Aside the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA Champions League is easily the biggest football event held every year in Europe. It features top clubs from Europe’s elite leagues with the best of the very best players participating.
Juventus and Barcelona meet in the Champions League final Saturday to compete for European club football’s biggest prize.
Ahead of the game in Berlin, we look back at 10 of the best finals in the competition’s illustrious 59-year history.
AC Milan 4-1 Ajax — 1969
Ajax became the first Dutch club to qualify for a European Cup final in 1969, but despite possessing the skills of a certain Johan Cruyff, it went into the game at Santiago Bernabeu as the clear underdog. AC Milan was the team to be feared, having knocked out the previous two champions en route to the final, it fancied it chances of landing a second European Cup. The Italian team would not disappoint. Ajax was blown away by its opponent, finding itself 2-0 down at the break, while the dangerous Prati would go on to bag a hat-trick — still the last man to do so in the final. Ajax would be back and with a bang — they went on to win three consecutive European Cups between 1971 and 1973 — but this night belonged solely to Milan. Only Real had now won the competition more times.
Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United — 2011
In a repeat of the 2009 Champions League final, Manchester United came into this clash at Wembley with revenge on its mind after a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Catalans two years earlier. But if that season’s English champion had banked on it being a tighter affair this time around, it was set to be disappointed. Despite Wayne Rooney’s fine first-half finish canceling out Pedro’s opener, Barcelona handed out a tiki-taka footballing masterclass to Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, who were outplayed and outclassed. Lionel Messi and David Villa grabbed the decisive goals, with Messi at the heart of all that was good for Barca. And there was plenty of it. “Nobody’s given us a hiding like that,” Ferguson reveled after the game. “In my time as manager, it’s the best team I’ve faced.” At that moment Barca was also the best team on the planet and at the peak of its powers, with this victory cementing the legacy it had been building under Pep Guardiola during the previous three success-filled seasons.
Celtic 2-1 Inter Milan — 1967
1967 was the year that Celtic won it all. The Scottish league title, Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup were all in the bag and then followed the biggest of the lot. Facing two-time European Cup winner Inter Milan in Lisbon, Celtic’s attacking flair was ultimately too much for its defensive-minded opponent, despite the Italians taking an early lead. Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers’ second-half strikes turned the tie around, however, and the ‘Lisbon Lions’ had become the first non-Latin side to ever win the European Cup. “We did it by playing football; pure, beautiful, inventive football,” Celtic coach Jock Stein said afterwards. “There was not a negative thought in our heads.” What’s more, Stein’s team did it with all 11 players having been born within a 30-mile radius of its city, Glasgow — a feat that seems unlikely to be repeated in the modern game.
Manchester United 4-1 Benfica — 1968
Manchester United might have become the first ever English side to lift the European Cup with this win, but more importantly, the triumph marked the culmination of a 10-year period of rebuilding for the club after the horror of the 1958 Munich air disaster. That tragedy stripped the core out of Matt Busby’s team but a decade on and the Scot, left fighting for his life by the crash, had formed another side capable of going all the way to the top. Three goals in extra-time for United made sure of that, with George Best’s solo effort the pick of the bunch. Captain Bobby Charlton, a survivor himself of the disaster, was soon on his way up the famous Wembley stairs to lift the European Cup. “I knew there was an understanding that something was over, something that dominated our lives for so long,” Charlton later wrote in his autobiography. “I walked to the dressing room and downed two bottles of beer.”
Real Madrid 4-3 Stade de Reims — 1956
The European Cup first touched down for the 1955-56 season and rather fittingly, given the calibre of games it would throw up over the next 59 years, its maiden final was an instant classic. Those lucky enough to be inside Paris’ Parc des Princes to see football’s first ever European champion be crowned were treated to a seven-goal thriller that went back and forth like a yo-yo. Stade de Reims stormed into a two-goal lead with just 10 minutes on the clock, only for Real Madrid to draw level, through Alfredo Di Stefano and Hector Rial, with just half an hour gone. Michel Hidalgo soon reclaimed the lead for Reims, but Madrid would mount another comeback — Marquitos equalised, with Rial then grabbing his second to ensure Madrid would be the first team to get its hands on the brand spanking new European Cup.
