32 teams, a three-month hiatus as a result of a deadly virus sweeping the globe and unprecedented international style epilogue later, we’re finally here…just.
It’s Champions League final time, baby!
After the remontadas, humiliations and upsets of an enthralling set of quarter-final fixtures in Lisbon, the semi-finals brought about two resounding victories for a pair of the game’s superpowers.
It’s the Qatari state against football aristocracy. Supreme Parisien individualism against ruthless Bavarian efficiency. Paris Saint-Germain versus Bayern Munich.
Sunday’s contest promises to be an all-time classic. But hey, how often have we said that before the pressures of club football’s grandest stage proved overwhelming. We’ve seen some drab affairs but some unforgettable encounters also, as two teams compete to reach the pinnacle of their sport.
There have been 27 Champions League finals since the drifting away from the old European Cup in 1992, and here’s 90min’s definitive ranking of all of ’em.
Andriy Shevchenko. Rui Costa. Alessandro Del Piero. Pippi Inzaghi. Those were just a few names to strut their stuff on the Old Trafford turf back in the ’03 finale.
The result? A dire contest firmly dominated by both sets of defences. Of course it was.
Milan eventually prevailed in a similarly low quality penalty shootout with Andriy Shevchenko netting the winning spot-kick.
The start of back-to-back-to-back Champions League final appearances for Milan under Fabio Capello and this was certainly the most forgettable.
Basile Boli’s headed effort was the only goal of the contest as the greatest backline to ever grace the game proved stout throughout, although it was Raymond Goethals’ back five who prevailed.
The antics of president Bernard Tapie, however, means Les Phocéens’ – the only French victor of this competition – triumph in ’93 certainly comes with an asterisk.
A few goals, yes, but this was a final totally dominated by a fresh-faced José Mourinho.
His Porto side were totally superior to a Monaco outfit who eased past the Special One’s future employers (Chelsea) in the semi-finals.
Carlos Alberto opened the scoring in the latter stages of the first-half before the Portuguese giants picked apart Didier Deschamps’ men on the break in the second period – with Mourinho’s genius trequartista Deco and substitute Dmitri Alenichev both netting in a 3-0 triumph.
Nevertheless, the Portuguese string-puller’s set-up in Gelsenkirchen ensured the contest was starved of any intrigue.
Back to José we go, with his Inter success as part of an unprecedented treble being just as comfortable as his Monaco schooling six years prior.
Late season hero Diego Milito proved the match-winner once more as his brace spearheaded the demise of Louis van Gaal’s Bayern.
Despite the Nerazzurri’s achievement, this was a contest which, described by the BBC, ‘might not have been one for the purists’. A pretty drab affair bar Milito’s magic.
An all-English clash ruined – entertainment-wise – by a harsh penalty call on Moussa Sissoko in the opening stages.
It was so Spursy, but the decision allowed Mohamed Salah to convert and the Reds defence to drop that little bit deeper and smother Spurs’ attack. The Lilywhites struggled to break through an impenetrable Scouse wall before Divock Origi’s wonderful finish confirmed victory with just over ten minutes remaining.
But hey, following two of the greatest comebacks the game’s ever seen in the semi finals, the epilogue to the 2019/20 Champions League season was always going to be a wee bit anti-climatic.
Much like last year’s final, the fact that both finalists came from the same country did not help the final at all. It was the first time it’d happened in European Cup history in fact.
Real Madrid actually finished lower than Hector Cuper’s Valencia in La Liga – fifth to third – but the nature of the destruction gave it an air of a typical domestic meeting rather than the biggest match of the campaign.
Steve McManaman’s improvised volley was the spectacular standout in a Los Blancos rout.
Dutch supremacy on the European stage neatly transitioned into a period of Italian superiority via the 1996 final.
This was a sketchy contest between the holders and Marcello Lippi’s ever-evolving Bianconeri. Jari Litmanen and Fabrizio Ravanelli’s strikes were both made possible by respective goalkeeping errors before an entertaining penalty shootout was settled by Angelo Peruzzi’s heroics.
The end of an era for Louis van Gaal’s babyfaces.
We don’t care that “the 1998 Champions League final was possibly the most important game in Real Madrid’s history,” in the eyes of winning skipper Manolo Sanchis.
Sure, Los Blancos did end a 32-year wait for a European crown which set the precedent for a period of continental domination over the next two decades, but the ’98 final in Amsterdam was hardly a thriller.
