Top 5: Greatest Champions League Finals

Published 05/22/2016, 7:27 AM EDT


The grandest stage of European club football has been the setting of some spectacular footballing contests. While there has been a raft of drab, desperately dull encounters in what is the biggest and most high-profile face-off in continental football, there are several cases of the exact opposite. Games  that reinforce our faith in the romance of the sport and the never-ending capacity of football to excite, entertain and amaze. Here are five of the best Champions League finals since the tournament’s inception.

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It was an encounter memorable not only for its sporting value but also its symbolic and narrative importance to the game. This particular Champions League final was a clash of ideology, of moral position – Celtic’s vibrant, attacking collection of Scots all born within 20 miles of Parkhead against the abrasive, hard-nosed Italians managed by Helenio Herrera.

Inter’s rock solid defence helped protect their 0-1 lead after Sandro Mazzola’s penalty until just after an hour when Tommy Gemmell broke their resistance. Stevie Chalmers then netted an iconic winner six minutes from time, and football’s idealistic side had registered its most famous victory. Britain had its first European Champions.

4. Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich, 26 May 1999

It is the game around which Manchester United’s reputation for a never-say-die spirit and improbable late comebacks is centred. That night in Barcelona is when the legend of Alex Ferguson and his United side was created.

Mario Basler’s goal on six minutes gave Bayern a 0-1 lead that they held on to for the rest of normal time. Eventually, goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the winning goal, both from David Beckham corners, came in stoppage time. The goals, famously, came so late that the trophy had already been tied with ribbons in Bayern’s colours for a presentation ceremony that never was.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpjzAjsD2nA

 

To say Milan were a shambles in the lead up to this final would be an understatement. Marco van Basten was injured and the world’s most expensive footballer at the time, Gianluigi Lentini, could only make the bench. Key defenders Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta were suspended. UEFA regulations on foreigners also meant Brian Laudrup, Jean-Pierre Papin, and Florin Raducioiu were absent from the squad entirely. Barcelona on the other hand were scoring goals for fun and were in the form of their lives. And at the end of it all, Milan ran out 4-0, the eventual winners.

The absence of Michael Laudrup in Barcelona’s line-up meant Milan dominated the Catalans and blanketed their midfield. Marcel Desailly was superb – one of the scorers along with Daniele Massaro (2) and Dejan Savicevic. Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ had been thoroughly bested by a side that hadn’t won any of its last six league games. And it was all over before an hour had elapsed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1jcYPzqKPk

 

Without question one of the most dramatic and otherworldly ‘big games’ in the history of the sport. The game that a very fine Milan side absolutely dominated from its first half, racing onto a 0-3 lead with goals from captain Paolo Maldini and Hernan Crespo (2), with the Argentine forward’s second being set up by an absolute peach of a pass from Kaka.

It was a game that Liverpool needed only six minutes to claw themselves back into with goals from Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer, and Xabi Alonso in the second half restoring parity before Milan  had time to draw a breath. Liverpool had dragged what looked like a lost cause to penalties, with Jerzy Dudek denying Andriy Shevchenko late in extra time and again from the penalty spot to make Liverpool the champions of Europe for the fifth time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKNfwfI8wHU

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It was a day that the brilliance and beauty of the sport were confirmed as an art form. It was a day, as one of the scorers Ferenc Puskas remembered, that Madrid achieved some kind of footballing perfection. It was when Madrid, one report claimed, ‘played like angels’ at Hampden Park in Glasgow. An officially recorded crowd of 127, 621 watched perhaps the finest game of football ever, with two of its all-time greats in full cry, delivering a spectacle for the ages.

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Eintracht had actually taken a 0-1 lead after 18 minutes and then hit the bar as well. But those were their only meaningful gains in the match. From then on, Madrid was simply unstoppable. Alfredo Di Stefano scored a hat-trick and Puskas netted four of his own en route to a staggering 7-3 win – tied for the largest margin of victory in a Champions League final.

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Sushain Ghosh

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