Top 10 UEFA Champions League Finals

Tags: #ChampionsLeague ,   #UEFAChampionsLeague ,   #Football ,   #Soccer ,   #footballislife

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2023-06-09 15:57:31

The UEFA Champions League belongs to the most significant sports events on the planet, next to FIFA World Cup. Every year the best clubs in Europe compete for the title and an important place in history. As the stakes are so high, this also means that final games often aren't pretty to watch. Luckily, plenty of them were exciting, unpredictable, and hard to forget. While the competition started in 1955 as the European Cup, we'll rank only the final games in the current format, introduced in 1992. 

10. Real Madrid - Atletico (2014)

The ultimate clash of styles
Location: Estádio da Luz, Lisbon (Portugal)
Top players: Ramos, Modrić, Bale, Ronaldo (Spain), Courtois, Koke, Costa, Villa
Best known for: Sergio Ramos's injury-time header
Player of the match: Ángel Di María
UCL final info

Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid had a terrific 2013/14 Champions League season, losing only one of their 24 matches! It was a clash of two bitter city rivals, creating an electric atmosphere filled with tension and drama. With both teams nearly at their full power, everything was ready for a spectacle. While Real had Ramos, Modrić, Bale, and Ronaldo, Atlético had an excellent offensive line with Koke, Costa, and Villa. However, the teams couldn't be more different. Thus, everyone wondered who would make their style of play dominant.

Atletico Madrid, under the guidance of Diego Simeone, showcased their resolute defensive organization, frustrating Real Madrid's star-studded attacking lineup. The match seemed destined for Atletico's victory as they held a 1-0 lead deep into stoppage time. However, Sergio Ramos' dramatic header in the 93rd minute snatched the equalizer for Real Madrid, shifting the momentum and forcing the match into extra time.

The extra period saw Real Madrid unleash their attacking prowess, with goals from Gareth Bale, Marcelo, and Cristiano Ronaldo securing a 4-1 victory. Thus, Atletico remains one of the best clubs never to win the Champions League.

9. Milan - Liverpool (2007)

Old, tired, but still the best in the world - AC Milan
Location: Olympic Stadium, Athens (Greece)
Top players: Nesta, Maldini, Seedorf, Kaka (Milan), Carragher, Xabi Aloso, Mascherano, Gerrard (Liverpool)
Best known for: The last big title for Milan's golden generation
Player of the match: Filippo Inzaghi
UCL final info

It seemed impossible, but Milan and Liverpool somehow met in their second UCL final in three years. That's mainly because both teams struggled in their national championships. However, Milan's story was way more impressive. As the team was initially punished for alleged match-fixing, they weren't allowed to play in the Champions League. However, at the last moment, their sentence was reduced. Thus, Milan players had to come back from their vacations and had less than two weeks to prepare for the Champions League playoffs! Both teams struggled on their road to the final, suffering many losses. Still, they were stacked with legends, as Milan featured Nesta, Maldini, Pirlo, Seedorf, Kaka, and Inzaghi. Similarly, Liverpool had Carragher, Xabi Alonso, Mascherano, Gerrard, and Kuyt.

While Liverpool looked better in the first half, Milan took the lead. As Pirlo took a free kick, he intentionally hit Inzaghi, as the ball confused the goalkeeper and ended in the net. That pretty much determined the second-half tactics as Liverpool became increasingly desperate to equalize. Yet, that also gave lots of space for Milan's counter-attacks. Once Kaká made a brilliant pass to Inzaghi, he routinely scored to make it 2-0. Yet, there was still drama, as Kuyt made it 2-1 in the 88th minute. Still, there was no repeat of 2005 - Milan had the best possible revenge. This was the last hurrah for the golden Rossoneri generation, still the oldest team to win the Champions League.

8. Barcelona - Manchester United (2011)

United often looked like a 2nd-rate team in this one
Location: Wembley Stadium, London (England)
Top players: Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Villa (Barcelona), Ferdinand, Vidić, Giggs, Rooney (United)
Best known for: Total dominance of Barcelona
Player of the match: Lionel Messi
UCL final info

In 2009 Barcelona won the UCL final against Manchester United, and two years later, they met again. By then, the Catalans were one of the most dominant teams in Europe. Thanks to the brilliance of Xavi and Iniesta, Messi scored easily and often. On the other hand, United still had a dream defense with van der Sar on goal, with Ferdinand and Vidić as center-backs. Yet, the rest of the team wasn't as powerful, and Sir Alex Ferguson was aware of that.

Thus, Barcelona kept possession endlessly, forcing their controversial tiki-taka style of play. Thus United was mainly behind the ball, as Rooney and Giggs tried to create counter-attacks. Not surprisingly, Barca scored first via Pedro, but United somehow equalized seven minutes later thanks to Rooney. However, that's all they had. By the end of the game, Barcelona had 12 shots on target, against a single one by United. More importantly, goals from Messi and Villa assured another title. While this wasn't a very competitive match, it was the best demonstration of Barcelona at its peak power.

