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Champions League Mythbusters: The 5 Minute Rule


There’s an old chestnut that basketball fans endure stating that you only need to watch the last 2 minute of a game. The rest of the game is meaningless since the result will be decided in the last two anyway. Don’t look now, but something very similar could be said for many football matches because of the 5-minute rule.

To the uninitiated, the 5-minute rule is a mantra coaches have been inculcating their players with for generations. Simply stated, a disproportionate number of goals are scored at three pivotal times in a game: 5 minutes into a half, 5 minutes left in a half, and 5 minutes after a goal has been scored. This mantra pays credence to the mental aspect of the game, and how a frame of mind can determine the success of a club.

With all the hours of mental training and sport psychology top flight footballers go through, surely this doesn’t happen at professional level. And most assuredly, the cream of football’s crop, the Champions League sides, would be the ones who would be more disciplined than to succumb to something labeled by its detractors as an “old wives’ tale”. Right?


As it turns out, the Champions league offers significant evidence to support the theory that plenty of goals are scored at the aforementioned key stages of a match. I’ve done the math on this year’s Champions League group stage and came up with some interesting numbers. But first, an explanation of how I’ve gathered evidence to quantify the 5-minute rule.

Da rules:

  • A “point” is awarded for every time the criteria of the 5-minute rule is met.
  • A goal can meet more than one criterion and can out-point the actual score of a match. i.e – a 2-0 win with goals in the 86th and 88th minutes are both scored in the last five minutes and the second is scored within 5 minutes of the first. That’s 3 points)
  • A second goal in 5 minutes does not have to be scored by the same team. The idea is that players “gee up” after scoring, but in other cases, they get careless. Focus can easily go one way or the other after a team scores a goal. Of course, the response to giving up a goal can swing either way too.
  • We’ll count extra time goals, but since the first and last five minutes is 2/3rds of a 15 minute extra time period, we’ll reduce the rule to 2-3 minute rule.
  • Goals scored within 5 minutes of each other, but on either side of half (i.e. 44th minute and 48th minute,) still meet criteria even though there was a 15-minute half time break.
  • Shootout goals don’t count.
  • A caveat – because of the inexact nature of timing matches, I occasionally accepted a 6th minute goal.
  • Yes, I’m aware that the parameters of the 5-minute rule expand with each goal scored. But that’s part of the point; as goals are scored, we’re more likely to see more goals.
  • Because of the aforementioned rules and caveats, coupled with the fact that Math wasn’t my favourite subject, this exercise is not exact.

Champions League group stage, 2008

Group A

31 goals, 6 points

Group B

31 goals, 11 points

Group C

39 goals 18 points

Group D

30 goals, 10 points

Group E

31 goals, 9 points

Group F

34 goals, 13 points

Group G:

28 goals, 12 points

Group H:

23 goals, 8 points


247 goals, 87 points 35% of goals affected by the 5-minute rule.

Over a third of goals were score scored on the limited parameters of the 5-minute rule. This would seem to lend legitimacy to the theory. But many would argue that this year’s predictable group stage was full of cannon fodder for the big European clubs. Once the “real competition” begins, the knockout rounds, the concentration of quality players increases drastically and silly mental errors drop off the table. Obviously, I can’t come up with the stats for the games not yet played, but here are the stats for last year’s knockout rounds:

Round of 16 – 35 goals, 21 points = 60% of goals affected by the 5-minute rule.

Quarter-Final – 18 goals, 8 points 44%

Semi-Final – 8 goals, 3 points* 38%

Final 2 goals, 1 point. 50%

In fact, the mental aspect of the game becomes more, not less significant as the physical attributes of the players level off.

At the pinnacle of European club football, the 5-minute rule runs rampant. In the last 10 Champions League finals, we see the following:

1999: Mario Basler pots a fee kick 6 minutes into the match. In time added on, Sheringham ties it up. Moments later, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer becomes the answer to the famous song, “Who put the ball in the Germans’ net?”

2000: Fernando Morientes gets impatient and opens the scoring 6 minutes before the end of the first half, setting the scene for a comfortable Real Madrid title.

2001: Gaizka Mendieta scores three minutes into the match. Stefan Effenberg ties it 6 minutes into the second half. Bayern win on penalties.

2002: Lucio scores 5 minutes after Raul’s opening strike. Zinedane Zidane hits a wonder volley in the dying moments of the first half to take the glory.

2003 : No goals in regulation or extra time. Even the shootout was error-laden. Worst. Final. Ever.

2004: Like Morientes in 2000, Carlos Alberto gets impatient and scores 6 minutes before the half. Demitri Alenichev scores 4 minutes after Deco to blow the doors off Monaco and the “The Special One” is born.

2005: Maldini scores in the first minute. Hernan Crespo scores 2 in the last 6 minutes of the half. Scousers leave the stadium to find a drink. In the second half, Gerrard, Smicer and Alonso scored in the famous “six minutes of madness” and Scousers leave the stadium to find a drink.

2006: Late in the game, Barca score 2 in four minutes to finally put 10-man Arsenal to the sword.

