Best ever Champions League games
The 2017/18 Champions League is back! The knockout stage is under way, with some mouth-watering matches. Whether any of them will go down as all-time classics remains to be seen.
In this slideshow, we count down the 20 greatest games in Europe’s premier club competition since it was rebranded in 1992/93.
20. Barcelona 0-4 Dynamo Kyiv
Group stage, 1997/98
In 1986, a nine-year-old child had to be evacuated from his home in Kyiv’s suburbs after the Chernobyl nuclear reactor 80 miles north exploded, spewing a radioactive cloud into the atmosphere.
Eleven years later, Andriy Shevchenko was scoring a hat-trick against a Barça side that featured Rivaldo and Luis Figo. “In Kyiv, we had beaten Barcelona 3-0 and a friend said, ‘Let’s see how you do in the return’,” Sheva later laughed. “He bet me that I wouldn’t score three goals. He ended up buying dinner.”
19. Inter 1-5 Arsenal
Group stage, 2003/04
Arsenal fans could have been forgiven for arriving at San Siro with some trepidation. True, they had won 10 of their opening 13 league matches, but defeats to Inter (3-0) and Dynamo Kiev (2-1) plus a goalless draw with Lokomotiv Moscow left the Gunners bottom of their group with only four points from as many matches.
On the plus side, they did have Thierry Daniel Henry. Twenty-six and at the peak of his powers, the French forward tore apart an Inter defence that contained future World Cup winners Marco Materazzi and Fabio Cannavaro.
Beginning with a first-time sidefoot from the edge of the area, Henry was unstoppable, also setting up Freddie Ljungberg four minutes after the interval to fire the Londoners into a 2-1 lead. The Frenchman’s movement and probing proved far too much for a shattered Nerazzurri rearguard, who allowed Henry, Edu and Robert Pires to each find the net in the last five minutes.
18. Monaco 8-3 Deportivo La Coruna
Group stage, 2003/04
Croatian forward Dado Prso benefited most from a remarkably open match, netting four times in the competition’s highest-scoring match until Dortmund’s 8-4 win over Legia Warsaw last season. Deportivo were certainly no mugs, having finished second in La Liga in 2001/02, but this was a night to forget.
It was only once the score reached 7-3 on 52 minutes that the teams seemingly chose to play a little more cautiously. Monaco went on to make the Gelsenkirchen finale, where their own defensive fallibility cost them against Porto.
17. Manchester City 5-3 Monaco
Last 16, first leg, 2016/17
This see-saw thriller at the Etihad Stadium ushered in the arrival of Leonardo Jardim’s dynamic young side, despite defeat. An unexpectedly open game - the first time eight goals had been scored in the opening leg of a Champions League knockout tie – swung to-and-fro, with the Ligue 1 upstarts leading 2-1 and 3-2 before City came on strong with efforts from Sergio Aguero, John Stones and Leroy Sane.
The Sky Blues thought they’d had a lucky escape, until a 3-1 loss in the return leg three weeks later sent Pep Guardiola’s men packing.
16. Ajax 5-2 Bayern Munich
Semi-final, second leg, 1994/95
The Amsterdammers were dominant in Europe in the 1970s, but their mid-'90s vintage - an incredible team featuring Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf, Marc Overmars, Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert and the De Boer twins – was almost as iconic.
The most devastating performance of their run to the trophy in 1994/95 was the demolition of Bayern at Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium. After a goalless first leg in Germany, Louis van Gaal’s side took an early lead courtesy of a Jari Litmanen header, only to be pegged back by Marcel Witeczek.
But with half-time approaching, the Dutch giants took a stranglehold: Finidi George rocketed one in from just outside the box and Ronald de Boer netted for 3-1, with Litmanen and Overmars later finding the net to put the cherry on the icing on the cake.
15. Barcelona 1-0 Inter
Semi-final, second leg, 2009/10
“The players left their blood out on the pitch,” Jose Mourinho proudly announced after a narrow defeat at the Camp Nou that was enough for his Inter side to scrape into the 2010 final. Their performance was typically Mourinho: dogged, defensive and decisive – a plan borne of necessity due to the early red card for Thiago Motta.
Motta’s dismissal – for appearing to catch Sergio Busquets in the neck – was farcical thanks to the Barça midfielder’s comic overreaction. Inter were not amused.
Gerard Pique scored late on, but it wasn't enough. When the full-time whistle finally sounded, Mourinho maniacally sprinted across the pitch, windmilling his arm like an Iberian Mick Channon. His celebrations were only halted when a Camp Nou groundsman turned on the sprinklers.
14. Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool
Quarter-final, second leg, 2008/09
In an era when all-English clashes were 10 a penny, this encounter was the pick of the bunch. Chelsea had won 3-1 at Anfield, but appeared in danger after a cheeky Fabio Aurelio free-kick and Xabi Alonso penalty brought the Reds level by the interval.
Second-half strikes by Didier Drogba, Alex (a bullet of a free-kick) and Frank Lampard turned the tide, only for Lucas and Dirk Kuyt to quickly put the visitors back ahead on the night. Lampard’s late strike settled Blues nerves and ensured a semi-final showdown with Barcelona (and Tom Henning Ovrebo).
