The Champions League isn’t just a stage for the greatest of all time to perform, it’s often where you’ll find the most entertaining matches.
There’s something about a midweek spotlight, isn’t there? The anthem starts, the starball drops and all of a sudden, the likes of Messi and Ronaldo aren’t even human anymore.
Well, these are 90-minute-marvels – some 120 and beyond, mind – that have captivated us most over the years. Don’t agree? Tell us your favourite @FourFourTwo (opens in new tab).
The best Champions League games of all time:
25. Manchester City 4-3 Real Madrid, 2022
Comparing the new money of Manchester City to the Champions League’s old masters in Real Madrid is always fascinating – even more so when the match-up is quite as chaotic as this.
City were two goals ahead in 11 minutes but could have had five before John Stones had to be replaced by Fernandinho. Karim Benzema, naturally, struck past Ederson before Vinicius Jr scored a wondergoal. Phil Foden scored, Bernardo Silva, too, before Benzema cheekily netted a panenka to poise this semi-final delicately ahead of a Bernabeu rematch. Real would triumph, of course.
24. Hamburg 4-4 Juventus, 2000
List all of the essential ingredients for a group-stage classic. An early goal? A keeper scoring? A thrilling comeback? A late and contentious equaliser? Tony Yeboah? Just five reasons why Hamburg’s 4-4 draw against Carlo Ancelotti’s Juventus deserves mythical status.
Igor Tudor’s sixth-minute effort set the tone for a see-saw encounter, with former Leeds hero Yeboah in the thick of it. When Hamburg keeper Hans-Jorg Butt levelled from the spot for 3-3 with 18 minutes remaining, the game still wasn’t done – nor when Niko Kovac tapped in from six yards in the 82nd minute.
Luckily for Juventus, Filippo Inzaghi tucked away a late penalty to secure a first 4-4 draw in the Champions League.
23. Barcelona 0-4 Dynamo Kiev, 1997/98
In 1986, a nine-year-old boy was forced to leave his home in Kiev’s suburbs after the Chernobyl nuclear reactor 80 miles north exploded, hurling a radioactive cloud into the atmosphere. Eleven years on, Andriy Shevchenko was scoring a hat-trick past a Barça side that featured Rivaldo and Luis Figo.
“In Kiev, we’d beaten Barcelona 3-0 and a friend said, ‘Let’s see how you do in the return’,” Sheva later laughed. “He bet me that I wouldn’t score three goals. He ended up buying dinner.”
Kiev made the semi-finals the following season before Shevchenko hot-footed it to Milan.
22. Inter Milan 1-5 Arsenal, 2003/04
Sure, Arsenal’s Invincibles-to-be had won 10 of their opening 13 Premier League, but defeats to Inter (3-0) and Dynamo Kiev (2-1) coupled with a goalless draw against Lokomotiv Moscow had left the north Londoners bottom of their group with only four points from as many matches.
On the plus side, they did have Thierry Henry. Twenty-six years old and firing on all cylinders, the mercurial Frenchman began with a first-time sidefoot on the edge of the area, then teed up Freddie Ljungberg after the break to fire the Gunners into a 2-1 lead. Henry’s movement and probing proved too much for a shattered Nerazzurri rearguard which allowed Henry, Edu and Robert Pires to each net in the last five minutes.
“The only performance I can compare this with was England’s 5-1 in Munich,” Ashley Cole chimed. “But this was even better.”
21. Monaco 8-3 Deportivo La Coruna, 2003/04
Croatian hitman Dado Prso was the biggest winner from this ludicrously open affair, bagging four times in the competition’s highest-scoring match (until Dortmund’s 8-4 win over Legia Warsaw in 2016/17). Deportivo were certainly no push-overs, having finished second in La Liga in 2001/02 above Real Madrid and Barcelona, but this was a horrible day.
Incredibly, it was only at 7-3 on 52 minutes that the teams chose to play a little more cautiously. Monaco went on to make the final in Gelsenkirchen, where, fittingly, their own defensive frailty cost them against Porto.
20. Manchester City 5-3 Monaco, 2016/17
A topsy-turvey thriller at the Etihad Stadium which ushered in the ‘arrival’ of Leonardo Jardim’s thrilling young side, despite defeat. It was a bizarrely open match – the first time eight goals had been scored in the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie. The Frenchmen raced into commanding 2-1 and 3-2 leads, but City came on strong with strikes via Sergio Aguero, John Stones and Leroy Sané.
Pep Guardiola’s boys thought they’d got away with it, until a 3-1 loss in the return leg sent them packing.
19. Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona, 2019
Liverpool know a thing or two about dramatic comebacks in Europe, but overturning a 3-0 deficit from the first leg of this semi-final clash would surely be a step too far even for them. A Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona would surely find the net at Anfield, and that would suddenly require the Reds to score five times to progress.
Yet the Reds recorded a clean sheet with relative ease, as Barca’s attack failed to threaten for 90 minutes. In that time Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum both scored twice at the other end to complete a stunning turnaround, sending Jurgen Klopp’s men through to the final for the second season on the bounce.
The most impressive thing? No Roberto Firmino and no Mohamed Salah.