One for the spot-kick enthusiasts, this.
Gaizka Mendieta and Stefan Effenberg traded successful penalties in between Mehmet Scholl’s miss from 12 yards as the two previous losing finalists were eventually forced into a shootout.
And what a topsy-turvy shootout it was, with future Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino’s miss handing the giant-eared trophy to the Bavarians in what was, remarkably, the 17th penalty of the final.
Marcel Reif’s “Kahn, Bayern!” cry following the imperious German shot-stopper’s denial of Pellegrino remains one of the most memorable pieces of Champions League final commentary.
As you’ve probably learnt, it took a lot to score against the Milan defence in the late 80s and 90s.
But in 1995, an 18-year-old Patrick Kluivert – brought on as a substitute by Louis van Gaal – was able to penetrate the seemingly impenetrable and hand Van Gaal’s babyfaced Dutchmen the European title.
The Dutch boss’ decision to take off chief creator Litmanen, drop Frank Rijkaard into defence and take a punt on a gangly Nwankwo Kanu all proved pivotal for Ajax in an enthralling contest, as his collective approach to ‘Total Football’ took Europe by storm – much to the dismay of ideological rival Johan Cruyff.
The Rossoneri’s revenge.
Two years removed from Istanbul, Carlo Ancelotti’s side achieved vengeance in the same city their Italian string-puller reached the pinnacle as a player 13 years prior.
The most typical of Pippo Inzaghi braces handed Milan a 2-0 lead before Dirk Kuyt’s late close-range effort raised fears of yet another collapse. A dramatic late finish didn’t arrive, though, as Paolo Maldini held aloft their seventh European crown.
This was a Madrid Derby possessing the typical grit and sh*thousery you’d expect, but it didn’t quite boast the drama of its 2014 predecessor.
But, it did have Yannick Carrasco smooching his girlfriend – hopefully – after tapping home Atletico’s equaliser in the second period so…
With Sergio Ramos’ opener cancelled out, the teams embarked on a high-quality penalty shootout before Juanfran’s miss allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to crash home the winner and celebrate in typically half-naked Ronaldo style.
God, it all looked so promising for Fergie’s Red Devils in the opening exchanges, only to be outdone by a Samuel Eto’o toe-poke.
From there, it was all a bit too comfortable really.
Lionel Messi bagged an iconic header in the second period to complete a comfortable victory, as Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona became the first Spanish side to complete the treble.
Mario Mandzukic’s equaliser on the night deserved so much more than to be a mere bump in the road on the way to Real Madrid’s 12th European title.
Instead, the Bianconeri simply couldn’t keep up with Zinedine Zidane’s La Liga champions as Real feigned to help the Old Lady cross the road before pushing them into onrushing traffic.
Ronaldo, of course, spearheaded Los Blancos’ triumph with a second-half brace.
Liverpool’s unlikely rise to the Champions League final in 2018 was merely the start of a period of domestic and continental supremacy for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Unfortunately, however, the final in Kyiv will forever be known as the ‘Loris Karius game’, despite Gareth Bale’s brilliance off the bench.
The German shot-stopper gifted Karim Benzema’s the opener before Sadio Mane swiftly restored parity. Bale then bagged one of the great final goals with a remarkable acrobatic effort before his effort from distance – literally thrown into his own net by Karius – confirmed Real’s victory and their fourth continental crown in five years.
Europe’s sternest defence matched-up with the continent’s most potent attack. What’s not to like?
In the end, it was Luis Enrique’s Catalans who prevailed, with the final in Berlin serving as the culmination of their supreme front three: MSN.
Alvaro Morata cancelled out Ivan Rakitic’s early opener, before strikes Luis Suarez and Neymar eventually saw Barcelona deservedly coast home.
What is a Lionel Messi, eh? Only messing, he was the best player on the park; playing a big part in all three of Barça’s goals.
Look away, Gooners.
1-0 up, down to ten men but proving mightily resilient against a Barcelona outfit boasting the likes of World Player of the Year Ronaldinho, Deco, Samuel Eto’o and Carles Puyol, Arsene Wenger’s Gunners were just 15 minutes away from European glory.
But in the blink of an eye, an intriguing final was turned on its head.
Substitute Henrik Larsson smartly set-up both Eto’o and Juliano Belletti in the space of four late second-half minutes to overturn the deficit and earn La Blaugrana their second Champions League title.
