Since it was renamed and rebranded from the old European Cup in 1992, the Champions League has served up at a total of 23 finals, with the 24th due to take place at the San Siro this coming Saturday.
There have been some blistering finals along the way, along with some absolute turkeys (the Milan v Juventus 0-0 final in 2003 springs immediately to mind) and the fiery derby between fierce rivals Real and Atlético Madrid could see this weekend’s game sit firmly in the former category.
It would, however, do well to beat what were arguably the top five Champions League finals:
5. Chelsea 1-1 Bayern Munich (Allianz Arena (Munich), 2012)
Though it would be mildly unfair to say that Chelsea’s road to the final was built on luck, sheer doggedness in the face of adversity led to them overturning deficits at almost every turn, including a stunning ten-man fightback against Barcelona in the semi finals.
However, with the final being played at the home of their opponents Bayern, and without the suspended Branislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles, Ramires and John Terry, the odds were stacked firmly in favour of the German side. Indeed, when Thomas Müller put Bayern in front with just seven minutes remaining, the trophy looked to be staying in Munich.
That being said, this Chelsea side never knew when they were beaten, and Didier Drogba equalised in the 88th minute to send the game into extra time. As if to add a bit more drama to proceedings, Arjen Robben missed a penalty in said extra time to send the match to penalties.
In what was supposed to be his last kick as a Chelsea player (before his 2014 return), Drogba converted the winning penalty in the shootout to end a remarkable Champions League campaign for Roberto Di Matteo’s hugely resilient side.
And not even the suspension could stop John Terry wearing his full Chelsea kit to collect that trophy…
4. Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Juventus (Olypiastadion (Munich), 1997)
In a repeat of the UEFA Cup final from four years earlier, 1996 Bundesliga winners Dortmund took on reigning Champions League winners Juventus at Munich’s Olympic Stadium.
Dortmund were very much the underdogs going into this game against a Juve side looking to become the first club to retain the trophy in its new format, and having eliminated Manchester United in the semi finals they had every right to feel confident.
Juve would look to playmaker Zinedine Zidane for inspiration, but Dortmund manager Ottmar Hitzfeld’s plan to keep the French international quiet worked perfectly with midfielder Paul Lambert and the Dortmund defence one step ahead the whole time.
Two goals from Karl-Heinz Riedle near the half hour mark forced Juventus to change their tactics, and although the introduction of Alessandro Del Piero gave the Italian side a bigger threat up front (as well as reducing the deficit), the tie was settled with twenty minutes remaining when 21 year old Lars Ricken brilliantly lobbed Juve keeper Angelo Peruzzi – having just entered the match 16 seconds earlier.
3. AC Milan 4-0 Barcelona (Olympic Stadium (Athens), 1994)
Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team”, featuring the likes of Ronald Koeman, Hristo Stoichkov and Romário, were strong favourites against a Milan side that was missing Marco van Basten, world record signing Gianluigi Lentini, Alessandro Costacurta, Franco Baresi and Jean-Pierre Papin. Barcelona had won the Euorpean Cup two years earlier and it was widely assumed that Milan would simply be blown away.
Cruyff added to the drama by repeatedly belittling Milian boss Fabio Capello and his team, in particular the absentees list and the average age of the squad. To say it came back to bite him would be an understatement.
Capello’s side had clearly not read the script. The normally defensive-minded manager disregarded every Italian stereotype ever and told his players to attack Barça – it was a gambit that proved markedly successful.
Two goals from Daniele Massaro and one each from Dejan Savićević and Marcel Desailly – the Savićević effort in particular was a belter – meant that Milan were the victors on the night, with Cruyff punished for his overconfidence.
2. Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich (Camp Nou (Barcelona), 1999)
Bayern Munich will forever be left wondering how they managed to lose this.
Manchester United, without the suspended Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, looked weary after a gruelling campaign and when Bayern took the lead after just six minutes with a Mario Basler free kick, things were looking ominous for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
Man United began to find their feet as the game wore on, but the leaders nearly doubled their advantage as efforts from Carsten Jancker and Mehmet Scholl came close to finding the net. As the game went into stoppage time, it looked like there would be no fairytale ending for the English side’s quest for an unprecedented treble.
And then fate intervened. With nothing to lose, Man United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel charged forward for a corner. He was indeed the target, but the ball was cleared to the path of Ryan Giggs, whose relatively tame effort was guided home by substitute Teddy Sheringham to level proceedings.
Man United were not done yet though. Two minutes later, they won another corner. Beckham swung the ball in, met with a flick-on by Sherimgham with fellow sub Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s outstretched foot prodding the ball into the net before Bayern could even react.
The German side were shell-shocked – Manchester United had just pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in football history to bring the Champions League trophy to England.
1. Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan (Atatürk Olympic Stadium (Istanbul), 2005)
Defensive stability and rigid organisation had brought Rafa Benítez’s side to Istanbul in 2005 – it was rarely pretty and at times it was nerve-wracking, but the reward was Liverpool’s first European Cup final in 24 years.
The night looked to be hurtling towards disaster, however, when veteran defender Paolo Maldini put Milan ahead after less than one minute of play. Two further goals from Hernán Crespo should have seen the end of the game – Liverpool were on the ropes and the evening threatened to turn into 90 minutes of sheer humiliation.
With Harry Kewell already off injured, Benítez made a second switch at half time by replacing Steve Finnan with Didi Hamann in an effort to subdue the brilliant Kaká, switching to three at the back in the process.
The fightback began early in the second half when Steven Gerrard headed home from a John Arne Riise cross after 54 minutes. Jut two minutes later, a relatively tame effort from Kewell’s replacement Vladimir Šmicer squirmed past Milan goalkeeper Dida to leave just one goal in it.
By now, Milan were in a panic, and when Steven Gerrard went down in the box from a challenge by Gennaro Gattuso on the hour mark, the 70,000 people in the stadium couldn’t believe what they were seeing. As if to heighten the tension, Xabi Alonso missed the intial penalty before burying the rebound. Liverpool, somehow, were level.
The drama was not finished yet, however. Both sides had chances to score as the game went into extra time, with Andriy Shevchenko in particular missing a glorious opportunity from only six yards out in the second half of extra time.
The penalties were a much calmer affair for Liverpool, mainly due to how bad Milan’s attempts were. Serginho, Andrea Pirlo and Shevchenko all missed their penalties to hand Rafa Benítez and his team their fifth European Cup.