11 astonishing European comebacks that prove there's always hope
11. Partizan Belgrade vs QPR, 1984/85 (2-6, 4-0)
Pitted against Partizan Belgrade in the UEFA Cup, QPR hammered the Yugoslavs 6-2 in a ‘home’ game played at Arsenal’s Highbury (thanks to Loftus Road’s plastic pitch).
Alan Mullery’s side then travelled to Belgrade for the return, only to be taken apart 4-0 and tumble out on away goals. “Mullery chased us down the tunnel telling us to come back for extra-time,” said goalkeeper Peter Hucker. “He didn’t even know the rules.” Unsurprisingly, the ex-Spurs man was axed weeks later.
10. Bayer Leverkusen vs Espanyol, 1987/88 (0-3, 3-0, 3-2 pens)
Back when UEFA Cup finals were two-legged affairs, Espanyol would have been fairly confident having won 3-0 in Catalonia.
In Germany, Leverkusen didn’t pull one back until the 57th minute, but substitute Falko Gotz and Cha Bum-kun levelled the tie late on. It went to penalties, which of course the Germans won. The game is known as The Tomb of Leverkusen to Espanyol fans. Leverkusen, meanwhile, remain the only German side to win a European competition but never their domestic league.
9. Real Madrid vs Derby, 1975/76 (1-4, 5-1)
After Brian Clough's glorious era at Derby it was his best signing, Dave Mackay, who led the Rams during their second European Cup campaign. Up against Real Madrid in the second round, Charlie George netted a hat-trick in a remarkable 4-1 home win.
Midfielder Archie Gemmill remembers: “We arrived two days before the [return] game and had time to do some sightseeing – though nowadays there would be no walking around a city for hours.”
But their joy was short-lived: Derby were dismantled 5-1 in front of 120,000 fans at the Bernabeu, thanks in part to a Roberto Martinez (no, not that one) double.
8. Ajax vs Panathinaikos, 1995/96 (0-1, 3-0)
77,000 expectant Panathinaikos fans packed the Olympic Stadium in Athens after a single-goal win in the first leg of this Champions League semi-final, but were quickly silenced by Jari Litmanen’s early goal at the Spyridon Louis.
Louis van Gaal’s young side then took control, netting two goals late on via Litmanen and Nordin Wooter, becoming the first side in the Champions League era to overturn a first-leg home defeat. It wasn't enough to take them all the way, though – Van Gaal's men lost the final to Juventus on penalties.
7. Odense vs Real Madrid, 1994/95 (2-3, 2-0)
Real Madrid have lost only one UEFA tie after winning the away leg first, and that came against Danish side Odense. After los Blancos won 3-2 in Denmark courtesy of local hero Michael Laudrup's last-gasp winner, few gave Odense a chance at the Bernabeu – so much so that only 30,000 bothered showing up.
After pulling a goal back with 15 minutes to go, it was Morten Bisgaard – later of Derby County – who rifled past Santiago Canizares for a sensational 4-3 aggregate win. Odense's adventure ended in the quarter-finals against Parma.
6. Metz vs Barcelona, 1984/85 (2-4, 4-1)
After winning the first leg of this Cup Winners' Cup first-round game in France, Barça star Bernd Schuster offered to “give the Metz players some ham to thank them for all the presents they’ve given to us tonight”. No French TV or radio station bothered to send anyone to the Camp Nou return, and their decision looked vindicated after Metz fell 5-2 behind on aggregate.
But two goals before half-time were followed by another one 10 minutes after the restart, before Yugoslav striker Tony Kurbos wrapped up a hat-trick and stunning win three minutes from time. Metz keeper Michel Ettorre was particularly chuffed. “At full-time I ran straight up to Schuster and bawled ‘Where’s your ham now?’” chuckled the glovesman. “I don’t think he speaks French but he understood me that night.”