AC Milan 4-0 Barcelona — 1994
The winner of this final, before a ball had even been kicked, was Barcelona — or at least that was the common consensus in the build-up to the game. Underdog AC Milan, which had failed to win any of its last six Italian Serie A matches, was missing Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta through suspension, while Marco van Basten and Gianluigi Lentini were also out with injury. The ‘Dream Team’ of Barcelona, meanwhile, was able to call on the likes of Romario, Hristo Stoichkov and Pep Guardiola, and was playing some of the finest football Europe had ever seen under Johan Cruyff. A second European title in three years was surely a formality. Well, not if Milan had anything to do with it. The Italian side dominated its opponent for a brutal 60 minutes, and a 60 minutes in which it managed to score four times through Dejan Savicevic, Marcel Desailly and a Daniele Massaro brace. All over with half an hour to spare. “It was not that we played badly,” Cruyff said afterwards. “It was that we did not play at all.”
Benfica 5-3 Real Madrid — 1962
The European Cup final of 1962 brought together the only two teams to have won the competition — Real Madrid and Benfica. Madrid had been the dominant force on the continent, winning all five of the very first five finals, while Benfica was the new kid on the block and current holder, having dethroned the Spanish champion the previous season. Any suggestions that Madrid would have to step aside for the young pretender were dismissed after 23 minutes, with Ferenc Puskas putting his side two goals to the good. Benfica, however, had a 20-year-old named Eusebio on its side determined to alter the balance of power — the youngster went on to hit a brace, with the scores tied at 3-3, to swing the pendulum and back-to-back European Cups the Portuguese side’s way. Benfica coach Bela Guttman would leave the club shortly afterwards due to a pay dispute and with the parting shot: “Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion.” Fifty-three years on and his prediction is still looking good…
Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich — 1999
It was what happened in injury time at Barcelona’s Camp Nou that makes it truly great. Behind for 84 minutes courtesy of an early opener by Barsler and with its hopes of a first ever Treble going up in smoke, Manchester United went on to produce the latest of late drama, thus denying Bayern Munich in heart-wrenching fashion. It was to be two substitutes that would be responsible for the club’s finest hour — Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. First Sheringham came up with the ‘get-out-of-jail card,’ firing home from close-range to surely take the match into extra-time. But if that is what Bayern had begrudgingly accepted, then it had another thing coming. With the clock on 93 minutes, it was the turn of Solksjaer to come up trumps, prodding home at the far post with one of the final kicks of the game. United players went wild; Bayern’s Samuel Kuffour pounded his fists against the turf in anger. “Football, bloody hell,” United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said on the final whistle. Indeed.
Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt — 1960
This was perhaps the most one-sided final in the European Cup’s history which saw the continent’s greatest team dish out a footballing lesson to remember at the peak of its powers. And all in front of a crowd of over 127,000 at Glasgow’s Hampden Park – one of football’s largest attendances of all time. Eintracht Frankfurt actually had the nerve to take the lead through Richard Kress but, in hindsight, that proved to be something of a mistake. The beast was awoken from its slumber as 53 minutes of football later, Real Madrid had found the back of the net a stunning seven times to put the match well out of sight. Two of the game’s greats in Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano combined to wreak havoc on their shell-shocked opponent, with Di Stefano notching a hat-trick and Puskas going one better. Real had secured the trophy for the fifth time in what was only the fifth ever final in the competition’s short history.
Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan (3-2 on penalties) — 2005
That night in Instabul was one of the biggest nights in the history of the beautiful game. Described as one of the greatest of footballing comebacks in one of the greatest European Cup finals of all time left those lucky enough to have witnessed the most absorbing of 120 minutes, plus penalties, in a state of utter astonishment. “I don’t think one can explain what happened,” AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti said afterwards and he was right. Howcan you explain a Liverpool side which conceded after just one minute, and found itself 3-0 down by the end of a first half in which it had been ripped to pieces, emerge as champion of Europe? Or how an AC Milan team containing heavyweight stars such as Kaka, Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo proceeded to succumb to an opponent boasting the lesser lights of Steve Finnan, Djimi Traore and Harry Kewell? The Liverpool fans who left the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul at the break certainly wouldn’t have foreseen it either. But this is football and so that is exactly what happened, thanks to three second-half goals from Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso, as well as the display of Jerzy Dudek in goal — a miracle double save in extra-time was followed by his penalty shoot-out heroics to clinch the tie. The impossible had been made possible. Just don’t try and explain how.