Top 5 Champions League comebacks
As Celtic head to Turin in March to try and overcome a 3-0 first leg deficit in their Champions league round of 16 clash against Juventus, all is not lost for Neil Lennon’s side, despite having a mountain to climb now.
Lennon’s side were outclassed by the in-form Italians at Celtic park, as goals from Alessandro Matri, Claudio Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic ensured a miserable night for the ‘Bhoys’.
Though Celtic now have a mammoth task at hand in Turin, football has had instances of teams coming back from 3-0 or 4-0 deficits, most notably Liverpool in the 2005 Champions league final!
So this writer has come up with a list of teams whom Lennon and his men can take inspiration from, while they wait till next month before heading off to Italy!
1. Liverpool vs AC Milan( 2005)
Starting off with the mother of all comebacks!
Liverpool looked down and out against a rampant Milan side in the final at Istanbul, after being 3-0 down at half time.
A first minute Paolo Maldini goal, coupled with Hernan Crespo’s twin strikes (39th and 44th min), meant Milan were on course for a seventh European title.
But that was only till the first half, as Liverpool bounced back into the tie in a space of seven magical minutes and made it 3-3.
Reds skipper Steven Gerrard scored a well placed header past Dida in the 54th minute, and Vladmir Smicer added a second two minutes later, with a long range strike past the Brazilian keeper.
Liverpool were handed a lifeline in the 59th minute, as a clearly rattled Genaro Gattuso brought down Gerrard in the Milan penalty area, which resulted in a penalty for the Reds.
Xabi Alonso, who had his initial shot saved by Dida, smashed the resulting rebound into the net, which meant the scores were level at 3-3, and the Liverpool fans in the stands went into a frenzy.
Though Milan pressed hard later on, some fine Liverpool defending (by Jamie Carragher in particular!), along with Jerzy Dudek’s great form under the bar ensured that the tie went into extra time.
It was the same old story repeated in extra time, as Milan looked hell bent on finishing the Reds off, only for Dudek to stand between the Italians and a goal.
The Polish keeper was in superb form as he kept Milan at bay, which included a great point blank save off striker Andriy Shevchenko in the dying minutes of the game.
So on came penalties, and with the crowd behind the Reds, a nervous Serginho and Andrea Pirlo missed for Milan, whereas Djbril Cisse and Dietmar Hamann were spot on for Liverpool.
John Dahl Tomasson and Kaka made amends by scoring for the Italians, while John Arne Riise missed for Liverpool.
With Smicer successfully putting his spot kick past Dida, up stepped Shevchenko to take the all important penalty for the Italians.
And ironically, the Ukranian, who had scored the winning penalty in the 2003 final against Juventus, missed this time around, managing only a weak effort which was comfortably saved by Dudek to spark off celebrations in the Liverpool camp.
For the record, Liverpool won its fifth ever European cup after that miraculous night in Istanbul, whereas the Italians got sweet revenge, two years on, in the Athens final, when a Filippo Inzaghi double helped them to a 2-1 win over the Reds!
2. Deportivo La Coruna vs AC Milan (2004)
Another game involving Milan!
The defending champions had beaten Deportivo 4-1 in the first leg quarterfinal at the San Siro, with Kaka, Andriy Shevchenko and Andrea Pirlo scoring for the Italians.
Milan had run rings around the Deportivo defence, with Kaka scoring twice in a lopsided contest against the Spaniards.
Come the return leg at the Riazor, and it was all but expected that the Italians would cruise towards a second successive Champions league final.
But they faced a completely different Deportivo side this time around, as the Spaniards put up an attacking masterclass of their own, and thrashed Milan 4-0.
Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valeron, Albert Luque and Fran were all on target, as Deportivo dominated the tie from start to end and humbled the mighty Italians .
Milan did not know what hit them, as they surrendered meekly to the Spaniards who became the first ever team to overcome a three goal first leg deficit in Europe.
Deportivo clinched the tie 5-4 on aggregate and went on to reach their first ever Champions league semifinals, whereas Milan were left eating humble pie!
3. Monaco vs Real Madrid (2003)
French side Monaco were hosting the ‘Galacticos’ of Madrid, after being swept aside 4-2 in the first leg quarterfinal at the Bernabeu.
Madrid had put up a commanding display in Spain, and an impressive four goal burst in the second half ensured that Carlos Queiroz’s side went to France with a comfortable lead.
Though Monaco did get two crucial away goals, thanks to Sebastian Squillaci and Fernando Morientes (on loan from Madrid), overturning a two goal deficit was nevertheless going to be a tough ask.
Raul Gonzalez piled on more misery for the home team after scoring midway through the first half, but a well volleyed goal from French winger Ludovic Giuly ensured that Monaco were still in the game, going into the break.
And the French side came out firing on all cylinders after halftime, as Madrid old boy Morientes scored a fine header past keeper Iker Casillas in the 48th minute to put Monaco ahead, and left his side needing just one more goal to win the tie on the away goals rule.
