The Premier League. La Liga. Die Bundesliga. Ligue 1. Serie A. Whichever league your team of choice plays their trade in, reaching the Champions League is their ultimate aspiration. It’s a sign that your club has reached a pantheon of greatness reserved for only the finest teams on the planet, and if your side has ever been fortunate enough to lift the famous old trophy, then you’ll know that it’s a sight that lasts with you, the fan, forever. In celebration of the world’s greatest annual football tournament, Teams on Tour break down the 10 best Champions League moments in history.
In no particular order…
Late one May in ’99…
A sporting feat that’s still sung about by Manchester United fans today, in 1999, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils were on the brink of winning the treble. But it proved to be a tricky night for the Reds as their opponents, Bayern Munich, scored early though Mario Basler, establishing a one-goal advantage that would last for most of the game. That was until Teddy Sheringham equalised in the first minute of second half injury time. Then, the baby-faced assassin Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made history, scoring in the 93rd minute of the match and securing United’s legacy in Europe’s greatest competition.
Real Madrid. Not a bad team really, are they? But in 2014, the Spanish giants were more than a little thirsty for another Champions League title as they’d gone a whole 12 years without lifting the trophy that had held pride and place in their cabinet for decades prior. But to get their hands on the silverware, they’d need to beat their hometown rivals Atletico in what was sure to be a closely fought derby match. And closely fought it was, Diego Godin scored in the 36th minute for Atleti, and the red-and-whites took Ancelotti’s Galacticos to the very limit, until none other than Sergio Ramos equalised in the 93rd minute (why is it always the 93rd?) inspiring Real to an eventual 4-1 victory. The dream of La Decima was finally a reality.
One night in Istanbul
Liverpool FC have a storied past in the Champions League, having lifted this treasured piece of silverware five times in their history. But in the 2005 final, held in Istanbul, proved to be a dramatic night in the club’s history as they were taken to the brink of tragedy at half time, 3-0 down to AC Milan. Then, the unthinkable happened. Liverpool scored three goals in six minutes to tie up the game which would eventually be taken to penalties. Queue one top notch Jerzy Dudek save and Liverpool were lifting their fifth European trophy.
An English rivalry
The 2008 Champions League final had a touch of fire to it as English rivals Chelsea and Manchester United battered each other over 90 minutes in Moscow. Cristiano Ronaldo drew first blood before Frank Lampard levelled in the 45th minute. Neither team could break the deadlock, even through extra time, so it fell to penalties to decide who would be crowned champions. The shootout was an incredibly tense affair, with United talisman Ronaldo missing his chance to score. The game was in Chelsea’s hands, but unbelievably, John Terry wildly missed his opportunity to give the blues the match and practically sealed United’s victory there and then.
Drogba saves the day
In many ways, the writing was on the wall before the 2012 Champions League final had even begun. Bayern Munich were playing on home soil, while Chelsea, who had yet to win the greatest piece of silverware in club football, were facing fierce opposition from the home fans. Yet the match told a different story. The game was drawn level at 0-0 until Thomas Muller nodded home a one goal advantage. The situation was dire for Chelsea, until Juan Mata launched a superb corner into the box where “The King” Didier Drogba exercised his superb heading skills and beat one of the best keepers in the world to score. One penalty shootout later, and the trophy belonged to Chelsea
Need we say more? Possibly one of the greatest goals in the history of the Champions League and certainly one of the best moments in the competition’s storied past, Zinedine Zidane’s unbelievable volley against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 final had to be seen to be believed. Dropping from a vertical angle, nobody expected what happened next; Zidane swinging his boot at the ball like a madman. A very precise madman, who knew that he was about to launch a truly unstoppable hit.
The Champions League has witnessed some truly outstanding managerial talent over the decades, and in 2004, another young manager was about to announce himself on the world stage. Jose Mourinho had taken FC Porto all the way to the final, with the task of delivering the club its first European trophy since 1987. And did he? You betcha. Porto walked away from Denmark with the silverware in their grasp and a comfortable score of 3-0.
Leeds beat the odds
Yep. Believe it or not, there was a time (yeah, in the 2000’s!?) where LEEDS UNITED, the very same team who, as of writing, play their trade in the Championship, reached the semi-finals of the Champions League. Scoring through Ian Harte, Alan Smith and a fledgling Rio Ferdinand, the whites reached a 3-0 advantage in the first leg of the tie. With the second leg merely an exercise in losing in style, Deportivo La Coruna failed to score more than twice ensuring Leeds United sealed their spot in the semi’s for the first time in 26 years.
To be fair, we could probably write a whole blog based on Barcelona’s Champions League dominance over the years. But if we had to pick just one, it would be this. In 2011, Manchester United and Barcelona would contest the famous old trophy in a rematch of their 2009 clash (which Barca won 2-0). This time, however, the match took place on home soil for United in Wembley Stadium, London. The result, however, was never in doubt for the Blaugrane’s. Outclassing a superb Manchester United side at every turn and convincing Sir Alex Ferguson that man of the match Messi was indeed the real deal.
In possibly the greatest moment in Champions League history that hasn’t taken place on the pitch, UEFA were forced to change the rules for entry to allow Liverpool to defend their title after the Merseyside reds finished outside of league qualification in 2004-05 season. It was unanimously received as the right decision by football fans across Europe and in the end, the tournament itself was the winner.