18. Ajax 5-2 Bayern Munich, 1994/95
Ajax’s mid-’90s vintage was almost as iconic as their all-conquering ’70s crop, starring Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf, Marc Overmars, Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert and the De Boer twins.
They didn’t win three straight European Cups like Cruyff & Co. achieved two decades before, but they did manage one. The most devastating performance of that run was their demolition of Bayern at Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium.
After a goalless first leg in Germany, Louis van Gaal’s side went ahead early via Jari Litmanen’s header, only to be pegged back by Marcel Witeczek. But before the break, Finidi George fired in from just outside the box and Ronald de Boer added another to make it 3-1. A minute into the second half, Nwankwo Kanu sent through Litmanen, who walloped home number four.
Mehmet Scholl got one back from the spot, but the Germans were done. Overmars netted a fifth in the last two minutes to cement Ajax’s place in the final, where they would defeat Milan 1-0.
17. Manchester City 4-3 Tottenham, 2019
This quarter-final tie was finely poised heading into the second leg, with Tottenham leading 1-0 on aggregate but facing the formidable force of Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. The two teams traded four goals equally in a barmy opening 11 minutes, before Bernardo Silva put the hosts 3-2 up on the night midway through the first half.
Sergio Aguero’s strike just before the hour mark gave City the aggregate lead for the first time in the tie, only for Fernando Llorente to put Spurs in pole position on away goals. Raheem Sterling thought he’d won it late on for City, but the VAR’s intervention sent the away fans into raptures and Pep Guardiola to his knees.
16. Barcelona 1-0 Inter Milan, 2009/10
“The players left their blood out on the pitch,” Jose Mourinho proudly announced after a narrow defeat at the Camp Nou proved enough for his 10-man Inter side to scavenge into the 2010 final.
A smashing 3-1 first-leg victory had put the treble-chasers in control, but European kings Barcelona were more than capable of a comeback. Thiago Motta’s dismissal – for appearing to catch Sergio Busquets in the neck – was farcical thanks to the Barça midfielder’s comic overreaction, going down holding his face before peeping at the referee through his fingers.
Gerard Pique scored late on, but it wasn’t enough. When the full-time whistle finally rang, Mourinho sprinted across the pitch – and only stopped when a disgruntled Camp Nou groundsman turned on the sprinklers.
15. Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool, 2008/09
14. Chelsea 4-2 Barcelona, 2004/05
The birth of two rivalries – Chelsea vs Barcelona and Jose Mourinho vs football. After a 2-1 first-leg defeat at the Camp Nou where Didier Drogba was sent off, Mourinho accused Barça counterpart Frank Rijkaard of going into referee Anders Frisk’s room at half-time for a little chat. The Swede later received death threats and soon quit football.
But Chelsea made a fine start in the return leg, as Eidur Gudjohnsen, Frank Lampard and Damien Duff sent them 3-0 up after 20 minutes. Ronaldinho pulled one back 10 minutes later, then conjured the most magical moment of the tie.
Andres Iniesta shifted the ball to the Brazilian, then hurtled towards the box expecting to get it back. But Ronaldinho instead poked the ball beyond a hoard of players and Petr Cech into the bottom corner. Chelsea trailed on away goals, but a John Terry header sent the Blues through before chaos ensued with a Barça tunnel scrap.
13. Liverpool 3-1 Olympiakos, 2004/05
Liverpool’s other European miracle of 2004/05. The Reds went into their final group match three points behind the Greeks, needing a win by two clear goals to make it through on head-to-head having lost 1-0 away.
So it wasn’t ideal when Rivaldo put Olympiakos ahead. But this was a strange old season for the Reds, and unlikely pair Florent Sinama Pongolle and Neil Mellor put them 2-1 up. With the minutes ticking down, Jamie Carragher hurled the ball into the box for Mellor, who cushioned a header for Steven Gerrard to smash in.
12. Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United, 2010/11
Will a team ever play as well as this ever again? This was the pinnacle for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, who dismantled Manchester United in the final with their unmatchable trademark style.
Pedro’s cool finish put the Catalans 1-0 up at Wembley, only for Wayne Rooney to steer in an equaliser. But then Barça cranked through the gears: Lionel Messi surged forward to regain the lead, before David Villa curled home a delightful third past Edwin van der Sar from distance. Breathtaking.
11. Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid, 2013/14
Diego Simeone’s men may have won the La Liga title for the first time since 1996, but the hangover from a 14-year winless streak over Los Blancos remained. It looked like that was nailed on to continue when Diego Costa lasted just eight minutes of the 2014 final, having failed to recover from a hamstring injury sustained in Atletico’s title-winning draw against Barcelona the weekend before.
But Los Colchoneros were the epitome of a Simeone team, and Diego Godin broke the deadlock (having also netted the league-deciding goal at the Camp Nou).
Atletico defended brilliantly and kept their city rivals at bay – but only until 92 minutes and 48 seconds, when Madrid equalised. Shattered and out of substitutes, Simeone’s side were battered in extra time as Real took full advantage to clinch their 10th European Cup with goals from Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo. Brutal.