The Greatest Champions League Finals
Whether under the guise of the European Cup or, after 1992, the Champions League, it has always been the pinnacle club competition in European Football. Along the way it has played host to some of the best players and sides in the history of the game and, unsurprisingly, has generated many thrilling finals. We take a look at five of them:
1960: Real Madrid 7 Frankfurt 3
In what is regarded as the greatest football match of all time in front of 127,000 fans at Hampden Park, a 10 goal European Cup final is a shoe in for a place on this list. Real Madrid, led by the ‘Blonde Arrow’ Alfredo Di Stefano and the ‘Galloping Major’ Ferenc Puskas had dominated the early years of Europe’s premier competition. They won the first four competitions and this was their most dominant display of the lot against a very good Frankfurt side.
Despite going behind after 12 minutes, Di Stefano scored a hat-trick while Puskas went one better with four goals in 24 minutes to take a gigantic 7-1 lead after 71 minutes. While Erwin Stein grabbed two late consolation goals, the result was never in doubt. The Spanish giants had displayed their dominance to the world and had collected their fifth straight title.
1962: Benfica 5 Real Madrid 3
Two years after their triumph, Madrid finally had let their iron clad grip on the European cup slip after losing to Barcelona. A year later, Di Stefano and co were back in the final and facing the new team on the block, Benfica containing a raw 20 year striker named Eusebio. Madrid were heavy favourites at the start of the match and the legendary Puskas quickly scored a 39 minute hat-trick to give them a 3-2 lead going into half time.
Benfica’s manager Bela Guttmann performed a tactical masterstroke cutting off Di Stefano and Puskas’ link up play and from then on, the Eagles ran riot. Six minutes after the break they were level through Mario Coluna’s wonder strike before Eusebio took centre stage. He gave Benfica the lead through a penalty he won himself and just five minutes later, a trademark thunderbolt sealed the victory for the Portuguese outfit. It was a night of stunning goals which was later dubbed ‘the night of the long shots’ and was the beginning of the end of Madrid’s European domination.
1994: AC Milan 4 Barcelona 0
In what was billed as the ultimate in attack vs defence when Johann Cryuff’s ‘dream team’ at Barcelona faced Fabio Capello’s miserly AC Milan. 104 league and cup goals took on the defence that had conceded just 15 all season. Milan’s star men in Marco Van Basten and Gianluigi Lentini were missing and fans were expecting a Barcelona goal fest.
What they got was the best performance in a European final by a single side as Milan dominated the Spaniards. Daniele Massaro scored a brace before half time to put the Italians in command and Dejan Savicevic finished off the contest just three minutes after the break. Considering that Milan had only conceded two goals during the whole competition, it was almost impossible for Barcelona to respond and they never did. Marcel Desailley strode through the defence to add a fourth with 30 minutes and in typical Italian style, they set up shop and saw the game out with ease to claim their fifth European title.
1999: Manchester United 2 Bayern Munich 1
Both Manchester and Munich were on course for unprecedented trebles when they met in Barcelona in the final European Cup final of the 20th Century. In terms of the result, it was a robbery as Munich were tactically dominant for almost the entire match thanks to Mario Basler. They had hit the woodwork twice in the second half and had defended superbly for almost 90 minutes, sending United into desperation.
As the game clicked into stoppage time, Peter Schmichael came up for a David Beckham corner. After a goal mouth scramble and a poor Ryan Giggs shot, Teddy Sheringham diverted the ball into the net to send the game seemingly into extra time. Wrong. Two minutes later another Beckham corner was flicked on by Sheringham to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who shot out a boot to send the ball into the net. The United fans flew into raptures; Schmichael performed his cart wheel and the famous changing of the ribbons was forced upon the tournament organisers.
2005: Liverpool 3 AC Milan 3
The most dramatic final in European Cup history on a wild night in Istanbul. AC Milan were rightly favourites with legends like Paolo Maldini, Andrey Shevchenko and Kaka in their side and quickly took the lead within the first minute through Maldini. Hernan Crespo then scored two just before half time to apparently send Liverpool into oblivion. It caused some Liverpool fans to leave the stadium early. How wrong that decision was.
In a manic seven minute period, Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso scored three goals to draw level. The English side somehow managed to hang onto that scoreline through the rest of the match thanks to some fantastic goalkeeping by Jerzy Dudek. The game came down to penalties and somehow, thanks to Dudek’s wobbly knees, AC Milan missed three of their spot kicks handing Liverpool their fifth title in the most stunning of comebacks.