Ever since its inception in 1993, the UEFA Champions League has brought joy to all soccer fans around the world. It is easily the biggest club competition in all of Europe and has given us some wow moments along the way. From team victories to flashes of individual brilliance, this competition has it all. There is no doubt about the fact that young players dream of playing in a CL game and experience the magic of a European night.
Even in the face of a global pandemic, the CL has continued to function with utmost care to the safety of the teams. Aside from the premier league, this is the only club competition in the world that has the financial capabilities of competing with leagues like the NFL and NBA.
Legends of the game like Ronaldinho and Messi have been the crown jewels of the league year after year. Moreover, the league has also given birth to many rivalries along the way. Scoring in the champions league has special significance in the minds of players and it shows when they take to the pitch. There is a definite change of atmosphere and intensity when a CL game is about to occur.
As the 2020-21 Champions League final appears on the horizon, there’s only one question that matters: who will win? OLBG’s tipsters view Manchester City as the slight favourites but having recently got the edge over them in the FA Cup Semi Final, Chelsea will still be confident.
However, before witnessing the PL giants face-off, Let’s take a look at some of the greatest moments the CL final has ever produced.
#10. Carles Puyol’s unbelievable gesture towards Eric Abidal
2011 was probably the start of Barcelona’s dominance in the modern era. And the Champions League final victory over Manchester United was the prime example to show just that. Pep Guardiola was starting to introduce the tiki-taka approach to the game and it showed on the pitch.
However, the end of this season was made even more memorable by Puyol. One of the most considerate players on the planet, Puyol did what others could not even think of doing. In the trophy presentation ceremony, he removed his captain’s armband and handed it to Eric Abidal, who had just returned from a horrific fight with cancer. That way he would be the first person to lift the trophy with his beloved side.
Lifting the CL trophy as a team’s captain is the dream of every professional footballer. Puyol gave up on that with no second thoughts or inhibitions about doing so. This effectively portrays his love for his teammates and how much they respect him.
#9. La Decima
After winning the Champions League in 2002, everyone thought that European Domination was on the cards for Real Madrid. With the likes of Zidane, Roberto Carlos, and all the other galacticos, it wasn’t even a far-fetched dream. However, constant struggles with injuries and lack of squad synergy prevented Los Blancos from winning another CL for 12 years.
The stage was set in Lisbon, city rivals Real and Atletico Madrid were facing each other in the final. There was palpable tension all around as it was high time for a big club like Real to win the champions league again. Moreover, they had a perfectly balanced squad and a quietly determined coach in Carlo Ancelotti. That being said, the team could not break the tight defense of Atleti for the entirety of 90 minutes. However, Sergio Ramos stepped up in injury time to head home an equalizer which set the tone for the remainder of extra time.
In the end, Real won the game 4-1 thanks to an incredible effort from Gareth Bale and company in extra time. Thus, they had a huge weight lifted off their shoulders to win the 10th champions league in their history and be the first team to do so. It was a memorable moment for all Madridistas and will forever go down in history as one of the biggest achievements of this superclub.
#8. John Terry “slips” at the gateway of CL glory
In 2008, no two teams in Europe were as dominant as Chelsea and Manchester United. As luck would have it, they both faced off against each other in the Champions League Final. While Chelsea were looking forward to winning their first CL, United were on the lookout for adding yet another feather in their illustrious cap.
The 90 minutes of the final did not live up to the hype. Although there was a plethora of talent on display, both teams played conservatively and rarely asked questions of each other. However, when it went to penalties, suddenly there was an electric energy in the stadium and the atmosphere shifted. Everyone knew that the game could go either way.
Twelve years ago today, Manchester United beat Chelsea on penalties to win the Champions League.
That John Terry slip …
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 21, 2020
John Terry stepped up to take the penalty that would send his team into ecstasy. One of the calmest minds in the game, it was all but a certainty that he would slot it away with ease. However, the light Moscow rain played its devious part and he slipped right before taking the shot, sending the ball flying over the crossbar. United then converted both their penalties to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
John Terry was visibly disheartened after his mistake. The entire squad and management of the club were utterly shocked at the events that transpired, especially because they were one kick away from victory. In the end, this was yet another example of reality being stranger than fiction.
