Five Champions League finals that took our breath away

This is one match that isn't just about pride or bragging rights or creating footballing theatre. Rather the Champions League final is all about proving that you are the best in the world.

Ashish Magotra May 27, 2011 14:16:40 IST
Five Champions League finals that took our breath away

This is one match that isn’t just about pride or bragging rights or creating footballing theatre. Rather, the Champions League final is all about proving that you are the best in the world. So when Barcelona and Manchester United clash on Saturday night, you can be sure that the world over, all eyes will be on them.

Europe has always had the ability and the moolah to attract the best footballing talent in the world and if there’s any stage where all these players want to showcase their talent then it is the Champions League final.

This year’s final is already being given a chance of being one of the best ever. But surely that’s a tall claim. From Zinedine Zidane’s perfect volley for Real Madrid in 2002, to Manchester United’s epic turn around against Bayern Munich in 1999, the Champions League final or the European Cup, as it was known earlier, has served up a feast of thrillers. Here we have a look at five edge-of-the-seat thrillers that refuse to fade from our memory, indeed the best of the best and hope Saturday’s final is half as good as them.

5. Real Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen (2002)

It was during this era that Real Madrid became a financial powerhouse exploiting the club's high marketing potential around the world. This potential was the result of some big-name signing -- Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Claude Makelele and more. But despite winning the La Liga in 2000-01, Madrid knew that unless they tasted European success, they would be considered failures. It was in this backdrop that the Galacticos were able to win Real Madrid’s ninth European title.

Raul gave them the lead in the eighth minute but Lucio helped even the scales five minutes later. Leverkusen were defending well and for all their attacking nous, Madrid were unable to break through until Zinedine Zidane scored one of the greatest goals in history, nailing in a high cross by Roberto Carlos, using his weaker left foot and past Hans-Jörg Butt to give Real Madrid the 2-1 lead.

A young Iker Casillas managed to keep Leverkusen at bay after coming in as a substitute for injured keeper Cesar in the 68th minute. And that was that. Victory was theirs.

Final score: Real Madrid 2 Bayer Leverkusen 1

4. Benfica v Real Madrid (1962)

This win was probably the toughest of the lot. In order to defend their title, Benfica had to get past four lions: the Portuguese champions, Sporting Lisbon, the first team to win the English League and F.A.Cup ‘double’ in the twentieth century, Tottenham Hotspur, the side that had just won their third Serie A Championship in four years, Juventus, and the winners of the previous five European Cups, Real Madrid.

Just reaching the final was an achievement in itself but then to beat Real Madrid in the final after being down at the break made it that much more special. It was the seventh ever European Cup final and the first time that Madrid had lost a European Cup final.

In the final, Ferenc ‘The Galloping Major’ Puskás scored a first half hat-trick and despite goals from Domiciano Cavém and Domiciano Cavém, Benfica found themselves down 3-2 at the break. The prospects seemed bleak but no one told Eusebio that.

In the second half, led by the young ‘Black Panther,’ Benfica came alive. Mário Coluna and a young Eusébio scored thrice as the Portuguese sealed an improbable 5-3 win to win their second consecutive European Cup.

Final score: Benfica 5 Real Madrid 3

3. Real Madrid v Eintracht Frankfurt (1960)

Five Champions League finals that took our breath away

18th May 1960: Loy, the Eintracht goal keeper can only watch as Ferenc Puskas of Real Madrid scores his team's sixth goal during the European Cup Final against Eintracht at Hampden Park, Glasgow. Real Madrid won 7-3. Getty Images

When a neutral crowd of 127,621 – still the biggest by far for a European final -- gives both teams a 45-minute standing ovation at the final whistle, you know that they must have witnessed something very special indeed. Madrid were in their fifth consecutive final – they had won the first four – and the incredible talents of Di Stefano and Puskas were the driving force. Frankfurt weren’t pushovers either. They had proved themselves with a 12-4 aggregate victory over the Rangers.

The final turned into a 10-goal thriller. Overall, Di Stéfano and Puskás scored seven goals and the two legends were able to win Real Madrid's fifth European Cup in a row, a record that will never be broken.

And even though Frankfurt fought hard, at the end of it all, Madrid proved they were in a league of their own.

Final score: Real Madrid 7 Eintracht Frankfurt 3

2. Manchester United v Bayern Munich (1999)

Five Champions League finals that took our breath away

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United celebrates his late winner with team mates Ronny Johnsen and Dwight Yorke in the UEFA Champions League Final against Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp in Barcelona, Spain. Gary M Prior/Allsport

For United, it had been a long time coming. This was their first European Cup final since 1968 and for manager Alex Ferguson, it was a chance to win English football’s first treble. And they had to do it without their inspirational skipper, Roy Keane.

The path to the final hadn’t been easy. United had fought back in the semi-final leg after conceding two early away goals to beat Juventus. In the eyes of many, this was and perhaps still is one of the greatest comebacks in sport's history.

Bayern Munich took early control of the game after Mario Basler scored off a free kick in the sixth minute, and had several more great chances but were unable to increase the lead.

The game seemed to be heading Bayern’s way and even when Ferguson got on his Super Subs, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær – it seemed like just a token move. But who knew!

With less than 90 seconds of stoppage time left, Sheringham scored. Then, Solskjaer forced a corner, David Beckham took it, Sheringham nodded it on and a Norwegian big toe deflected it into the roof of Oliver Kahn's net from three yards. The celebrations were wild.

Final Score: Manchester United 2 Bayern Munich 1

1. Liverpool v AC Milan (2005)

This was a comeback to top all others. Milan were hot favourites and Premiership stragglers Liverpool had defied the odds by making it to the final in the place. And things seemed to be going to plan when Milan slammed three goals in the first half. As the teams made their way into the dressing room, one could see the devastated expressions on the faces of the Liverpool players. The Milan side, in comparison, seemed confident and relaxed. The bookmakers decided that it was all over as well and Liverpool was rated at 100-1 to get back in the game.

Then the miracle happened. Within 16 minutes of the second half starting, Liverpool scored three. After 10 minutes, Steven Gerrard scored what many thought was a consolation score. Three minutes later, Vladimir Smicer scored another for the Reds. After another three minutes, Liverpool were awarded a penalty which befitting the occasion was saved but the subsequent rebound found its way into the net.

Suddenly, it was all even. And we had a match on our hands. The deadlock continued into extra time and it finally took a penalty shootout to decide the winner. Liverpool won their fifth European title and it was no doubt their most memorable.

Final Score: Liverpool 3 AC Milan 3 (Liverpool wins 3-2 on penalties)

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