‘These are the best teams, They are the very best teams’; So begins the Champions League anthem. What draws fans and players alike to the Champions League is the very fact that the best teams and players are pitted against one another with the goal of hoisting one of the most sought after trophies in the sporting world. Teams spend millions to build a squad capable of winning the tournament, players put in transfer requests with the aim of joining a Champions League contender and only the officials judged to be the best from their respective leagues are selected to oversee matches.
Over the years, the Champions League has produced many memorable moments. There have been epic clashes between European giants, including Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich and Liverpool. Clubs like Barcelona have established themselves, while former powerhouses, such as Dutch side Ajax, have declined. There have been individual moments of class from the likes of Raúl González, Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry, Filippo Inzaghi and Andriy Shevchenko. There have been innumerable moments of underdogs standing up as a team and beating the favorites. Unfortunately, there are also as many instances of poor officiating, controversial calls and bad sportsmanship which have left their own marks on this tournament and its history.
Over the previous two decades, teams from the Premier League in England have become a fixture in the Champion’s League. Pitted against European powers and, often, each other, the EPL teams have taken part in many memorable matches and been involved in some shocking moments on the field. An entertaining match, an odds defying performance, a horrendous officiating decision, a fantastic save or an amazing strike, English clubs have been involved in them all while playing in the Champion’s League. These are ten of the most memorable or shocking moments involving English clubs in the Champions League.
10. Barcelona vs. Arsenal, 2010/11 Round of 16
Arsenal went to the Nou Camp in March 2011 with a 2-1 lead over Barcelona. After half time, with the score tied up at 1-1 and Arsenal leading 3-2 on aggregate, a controversial decision by the referee occurred. Arsenal striker Robin van Persie, already with one yellow, was called offside. The Dutch striker fired off a shot a little over one second after the whistle. Swiss referee Massimo Busacca presented van Persie with his second yellow and sent him off. With a man advantage, Barcelona scored two goals to knock Arsenal out. Busacca’s decision was branded ‘a joke’ by van Persie and ‘embarrassing’ by manager Arsene Wenger. By our account, it was one of the worst and most embarrassing calls in Champions League history.
9. Chelsea vs. Liverpool, 2004/05 Semi-Final
The issue of goal-line technology definitely became a main topic of discussion following the 2004/05 semi-final between Chelsea and Liverpool. Played on May 3rd, 2005, there was only one goal in the match, scored by Luis Garcia in the 4th minute. Television images provided no conclusive evidence that the ball had crossed the goal line, despite it being awarded by the linesman. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho dubbed this the ‘ghost goal.’ Some have argued that it is all academic as, had the goal not been given, a penalty and sending off would have occurred after goal-keeper Peter Cech took down Liverpool’s Milan Baros. In any event, Liverpool advanced to the fateful final in Istanbul.
8. Real Madrid vs. Arsenal, 2005/06 Group of 16
The first leg of the Group of 16 clash between Real Madrid and Arsenal took place at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid. Madrid were clear favorites given the venue, their star studded team and the fact Arsenal were using a make-shift back line whose oldest player was a 24 year-old Kolo Toure. Nonetheless, Arsenal’s defence held. In the 47th minute, a moment of individual brilliance saw Thierry Henry cut through the Madrid team, hold off a number of challenges from the defence and fire home past Iker Casillas. The game ended 1-0 and gave Arsenal a precious away goal. They defended the result in a 0-0 second leg at Highbury, eliminating Madrid and advancing to the round of 8.
7. Chelsea vs. Barcelona, 2008/09 Semi-Final
While not a high scoring affair, the 2008/09 semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona definitely created a stir. The first leg of the tie played out to a 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou. The return leg, played at Stamford Bridge in London, would prove to be the decisive fixture. Chelsea took the lead in the ninth minute thanks to a Michael Essien strike. A red card for Eric Abidal and considerable pressure by Chelsea suggested the Blues were on their way to victory. Chelsea, unable to capitalize, had four penalty appeals turned down by Norwegian referee Tom Henning Øvrebø. Weathering the storm, Barcelona took their chance and in the 93rd minute, Andrés Iniesta scored a crucial away goal which sent Chelsea crashing out of the competition. Chelsea fans and players were furious and television cameras caught an irate Didier Drogba screaming about the ‘disgraceful’ showing by the referee.