#7. Drogba brings home the CL that was long overdue
From a moment of sadness for Chelsea fans, we move to a moment of complete euphoria. Not many people expected Chelsea to win the champions league that year. That is because they had a lot of injuries and their stars were all in the latter stages of their career. However, they willed themselves to a CL final under the tutelage of Roberto Di Matteo who joined in the middle of the season as an interim manager.
Even in the final, all of the sports media labeled Chelsea as the underdogs. Even more so because of the fact that they were going to play against Bayern Munich in Allianz Arena, their home ground. The match was predictably headed towards an easy victory for the Bavarian outfit. However, Didier Drogba had other plans.
In probably his last game as a Chelsea player, he scored the equalizer with a glancing header in the dying minutes to take the tie to extra time. Both teams could not be separated even after 120 minutes. When it went to penalties, the team decided to let Drogba take the final spot-kick. This time around, there was no agony in store for the supporters of Chelsea as Didier Drogba calmly scored past Manuel Neuer to secure the first and only champions league victory in Chelsea’s history.
This year, Chelsea have yet another chance of winning the UCL, having qualified for the final after beating the likes of Real Madrid and Atletico.
#6. Porto’s improbable Champions League run of 2004
In a battle between the best clubs of Europe, nobody expected Porto to lift the trophy in 2004. The Portuguese club has always been considered as one of the minnows on the grandest stage. However, the brilliance of a young Jose Mourinho and a few exceptional players was enough to stitch one of the most improbable underdog stories of Champions League history.
Throughout their run, they face oppositions that were bigger than them in every sense of the word. However, the fact that they were able to stay in the fight and win is an incredible feat. The club did not have the funds to acquire bright talent from all over the world, hence, most of the players were academy graduates.
The serious girth of talent that the 2004 squad had was proven once the players started getting picked up by bigger clubs. Much like the Ajax of today, Porto became a feeder club with the likes of Deco and Ricardo Carvalho playing for bigger clubs like Barcelona and Chelsea. But that does not take away anything from what they proved on the biggest stage; Ridiculous cash flow and massive conglomerates can never snatch the essence of football because there will always be another Porto slipping under the radar.
#5. Lionel Messi’s iconic header
The 2008-09 Barcelona is considered as one of the greatest club sides in footballing history and rightly so. That team won everything there was to win. A perfect amalgamation of technical brilliance and heart, the Barcelona team was quick to pounce upon the mistakes of oppositions and capitalize within seconds.
In the Champions League final, they faced Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, who had the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Rio Ferdinand. However, they were no match for the genius of Lionel Messi. With the ball looped to him from the flanks, Messi leaped high in the air and headed home to the right of a hapless Van Der Saar.
Matching the aerial prowess of Rio Ferdinand and John O’Shea was difficult, but Messi had no intention of matching them. All he had to do was brilliantly maneuver himself into a space between the two center halves. United did everything in their power to stop the potent attack of Messi and Villa but they still emerged as the victors.
That header is now an iconic part of Lionel Messi’s unfathomable legacy as one of the best on the planet.
#4. Manchester United’s fantastic comeback in the dying minutes
The 1999 Champions League final was shaping up to be one of those drab affairs that are very underwhelming for the spectators. During the course of 90 minutes, United were not able to muster enough attacks to bother the German giants. It was evident that one side was significantly better than the other. However, Manchester United stitched a fightback that went down in the history books as one of the most bizarre conclusions to a football game.
United got a corner in the 91st minute of the game. A young David Beckham trudged to the corner flag, knowing full well that the tie was slipping out of their grasp. After he took the corner, the ball bounced around for a while, and then Sheringham slotted it home. The Camp Nou crowd erupted as it got the confirmation that the game was going to come alive. What followed this is history.