Zizou’s goal alone is worthy of thrusting this encounter into the top ten as the Bayer ‘Neverkusen’ tag rung true once more.
Let’s enjoy the match-winning moment from Hampden Park one more time…
A fascinating stylistic match-up between Germany’s two supreme outfits: Jurgen Klopp’s relentless gegenpressers up against Jupp Heynckes’ imperious champions.
In the end, it was that bloody ruthlessly-oiled machine who prevailed, as Arjen Robben scooped Die Roten to victory after Ilkay Gundogan cancelled out Mandzukic’s opener.
An excellent encounter decided by a piece of individual brilliance.
Chelsea’s impossible 2012 triumph was just meant to happen.
From Bayern’s outright domination, Martin Tyler’s ‘DROGGGBBAAAAA’ to Petr Cech’s penalty save from Robben, the Blues’ victory in Munich was written in the stars and fittingly, it was their protagonist, Didier Drogba, who scored the winning spot-kick in the shootout after Bastian Schweinsteiger’s effort rebounded off the post.
Listen, it may come as a surprise that the whole “and Solskjaer has won it!” lark isn’t a wee bit higher on this list.
But apart from the United’s impossible stoppage-time comeback, this was a clash distinctly lacking quality following Mario Basler’s sixth minute opener.
Ottmar Hitzfeld will forever will his decision to swap ageing but experienced sweeper Lothar Matthaus for midfielder Thorsten Fink with ten minutes remaining. It was Fink’s sliced clearance which set-up the sequence for Teddy Sheringham’s equaliser before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer instinctively flicked United to glory.
A classic all-English encounter in a Moscow monsoon.
From Ronaldo’s superman leap to John Terry’s slip ‘n’ tears, this was a contest packed with moments that’ll long live in Champions League folklore.
Nicolas Anelka’s miss from the spot in the eventual shootout handed Sir Alex Ferguson his second European title as United boss.
Oh, how things could’ve been so markedly different if Sergio Ramos wasn’t so annoyingly clutch.
Atletico had battled profusely in the second period to preserve their slender 1-0 advantage handed to them by Diego Godin’s looping header before Ramos thumped home Luka Modric’s outswinging corner with the utmost precision to force the contest into extra-time.
Battered and bruised, El Cholo’s warriors had nowt to give in the extended period, with Los Blancos confirming La Decima in emphatic fashion with an eventual 4-1 victory.
The culmination of Pep Guardiola’s Juego de Posicion in Catalonia. This was the sport in its purest form and one of the most one-sided final victories we’ve ever seen.
Even when Wayne Rooney superbly restored parity after Pedro’s opener in the first half, the result was inevitable.
There was no slowing down La Blaugrana on that magical night under the Wembley arch.
Champions in ’96, a Zinedine Zidane inspired Juventus side were the overwhelming favourites heading into the final a year later, where Germany’s third-best outfit were waiting.
However, in the form Julio César, Jürgen Kohler, Paulo Sousa and Andreas Möller, Borussia Dortmund were blessed with a healthy blend of experience and outright talent, and proved to be too much for the Bianconeri on the day.
With Zidane astutely marked, a brace from German striker Karl-Heinz Riedle raced BVB into a 2-0 half-time lead before a piece of Alessandro Del Piero backheeled excellence handed the Italians a lifeline.
The brightest lights spring the most glorious surprises though, and merely 16 seconds after entering the fray, local boy Lars Ricken thrust himself into Champions League folklore with an iconic lob over Angelo Peruzzi to seal the win for Dortmund.
For Barcelona, what could’ve been a coronation ended up being a nightmare.
Despite the fact that Milan were without injured striker Marco van Basten and suspended defenders Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta, the Rossoneri smothered Barça.
Daniele Massaro scored twice, before outstanding individual efforts from Dejan Savićević and Marcel Desailly rounded off an emphatic 4-0 triumph in the second period. Barcelona’s Dream Team, European champions two years prior, never won another trophy under manager Johan Cruyff.
Of course it is, duh.
You’ve heard the story a thousand times: the Italian team were a lot better than the English team, then the English team did better than the Italian team for ten minutes before holding on for dear life to force the contest into extra-time and eventually penalties.
Then, the Polish man who tries to stop balls going in the back of the net did his job better than the Brazilian shot-stopper on the other side to ensure Liverpool completed the most memorable comeback in European – and quite possibly football – history.