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11 MEMORABLE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINALS

This Saturday sees the first all-Madrid Champions League final taking place at Estádio da Luz in Lisbon, as Real Madrid takes on Atlético Madrid, making it the first final in the tournament's history to feature teams from the same city. This will be the 59th season of Europe’s premier club football tournament, and the 22nd season since it was renamed from the European Champion Clubs' Cup to the UEFA Champions League. Since we are too young to remember what happened back in the ‘60s or ‘70s, we will include in this list mostly the finals from the late-‘80s and after that we have memories of. written by Theodoros II for TCMag

11. AC MILAN 4–0 BARCELONA, 1994

The 1994 UEFA Champions League Final was supposed to be a true football classic between the best two teams of the season, the outsider Italian club Milan and the favorite, Spanish giants Barcelona, which was a true super-team that year. The final took place on May 18 at the Athens Olympic Stadium in Greece and some of the best players in the world at the time were promising a spectacular show; Ronald Koeman, Pep Guardiola (yep, the coach was still kickin’ back then), Hristo Stoichkov, and one of the best strikers ever, Romário, on the Spanish side and Paolo Maldini, Roberto Donadoni, and Dejan Savićević (the Serbian Maradona) on the Italian. Unfortunately for Barcelona and its fans the final turned out to be one of the most one-sided in history. Milan literally destroyed Barcelona, Massaro scored twice in the game of his life, while Dejan Savićević scored one of the most spectacular goals we have seen to date. To watch and enjoy it, just click here

10. BAYERN MUNICH 1–1 (5–4) VALENCIA, 2001

The 2001 UEFA Champions League Final took place at San Siro in Milan, Italy, on May 23 between German giants Bayern Munich, which was the favorite to win, and Valencia, which surprisingly made it to the final for a second year straight. The match finished in a 1–1 draw, and the goalkeepers of both teams, Oliver Kahn (Bayern) and Santiago Cañizares (Valencia), were the absolute best players of the game and were defeated only by penalty shots. All 11 goals scored that night in both regular time and on penalties were via penalty shot and Cañizares was the tragic figure of the event, crying at the end of the game while Oliver Kahn was comforting him in a display of great sportsmanship. 

9. JUVENTUS 1–1 (4–2) AJAX, 1996

The 1996 UEFA Champions League Final took place on May 22 between La Vecchia Signora Juventus of Italy and Ajax of Holland. The match was overly dramatic and both teams had their chances to win during the regular time but it ended in a 1–1 draw, a score which remained after the 30 minutes of overtime, forcing a penalty shoot-out, which Juventus of the great Alessandro Del Piero won 4–2.  Unfortunately, it was the club's only second and last victory in the competition to date since three unsuccessful finals followed, while for finalists Ajax (champions also in 1995), this was the last appearance in a final. 

8. MARSEILLE 1–0 MILAN, 1993

Some of the greatest players at the time such as Didier Deschamps, Marcel Desailly, Fabien Barthez (who would later win the World Cup with France in 1998), and German striker, world champion with Germany in the 1990 World Cup, Rudi Völler, helped Marseille to be the first and only French team to win the European Cup, since no French team has won since.

Unfortunately, shortly after the triumph the president of the club, Bernard Tapie, was arrested for being involved in a match-fixing scandal during the 1992–93 season in the French League. As a result, the team was relegated to Division 2 and banned from any European competition the following season. This was also a first for a champion team being relegated to Division 2 during the winning year, but since the scandal affected only French League matches, Marseille’s status as the 1993 European champion was not affected.

7. REAL MADRID 2–1 BAYER LEVERKUSEN, 2002

The 2002 UEFA Champions League Final between Bayer Leverkusen of Germany and Real Madrid of Spain took place at Hampden Park in Glasgow, on Wednesday, May 15. It was the first (and only) appearance by Bayer Leverkusen in a Champions League final, while it was the twelfth appearance by Real Madrid (we don’t call her “the Queen” for nothing) and its ninth (more than any other club in history) and last victory to date.

All this trivia, however, wouldn’t matter if the godly Zinedine Zidane (one of the three best players in history, in our opinion, next to Maradona and Pele) hadn’t scored the best goal in the competition’s history. To watch and enjoy it, just click here

6. MILAN 1–0 BENFICA, 1990

The 1990 European Cup Final between Milan and Benfica of Portugal took place on May 23 at the Praterstadion in Vienna, and was nothing special in terms of technique, scoring, and football show. However, it was the last time a team defended the trophy after winning it the previous season and the last time we all had the chance to watch the incredible “flying” Dutchmen, Rijkaard, Gullit, and the GREAT Marco van Basten, win the most prestigious club football trophy in the world. For your information, Milan is the second most successful team in the competition’s history, only behind Real Madrid, with seven titles. This was Milan’s fourth title and three more followed: 1994, 2003, and 2007. 

