great moments, that recalling all of them is a task bordering on impossibility.And all the action, drama and passion come down to that one night. That night when all the hard work of an entire season, culminates into agony or ecstasy. There is nothing like a Champions League Final. 58 years. 58 finals. Let’s look at the very best among them.Honourable Mentions Benfica 3-2 Barcelona, 1960-61, Wankdorf Stadium, Bern; Aston Villa 1-0 Bayern Munich, 1981-82, Stadion Feijenoord, Rotterdam, Liverpool 1-1 Roma (4-2 on penalties), 1983-84, Stadio Olimpico, Rome.Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the site.
#10 Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid - 2014
The most recent one to begin with. The first same city final in the history of the Champions League. But, what they had in geographical proximity wasnt reflected in financial, tactical or philosophical terms. Because, in every other aspect of the game, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid were poles apart. Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, was about to witness something special, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Angel Di Maria and Diego Costa heading a star cast.
But, when the latter limped off early in the first half, Atleticos title hopes went with him or so it seemed. Diego Godin soon headed Atleti into the lead, yet again displaying his wonderful knack of scoring in big games. Atleti held on for 92 minutes.
And then, Sergio Ramos broke their hearts with a brilliant, brilliant header, taking the game to extra time. And, the first half of extra time again featured cagey football, with both teams working their socks off to not lose. The Rojiblancos finally gave in, in the second period of extra time as some fine dribbling from Di Maria left Bale with an easy finish. The floodgates were opened as Marcelo and Ronaldo scored in quick succession, giving the scoreline a very, very flattering look.
Atletico might have lost the match to a team that spent millions upon millions. But, they managed to win the hearts of millions and millions.
#9 Manchester United vs Chelsea - 2008
When Roman Abrahamovich took over and started his revolution (Roman Revolution, Russian Revolution, call it what you want), one title was on his mind the Champions League. And, in the summer of 2008, he was but one step away from scaling the footballing Everest, with his Blue Army. In their way, was Sir Alex Ferguson and his merry men.
The match couldnt have been played in more alien conditions, with Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, playing host to the first ever all-English European final. The match had added significance for the Red Devils it marked the centenary of their first league title triumph, the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster and the 40th anniversary of their 1st European Cup victory.
Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring for the Red Devils in the 26th minute of an entertaining encounter. In response to Uniteds best player scoring, Chelseas best player, Frank Lampard, evened things out just before half-time.
At the end of 90 tight, defensive minutes, the game opened up, with tempers running high and tackles flying. Following a huge fracas involving almost all the players and officials, Chelseas talisman, Didier Drogba was sent off for slapping Nemanja Vidic. It proved costly, as Chelsea had lost one of their best penalty specialists.
In the shootout, John Terry had the chance to win it for his team, but slipped literally as well as metaphorically, to keep United in the match. Nicolas Anelka then missed his kick in sudden death as United ran out 6-5 winners in the shootout, thus clinching their third European title.
#8 Benfica vs Real Madrid - 1962
When the only two teams to have won the European Cup till then, met in the 1962 finals, fans of the game were waiting with bated breath. Real Madrid, five-time winners, versus Benfica, the team that ended the Spanish capital clubs hegemony, the year before. More importantly, it was Ferenc Puskas vs Eusebio. The date was the 2nd of May, 1962. The venue was Olympisch Stadion in Amsterdam. And, the stage was set.
Madrid, playing in their famous, purple away kit, scored twice in the opening minutes, both courtesy Puskas. Benfica immediately pulled two back, with captain Jose Aguas and Domiciano Cavem, scoring within the half-hour mark. Puskas completed his hat-trick a few minutes later, giving Madrid the advantage before half-time.
But, Mario Colunas wonder-strike five minutes into the second half, restored parity again. The teams were locked in a cagey battle thereafter, with neither of them looking like scoring, without divine intervention. Enter a certain youngster named Eusebio. The Portuguese Pele scored two goals in the space of five minutes, as Benfica clinched the title for a second consecutive year. The Madrid juggernaut had well and truly come to an end.
