As we count down the hours until tomorrow’s clash of titans in Rome, wondering if we’re going to enjoy a goal fest or another penalty kick shoot-out, here’s a look at the most memorable European finals from the last ten years:
Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan 2005
One of the most legendary comebacks of all time in any sport. Milan took over in the first minute of play with a stunning goal from Paolo Maldini. The fastest in the history of the European Cup final. Liverpool knew they had a mountain to climb after Hernan Crespo found the back of the net in the 39th, but when he scored again in the 44th, the Reds must have felt it was game over.
But what is imagined to be the best dressing room pep talk in the history of dressing rooms must have had the right effect. In the second half, Liverpool switched on and found three goals of their own within seven minutes. John Arne Riise launched the ball in from wide left for Steven Gerrard to head home in the 54th. Vladimir Smicer converted a gutsy chance from distance in the 56th. And minutes later, after Gennaro Gatusso took down Gerrard in the box, Xabi Alonso rebounded his own saved penalty save to put the Reds level.
Liverpool won on penalty kicks.
Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich, 1999
Bayern Munich scored early off a set piece when Mario Basler fired a 25-yard shot around United’s wall. The German side would stifle play and tactics, and United could not find a breath of fresh air for some 85 minutes.
The miraculous moments came from two substitutions. Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came on in the 66th and 80th minutes respectively and would prove to be the lighting rods for victory.
After the three minutes of injury time had been announced the scoreline was still 0-1. But Ryan Giggs soon found Sheringham in the box who was able to put United level. The United supporters erupted, expecting their side to have a decent chance in extra time. But it would never be needed.
A corner kick found Sheringham’s head, and when the ball fell earthward, Solskjaer was able to volley it into the roof of the net.
Real Madrid 2-1 Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 2002
Unlike the above finals, this battle will not be remembered for a stunning comeback or timely drama. The winning goal was scored at the end of the first half and there would be no goals in the second. It is memorable because the goal itself was possibly the greatest ever scored in a European final.
Real scored early after a long throw found Raul in the box. The Spanish wonderstriker put it home on eight minutes.
On 13 minutes, Leverkusen’s Lucio connected with Bernd Schneider’s free-kick to put his side level.
The remaining minutes of the half had some glimpses of opportunity for both sides, but mostly it was stifled play and no real look at goal until in the closing moments of the half, when Santiago Solari put Roberto Carlos into space on the left side. The wing-back let the ball bounce once before launching it into the area where Zinedine Zidane was lurking just inside the box. The French legend slingshot the ball home with a magnificent turning volley. It was a brilliant feat and enough to win the match.
I saved this one for last, because I feel like we might be in for something like this tomorrow. I can see United and Barcelona stifling each other’s tactics, teetering toward a draw and threatening penalty kicks, until someone (be it Messi or Ronaldo) finds that moment where space and opportunity poke their heads up at the same time for a split second of brilliance to make its mark and define the game.
I have a feeling it will be one of those. I don’t anticipate a goal fest.
Thanks to bbc.co.uk and uefa.com for the match reports to jog my memory for the happenings in these finals.