Which of the Following Champions League Final Triumphs Was The Best Yet?

When Manchester United strode out onto the Camp Nou pitch on May 26, 1999 to contest the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, it was the first appearance by an English club in the competition’s final since the Heysel tragedy of May 29, 1985. During that gap, the tournament underwent several significant changes, including the introduction of group stages and the addition of additional qualifying clubs from the best countries.

Manchester United, along with Liverpool and Chelsea are the three English clubs to have lifted ol’ big ears in the Champions League’s modern history. Each one has won it in wildly improbable ways.

In the 1999 final, Bayern, sitting on a 1-nil lead in stoppage time, was Carl Smith in The Graduate at the altar in the Santa Barbara church about to marry Elaine Robinson. Suddenly Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struck, and Bayern saw their prize slip away like Carl watching Ben Braddock spring from the church with his girl. Man United’s comeback was fit for a movie of its own, complete with iconic quotes from Sir Alex Ferguson – “Football. Bloody Hell.”  and then-UEFA president Lennart Johansson – “The winners were crying and the losers were dancing.”

Liverpool’s 2005 match against AC Milan in Istanbul was the club’s first appearance in the European Cup/Champions League decider since their 1-0 loss to Juventus in the Heysel final. Down three goals at the half, the odds of a Liverpool win at the interval were reportedly 250 to 1. Indefatigable, the chants from Liverpool’s huge traveling contingent resounded through the stadium through the break. Captain Steven Gerrard’s 54th minute header then sparked six unforgettable minutes of magic that crested with a young Xabi Alonso staring down Dida for a potential score-levelling penalty. Liverpool fans could be forgiven for momentarily thinking they were the victims of some grand cosmic tease when Dida saved the shot, but Alonso set off worldwide pandemonium when he raced in to put back his own shot. The victory, secured by Jerzy Dudek’s manic dancing moves, was salvation for a club that had finished behind Everton that season and had seen their place as the dominant club in England usurped by the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal in the Premier League era. Five European Cups for Liverpool, the most for any English club, and the trophy was theirs to keep permanently.

Chelsea entered Bayern Munich’s ground on Saturday as the first road team in the final since Liverpool escaped AS Roma’s Stadio Olimpico with the cup in 1984. Roman Abramovich took control of Chelsea in June of 2003. Despite considerable domestic success since then, beginning with the club’s Premier League title in 2005 (its first top division claim since 1955), Abramovich’s supreme desire has been the Champions League. The cost to be Europe’s boss has been hundreds of millions of pounds spent on players and nine managers (including caretakers). At the time of Andre Villas-Boas’ March sacking, it looked like the trophy would be Abramovich’s ‘rosebud,’ an impossible obsession that made all other success unsatisfying. Yet Chelsea’s determined defence absorbed wave after wave of Bayern attack. And George McFly doppelganger Mario Gomez made gift after gift of a fresh football to fans sitting in the upper deck high above the Chelsea goal. And Didier Drogba soared past Jerome Boateng to unleash that header. And Petr Cech denied Arjen Robben’s penalty in the first extra-time session and then stopped Ivica Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the shootout to seal perhaps most improbable of the aforementioned three victories.

Which of these three Champions League comeback triumphs is the best? That’s for you to decide.

Notes: I did not include Manchester United’s win over Chelsea in 2008 as it was not as improbable and not as truly dramatic (John Terry’s miss was tragicomedy, not drama) as the other three. I also decided to concentrate on the modern Champions League era, thus excluding prior wins by Liverpool, Nottingham Forest, and Aston Villa.

23 thoughts on “Which of the Following Champions League Final Triumphs Was The Best Yet?”

  1. 1. Borussia Dortmund absolutely improbable win over Juventus in 1997.
    2. Milan demolishing Barcelona in 1994.
    3. Manchester United beating Bayern in 1999.

  2. Any voting for anythinng other than liverpool 2005 is utterly biased as simple as that, what liverpool did that night still now seems utterly impossible, it was an unbelievable night for football fans the world over to watch a pretty poor team come back from the dead against one of the best sides in europe at the time, man u scored 2 late goals, great, teams do it all the time, chelsea parked the bus for 120 minutes and made the greatest football competition on earth have one of the most boring finals ever because of their refusal to actually try and go out and win the game, chelseas was not an improbable victory, it was an away 1st leg tatic, park the bus and try and nick an away goal, as it turned out there was no 2nd leg to play, there version of nicking a goal was more than enough for them to continue to park the bus and hold out for penaltys, utter dribble, greatest final ever….not a chance, and it can never be compared to what liverpool did in 2005,

