Ranked! The 25 greatest Champions League games... EVER
8. Borussia Dortmund 3-2 Malaga
Quarter-final, second leg, 2012/13
Having breezed through a group that featured Manchester City and Real Madrid, and waltzed past Shakhtar Donetsk in the last 16, Jurgen Klopp’s men were faced with Champions League newbies, Malaga. His opposite number Manuel Pellegrini had been well backed by the La Liga club’s Qatari owners and could call on experienced campaigners in Jeremy Toulalan, Joaquin and Roque Santa Cruz, but also a wily young schemer called Isco.
The opening leg in Spain had ended goalless, but the second one certainly didn’t disappoint. Joaquin fired the Anchovies ahead, then Robert Lewandowski levelled shortly before the break. The second half was end-to-end, and with BVB pushing for the victory, the visitors broke away and Eliseu’s 82nd minute tap-in looked to have won it. Thanks to the away goals rule, the hosts needed to score twice in eight minutes.
Well, eight minutes and injury time.
Marco Reus netted in the first of those added minutes before Felipe Santana bundled in a winner, with Malaga furious he was not flagged offside (he was – and so were numerous team-mates too). Klopp, as you’d expect, absolutely lost it.
7. Juventus 2-3 Manchester United
Semi-final, second leg, 1998/99
To describe Roy Keane’s display as among his best in a United shirt is like saying that the Sistine Chapel has a pretty ceiling.
When offside’s Filippo Inzaghi put the Old Lady 2-0 up inside 11 minutes (and 3-1 on aggregate), Keano inspired the Red Devils into the Camp Nou final through sheer force of will. The captain scored, got booked and played a key role in Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole’s goals to reach a showpiece that he would miss due to suspension.
6. Monaco 3-1 Real Madrid
Quarter-final, second leg, 2003/04
Modern football protocol dictates you don’t celebrate goals against former employers, especially if you’re on loan and your parent club are paying 65% of your wages.
But not if you are Fernando Morientes. With Monaco 5-2 down on aggregate to a side including Raul, Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, and with 45 minutes left, Morientes led an epic comeback. First he set up Ludovic Giuly, before his header – and celebration – gave the hosts genuine hope. When Giuly scored again, Real were finished.
“I’m going to enjoy this,” Morientes said at full-time. We’re sure he did.
5. Deportivo La Coruna 4-0 Milan
Quarter-final, second leg, 2003/04
No team had ever managed to overturn a three-goal first-leg deficit in the history of the Champions League, as Deportivo tried to overcome a 4-1 mauling by holders Milan at the Riazor.
Manager Javier Irureta, however, had a dream. Literally, becoming convinced of his players’ success on the morning of the match. ‘El Rifle’ Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valeron and Albert Luque gave Depor a 3-0 half-time lead. Fran’s winner on 76 minutes left Carlo Ancelotti looking like he’d seen a ghost.
“The game turned out exactly the way I dreamt it,” Irureta said at full-time. “It was almost mission impossible, but we gave a sensational first-half display to get the three goals that we needed.”
4. Milan 4-0 Barcelona
“You’re better than them,” Barça coach Johan Cruyff told his team as they took to the field. “You are going to win.”
His players, who’d won the trophy two years earlier and four consecutive La Ligas, took him at his word. “We had far too much confidence,” right-back Albert Ferrer told FFT. “We thought it would be easy and if we played to 60% or 70%, we would win.”
Centre-back Miguel Angel Nadal recalls the squad thinking they were “guaranteed” to win, especially with Europe’s deadliest forwards – Hristo Stoichkov and Romario – up front. Fabio Capello had other ideas, though. Able to “relax” because Cruyff didn’t select Michael Laudrup (who'd reached UEFA’s foreigner limit), the Rossoneri nullified Barcelona’s supply line with Marcel Desailly as a midfield destroyer. He also scored the last goal in an emphatic victory. Daniele Massaro netted two but it was playmaker Dejan Savicevic who stole the show.
“Without question, Dejan is the player with whom I had the most rows,” admitted Capello back in 2008. “He hardly trained, and whenever he was on the pitch everybody else had to work twice as hard, but he was an exceptional talent.”
