As this (extended) season’s Champions League gets back underway, beginning with the remaining second leg ties of the Round of 16 this week, fans around the world will be jubilant to see the stars of Europe’s elite back on the big stage.
We’re at that point in the tournament where underdogs can still spring a surprise, but one of the usual favourites will undoubtedly still reign supreme – making it difficult to predict the winner when betting on Champions League.
As we gear up to the final at the Estádio da Luz on August 23rd, let’s take a walk down memory lane and look back at some of the best Champions League finals.
2014: Real Madrid 4-1 Atlético Madrid (AET)
Not just another thrilling Madrid derby, but one with extra spice as Real Madrid were looking to win their tenth Champions League title, while rivals Atlético Madrid had recently won La Liga – securing the championship on Catalonian turf at Camp Nou.
Atléti took the lead in the first half through Diego Godín, who had seen another Diego limp off injured – Costa, that is – much earlier in the half. It was a matter of when and not if, their defence would be breached. Often the villain, but this time the hero, Sergio Ramos’ stoppage time header sent the game to extra time and Real let their class show.
Inspired by Ángel Di María’s man-of-the-match-performance, Gareth Bale, Marcelo and who else but Cristiano Ronaldo, added to the tally to see Los Blancos run out worthy winners – finally securing La Decima.
1997: Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Juventus
Considered one of the biggest shocks in Champions League Final history, the German club were making only their second appearance in this era of the competition, while they faced the holders and well-respected European powerhouse, Juventus. Karl-Heinz Riedle netted a first-half brace, sending the Italians into shock.
Their usual slick and silky play had been well stifled, with Dortmund’s midfield managing to keep Zinedine Zidane quiet. Changes were needed and second half substitute Alessandro Del Piero pulled one back for Juve just after the hour mark.
But Dortmund quickly restored their two-goal cushion – Lars Ricken’s audacious chip, with his first touch of the game, sealing victory and completing this underdog’s tale.
2011: Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United
Barcelona under Pep Guardiola in their prime were a delight to watch and were on a completely different level to anyone else, domestically and in Europe. If a single game could define the Spaniard’s time at Barca, this is it. Even at 24 years old, Lionel Messi was pivotal to every goal – setting up two and scoring one.
His mazy run confused United’s defence and allowed Pedro to open the scoring, before Wayne Rooney equalised. In the second half, Barcelona were dominant, their pass-and-move football a joy to fans watching on, all over the world.
Although they could have retaken the lead on countless occasions, Messi got his name on the scoresheet and turned provider to round-up the scoring – David Villa’s curling shot reaching the top corner and handing Barça yet another European title.
1994: AC Milan 4-0 Barcelona
The Catalans were the overwhelming favourites ahead of this clash in Athens – and Milan’s preparations could not have been worse, with seven players ruled out due to injuries or suspension.
But the Italians came out all fired up, producing one of the best Champions League Final performances ever, scoring four goals in the process to record the greatest winning margin in the current era. Daniele Massaro was at the double in the first half, as Milan were dominant.
It was a night to forget for defender Miguel Ángel Nadal who was at fault for the first goal, and the third, as Dejan Savićević lobbed the Barça goalkeeper to make it 3-0. Marcel Desailly completed the rout before the hour mark, and that’s how the scoreline stayed.
2005: AC Milan 3-3 Liverpool (2-3 pen)
We still talk about that miraculous night in İstanbul and while Liverpool won’t be returning to the final this season, having been knocked out by Atlético Madrid, 2005’s has to go down as the greatest of all-time. Milan got off to the best possible start when Paolo Maldini put them ahead in the opening minute, and many would have thought that Hernán Crespo’s brace killed the game off at the break.
But Liverpool staged one of the almightiest comebacks, scoring three goals in six second half minutes: captain Steven Gerrard, Vladimír Šmicer and Xabi Alonso all netting to level the score. Extra time ensued and neither side could capitalise – after 30 minutes, the final would be concluded by penalties.
Milan were up first, and Serginho missed, while Dietmar Hamann put Liverpool in front. Milan failed to score their second spot-kick; Andrea Pirlo’s penalty saved by Jerzy Dudek. Djibril Cissé made it 2-0, before Jon Tomasson finally got Milan off the mark and John Arne Riise missed. Kaká managed to level the scores and after Šmicer scored for the second time in the match, Andriy Shevchenko missed to end what was a thrilling finale.