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The six best Champions League finals

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Friday, May 24, 2013 - 11:00 AM
Source: SportsFan
Author: Barnaby Smith

A potentially explosive Champions League final is on the cards at Wembley this weekend when bitter rivals Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund vie for club football’s biggest prize. With a classic a possibility, here’s a look at the other stunning finals from down the years.

United conjure staggering Bayern victory, 1999

Upon Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement last week, it was this match that kept cropping up in tributes as being the defining moment of his long career. Manchester United had put in an imperious semi-final display across two legs in defeating Juventus to meet Bayern Munich in the final at the Nou Camp. Perhaps slight favourites, United were without Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. The Germans went ahead after six minutes thanks to a Mario Basler free kick. United spent nearly the rest of the game battling unsuccessfully against a seemingly impenetrable, organised and physical opposition.

That is, until injury time, when all seemed lost. In the 91st minute, United won a corner, which saw even goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel come forward. The corner seemed innocuous until it reached Ryan Giggs, whose scuffed shot made it through the box to Teddy Sheringham, who tucked the ball past Oliver Kahn. If the celebrations seemed wild then, less than two minutes later there was ecstatic euphoria for the travelling Mancunians in Barcelona when, having won another corner, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer poked out a leg to prod in the winner, securing the treble for United that year. The prevailing image of the evening must be Bayern defender Samuel Kuffour tearfully punching the turf in agony.

Milan shocked by Liverpool comeback, 2005

AC Milan, who had knocked out Manchester United in the last 16, were firm favourites for the 2005 final in Istanbul against Liverpool, with a team featuring Kaka, Andriy Shevchenko, Alessandro Nesta, Andre Pirlo and Paolo Maldini. And sure enough, they rocketed to a 3-0 lead by half-time with two goals from Hernan Crespo and one from Maldini. Liverpool seemed shell-shocked by Milan’s counterattacking and precision.

After half-time manager Rafael Benitez introduced influential midfielder Dietmar Hamann, who steadied Liverpool’s ship and allowed his side to produce one of the most courageous comebacks in Champions League history. Firstly, a Steven Gerrard header gave Liverpool a lifeline before Vladimir Smicer’s super goal made things decidedly more serious. Minutes later, Xavi Alonso scored a rebounded penalty to set up a frantic final 30 minutes in which neither side could break the 3-3 deadlock. After an equally goalless period of extra-time, Milan choked in the penalty shoot-out, with Serginho, Pirlo and Shevchenko all missing to hand Liverpool the trophy, with which Steven Gerrard slept that night.

The Puskas-Di Stefano show, 1960

The European Cup was only in its fifth year when Real Madrid met Eintracht Frankfurt in the final at Glasgow’s Hampden Park in front of nearly 130,000, with Real aiming for five titles in a row. Controversy raged in the match’s build-up, with Real’s illustrious Hungarian striker Ferenc Puskas having to write a letter of apology for his claim that West Germany’s national team had used drugs in the 1954 World Cup, an accusation that saw the German FA banning any of their teams from playing against Puskas.

That all went out the window once play began, with the Spanish team imperious in a 7-3 win. Puskas thundered in four of them, with fellow striker Alfredo Di Stefano scoring the other three. In an act of rare sporting benevolence, Puskas gave the match ball to Eintracht forward Erwin Stein, who scored two goals of his own in a losing effort. Puskas scored another European Cup final hat-trick for Real Madrid in 1962, in their loss to Benfica.

Zidane brilliance does for Leverkusen, 2002

In 2002 Real Madrid were back at Hampden Park for a Champions League final against the rather less glamorous Bayer Leverkusen, who had managed the considerable task of knocking out both Liverpool and Manchester United on their way to Glasgow.

The match turned out to be intriguingly close, with both teams scoring within the first 15 minutes, Real through Raul and Leverkusen with Brazilian defender Lucio. Then, on the stroke of half-time, one of Real’s most famous ‘galacticos’ Zinedine Zidane scored one of the finest goals in the competition’s history, when from a looping Roberto Carlos cross he swivelled to turn in a majestic volley from outside the box.

The match remained on a knife-edge in the second half with replacement Real keeper, a young Iker Casillas, the key factor in keeping the German side at bay.

Busby puts England on the map, 1968

No English team had won the European Cup as Manchester United went into the 1968 final at Wembley against Benfica. The match had special resonance for the club, with it being 10 years on from the Munich air disaster that killed eight United players and left manager Matt Busby with a decimated, devastated football club.

Busby’s side on this day included George Best, Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles, while their opposition could boast the great Eusebio. A first-half goal from Charlton was cancelled out by Jaime Graça, sending the match into extra time. At this point, United comprehensively took over with Best waltzing in their second. Brian Kidd then scored with a header before Charlton’s second completed an emotional 4-1 win. A few hours later, Busby was standing on the table at London’s Russell Hotel, singing ‘What A Wonderful World’.

Milan wallop Barcelona, 1994

There have been some fairly one-sided Champions League finals in recent times, namely Barcelona’s wins over Manchester United in 2009 and 2011. But they hardly compare with the rather shocking final of 1994, where the Catalans were on the end of a drubbing from one of the great club sides of the 90s. Managed by Fabio Capello, Milan were without Marco van Basten, Franco Baresi, Jean-Pierre Papin, Brian Laudrup and Alessandro Costacurta for the decider, while Barcelona could boast Romario, Hristo Stoichkov and Ronald Koeman. The Spaniards were slight favourites.

But they were to be unceremoniously hammered. The carnage began with a Daniele Massaro tap-in, before the same player scored a second just before half-time. Dejan Savicevic and Marcel Desailly scored in the second half as Milan cruised to an unexpectedly easy victory that was shattering for Barcelona coach Johan Cruyff.

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