2007: In a replay of the ’05 final, Pippo Inzhagi scores at the stroke of half time. Liverpool and Milan exchange goals in the last 8 minutes, but Kuyt’s 89th minute strike doesn’t leave enough time for another famous comeback.

2008: United have a handful of gilt-edged chances early. Lampard capitalised on the stroke of half time, providing the momentum for a second half Chelsea barrage. Penalties settle the matter and red is the colour in Moscow.

So, with the exception of the goalless final, every one of the last ten champions League finals have seen a 5-minute rule goal (ore pretty darn close) scored.


So what does this all mean? Simply stated, when settling in to watch the knockout rounds you need to follow these three rules: (1) Don’t be late, (2)Don’t leave early, (3) Don’t panic. There’s always plenty of time for your team to turn its 1-0 goal lead to a 1-2 loss in short order.

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  1. sam

    March 23, 2009 at 7:24 am


  2. Simon

    March 2, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Very interesting, similar percentages also exist for hockey games. Very good research.

  3. Jay Robinson

    February 27, 2009 at 12:33 am

    This is a key STAT, but the next question I have is how do you take advantage of this as a coach. For me, it starts with the defense and as a coach I would clearly identify, and communicate to my back line when 5 minutes remained in the half. A simple yell to the sweeper /defensive leader with 5 fingers would do the trick. Second, ramp up the strikers and tell them to go high pressure, with high midfield support during this time period.

    Great article.

  4. matty

    February 26, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Nice article. Interesting to see some evidence behind why we screamed “intensity” at each other whenever a goal was scored!

  5. Farquhar

    February 26, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Nice article Scott. You know your stuff.

  6. mike ewald

    February 26, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    great article ; I had thought the start of the game & start of 2nd half were critical. I will now have to also keep these other times in mind during a game !!

  7. Jason

    February 26, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    Great article Bennett. There are some really great coaching tips here.

  8. Doug Wintrup

    February 26, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    A very good read Scott. Sounds like you really did your research, I wouldn’t of had the patients. Looking forward to your next one.

  9. Mat

    February 26, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Good job Bennett, very interesting!

  10. aucoin

    February 26, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Glorious stuff.

  11. Brush

    February 26, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Great work Mr. Bennett…not only does it speak to the mental requirements of the 90 minute game, but also the fitness requirements to avoid those “5 minute letdowns”. To take those stats even further it would be intersting to do a comparison between teams from each league…do teams from the EPL have more of a tendency to let in goals during the 5 minute rule? or teams from the Liga? Serie A? This would provide a good insight into the different training/game preparation techniques common to each style….keep the articles coming!

  12. Gordo

    February 25, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    This gives credence to the old sayings start fast, finish hard that most gaffers preach. I appreciate the research put into arriving at numerical values for evidence, good work……… I too am off to find a drink!

  13. Keith Fuller

    February 25, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    A well researched and articulated argument and a great motivational tool for coaches.

    Thanks Scott!

  14. andrew

    February 25, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    well………I only have enough fitness for about 20 hard minutes………… I know which minutes to reserve it for………….well, maybe 24 minutes

  15. Zach Shaffelburg

    February 25, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Scott Bennett you are a Saint. I must say this is a brilliant article because I could not agree more. I experience this exact phenomenon quite often in my matches. I look forward to reading more stunning works of writing like this.
    Outstanding article!

  16. Mike Ayyash

    February 25, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Nice article Bennett. I always preach the 5-minute rule to the kids I coach. I tell them soccer is like boxing. Once a boxer delivers a good punch to his opponent, there’s a small window for two quick results as a response. Either the opposing boxer gets jolted and smacks back very hard so keep focused and keep your guard up after you hit, or he’s shocked for long enough that the first boxer can smack again so keep going and smack again to finish him off. Same in soccer. Your 1999 Champions League final recap almost brought tears to my eyes. Happy tears of course. Go on United.

  17. Chris Robinson

    February 25, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Excellent research which demonstrates and intetresting thesis…i enjoyed it. Plus, how can you go wrong with a column about the beautiful game that includes the words, “inculcating” and “aforementioned”!

  18. Paul Thomson

    February 25, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Great article, I can hear the sound of my youth team coach after we’d scored a goal screaming ” Focus for the next five minutes!! ” in his frightening Scottish brogue. I think you’ve just proven him right

  19. Alex

    February 25, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    I always thought that the goals seem to come in bunched (especially in CL) but I never thought it was to
    that ammount. I guess the pressure of CL must be overwhelming at times even for top level pros.
    Great article.

  20. Howie

    February 25, 2009 at 4:32 am

    As a player and a coach I learned that you had to be focused at the beginnings of games, at the end of games and after a goal whether your scored or they scored. I just never gave it a name or researched it. Thanks for the term and some concrete evidence.

  21. Dave Jones

    February 25, 2009 at 12:45 am

    Didn’t think the % would be that high….Interesting! Brings back great memory’s of 2005……I’m going go find a drink!!!

  22. Gary Shaw

    February 25, 2009 at 12:03 am

    Insightful! How many 5 minute rule goals were scored today? What percentage occur in the second half vs first half?

  23. paul syme

    February 24, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Wow. I never realised. Going to keep an eye on this today! Thanks.. Publish more stuff like this.

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