The UEFA Champions League is generally regarded as the cream of the crop when it comes to club football competitions. The continent’s best teams battle it out for European supremacy each and every year, to the delight of millions of fans around the world. The tournament has produced hundreds of amazing team and individual performances over the years and we’re going to feature 12 of the best here.
These are a combination of fascinating football feats achieved on the pitch by an individual player or by an entire squad. They highlight things such as tremendous goals and comebacks and for most fans, it willl be a thrill to relive them (or even view them for the very first time).
12. Goalkeeper Sinan Bolat Scores in Injury Time
Belgian club Standard Liege wasn’t having a very good Champions League campaign in 2009-10, as they had no chance to advance from the group stage. However, they could drop down into the second-tier Europa League as long as they didn’t finish in last place in their group. They found themselves trailing AZ Alkmaar 1-0 in second half injury time and decided to send goalkeeper Sinan Bolat into the opposing 18-yard box to help out on a free kick. Lo and behold, the ball found itself in front of Bolat and he drilled a header into the top corner for a crucial point and a third-place finish in the group. Bolat’s goal in the fourth minute of injury time is still the only one a keeper has scored in open play in the Champions League.
11. Lars Ricken Scores 16 Seconds After Entering Final
German Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund took on Juventus of Italy’s Serie A in the 1996-97 Champions League Final in Munich. With Dortmund ahead 2-1 in the 70th minute, 20-year-old Lars Ricken entered the game as a substitute. Manager Ottmar Hitzfield was made to look like a footballing genius just 16 seconds later when Ricken took a pass from Andreas Moller and broke towards the Juventus net. He then calmly lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi from about 25-yards out and gave the German club the insurance marker they were looking for.
Ricken set a new record for the fastest goal by a substitute in the European final and it was his first touch of the match. His goal helped Dortmund capture its first and only Champions League title, as the contest ended 3-1. After the game, Ricken told the press that noticed Peruzzi was usually well off his goal line and he decided to shoot as soon as he got the ball.
10. Teenaged Wayne Rooney Scores Hat Trick in Manchester United Debut
Manchester United was facing Fenerbahce of Turkey at Old Trafford in the 2004-05 tournament and 18-year-old Wayne Rooney was making his club debut with the Red Devils. He had just been bought from Everton for about £25.6 million and fans were anxious to see if he was worth the money. Rooney scored from 20-yards out in the 17th minute to put the home side up 2-0 and then scored from 25-yards out 11 minutes later for a 3-0 lead. In the 54th minute, with United leading 3-1, Rooney curled in a free kick for his third goal of the game. United won 6-2 with Rooney’s hat trick accounting for half of his team’s goals and he set up another. The fans instantly knew he was something special and Rooney would go on to become Man United and England’s all-time leading scorer.
9. Zinidine Zidane Scores Sublime Game Winner in Final
Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland was the host site for the 2001-02 final where Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen were battling it out for European supremacy. French international superstar Zinedine Zidane was at the peak of his powers at this time and playing for the Galacticos from Spain. In the 45th minute of the match, with the score tied 1-1, Zidane was hanging around the Leverkusen 18-yard box when teammate Roberto Carlos sent in a hanging cross. Man of the Match Zidane met the ball by swiveling his hips and then sending a thunderous left-footed volley into the back of the net past goalkeeper Hans-Jorg Butt. It’s still arguably the best goal the Champions League has ever seen and it was the game winner as Madrid captured the European crown for the ninth time.
8. Didier Drogba Redeems Himself in 2012 Final
Chelsea’s Ivory Coast international striker Didier Drogba had endured some of the worst moments of his career while playing in the Champions League. He was sent off the pitch against Manchester United in the 2007-08 final and a year later was banned for three matches after going nuts when Chelsea was eliminated by Barcelona. He had a chance to redeem himself in the 2011-12 final though when the Blues traveled to Munich to take on hometown team Bayern Munich. With Chelsea trailing 1-0 with just two minutes to play, Drogba headed in the tying goal to send the match to extra time. Nothing was decided after another 30 minutes of play and the final went to penalties. Drogba then banged in the winning penalty to give Chelsea its first Champions League title.
7. Steven Gerrard’s Late Goal Sends Liverpool to Knockout Stage
Liverpool was at home at Anfield to Greek side Olympiakos back on December 8, 2004 and needed to win by two goals just to make it out of the group stage and into the knockout round. With just four minutes to go in the match, Reds’ skipper Steven Gerrard (who else?) got a hold of the ball and hammered a long-range half volley into the net to make sure his side advanced with a 3-1 victory. Gerrard naturally went to celebrate in the Kop end and was booked and suspended for the next game due to his exuberance. It was a great night for Liverpool supporters, as their team fell behind, meaning they had to come up with three straight goals. It was also a sign of things to come as they also needed to fight back with three goals in the final that season, with Gerrard once again leading the way (more on that in a minute).