#7 Manchester United vs Benfica - 1968
Geoff Bent. Roger Byrne. Eddie Colman. Mark Jones. David Pegg. Tommy Taylor. Liam Whelan. And, Duncan Edwards. When the eight of them, along with a few other crew members and coaching staff lost their lives in an air crash on the 6th of February, 1958, Manchester United had lost everything.
They had been destroyed and torn apart, with their great coach, Matt Busby, fighting for his life. Busby survived, along with some of his other players, and they started building their beloved team from scratch. A decade later, all the hard work had paid off, with Manchester United becoming the first English team to win the European Cup. Redemption was theirs, and they were on top of the world.
The match, in itself, was an occasion to remember, with 92,000 fans cheering their team on at Wembley. But, when Benfica equalised after Bobby Charlton had given United the lead, everyone feared the worst. Thankfully, it was not to be, as United put three past their Portuguese opponents in extra time, with Brian Kidd, George Best and Charlton, all finding the back of the net. Life had come a full circle for Busby, Charlton and Bill Foulkes, all survivors of that sad disaster, 10 years ago.
#6 Real Madrid vs Eintracht Frankfurt - 1960
The 1960 European Cup final, was the fifth final in the tournaments history, with Madrid having won the first four. Needless to say, they qualified this time too, with their opponent being the German outfit, Eintracht Frankfurt. Widely regarded as the most entertaining football match ever played, the match was held in front of a sell out crowd of 127,000 at the Hampden Park in Glasgow, and witnessed an astonishing 10 goals in 90 minutes. What would we not give for another final like that?
The match had a wonderful back-story too, with Madrid overcoming bitter rivals Barcelona 6-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals. And, with Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano riding their sails, Frankfurt didnt have much of a chance to stop them, irrespective of their 12-4 victory over Rangers in the semis.
So, when they took the lead, a fierce backlash was on the cards. And the fierce backlash came in the form of a barrage of goals, as Madrid put seven without reply past a hapless Frankfurt defence. Puskas and Di Stefano outdid each other, with both of them scoring memorable hat-tricks, the former scoring 4. The two consolation goals scored by the German forward, Erwin Stein, are hardly remembered. Real Madrid were the champions of Europe for the fifth time in a row.
#5 AC Milan vs Barcelona - 1994
If Fabio Capello has any ounce of credibility left, after all the high-profile failures that he’s been part of recently, it’s because of matches like these. Capello’s AC Milan were about to face Johan Cryuff’s Barcelona Dream Team, at the Olympic Stadium in Athens (where Milan beat Liverpool 13 years later to clinch their 7th European Cup), on the 18th of May 1994.
Facing the likes of Andoni Zubizaretta, Miguel Angel Nadal, Pep Guardiola, Hristo Stoichkov, Txiki Begiristain and the Brazilian sorcerer, Romario, Milan already had an uphill task on their hands. But injuries to their most vital players meant, everybody except for the Rossoneri team, had given up on the underdogs.
Milan had to play without Marco Van Basten; without the then world’s most expensive player, Gianluigi Lentini; without Alessandro Costacurta, and most crucially, without Jean-Pierre Papin. So, when Daniele Massaro scored the opener for them and then doubled it at the stroke of half-time, a stong Catalunyan response was feared. It was anything but.
2 minutes into the second half, Dejan Savicevic scored the best goal in a European Final (along with the Zidane volley, of course) – a delightful lob from a tight angle that totally flummoxed Zubizaretta. The humiliation was complete, a few minutes later, when Marcel Desailly scored, thus becoming the first player to win consecutive European Cups for different teams, having won it with Marseille the year before.
#4 Real Madrid vs AC Milan - 1958
Real Madrid vs AC Milan. Los Merengues vs Rossoneri. 10 European Cups vs 7 European Cups. The two most storied teams in the competition today. And, when they met for the first time on the 28th of May, 1958 at the now infamous Heysel Stadium in Brussels, for the third European Cup final, sparks were sure to fly. And, they sure did.
67,000 people stood shocked and transfixed as Juan Alberto Schiaffino gave the lead to the Italian giants, a quarter of an hour into the second half. It looked like a team was finally going to knock the Bernabeu outfit off their perch. But, in typical Madrid fashion, Di Stefano found an answer, 15 minutes later. Milan took the lead again in two minutes, only for Madrid to promptly equalise in yes, two minutes. Alfredo Di Stefano 74’, Ernesto Grillo 77’, Hector Rial 79’ read the scoreboard after that amazing spell of five minute madness.
