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The Beautiful Game is a sport which brings together people of all castes and creeds, from all the corners of the world, to cheer for their beloved teams. And with European football being amongst the most glamorous in the world, the finals of its top tier competition – the Champions League – is certainly considered a sporting bonanza, probably surpassed only by the final of the FIFA World Cup.
The competition was started in the year 1955, known by the name European Champion Clubs' Cup, or simply the European Cup, until it was rebranded as the UEFA Champions League in 1992.
Over the years, a number of sides have emerged victorious, in style, in the competition, creating history in the process. Be it Liverpool’s shocking comeback in the 2005 finals, or Manchester United’s last gasp win in 1999, or even Real Madrid’s capture of the elusive La Decima in the 2013-14 edition of the competition – there are countless moments when these finals have captured the emotions of people like no other event!
So today, we present before you a list of the 5 greatest European Cup / Champions League finals of all time...
1. Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan (3-2 on penalties) – 2005
The final of the 2005 edition of the Champions League provided fans with such a treat that is witnessed only once in a blue moon in football. Coached by Carlo Ancelotti, and having the likes of Paolo Maldini, Andriy Shevchenko, Hernan Crespo, Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Kaka, Cafu and Jaap Stam in their side, the Italians destroyed their English opponents in the first half itself, with the scoreline reading 3-0 in favour of Milan heading into the break.
However, the fans at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, who would have thought that the match was all but over, were about to witness one of the most famous sporting comebacks ever that night. Outplayed and outclassed in the first period, the Reds scored through Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso in the space of just 6 minutes to draw level. The match went into extra time, and eventual penalties, where Jerzy Dudek ensured Liverpool had the last laugh with a 3-2 win from spot kicks.
2. Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich – 1999
A normal 90 minutes by all standards, barring Mario Basler’s strike for Bayern Munich in the 6th minute and the number of times they failed to increase the gap, is what no one chooses to remember about the match. The final 3 minutes of the game is what made it legendary...
With Roy Keane and Paul Scholes both being suspended for the final, the Red Devils were not expected to compete against a strong Bayern side, much less produce a last ditch comeback. However, two corner kicks by David Beckham and goals by Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the 91st and 93rd minute sealed the game for Alex Ferguson’s side, who had been trailing their opponents for 84 minutes of the game.
The extent of the shock result can be gauged by the fact that celebratory flares had already been lit by Bayern fans and a number of United fans were already found leaving the stadium. However, as legendary commentator Clive Tyldesley said just before the first United goal: "Can Manchester United score? They always score!" – the comeback kings achieved a one-in-a-million finish to the game.
And SAF himself had this to say on the result: "Football, bloody hell!"
3. Benfica 5-3 Real Madrid – 1962
Five time European champions Real Madrid met the only other European champions Benfica in this legendary final. Los Blancos went ahead through 2 superb strikes by Ferenc Puskas before captain Jose Augas and Domiciano Cavem managed to help the Portuguese giants draw level. The Galloping Major was, however, not to be dogged down by that and he completed his hattrick to put his side on the lead once again.
Real, on account of their better recent record in the competition and their superiority in the match, were still the favourites to win the match before Mário Coluna scored the third goal for Benfica to help them draw level once again. However, it was young star Eusebio, whose 2 goals in the 64th minute (penalty) and 69th minute not just ensured the European title for his side, but also served as the launch pad to fame for the player, from where he never looked back.
Incidentally, Benfica coach parted ways with the club soon after, with his cursing remark: "Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion." Well, that certainly has been true till now at least, despite the club featuring in a number of finals even after that!
4. Real Madrid 4-3 Stade de Reims – 1956
The final of the maiden edition of the competition was contested between Real Madrid of Spain and Stade de Reims-Champagne of France at Parc des Princes, the eventual home of Paris Saint-Germain. The French side got the lead in the 6th minute itself, with Michel Leblond getting the honour of being the first person to score in a European Cup Final, with Jean Templin making it 2-0 just 4 minutes later. However, Los Blancos had levelled in the match with strikes from Alfredo Di Stefano and Hector Rial by the half an hour mark. Michel Hidalgo then put the French club ahead once again, with Real pulling back into the game yet again, through Marquitos this time around. However, it was the 79th minute strike by Rial which sealed the game for the Spanish giants, helping them etch their name in history books by becoming the first team to win the European Cup.
5. Celtic 2-1 Inter Milan - 1967
For its first 11 editions, the European Cup exchanged hands between clubs from Europe's top leagues – with Real Madrid, Benfica, AC Milan and Inter Milan winning the cup. However, the 1967 edition of the competition brought a new set of winners into the list – Celtic from Scotland. The Celts had already won the Scottish League, the Scottish Cup and the Scottish League Cup that year, but the best of the lot was yet to come!
The match, being held at Estádio Nacional, Lisbon, saw two-time winners Inter marching ahead in the 7th minute itself, through a penalty from Sandro Mazzola. However, the Italians committed the grave mistake of taking a defensive approach to the game following their goal, with Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers eventually winning the match for the team from United Kingdom.
The striking point about the Celtic team that achieved this feat was that all their 11 players were from places within a 50km radius from the city of Glasgow – something that may never be repeated again in history, especially going by the cosmopolitan nature of the football teams of today!
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