Last year’s Champions League final was fairly forgettable, although Liverpool fans might disagree. However, the biggest club game in world football often delivers in a big way. This year’s final will, of course, be very different from the others due to the game being played behind closed doors in Lisbon due to the global pandemic. Here are five of the greatest Champions League finals ever. Could this year’s join the list?
The five greatest Champions League finals
2005: AC Milan 3-3 (2-3 on penalties) Liverpool
Where else could we start but with Istanbul? Liverpool produced one of sport’s all-time great comebacks to win the 2004-05 Champions League title under Rafael Benitez.
AC Milan made a flying start with legendary defender Paolo Maldini putting them in front in the very first minute. A double from Hernan Crespo before the break then ensured Milan had one hand on the trophy at the half-time interval but, in retrospect, perhaps they had taken the win for granted.
Few would have bet on a Liverpool victory at that point but an inspirational performance from Steven Gerrard, coupled with tactical tweaks from Benitez, got them back into the contest.
Gerrard’s header sparked the initial flame of hope and when Vladimir Smicer fired home from long range, the momentum was suddenly with the Anfield club. Gerrard then charged into the penalty area to win a penalty which was converted by Xabi Alonso at the second attempt to make it 3-3.
AC Milan should still have won it. Jerzy Dudek somehow kept out Andriy Shevchenko with an amazing double-save in extra-time, then the Polish goalkeeper was the hero again in the shoot-out, making another key save from Shevchenko. Football has never seen anything like it, undoubtedly one of the greatest Champions League finals ever.
1994: AC Milan 4-0 Barcelona
Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona were widely expected to win the 1994 final, not least because AC Milan were without a host of star players including Marco van Basten, Gianluigi Lentini, Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta. Other key men including Brian Laudrup had to be left out of the Milan squad due to a rule regarding the selection of non-nationals in the team.
Coach Fabio Capello somehow masterminded one of the great team performances despite missing all those players. Daniele Massaro scored twice in the first half with Dejan Savicevic then lobbing goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta, before Marcel Desailly wrapped up the scoring.
Barca had just won the La Liga title for the fourth year in a row, but came unstuck in spectacular fashion against Milan at the Olympic Stadium in Athens.
2014: Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid
Real Madrid were hunting La Decima – their 10th Champions League title – and a derby meeting with rivals Atletico Madrid in the 2014 final in Lisbon provided the ideal occasion to claim it.
But it was Atletico who struck first through Diego Godin. Diego Costa then had to be substituted due to injury which affected the Atletico attacking threat thereafter. With Atleti just moments away from securing their first Champions League title, a Sergio Ramos header forced extra-time.
Atleti’s resistance somewhat crumbled in the added period, with goals from Gareth Bale, Marcelo and, inevitably, Cristiano Ronaldo, ensuring it was Madrid who would be celebrating.
When the two sides met again in the final two years later, it was Real Madrid who came out on top again. This time they needed penalties to get the better of Diego Simeone’s Rojiblancos after another 1-1 draw in normal time.
2011: Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United
Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were at their peak in 2011 with Manchester United unable to lay a glove on them at Wembley Stadium.
Under Alex Ferguson, United had won four Premier League titles in five years but were completely outplayed by a Barcelona midfield that rarely gave away the ball. Lionel Messi was unplayable, setting up Pedro for the opener and drilling in Barca’s second from the edge of the box. He then created the decisive third goal for David Villa to secure Barcelona’s victory.
Wayne Rooney had levelled the scores at 1-1 for United but there has rarely been a more one-sided Champions League final with Barca completely in control from the first whistle to the last.
1997: Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Juventus
Arguably the biggest Champions League final upset saw Borussia Dortmund beat Juventus 3-1 in 1997 at the Olympiastadion in Munich. The game was a repeat of the 1994 UEFA Cup final, which had been won by Juve but Dortmund were able to gain their revenge with a superb display.
Though Ottmar Hitzfeld had led Dortmund to successive Bundesliga titles, few gave BVB any hope against a Juve team widely considered to be the best in the world at that time.
Against all the odds, Karl-Heinz Riedle opened the scoring against the run of play, with the striker then doubling Dortmund’s lead with a header from a corner. Alessandro del Piero came off the bench to get a goal back for Juve but a stunning chip from Lars Ricken, one of the great Champions League final goals, sealed the win for Dortmund. For it’s status as one of the great footballing upsets, it has to be considered among the greatest Champions League finals ever.