7. Manchester United - Chelsea (2008)

There was no better team in this match
Location: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow (Russia)
Top players: Ferdinand, Vidić, Rooney, Ronaldo (United), Terry, Ashley Cole, Lampard, Drogba (Chelsea)
Best known for: Nail-biting penalty shootout
Player of the match: Edwin Van Der Sarr
UCL final info

The 2008 Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea occurred at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The match showcased the rivalry between Sir Alex Ferguson and Avram Grant, both determined to claim the prestigious trophy. Luckily, with no suspensions and injuries, both managers could field the best players. While United had Ferdinand, Vidić, Evra, Ronaldo, and Rooney, Chelsea answered with Terry, Ashley Cole, Lampard, and Drogba.

The final was a tightly contested affair that went into extra time after a 1-1 draw in regular time. Cristiano Ronaldo's header gave Manchester United an early lead. Still, Frank Lampard's equalizer for Chelsea sent the match into a nail-biting extra period. Yet, the defining moment came during the penalty shootout when Edwin van der Sar's save denied Nicolas Anelka, securing a 6-5 victory for Manchester United. However, more than ever, both teams deserved the trophy.

6. Borussia Dortmund - Juventus (1997)

No one expected anything from Dortmund
Location: Olympiastadion, Munich (Germany)
Top players: Kohler, Sammer, Reuter, Möller (Borussia), Ferrara, Deschamps, Jugović, Zidane (Juventus)
Best known for: Lars Ricken's goal
Player of the match: Karl-Heinz Riedle
UCL final info

In 1996/97, Borussia and Juventus had exceptional Champions League seasons. While the Germans lost a single match, Juventus stayed undefeated. Therefore, we could expect a spectacular final. Dortmund was a fantastic team, including legends Kohler, Sammer, Reuter, Möller, and others. Juventus looked equally impressive with Ferrara, Deschamps, Jugović, Zidane, and Vierri. In fact, Italians were huge favorites. Still, Dortmund, with limited resources compared to the star-studded Juventus, displayed incredible team spirit and tactical discipline. 

That discipline and patience helped them stay competitive as they shocked Juventus with two quick goals by Riedle. It still wasn't over, as Del Piero scored a gorgeous back-heel goal with almost half an hour of play. Yet, Ricken soon came on and scored the moment he stepped on the pitch! Everything was clear then, especially as Zidane had an awful game, thanks to brilliant play by Lambert. While Borussia is a big club, they will forever remain one of the most surprising UCL winners.

5. Chelsea - Bayern (2012)

Drogba saved the match that appeared to be lost
Location: Allianz Arena, Munich (Germany)
Top players: Neuer, Robben, Müller, Ribéry (Bayern), Ashley Cole, Lampard, Mata, Drogba (Chelsea)
Best known for: Drogba's header to tie the game
Player of the match: Didier Drogba
UCL final info

The 2012 Champions League final was already extraordinary, as Bayern Munich played on their home ground! This was the first such case in the competition's history. Yet, the team looked shaky after losing Bundesliga and German Cup. Still, they performed exceptionally in the Champions League, as did Chelsea. Unfortunately, both teams missed three players for suspensions, including David Alaba and John Terry. Yet, there was plenty of other talent. Neuer, Kroos, Robben, Müller, and Ribéry represented Bayern, while Chelsea had Ashley Cole, Lampard, Mata, and Drogba.

Expectedly, Bayern Munich dominated the match and created numerous scoring opportunities. However, it was Chelsea's relentless defense and the heroics of their goalkeeper, Petr Cech, that kept them in the game. The match seemed destined for Bayern's victory when Thomas Müller broke the deadlock in the 83rd minute. But Chelsea's never-say-die spirit was on full display as Didier Drogba netted a stunning header in the dying minutes of regulation time to equalize. In the ensuing penalty shootout, it was Cech once again who emerged as the hero, saving crucial spot-kicks and leading one of the best London football clubs to a dramatic 4-3 victory. This was a historical event, as Chelsea finished only sixth in the Premier League that season! Thus, they are the lowest-ranked league team to ever qualify for the Champions League!

4. Juventus - Real Madrid (2017)

The best Cristiano Ronaldo Champions League final performance
Location: Millenium Stadium, Cardiff (Wales)
Top players: Buffon, Bonucci, Dybala, Higuain (Juventus), Ramos, Modrić, Benzema, Ronaldo (Real), 
Best known for: Real's brilliant second half
Player of the match: Cristiano Ronaldo
UCL final info

Juventus and Real had very different roads to the 2017 Champions League finals. While the Italians never lost a match, the Spaniards often struggled and barely survived against Bayern Munich. Still, no one could predict the outcome. With players like Ramos, Varane, Kroos, Modrić, Benzema, and Ronaldo, Real looked fantastic. Yet, Juventus had an incredible defense - Buffon, Bonucci, and Chiellini, with Dybala and Higuain up front. In their 12 games, Juventus conceded only three times!

