The European Champion Clubs’ Cup or, more commonly, European Cup, was inaugurated in 1955 for winners of European domestic leagues. The format was straightforward knockout over two legs, home and away, with the team with the highest aggregate score qualifying for the next round. For the 1992-93 season, the tournament was renamed the UEFA Champions League with the format changed to include a group stage. Since the inaugural 1955-56 tournament, Italy has enjoyed great success in the European Cup and Champions League, with Italian clubs winning on 11 occasions and finishing as runners-up on 14 occasions. In its latest incarnation, up to 2008, Italian clubs have won the Champions League on 4 occasions and finished as runners-up on 6 occasions.
Milan have been Italy’s most successful club in the Champions League, winning on 3 occasions (1994, 2003 and 2007), finishing runners-up 3 times (1993, 1995 and 2005) and reaching the quarter-finals in 2004 and semi-finals in 2006. Their most recent successful campaign saw them qualify from the single Group Stage as Group H winners. They gained a narrow last 16 success over Celtic (in extra-time) before a more impressive 4-2 aggregate win over Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals. A 3-0 second leg win over Manchester United saw them through to the final, facing Liverpool, in Athens. A brace from Filippo Inzaghi, on the stroke of half-time and after 82 minutes gave them a 2-1 victory.
Juventus won the Champions League in 1996, finished runners-up in 1997, 1998 and 2003, reached the quarter-finals in 2005 and 2006 along with a semi-finals appearance in 1999. In their 1996 campaign they qualified from the single Group Stage as Group C winners which included 4-0 and 4-1 wins over Glasgow Rangers. They lost their quarter-final 1st leg 1-0 at Real Madrid, but a 2-0 success in the return leg ensured their progression. A 2-0 semi-final first leg win over Nantes meant that a 3-2 defeat in the return leg was enough to see them progress to meet Ajax in the final at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Fabrizio Ravanelli put them in front after 12 minutes, but a Jari Litmanen strike put the Dutch side level just before half-time. The score remained level throughout the second half and extra time. However, successful penalty strikes from Ciro Ferrara, Gianluca Pessotto, Michele Padovano and Vladimir Jugovic were sufficient to secure the title.
Inter have been quarter-finalists three times (1999, 2005 and 2006) and made the semi-finals in 2003. Their 2003 campaign saw them qualify from the first Group Stage as Group D winners and as Group A runners-up to Barcelona in the second Group Stage. They beat Valencia on away goals in the quarter finals, leaving 3 Italian sides in the semi-finals. They met their Milan rivals in the semi-finals. Both sides play at the San Siro, but AC Milan were designated as the “away” side and hence progressed on away goals to beat compatriots Juventus in the Old Trafford final.
AS Roma were quarter-finalists in 2007 and 2008, losing out to Manchester United on both occasions, beaten 8-3 and 3-0 on aggregate, respectively.
Lazio reached the quarter-finals in 2000. They qualified from the first Group Stage as unbeaten Group A winners. They lost only once in their second Group Stage campaign, which included a notable 2-1 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, qualifying as Group D winners. In the quarter-finals they were hammered 5-2 at eventual runners-up Valencia (including a hat-trick from Gerard Lopez) and a 1-0 home win could not prevent their elimination. Lazio also boast the oldest player to play in the Champions League. Marco Ballotta played against Real Madrid in 2007, aged 43 years and 252 days.
The consistently good performances of Italian clubs are well worth bearing in mind when contemplating a bet on the Champions League.