United got another corner, this time in the last vestiges of injury time. Beckham looked more upbeat taking the corner, he took it early and the ball found the foot of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who roofed it out of the reach of Oliver Kahn. And just like that, one of the greatest comebacks in the history of European Football was completed in the blink of an eye. In a recent interview about the game, Lothar Matthaus admitted that there was no indication of Manchester United scoring one goal, let alone two in the space of 3 minutes.
#3. Gareth Bale’s astonishing bicycle kick against Liverpool
The 2018 champions league final will be remembered for many reasons. Karius’ howlers, Real Madrid winning their third CL on the trot. However, none of those reasons will ever be as memorable as the heroics of Gareth Bale. Substituted in the 61st minute, Bale came on to add an attacking impetus to the tie that was locked at 1-1. What he did after coming on is etched forever in the minds of football fanatics.
Merely three minutes after stepping onto the pitch, Bale found himself on the receiving end of a Marcelo cross. It was a hopeful one, delivered just inside the area. Bale had his back to the goal and proceeded to do the unthinkable. He attempted a bicycle kick and made a good enough connection to send the ball looping into the back of the net. The Kyiv crowd was stunned and what followed was rapturous applause from the crowd.
With that goal, Real found confidence and went on to lift the trophy once again. Though Gareth Bale’s Real Madrid career is marred by falling out with the coach and lack of playing time, he has etched his name in the list of Real Madrid greats with this iconic goal.
#2. “Oh Hello, Here we go” the most iconic comeback of Champions League Final history
Liverpool fans remember Istanbul as the place where one of their greatest matches took place, the 2005 Champions League final against AC Milan. Filled with stars like Andrea Pirlo and Kaka, the Milan side were the favorites heading into the final. In the first 45 minutes, Milan showed why they were considered as one of the most potent sides in Europe. They blitzed past the Liverpool defense on three occasions, leading the tie 3-0 as they headed down the tunnel for halftime.
What happened after that has gone down in history as one of the most entertaining Champions League finals in recent history. Liverpool came all guns blazing, taking the attack to the opposition and capitalizing on any loose balls. Captain Steven Gerrard got the first goal, sending thousands of Reds fans in a tizzy. After that, it was just a case of will and determination that saw them equalize in the latter stages of the game. After being dead and buried in the first half, Liverpool had come back brilliantly and no the momentum was in their favor.
However, the victory would not have been possible if it wasn’t for Jerzy Dudek. The polish shotstopper was brilliant between the sticks and made a couple of unbelievable saves in extra time. In the end, the tie went to extra time and Dudek was the hero once again, saving crucial penalties to bring home the victory.
That match inspired many young athletes to never lose hope. Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard admitted later that it was one of the greatest nights he had ever witnessed in his expansive football career.
#1. Zinedine Zidane’s swirling volley in the 2002 Champions League final
2002 was the peak of the start of the Galactico phase in Real Madrid’s history. Players like Roberto Carlos, Zinedine Zidane, and other stalwarts of the game came to play for one superteam. Therefore, it was crucial that a team like that delivered Champions League glory to the people who were invested in them.
Against Bayer Leverkusen, Real Madrid looked the better side right from the first whistle. There was tremendous quality on the pitch and the side was chock-full of individual brilliance. Towards the end of the first half, the game was still stuck at 0-0 despite Real being the better side. In one final attack, Roberto Carlos sprinted along the touchline and lifted a rather hopeful cross towards the box. There were not many white shirts in the penalty area, however, Zinedine Zidane was standing at the perfect spot where the ball was supposed to land.
Unmarked, he unleashed a vicious volley that swerved right into the top corner of the net. The opposition goalkeeper was left stunned and didn’t even move before the ball had hit the net. Everyone knew that Zidane was technically gifted but executing such a tough skill like that in the pressure of a CL final was a completely different thing.
The admiration of Real faithful towards Zidane skyrocketed after the champions league victory as it was the only goal in the game. The clip of that wonder strike went viral at a time when there was little to no internet. It is safe to say that Zidane’s goal made him a Real Madrid and a Champions League legend if he already wasn’t one.