Liverpool take on Real Madrid in Kiev this Saturday in the Champions League Final. But believe it or not, the European Cup (as the Mundial-reading aficionados call it) actually existed long before Gazprom and pre-match fireworks. And there have been some extraordinary finals throughout the years. Here’s what we think are the Top 5 best ever!
5) Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich, 1999
Most United fans will probably argue this should be higher. But while it undoubtedly had one of, if not the, best ever endings to a European Cup final, Manchester United’s incredible last-gasp win at the Nou Camp against Bayern Munich shouldn’t distract you from the fact that the 1999 final was actually a fairly poor game up until that point. That said, moments define a game, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s winner is up there with the most memorable.
Mario Basler gave Bayern the lead from a free kick that, before both Mehmet Scholl and Carsten Jancker hit the woodwork. The rest is history. Teddy Sheringham equalised in injury time then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won it, culminating an astonishing treble for United – arguably the greatest achievement in English club football.
4) Benfica 5-3 Real Madrid, 1962
Forget the likes of Ronaldo, Zidane and Beckham, Real Madrid have always been the Galacticos. And back in 1962, the two best players on the planet, Alfredo di Stefano and Ference Puskas, lined up for Real as they took on Benfica in the Final. Benfica were defending champions but Real has won the previous 5 finals before that. Unsurprisingly, the match was billed as the clash of the titans and it’s fair to say it delivered.
A young Eusébio, who was just 20 years old at the time, led Benfica to a 5-3 victory despite a first-half hat-trick from Puskas. Hungarian manager, Bela Guttman, left the club shortly after due to a pay dispute, cursing, “Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion.” It’s now 56 years and eight finals and counting…
3) AC Milan 4-0 Barcelona, 1994
Everyone loves an upset and arguably the biggest in European Cup final history was AC Milan’s demolition of a star-studded Barcelona side in Athens at the 1994 final. Barcelona were playing some of the best attacking football Europe had ever witnessed under the management of Johan Cruyff, with the likes of Romario, Hristo Stoichkov, Josep Guardiola, Ronaldo Koeman at the peak of their powers.
Though Italian champions, the Rossoneri had failed to win any of their last six league games and also had Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta out through suspension, and a certain Marco van Basten missing through injury. But Milan dominated the game, running away 4-0 winners with goals from Daniele Massaro (2), Dejan Savicevic and Marcel Desailly.
2) Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt, 1960
Will Messi, Neymar and Suarez might seem like it’s hard to beat, but if you’re after the greatest front three in football history, you’d be hard pressed to find a better trio than Real Madrid’s 1960 European Cup winning combo of Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo di Stefano and Francisco Gento.
The final against Eintracht Frankfurt at Hampden Park almost didn’t go ahead, with the always prickly Puskas having to apologise for accusing the West Germany side that beat his Hungarians at the 1954 World Cup final of being on drugs. Unfortunately for Frankfurt, despite taking an early lead, Puskas clearly had a bee in his bonnet and went on to score four goals in the game, with di Stefano grabbing a hat-trick too.
1) AC Milan 3-3 Liverpool (2-3 Pens), 2005
It couldn’t really be anything else, could it? Hernan Crespo had just put AC Milan 3-0 up before half-time when the Guardian’s live commentary text read, ‘If the Liverpool team was a dog, you’d shoot it at this stage.’ It was hard to disagree. But what followed was gloriously absurd with Liverpool grabbing what everyone thought was a consolation through their talisman, Steven Gerrard. But 6 minutes later, the Reds were unbelievably level thanks to goals from Vladimír Šmicer and an equaliser from Xabi Alonso from his own rebounded penalty. The God’s were smiling on Merseyside when Jerzy Dudek pulled off a quite remarkable save from Andriy Shevchenko in extra time, before saving the same man’s penalty in the subsequent shoot-out.
The result was even more staggering given Milan set up with a side that featured Pirlo, Kaká, Seedorf, Stam, Cafu, Gattusso, Dida, Nesta and Maldini, as well as Shevchenko and Crespo. Liverpool started the game with Steve Finnan, Djimi Traore and Milan Baroš. Liverpool’s win in Istanbul isn’t just the greatest European Cup final, it’s also one of the greatest ever comebacks in football history. Roll on, Kiev…
Also check out what we think are the best ever Champions League games.