6. Inter Milan vs. Arsenal, 2003/04 Group Stage
When Arsenal traveled to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza / San Siro on the 25th of November 2003, they had their work cut out for them. The London team was in a must-win situation, needing to beat the Italian giants or be eliminated from the competition. Inter Milan had earlier defeated Arsenal 3-0 at Highbury and the task appeared to be impossible. Step forward Thierry Henry. The French striker scored two goals and was instrumental in the three other strikes as Arsenal thumped Inter by a score of 5-1. The win kept Arsenal in the competition and was Inter Milan’s biggest loss in 47 years.
5. Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea, 2011/12 Final
Odds-makers had placed the Germans as favorites to win the 2011/12 final. Given the match was played in the Allianz Arena, Bayern’s home stadium, and Chelsea were struggling in their domestic league, finishing 6th that season, it is understandable why Bayern Munich were favored. Indeed, Bayern controlled most of the match and were rewarded in the 83rd minute when Thomas Müller scored. Chelsea responded quickly, leveling the match at 1-1 with a Didier Drogba goal in the 88th minute. Bayern’s Arjen Robben missed a penalty in extra time and it proved costly. In the eventual penalty shoot-out, Chelsea converted four to Bayern’s three attempts. With his last kick as a Chelsea player, Drogba scored the winning penalty giving Chelsea their first Champion’s League title.
4. Barcelona vs Arsenal, 2005/06 Final
Despite beating the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus in the knock-out phase, Arsenal were the underdogs heading into the 2005/06 final in Paris. In the 18th minute, things took a turn for the worse when goalkeeper Jens Lehmann took down Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o just outside the box. Arsenal’s keeper became the first player ever sent off in a final. The Gunners took a shock lead in the 37th minute but faced unrelenting pressure from Barcelona for the rest of the match. It was simply too much for the 10-man side to handle. Barcelona scored two goals in the 76th and 81st minutes to win the game and claim the trophy.
3. Manchester United vs. Chelsea, 2007/08 Final
The 2007/08 Champions League Final played at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow was an all-English final, the first in the competition’s history. Goals in the first half by Cristiano Ronaldo and Frank Lampard leveled things at 1-1. This score held throughout the second half and extra time, despite a number of chances for both teams and a red card for Chelsea’s Didier Drogba. In the penalty shoot-out, Ronaldo missed his shot meaning John Terry had the chance to win it for Chelsea. The Blues’ captain famously slipped leading up to his shot and fired wide. The miss opened the door for United and goal keeper Edwin Van der Sar saved Nicolas Anelka’s penalty to hand the Red Devils their third major European title.
2. Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich, 1998/99 Final
If the phrase ‘leaving it to the last minute’ can be applied to any one final, it’s the 1998/98 match between Manchester United and Bayern Munich. Played at the Camp Nou, Barcelona, the match saw Bayern Munich take the lead in the sixth minute thanks to a Mario Basler free kick. The game remained 1-0 heading into injury time. In the 91st minute, United’s Teddy Sheringham slotted home the equalizer following a corner kick in Bayern’s end. After the resulting kick-off, United claimed another corner kick. David Beckham’s cross met the head of Sheringham who headed the ball across goal. Ole Gunnar Solskjær reacted quickly and directed the ball into the net, giving United a 2-1 lead in the 93rd minute and the Champion’s League trophy.
1. AC Milan vs. Liverpool, 2004/05 Final
On May 25th, 2005, one of the most memorable Champions League finals took place at the Atatürk Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey. The two finalists were Italian side AC Milan and English club Liverpool. The Italian team were pre-match favorites and it showed over the first half with a goal from Paolo Maldini just one minute in, and two more goals from Hernán Crespo. Heading into the second half with a 3-0 lead, AC Milan looked odds-on favorites to lift the trophy. It was not to be. In the span of six minutes, Milan fell apart defensively and Liverpool tied the game up, forcing extra time and penalties. Liverpool’s goal-keeper, Jerzy Dudek, stepped forward as the hero of the day by stopping a number of shots in extra time and saving two penalty shots from Andrea Pirlo and Andriy Shevchenko. Liverpool hoisted the trophy for the fifth time in its history. For the Italians, bitterness would last for two years until Milan got revenge by defeating Liverpool in the 2006/07 final in Athens.