Yet, it was a massive surprise when Juventus dominated the game, creating three fantastic chances. Still, Cristiano Ronaldo shocked them with an opener in the 20th minute. The Italians did fight back, and seven minutes later, Mandžukić canceled it with a terrific goal. Yet, that was it for the first half, even though Juventus looked dominant. While we expected a close and nervous game, everything changed. Real was finally attacking, creating chances, and scoring twice by the 64th minute. Asensio's goal in the dying moments of the game was just a cherry on top before the celebrations began.

3. Milan - Barcelona 4-0 (1994)

The ultimate Champions League final destruction
Location: Olympic Stadium, Athens (Greece)
Top players: Maldini, Deasilly, Donadoni, Savićević (Milan), Zubizaretta, Koeman, Stoichkov, Romario (Barcelona)
Best known for: Gorgeous goal by Dejan Savićević
Player of the match: Daniele Massaro
UCL final info

The 1994 Champions League was a clash of superstar teams, as Milan and Barcelona had some of the finest players in history. Yet, things weren't perfect, especially for the Italians. While Marco van Basten was out with an injury, Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta were suspended. Furthermore, both teams had to leave out some of their best players, as they could have up to three non-nationals. Still, the teams were powerful, as Milan had Maldini, Deasilly, Donadoni, Boban, and Savićević. Barcelona was also spectacular with Zubizarreta, Guardiola, Koeman, Stoichkov, and Romário.

Even when Milan took the lead in the middle of the first half, Barcelona continued attacking, with Romário missing a fine chance. Yet, when Massaro scored his second just before the break, it was too much for the Spaniards. As the second half started, Dejan Savićević scored an unforgettable lob over Zubizarreta, with Marcel Desailly finishing the job ten minutes later. Shocked and discouraged, Barcelona couldn't do anything, as Milan recorded the most convincing win in the Champions League finals.

2. Manchester United - Bayern Munich (1999)

The game that created life-long trauma for Bayern fans
Location: Camp Nou, Barcelona (Spain)
Top players: Schmeichel, Staam, Giggs, Beckham (United), Kahn, Matthäus, Effenberg 
Best known for: Injury time turnaround
Player of the match: Mario Basler
UCL final info

The 1999 Champions League final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich epitomized the never-say-die spirit of football. Previously, the teams clashed in the group stage, drawing twice. Unfortunately, both were without a few key players for the final. Tough captain Roy Keane and Paul Scholes were suspended, with Keane being injured anyway. Things did balance out as Bayern missed Bixente Lizarazu and their key scorer, Giovane Élber. Still, United looked impressive, as they fielded Schmeichel, Staam, Giggs, and Beckham, with Yorke and Cole upfront. However, Bayern had some of the most iconic Germans in history, including Kahn, Matthäus, and Effenberg.

Bayern had the perfect start, as Basler scored in the sixth minute. While United wasn't discouraged, their dominance resulted in few chances. Meanwhile, Germans created better opportunities with counter-attacking, easily keeping the lead. Bayern was even better in the second half, as they could easily score again. In a desperate move, Alex Fergusson gave chances to Sheringham and Solskjær, but without success, it seemed. However, the magic started in injury time! Sheringham was the first to score, with Solskjær adding another one two minutes later. The game was over a minute later, with Bayern players in disbelief for a long time after. While United's triumph had a lot to do with luck, they deserved it by never giving up!

1. Liverpool - Milan (2005)

How did this happen?
Location: Atatürk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul (Turkey)
Top players: Nesta, Maldini, Pirlo, Crespo (Milan), Carragher, Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Baroš (Liverpool)
Best known for: The biggest comeback in UCL final history
Player of the match: Steven Gerrard
UCL final info

Could there be any other game at the top? While Milan was a favorite, the team recently lost the Serie A title, showing their vulnerability. Yet, Liverpool was doing even worse, as they couldn't even reach the top four in England. When it comes to sheer quality, Milan was better, with too many great players to mention. On the other side, Liverpool only had a strong midfield, with Gerrard and Xabi Alonso.

Milan dominated the first half, racing to a 3-0 lead with goals from Paolo Maldini and a double from Hernan Crespo. The match seemed all but over, with Milan on the verge of securing the title. Crespo could even score a hat-trick, but no one thought that his miss would mean anything. However, in an extraordinary turn of events, Liverpool staged a remarkable comeback. Led by their inspirational captain Steven Gerrard, Liverpool mounted a sensational fightback, scoring three goals in six minutes. Goals from Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer, and Xabi Alonso saw the Reds equalize, sending the match into extra time and, ultimately, penalties. The final culminated in a nerve-wracking penalty shootout, where Liverpool emerged victorious, with goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek making crucial saves. It was an incredible display of character, resilience, and determination by Liverpool, defying all odds.

Unfortunately, most Champion League finals don't offer many goals and chances, yet as the stakes are so high, that's understandable. However, plenty of them are worth revisiting for the sheer drama, brilliant goals, and turnarounds. Thus, they'll remain in our collective memory.

What's your favorite UEFA Champions League final? What was the first final you've ever watched? 

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