The best Champions League finals of all time
Sat, May 29 2021, 7:00 PM
The match is expected to be an entertaining affair, as Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel square off on the sideline. However, it will take a lot to live up to the greatest finals in the history of the tournament.
Let’s go through the best finals in the history of the competition.
Barcelona vs. Manchester United (2011)
Few Champions League finals were as enjoyable to watch for the neutral fan as the 2011 edition, which saw Lionel Messi and tiki-taka masters Barcelona square off with a Manchester United side in the final for the third time in four years.
A rematch of the 2009 final, Guardiola’s Spanish giants were the masters of possession, passed teams into the ground, and left opposing players chasing shadows.
Both sides found the back of the next in the first half, as Barcelona opened the scoring with a goal from Pedro, before Wayne Rooney cancelled it out just seven minutes later with a terrific finish. After the break, however, it was all Barcelona.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson later said, “Nobody’s given us a hiding like that,” and called Barcelona the best team he ever faced.
The Catalan side ripped United to shreds in the second half. Messi put Barcelona ahead with a low, drilled shot from outside the area, and then made a wonderful run to set up David Villa for the clinching goal.
Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich (1999)
While it was not the best match from start to finish, it was most certainly the greatest finish to any match in Champions League history.
Bayern Munich looked to derail a Manchester United squad that attempted to become the first English side to win “the treble” — titles in a domestic league, domestic cup, and European cup all in the same season.
Bayern took an early lead just six minutes in, when a free kick from Mario Basler curled around the United wall and snuck past keeper Peter Schmeichel. Bayern dominated for large parts of the match, and hit the frame of the goal twice, including a brilliant overhead kick from Carsten Jancker that left Schmeichel flat-footed.
However, “Fergie Time” was when United notoriously for pulled out results, and as the match entered second-half stoppage time, it threw everyone forward. David Beckham’s corner kick was poorly cleared, and Ryan Giggs’ attempted shot was redirected by forward Teddy Sheringham to level the match.
Two minutes later, Beckham again put in a perfect corner, which Sheringham headed toward the back post, where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was waiting to poke it home.
The Bayern players were so shocked that many of them collapsed at the final whistle, inconsolable and sobbing.
Milan vs. Barcelona (1994)
To say Milan was an underdog in this match is selling it short.
Not did Milan face a powerful Barcelona squad, led by Johan Cruyff, it was without seven starters or key reserves, including Franco Baresi, Marco van Basten, Brian Laudrup, and Alessandro Costacurta. Few gave the Italian side any chance to win.
Instead, Milan won the 1994 final by the largest margin of victory in history.
Dejan Savicevic scored twice. He opened the scoring in the first half, then scoring a brilliant, chipped goal from outside the box just after halftime. He also set up Milan’s second goal.
Milan handed Cruyff’s dominant squad a rare defeat and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the competition. Milan returned to the final the following season but fell to Ajax.
Milan vs. Liverpool (2005)
Milan looked poised for victory at halftime of the 2005 Champions League final.
Captain Paolo Maldini put the Rossoneri on top inside of one minute, when he buried the earliest goal in the history of the final, before striker Hernan Crespo scored a brace to put his side ahead, 3-0, heading into the break.
However, everything came crashing down in a nine-minute span in the second half. Nine minutes after the break, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard headed home a free kick into the box, and two minutes later, the Reds got a second, when Vladimir Smicer snuck one in from outside the box. Xabi Alonso completed the comeback four minutes later. His penalty was saved by Dida, but Alonso was able to smash the rebound into the roof of the net.
In extra time, Milan thought it had salvaged the match very late, when Andriy Shevchenko came free for a header, but his shot stopped by Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek, who then pulled off a miraculous second save, after Shevchenko pounced on the rebound.
The match went to penalties, where Dudek pulled off some very controversial saves, as he came off his line well before the ball was struck. He made two saves, and Liverpool won the shootout, 3-2.