13. Chelsea 4-2 Barcelona
Last 16, second leg, 2004/05
After a 2-1 first-leg defeat at the Camp Nou in which Didier Drogba was sent off, Chelsea gaffer Jose Mourinho accused Barça counterpart Frank Rijkaard of entering the referee’s room during half-time. Referee Anders Frisk subsequently received death threats and soon quit the game.
Chelsea flew out of the blocks in the return leg with Eidur Gudjohnsen, Frank Lampard and Damien Duff firing Chelsea into a 3-0 advantage after 20 minutes. Ronaldinho halved the aggregate deficit from the spot 10 minutes later, then provided the most incredible moment of the tie with a stunning toe-poked finish.
Chelsea now trailed on away goals, but a John Terry header sent the Blues through on a night which ended in chaos with a Barça-powered tunnel scrap.
12. Liverpool 3-1 Olympiacos
Group stage, 2004/05
Liverpool’s other European miracle of 2004/05. The Reds entered the final group match three points behind the Greeks, needing a win by two clear goals to sneak through on head-to-head having lost 1-0 away.
Rivaldo put Olympiacos 1-0 up, but the unlikely duo of Florent Sinama Pongolle and Neil Mellor made it 2-1. With the minutes ticking down, Jamie Carragher lobbed the ball into the box for Mellor, who nodded it down for Steven Gerrard to wallop home. As co-commentator Andy Gray exclaimed: “Ohhhh you beauty!”
11. Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United
It's hard to imagine a team ever playing quite as well as this again. This was surely the pinnacle for Pep Guardiola’s Barça, who wiped the floor with Manchester United in trademark style.
Pedro Rodriguez’s cool finish put the Catalans in front at Wembley, only for Wayne Rooney to sweep home the equaliser. But then Guardiola’s men started to move up several gears. Lionel Messi surged forward to regain the lead, before David Villa bent a glorious third past Edwin van der Sar from distance. A magnificent masterclass.
10. Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid
If ever a contest came to define the destinies of two participants, then it was the 1974 European Cup Final. When Bayern Munich equalised with the last kick of the game – winning a replay two days later 4-0 – they went on to retain the trophy twice and become a European superpower.
Atletico, on the other hand, became el Pupas; “the jinxed one”, doomed forever to be bridesmaids. Diego Simeone’s men may have recently won the La Liga title, but the hangover from a 14-year winless streak over los Blancos remained.
Atletico took the lead and kept Real at bay until the 93rd minute, when Sergio Ramos equalised. Shattered and out of substitutes, Atletico were battered in extra time as Real clinched their 10th European Cup.
9. Werder Bremen 5-3 Anderlecht
Group stage, 1993/94
With his side 3-0 down with 24 minutes to play against the Belgian champions, things weren’t looking too rosy for Bremen’s manager Otto Rehhagel. But he always believed, mainly because he had Wynton Rufer in his ranks. The New Zealander may not be a household name, but so impressed was Rehhagel with the forward’s technique in his first training session that the coach asked him: “Why aren’t you playing for Real Madrid?”
Rufer’s dinked 66th-minute effort offered hope; a Rune Bratseth header six minutes later brought genuine belief. Panic duly infected Anderlecht’s rearguard, and the goal avalanche ended with Rufer’s second. The Miracle of the Weser – the river which runs through Bremen – was born.
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.
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. Dortmund weren’t done there, though, scoring twice in injury time to advance to the last four.
7. Juventus 2-3 Manchester United
Semi-final, second leg, 1998/99
To describe Roy Keane’s performance as impressive 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 simply refused to let the Red Devils buckle.
Having got the crucial first goal back, he received a yellow card which would rule him out of the final; nevertheless, within a minute Dwight Yorke levelled on the night, and with Keane imperious, United won it late on through Andy Cole to reach a showpiece without their skipper.
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’re Fernando Morientes. With Monaco 5-2 down on aggregate to a side including Raul, Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, Morientes led an epic comeback in the second half. First he set up Ludovic Giuly, before his header – and celebration – gave the hosts genuine hope. When Giuly scored again, Real were finished.
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
Centre-back Miguel Angel Nadal recalls the Barcelona 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 (whose inclusion would have breached 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 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.”
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.
2. Barcelona 6-1 Paris Saint-Germain
Last 16, second leg, 2016/17
Barça were only playing for pride in this second leg, having been flagellated 4-0 in the French capital three weeks earlier. Nevertheless, 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.
In the last five minutes, they somehow got them. Two Neymar goals and a late Sergi Roberto winner prompted scenes of delirium on an industrial scale.
1. Milan 3-3 Liverpool (2-3 pens)
“You couldn’t write the script” is sport’s stupidest cliché – it would be relatively simple to write the script – but the Miracle of Istanbul remains European football’s most implausible and cinematic smash.
What truly set this showdown apart was the raw shock of the comeback. After Paolo 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).
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. Jerzy Dudek then saved from Andriy Shevchenko in extra time, before denying the same player – as well as Andrea Pirlo – in the penalty shoot-out to ensure victory.
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