5. BARCELONA 1–0 SAMPDORIA, 1992

This is the first final I remember so clearly and one of the most dramatic ones I have seen to this day. Barcelona and Sampdoria were both struggling to win the trophy for the very first time in their histories and both teams had some of the best rosters as well. The team of Barcelona was pretty much the same one that got crushed by Milan two years later (see entry #11) while Sampdoria undoubtedly had the greatest roster in their history: Gianluca Pagliuca, Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Mancini, Srečko Katanec, and Attilio Lombardo, among others, composed the team, which had won the Italian League the previous year and was about to conquer Europe too.

 Unfortunately for Sampdoria, however, Ronald Koeman scored an incredible goal via a free- kick (Koeman was famous for his “bomb” foul kicks) during the last minutes of the overtime making Gianluca Vialli miserable along with every fan of Sampdoria, while sending Barca and its fans to heaven for winning their first European Cup, in the last year of the tournament played with its original name.

4. BARCELONA 2–1 ARSENAL, 2006

The final between Arsenal and Barcelona at Stade de France, Paris, on May 17, 2006, was without a doubt an instant classic. Barcelona won 2–1, with Juliano Belletti scoring a late winner at the 81st minute in a game where Barcelona was losing until the 76th minute when Eto’o equalized the score for them. This was Barcelona’s second triumph in the competition, fourteen years after they first won the European Cup in 1992, while Arsenal lost a unique chance to win the big one with a fantastic roster that included, among others, the likes of Ashley Cole, Robert Pirès, Gilberto Silva, Cesc Fàbregas, Fredrik Ljungberg, and Thierry Henry. 

3. LIVERPOOL 3–3 (3–2) MILAN, 2005

This could be the ultimate final and how couldn’t be? With a total of 11 goals scored between them, six during the regular match and five in penalty shots, either Milan committed the greatest suicide in football history or Liverpool won in the most epic way possible, depending how one sees the whole thing.

Milan was the absolute favorite team to win the title and made sure to show who was boss early in the match, taking the lead 3–0 before halftime. In the second half, however, Liverpool rose from the dead and launched an incredible comeback, scoring three goals in a dramatic six-minute spell (54’, 56’, 60’), sending the game into overtime, and from there in penalties managed to complete their amazing comeback, winning the fifth Champions League in their history, which makes Liverpool the most successful British team in the history of the competition. Only two years later, the two teams would meet again in the 2007 final in Athens, and this time Milan would take sweet revenge. 

2. MANCHESTER UNITED 2–1 BAYERN MUNICH, 1999

See, this is the paradox with this one: in regular time Bayern Munich was winning the final for all 90 minutes but as we all know a football game isn’t over until the referee ends it and Manchester United shocked the world (mostly Bayern’s fans) scoring two last-minute goals in injury time to win 2–1, after having trailed for most of the match.

In what is the most epic and dramatic final in the tournament’s history, Sheringham equalized in 90+1' and most fans believed that the game would go into overtime but only a few seconds after this goal, Manchester won a corner and Beckham swung the corner in, finding Sheringham’s head, who nodded the ball down across the face of the goal. Solskjær reacted fastest, shot out a foot, and poked the ball into the roof of the Bayern goal for Manchester to take the lead. The drama that followed is one of a kind and we will all remember Manchester’s goalie, Peter Schmeichel, showing incredible flexibility for his size and height while doing acrobatics during celebrations, while Bayern’s Samuel Kuffour broke out in tears, beating the floor in despair. This was Sir Alex Ferguson’s first Champions League victory (one more would follow in 2008) and David Beckham’s only victory in the competition. 

1. THE NEXT . . .

Because at TCmag we tend to be very optimistic and we think that the best in life is ahead of us we hope that in the next few years we will see even greater and more dramatic finals than the ones listed here, hopefully starting from the next game being played this Saturday between Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, an event already making history since as we said in our intro this will be the first final in the tournament's history to feature teams not only from the same country but from the same city as well.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs David Villa—who will win? This Saturday we will find out!

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