    1. @Clive smh I don’t know how you can say Chelsea parked the bus…possession was only 56% – 44% to Bayern. Does that sound one sided? I could maybe partially agree if Chelsea scored first, and then defended the rest of the game, but that wasn’t the case.. And after that Chelsea goal, it was much more going Chelsea’s way (in terms of possession), so to say the whole 120 minutes Chelsea defended is utter rubbish. Sure Chelsea sat back at the beginning, but that was because everyone knew Bayern were going to go all out in the first 10 minutes- they were in their home stadium. But as the 1st half went, it became more back and forth. Most stats (particularly total shots) are misleading. Bayern had 9 shots that Petr Cech had to save- not much.
      Defense is just as important as offense. Chelsea’s tactics won out, and they were more mentally tough than the Germans. They totally deserved this European Championship. Say Liverpool’s win was a better game, more improbable- that’s fine. But don’t belittle this Chelsea team and their victory.

      1. possession doesnt mean a thing! look at how many shots chelsea had! basically no meaningful shots other than drogbas brilliant header at the death. even when they reached extra time when bayern was on their last legs, chelsea wasnt even trying to score, as they wanted penalties. it was one of the most boring matches ive ever watched from chelseas perspective, but i guess whatever works these days….

        1. Shots don’t mean a thing either unless you score goals.

          After 90 mins Bayern and Chelsea had one apiece.

          If it was so boring why were you still watching the match?

  3. Including Chelsea 2012 in the same category as both Liverpool 2005 and Man U 1999 is nothing other than insulting to both Liverpool and Man U! Man U did it in dramatic fashion in 99 and Liverpool overcame all the odds in 05. I’m not knocking Chelsea (because after all, a win is a win) but it doesn’t come slightly close to the other two.

    1. I would argue the journey there for each club was full of drama.

      For any team to come back from 3-0 at HT against an Italian club is something that will never happen again.

      We know for instance that an English team playing the final at the home stadium of the opponent isn’t impossible but it’s pretty damn hard.

      There’s a case for each final and I would expect discussion to run in a partisan way.

      All are impressive and all have merit. I could care less to rank them.

      1. It was one of the most boring finals I’ve ever seen and I’m sorry but there really is no argument what so ever – it has no right to be uttered in the same sentence as the other two. 10 years down the line do you think it’ll be remembered the world over as being a classic final or match in general? I don’t. There’s a reason Liverpool v AC Milan is continually (to this day) mentioned whenever people rank or talk about the best football matches ever

        1. Well of course you don’t think it is. But that’s your perspective.

          Of course that game was one of the best comebacks.

          The reason it will always be in the sentence is b/c Chelsea won in Munich against Munich.

          As I said originally, it’s all in the eye of each person.

          1. They’re not the first team to have beaten somebody on home turf. Liverpool managed that feat a long time before when they won it for the 4th time but you don’t hear people banging on about that. Chelsea fans will forever refer to the fact they won it against Munich in Munich and it was their first time but for the wider world it’ll be forgotten as a less than thrilling encounter.

          2. @Paul

            As I mentioned in my earlier post i alluded to Liverpool’s win in Rome against Roma without mentioning it directly. And as I said in that same post it’s not impossible but it’s very hard.

            Of course no one bangs about the 1984 European Cup Final b/c it was in 1984!!

            Chelsea won this past Saturday for crying out loud. Get a grip.

          3. You’re right Paul, you see any posts on the 84 European Cup Final on this site recently?

            Tons of posts on the final from four days ago though, odd how that works out.

  4. Man Utd 1999 was the greatest of the 3. They turned it around in normal play and within 90 minutes. The other 2 were both won on penalties. Both dramatic finals, but not truly winning the final based on football alone.

  5. John Terry’s slip was one of the best if not the best experience I have ever had. I remember I was heading out a pub in Barcelona while Terry was walking over the penalty area to kick the “winning penalty”. I went mad afterwards.

  6. I would pick Man UTD but if you picked Liverpool i could live with that choice as well.the main reason for Man UTD because they were losing in injury time and won the match.no slight to Chelsea just not as exciting IMO.

  7. As a Chelsea supporter, it’s obvious which one tastes sweeter. That being said, the ’05 final to this day is one of the greatest matches I’ve ever watched.

  8. Man U in 1999 and Liverpool ’05 were both awesome in different ways and I think far more spectacular than what Chelsea did. I may have to go with 1999 in the end in terms of beating the long odds, as I think that needing two in a couple minutes is a bigger hurdle than needing four in 45.

    The Liverpool match was a greater match to watch (and not because I hate United – ’05 was just end to end exciting.). But then again ’99 had an awful lot of tension, as I seem to recall two or three Munich scoring chances hitting the crossbar along the way.

    I will also give the Red Devil his due for not needing penalties to close the deal.

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