After an astonishing second half, Fransisco Gento won the match for Los Blancos in extra time, cementing their status as the greatest club team of all time. Interestingly, the then 21-year old Warren Beatty, now of “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Reds” fame, gave away the winners’ medals.
#3 Real Madrid vs Stade de Reims - 1956
38,239 people witnessed the first ever European Cup final, at the Parc des Princes, in Paris on the 13th of June, 1956. It was played between Real Madrid and Stade de Reims-Champagne. The fact that the game was such a magnificent occasion and that it was a milestone in the history of the beautiful game, was enough in itself, to warrant a place on this list.
But, the 11 men in white and the other 11 in red, made the “Coupe Champions Europeens Finale, 1956”, a match to remember. Such was the quality of the match, that many consider it to be the best match of the erstwhile European Cup.
With a forward line of Alfredo Di Stefano and Fransisco Gento, Los Blancos were expected to run riot and turn the match into a goal fest. A goal fest it was, but not on expected lines. Two early goals gave Reims a shock lead, which they would surrender, with Di Stefano scoring one of Madrid’s goal. The French outfit again took the lead in the second half, only for Madrid to equalise and then score the winning goal in the 79th minute, courtesy Rial, who scored his second of the day.
With the final score reading 4-3 at the end of a spectacular match of football, one thing was certain. The European Cup had truly arrived and it was here to stay.
#2 Manchester United vs Bayern Munich - 1999
Last minute drama doesn’t get much better than this. For 90 minutes and 36 seconds at the Camp Nou, on 26 May, 1999, there was only one winner – a German one. But, football isn’t a game of 90 minutes. It is a game of 90 minutes and Fergie Time after that. And when Teddy Sheringham scored a scrappy equaliser for the Red Devils, people across the world were gearing up for another 30 minutes of extra time. They were snubbed by a baby-faced Norwegian.
When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was introduced by Sir Alex in the 80th minute, it looked more like a move made out of desperation than anything else. 13 minutes and a tap in later, it was hailed as Fergie’s greatest moment of inspiration. David Beckham whipped in a corner, which somehow found its way through 18 grown men stationed inside a 15 yard box and into the path of Solskjaer, who gleefully sent it into the back of the net.
Delirium followed and pandemonium struck, as nobody – right from the goalscorer to the seven-year olds in Manchester – knew what to do and how to celebrate. The rest, as they say, was history.
The crown among them all in United’s treble season, this incredible turnaround shall forever be remembered. Because it showed anything could happen in football. Because it showed all the emotions in football. “Football, bloody hell.”
#1 Liverpool vs AC Milan - 2005
What is there to be said about what many consider the greatest club football match of all time? Not the greatest European Cup match, not the greatest cup final, but probably one of the greatest 120 minutes in the Champions League. For the world enjoys nothing more than David beating Goliath. But, beating Goliath from 3-0 down? No way.
It was the 25th of May, 2005. The venue was Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul. Liverpool, fifth in the English Premier League were going to face AC Milan, the team of Dida, Maldini, Cafu, Nesta, Stam, Gattuso, Pirlo, Kaka, Seedorf, Shevchenko and Crespo. A team considered one of the best in club football history. And, they justified that tag by beating Liverpool left, right and center, in the first half to lead 3-0.
But, as the cliche went, it was a game of two halves. Inspired by a wonderful Steven Gerrard header, the Reds scored 3 goals in a scarcely believable six minutes, with both Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso finding the back of the net. Six minutes that changed Liverpool’s season.
Jerzy Dudek then pulled off a double-Houdini act, pulling off two incredible saves from Andriy Shevchenko in extra time. As the game went into penalties, and with Dida in goal, it looked like there would be just one winner. But Dudek, with his now popular impersonation of Bruce Grobbelaar’s spaghetti legs, pulled off two superman-like saves off the kicks of Andrea Pirlo and Shevchenko, and Liverpool had won the European Cup for the 5th time. Like Clive Tyldesley magnificently put it then, “Mission Impossible is accomplished”.