The Champions League is the pinnacle of club football. Reaching a Champions League final is the highest height for many players, it’s an event greater than the Super Bowl, watched in over 200 countries by nearly 400 million people.
Some of the most influential teams in Champions League history suffered heartbreak in finals. Others made their mark, making the world aware of their arrival.
The matches aren’t always classics, the combination of nerves and well-planned tactics can guide a match toward stalemate. When the world’s best are thrown together, occasionally a match for the ages is produced.
It won’t have been orchestrated that way, and it isn’t necessarily a result of quality, but the outcome of an entertaining final is what so many fans want. On that note, here are the five greatest Champions League finals...
AC Milan 3-3 Liverpool (2005)
The top of the pile, Liverpool’s comeback in Istanbul was a footballing miracle.
Rafael Benitez’s side were hefty underdogs before a ball was kicked. An experienced, ostentatiously talented Milan side had won the competition two years before and kept five clean sheets in their six knockout matches.
Cafu, Kaka, Jaap Stam and Hernan Crespo were added to the XI that had drawn 0-0 with Juventus in the 2003 final.
Paolo Maldini put the Serie A club one up in the first minute. A quickfire brace from Crespo before half-time looked to have sealed the trophy for Milan.
Steven Gerrard inspired the fightback, scoring a header in the 54th minute before Vladimir Smicer made it 3-2 a couple of minutes later.
The Liverpool captain burst into the box five minutes after that and won a penalty. Xabi Alonso scored a rebound from the spotkick to equalise, leaving Carlo Ancelotti and his superstar Milan side stunned.
Jerzy Dudek’s heroics began before the shootout, keeping the scores level with some remarkable reflex saves.
Even the shootout had twists and turns, Liverpool going two up before John Arne Riise missed. Dudek saved Milan’s fifth penalty, a weak effort from Andriy Shevchenko, to secure Liverpool’s fifth European Cup.
Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt (1960)
Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas is the greatest attacking partnership in the history of the game.
Already with four consecutive European Cups to their name, Real Madrid travelled north to Hampden Park to face German side Eintracht Frankfurt in front of 127,621 people, the biggest crowd in European Cup/Champions League final history.
Richard Kress gave Frankfurt an improbable lead early on. The strike awakened Los Blancos, who quickly rejected any idea of an upset in emphatic fashion.
Di Stefano scored twice before the interval, Puskas scored a hat-trick between half-time and the hour mark and a fourth in the 71st minute. The Hungarian’s fourth started a wild few minutes with four goals going in between the 71st and 75th.
Erwin Stein followed Puskas, Di Stefano completed his hat-trick in the 73rd and Stein added a further consolation in the 75th.
Di Stefano was the reigning Ballon d’Or winner at the time, and although Puskas had to settle for second in 1960, they are considered one of the greatest teams to play the game.
Milan 4-0 Barcelona (1994)
There were 70,000 in Athens to see a depleted Milan team, led by former England manager Fabio Capello, stun Barcelona.
Barcelona had beaten Sampdoria two years before, and Johan Cruyff’s side were heavily favoured having just secured their fourth consecutive La Liga crown.
Rules at the time meant only three non-nationals could be named in the team. Capello was forced to leave out Florin Raducioiu, Jean-Pierre Papin and Brian Laudrup.
Cruyff opted to not pick Michael Laudrup, who promptly left for Real Madrid in the following summer.
No Champions League tips would have fancied Milan. Aside from the aforementioned trio, Capello was also without Marco van Basten, Franco Baresi, the world’s most expensive player Gianluigi Lentini and Alessandro Costacurta.
One of Milan’s non-nationals was Dejan Savicevic, who had won the European Cup with Red Star in 1991. Savicevic created the first goal for Daniele Massaro, and the Italian forward added a second in added time.
The Montenegrin, who was Ballon d’Or runner up three years earlier, scored the third soon after half-time before Marcell Desailly made it four.
Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Juventus (1997)
The final that saw Paul Lambert duel with Zinedine Zidane in central midfield.
Borussia Dortmund were underdogs ahead of their meeting in Munich with Juventus, who were the reigning European champions and boasted a squad littered with all-time great talent.
Karl-Heinz Riedle started up top for Dortmund and found the net twice in five first half minutes to give the Bundesliga club a comfortable lead at the interval.
Marcello Lippi turned to Alessandro del Piero, who got the Old Lady back in the game with a goal in the 65th minute.
Substitute Lars Ricken scored within seconds of coming the bench to seal the trophy for Dortmund. His chip from outside the area was divine.
Dortmund’s win is their only Champions League success to date and started Juventus’ long drought in the competition. The Old Lady has lost four finals since that frustrating night in Munich.
Could this be the year Juve get their hands on the trophy? Check out the latest sports betting for their outright odds.
Benfica 3-2 Barcelona (1961)
Real Madrid had won the first five European Cups. The year previous they thrashed Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in the final with Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas running riot.
Barcelona replaced their Spanish rivals in the final in 1961 and took the lead through Sandor Kocsis just after the 20-minute mark.
In front of 26,000 fans in Bern, Benfica quickly fought back. Jose Aguas equalised 10 minutes after the opener and an own goal followed a minute or so after to give Benfica the lead.
Having broken his nose early on, Benfica midfielder Mario Coluna was lurking outside the area during a Benfica attack in the second half. As the ball dropped to him in the air, he struck a sweet volley to make it 3-1.
Zoltan Czibor got one back later on, but Barca were unable to overturn the deficit and fell to a 3-2 defeat. The Catalan giants had to wait until 1986 to return to the European Cup final, and until 1992 to finally lift the trophy.
Check out the latest football betting for odds on Barcelona to win a fifth Champions League of the century in 2020.
*Credit for the main photo belongs to Thomas Kienzle / AP Photo*