Giuly, who was playing the match of his life, then sent the Stade Louis into delirium in the 66th minute, when he converted a Hugo Ibarrara cut in to score Monaco’s third and put the French side ahead on away goals.
Stung by Monaco’s sudden counterattack, Madrid poured men forward in search of a much needed goal, but failed to score later on as the French side recorded a famous win and set up a semifinal clash with Chelsea.
Monaco repeated their heroics against the Londoners, winning 5-3 over two legs of action packed football, and reached the final, only to lose out to a Deco inspired Porto!
4. Manchester United vs Juventus (1999)
It is not for nothing that Manchester United are known as the ‘Comeback Kings’.
And they showed why, as Alex Ferguson’s side launched a stirring comeback and scored thrice after being 2-0 down against Juventus, in the second leg semifinal at Turin.
Earlier, United needed a last gasp Ryan Giggs goal to escape with a 1-1 draw in the first leg at Old Trafford, which meant they had their work cut out in the return leg at Italy.
Juventus were 2-0 up in just under 11 minutes, thanks to the wily Filippo Inzaghi who scored both goals in his classic predatory style.
Though United looked down and out after Inzaghi’s double, skipper Roy Keane started pulling the strings in midfield, trying to get the Red Devils back into the contest.
And it bore fruit, as the Irish midfielder headed a David Beckham corner past Juve keeper Angelo Peruzzi in the 24th minute to give United a glimmer of hope.
With the score at 2-1, Keane later got booked (a yellow card) by referee Urs Meier for a harsh challenge on Zinedine Zidane, which meant a suspension from the final, if United managed to qualify.
But United got right back into the contest as Dwight Yorke headed in Andrew Cole’s cross in the 34th minute to make it 2-2, and give Ferguson’s side the away goals advantage.
Juventus were clearly rattled as they desperately tried to claw back into the contest in the second half, only for some tight defending by Keane and his men to keep the Italians at bay.
As the Italians searched for a game changing goal, it was United who had the final laugh as they scored in the 83rd minute after a fine display of counterattacking football which saw Yorke rounding off the hapless Peruzzi and leaving Cole to tap in the third, and the eventual match winner.
A deflated Juventus never posed any serious threat after that goal, and at the end of the final whistle, it was United who were to play in the final after sealing a memorable win, 4-3 on aggregate.
A ‘Keane-less’ United later went on to create history at the Nou Camp, as ‘super subs’ Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunar Solksjaer scored twice in stoppage time to help Ferguson’s men pip Bayern Munich for a historic European Cup win!
5. Olympique Lyon vs Dinamo Zagreb (2011)
And finally to cap it off with a match which many believe was rigged!
Lyon were playing Zagreb in their final group game, with almost no chance of qualifying for the knockout stages.
The French side, who were third in their group, needed a seven goal win in Croatia plus a favour from leaders Real Madrid, whom they required to beat second place Ajax by atleast a three goal margin.
Though Madrid did their part by shutting out Ajax by a 3-0 margin in Amsterdam, still a seven goal win against the bottom placed Croatians looked highly unlikely.
Zagreb, who were down to ten men after Jarko Leko’s red card in the 28th minute, scored first through Mateo Kovacic in the 40th minute, giving Lyon an even bigger mountain to climb.
Though Bafetembi Gomis equalised for Lyon just seconds before halftime, a knockout berth still looked an impossibility for the French side.
Come the second half and Lyon launched into an attacking blitz straight away, trying to achieve ‘mission impossible’.
Maxime Gonalons got a quick second for Lyon two minutes into the restart, and with the pressure on the Zagreb defence mounting, it was Gomis who proved to be the game changer, scoring two quickfire goals in the space of four minutes to leave the Croatians in tatters.
Gomis, who was partly aided by some weak Zagreb defending, scored in the 48th and 52 minutes to complete his hat trick, the fastest ever in a Champions league tie!
Lyon were now leading 4-1, and what seemed an impossibility just before the tie was now definitely within reach, as the French side started pouring men forward to get the remaining three goals.
And the pressure paid off as Lisandro Lopez scored Lyon’s fifth goal in the 64th minute, whereas Gomis scored a sixth (and his fourth of the game!) past the hapless Zagreb keeper, Ivan Kelava, in the 70th minute.
Jimmy Braid wrapped it up for the French side as he scored the all important seventh goal off a Lisandro flick in the 75th minute, meaning Lyon had just completed the impossible against a battered Zagreb!
A demoralised Zagreb later were just content on playing out the remainder of the tie, which meant Lyon were progressing to the knockout stages after a sensational second half goal blitz, and the Croatians exiting the competition, after conceding 22 goals in the group stages; a Champions league record!
Though there have been many other classics, such as Werder Bremen’s incredible 5-3 win over Anderlecht in 1993 and Galatasaray’s backs to the wall win over Real Madrid in 2001, the writer feels the above matches surely deserved their place in the top five list of Champions league comebacks!
Disclaimer: All views expressed are those of the author’s and do no necessarily reflect those of the site.