The Champions League has been home to some of the greatest comebacks in football history.
Turnarounds over two legs, or even after the interval in a final, seem to be relatively commonplace. The force of ‘momentum’, the ferocious home crowds, lead to ties swinging one way when it looked a foregone conclusion the other.
Although the competition is renowned for its high level of football, history-making comebacks tend to require a drop in that standard.
One of the teams has to be somewhere between subpar and collapse for a major deficit to be overturned. Of course, the team performing the heroics need to be at their very best, too.
While there’s constant discussion of restructuring the Champions League, looking at these five wonderful comebacks serves as a reminder of how special the tournament is.
Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan (2005)
Without question, this belongs at the top of any greatest Champions League finals list.
A Milan team littered with stars had cruised to a 3-0 lead over Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool. Talent-wise it was a mismatch, but football isn’t just about raw talent.
Liverpool, inspired by Steven Gerrard, fought back in a surreal five-minute spell after half-time. Gerrard scored the first, Vladimir Smicer netted a second soon after and Xabi Alonso scored the rebound from his own missed penalty to equalise.
The match went to penalties. Jerzy Dudek was the star of the show, and Istanbul became a special city for Liverpool fans.
Barcelona 6-5 PSG (2017)
It was the first time in Champions League history that a team came back from a four-goal first-leg deficit and only the fourth in any UEFA tie.
Paris Saint Germain schooled Barcelona in the French capital in the 2016/17 last 16, their 4-0 victory had surely booked them into the last eight of the competition.
Luis Suarez made it 4-1 on aggregate three minutes in, and a PSG own goal before half-time pushed it to 4-2. A comeback was still seriously improbable, however, even when Lionel Messi converted from 12 yards in the 50th minute.
Edinson Cavani’s away goal looked to have quashed any dreams of history just after the hour. The Barca pressure piled on, though, with Neymar scoring in the 88th and putting away a penalty a couple of minutes later. PSG were in disarray.
Sergi Roberto popped up deep into injury time to make it 6-5 on aggregate and write another chapter in PSG’s disappointing Champions League history.
Liverpool 4-3 Barcelona (2019)
Immersed in an epic Premier League title race with Manchester City, Liverpool were effectively out of the Champions League after a 3-0 defeat at Camp Nou in the first leg.
Without Mohamed Salah, Liverpool needed a new hero. Divock Origi and Georgino Wijnaldum filled those roles, netting a brace apiece as they thrashed Barcelona 4-0 in front of a raucous Anfield crowd on their way to yet another Champions League title.
The intensity was clear from the very start. Origi got his first just seven minutes in, and Barcelona were rattled by the pressing of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Only 1-0 at half-time, Liverpool were still massive outsiders.
Wijnaldum came on at the break and it all changed. The former Newcastle man scored twice in three minutes before 60 was on the board and not for the first time in recent history, Barcelona were a mess.
Quick thinking from Trent Alexander-Arnold set up Origi for a tap in. The celebrations were wild and Barcelona were humiliated.
Roma 4-4 Barcelona (2018)
Peter Drury’s commentary for this match belongs in every football museum.
“Roma have risen from their ruins! Manolas, the Greek God in Rome. The unthinkable unfolds before our eyes. This was not meant to happen, this could not happen, this is happening!”
Drury’s words were fitting of the moment as Roma came back from 4-1 down to knock a Lionel Messi-led Barcelona out on away goals in the Italian capital.
A hyperactive performance from the hosts overwhelmed Barcelona, who were well clear in La Liga at the time.
Edin Dzeko put Roma ahead early on, but there was such a long way to go. Only when Daniele De Rossi made it 2-0 from the spot just before the hour mark was there real hope of an upset.
When Kostas Manolas scored from Cengiz Under’s cross, they had just eight minutes to hold on. It is a night anyone at the Stadio Olimpico will never forget.
Deportivo 5-4 AC Milan (2004)
A 4-1 first leg defeat to an AC Milan team loaded with all-time greats left Deportivo as good as out of the tie. The away goal gave them a bit of hope, though, and by half-time in the return leg, they had flipped the tie on its head.
Future Birmingham striker Walter Pandiani opened the scoring, followed by the ever-elegant Juan Carlos Valeron and Newcastle flop Albert Luque. Milan were stunned.
Fran Gonzalez made it four in the second half to seal an improbable comeback and knock out an historically strong Milan side.
Deportivo made it to the semi-finals, falling to Jose Mourinho’s Porto in a tightly fought two-leg duel. Only two players scored more goals in that season’s Champions League than Pandiani.
*Credit for the main photo belongs to Gregorio Borgia / AP Photo*