6. Werder Bremen Come Back with Five Goals in 23 Minutes
Back in the 1993-94 group stage, Anderlecht of Belgium took on German Bundesliga outfit Werder Bremen and were cruising with a 3-0 lead after just 33 minutes. The score remained the same with just over 24 minutes to go and it looked like the away team would pull off a big upset. And then the unthinkable happened. Wynton Rufer scored in the 66th minute to get the ball rolling and Rune Bratseth pulled another back in the 72nd. Bernd Hobsch knotted the score in the 80th minute, but the momentum was all with Bremen by then and they decided to go for the jugular. Marco Bode put the home side in front with seven minutes remaining and Rufer hammered the final nail in Anderlecht’s coffin in the 89th minute. It was one of the worst meltdowns in tournament history.
5. Deportivo La Coruna Claw Back to Oust AC Milan
No team had ever come back in the knockout stages of the Champions League after trailing the first leg by three goals. That all changed in the 2003-04 quarterfinals though when Deportivo La Coruna of Spain traveled to Italy to face defending European champions AC Milan. They surprised the home side in the first match by taking a 1-0 lead. Milan’s class shone through over the 90 minutes though as they answered with four straight goals to take a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 lead with them back to Spain. A 3-0 Deportivo win in the second leg would have tied the score 4-4 and they would have advanced due to their away goal. However, they hammered four goals past the stunned Italian side to win the match 4-0 and reach the semifinals 5-4 on aggregate. At the time, it was the greatest ever Champions League comeback.
4. Lionel Messi Scores Five Goals in Game
Nobody really bats an eye anymore when the great Lionel Messi scores a hat trick, since he’s knocked in so many of them. But fans sit up and pay attention when Messi (or anybody else for that matter) drills in five goals in a game. Messi achieved this feat back on March 7th, 2012 when he scored five of Barcelona’s seven goals in a 7-1 thumping of Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen. At the age of 24, he became the first player to score five times in one Champions League contest and it came in the second leg of a Round of 16 match at home. Messi’s goals came in the 25th, 42nd, 49th, 58th and 84th minutes. A couple of players had scored five times in a match in the qualifying rounds for the Champions League, but never in the official tournament. However, Luiz Adriano of Shakhtar Donetsk equaled Messi’s feat in the 2014-15 group stage against BATE Borisov.
3. Manchester United’s Last-Minute Victory
The 1998-99 final wasn’t the most exciting for about 89 minutes, as Bayern Munich held a 1-0 lead over Manchester United and seemed to be in control. In fact, they would have doubled their lead if it they didn’t hit the woodwork twice. However, things came alive dramatically in the last few minutes in Barcelona. United boss Sir Alex Ferguson had sent on striker Teddy Sheringham as a substitute in the 67th minute and super sub Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the 81st for what looked to be a futile hope at a comeback. Sheringham scored 36 seconds into the three-minutes of injury time to level the game and send the United fans into delirium. But nobody expected Solskjaer to score 101 seconds later to give United the European title. Both goals came off of David Beckham corner kicks and the famous win meant United became the first English side to win a treble — they had also captured the Premier League and FA Cup earlier that season.
2. Liverpool Fights Back to win Cup
With Rafael Benitez in charge of Liverpool in 2004-05, it wasn’t surprising to see the Reds trailing AC Milan 3-0 at halftime in the final in Istanbul. Things looked so dire that some Liverpool supporters actually left the ground. But once again 24-year-old Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard took things into his own hands and grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck. The Premier League side scored three times between the 54th and 60th minutes to level the contest 3-3.
Goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek did his part by keeping the Italian squad at bay with some spectacular saves and the game ended in a deadlock. Thirty minutes of extra time couldn’t decide a winner so the match went to a penalty shootout. Dudek then distracted Milan shooters with a rubber-leg routine and saved two spot kicks while Liverpool won the shootout 3-2 for their fifth European reign. Perhaps the most exciting Champions League Final ever!
1. Barcelona Storms Back to Beat Paris Saint-Germain
The biggest comeback in Champion League history took place in 2016-17 with Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain slugging it out in the Round of 16. PSG completely outclassed Barca in the first leg at home and took a commanding 4-0 lead. Nobody had ever overturned a four-goal deficit in the second leg, but a 4-0 Barcelona win didn’t seem out of the question to force extra time. They almost pulled it off, as Barca was up 3-0 after 50 minutes. PSG appeared to secure the insurance they needed though when Edinson Cavani scored a huge away goal to make it 3-1 in the 62nd minute.
PSG was up 5-3 on aggregate meaning Barcelona still needed three more goals to advance (a 5-5 draw would see PSG go through on away goals). This looked impossible as the game entered the 88th minute, but Neymar scored on a free kick to pull a goal back. He scored again in the second minute of injury time on a penalty. The incredible comeback was capped off when Sergio Roberto stabbed in Barca’s sixth of the night after five minutes of injury time with virtually the last kick of the game.