The Yugoslav’s 47th-minute lob was the sort of goal that Barcelona would score. Cruyff’s Dream Team were never the same again.
3. Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich
Close your eyes and try to remember as much as you can about the first 90 minutes of the showpiece that inspired what’ll undoubtedly be Alex Ferguson’s epitaph: “Football, bloody hell.”
Bayern’s early strike might vaguely ring a bell: Ronny Johnsen upended Carsten Jancker for a free-kick, which was swerved into Peter Schmeichel’s net by Mario Basler. But beyond that? You've probably forgotten the Red Devils playing quite crisply but creating very little; Bayern hitting the woodwork twice; some weak efforts at goal from both Ryan Giggs and Jesper Blomqvist.
Injury time, however, is now seared into the brain. David Beckham’s corner and a mishit Giggs effort turned in by substitute Teddy Sheringham looked to have ensured extra time... but then another corner was headed down by Sheringham and poked home by the impishly ecstatic Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. A memorable knee-slide, a mobbing and a noise recalled by Italian referee Pierluigi Collina as a “lion’s roar” would follow.
As Samuel Kuffour sank to the turf and thumped it in despair, United toasted the greatest three minutes of their storied history.
2. Barcelona 6-1 Paris Saint-Germain
Last 16, second leg, 2016/17
“This is a sport for crazy people,” said Barça coach Luis Enrique afterwards. “I’d like to cry, but tears do not come out.”
Dumbfoundedness seemed like the appropriate response in the wake of the most preposterous game of football in recent memory. Barça were playing only for pride, really, having been flagellated 4-0 in the French capital three weeks earlier, and yet they raced into a 3-0 lead within 50 minutes thanks to Luis Suarez (who was at his devious and divey best), an own goal from Layvin Kurzawa and Lionel Messi's penalty.
The swell of hope around the Camp Nou was brutally punctured, however, when Edinson Cavani’s 62nd-minute strike left the Catalans needing three more to go through.
And in the last five minutes, they somehow got ’em. Two Neymar goals and a late Sergi Roberto winner prompted scenes of delirium on an industrial scale. Only Gerard Pique seemed to know how to respond.
“There will be a lot of love made tonight,” the central defender laughed at full-time. Shakira, Shakiraaa.
1. Milan 3-3 Liverpool
(2-3 pens) – Final, 2004/05
“You couldn’t write the script” is sport’s stupidest cliche – it would be relatively simple to write the script – but the Miracle of Istanbul, as it must be legally referred to at all times, remains European football’s most implausible and cinematic smash.
It could not completely be billed as an underdog story: Liverpool were well-drilled and had talent in their XI. But this was a side with Djimi Traore at left-back against a side who had Paolo Maldini at left-back; a gleaming Milanese XI containing Pirlo, Nesta, Gattuso, Seedorf, Cafu and Shevchenko up against Steve Finnan, Harry Kewell and Milan Baros – in a Liverpool squad that had finished 37 points behind Chelsea that year.
What truly set this showdown apart was the raw shock of the comeback. After Maldini had scored from Milan’s opening attack, Hernan Crespo added two more and Kaka ran amok. The humiliation of the Reds and the elation of their detractors during half-time appeared total (just imagine if Twitter had existed). They were toast: the extraordinary rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone at the interval was defiance, not hope.
But then the madness kicked in: Didi Hamann muffled Kaka, Steven Gerrard galloped forward, and in six minutes – thanks to Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso – Liverpool were level. As the shootout neared, the tension ratcheted unbearably, but there were still many snapshots to enjoy: Jerzy Dudek’s point-blank save to deny Shevchenko, Gerrard’s demonic drive and Jamie Carragher’s cramp-ravaged warfare.
Following Dudek’s Bruce Grobbelaar-inspired spaghetti-leg nostalgia, and his saving of that final spot-kick at 12.29am local time, the script was complete. The volume of the travelling Kop was insane. Liverpool had their fifth European Cup and a local hero in Gerrard to beatify. The Champions League had its greatest ever game.
This feature originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!