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.
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 Kyiv’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 Kyiv, 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.”
Kyiv 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
2005's Chelsea-Liverpool clash was mean, moody and magnificent: two watertight teams who couldn't find a way past one another, just the one goal (well, sort of) to separate them across 180 minutes plus stoppage time of chess-like posturing.
Not the case four years later. The seesaw creaked between the two sides, with Liverpool going two goals ahead, Drogba and an Alex rocket dragging Chelsea back level in a double-salvo after the break, to set up a chaotic climax. Frank Lampard put the Blues ahead for the first time in the match, Lucas Leiva and Dirk Kuyt scored within two minutes of each other, before Lampard netted his second, Chelsea's fourth and the game's eighth in the embers of the madness.
Liverpool triumphed in 2005 en route to a Champions League title, setting this rivalry up as one of the 2000s' most exhilarating in Europe. Chelsea got their own back in some fashion in 2009.
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.
10. Werder Bremen 5-3 Anderlecht, 1993/94
It's a good job that Werder Bremen manager Otto Rehhagel was an optimistic sort. Despite his team being 3-0 down with only 24 minutes to play, he always believed – mainly because he had Wynton Rufer. The New Zealander may not be a household name, but so impressed was Rehhagel in his first training session that he asked his forward why he wasn't playing for Real Madrid.
Sure enough, Rufer’s chipped 66th-minute goal offered hope; a Rune Bratseth header six minutes later, actual belief. Panic set in for Anderlecht, and Werder's goal avalanche ended with Rufer hitting a second. The Miracle of the Weser.
9. Borussia Dortmund 3-2 Malaga, 2012/13
Malaga were the quarter-final reward for Borussia Dortmund after the Germans had negotiated a group that featured Manchester City and Real Madrid, then brushed aside Shakhtar Donetsk in the last 16. The Spaniards were no easy proposition, mind: boss Manuel Pellegrini could have called upon the likes of Santi Cazorla, Jeremy Toulalan, Joaquin and Roque Santa Cruz, not to mention a particularly exciting youngster by the name of Isco.
The opening leg in Spain ended goalless, but the second was bonkers. Joaquin fired Malaga ahead, but Robert Lewandowski levelled shortly before the break. The second half was end-to-end, and eventually BVB were punished as they went for victory, falling behind to Eliseu’s 82nd-minute tap-in. Away goals meant the hosts needed to score twice in eight minutes.
Well, eight minutes and injury time. Marco Reus netted in the first of those before Felipe Santana bundled home a sensational late winner – with four Dortmund players offside. Malaga were not best pleased.
8. Ajax 2-3 Tottenham, 2019
One of the greatest comebacks in the competition’s illustrious history, Tottenham deservedly fought back from 2-0 down to progress to their first ever Champions League final. Ajax had won the first leg 1-0 in north London and doubled their aggregate advantage early on in the return fixture, before Hakim Ziyech seemingly put the game beyond Spurs 10 minutes before half-time.
The Premier League side had created opportunities in the opening period, though, and Lucas Moura’s quick-fire double after the break put the semi-final back in the balance. Ajax eventually stabilised and looked to have ridden out the storm, only for Lucas to pop up with an astonishing decider – Spurs advanced on away goals – in the sixth minute of stoppage time.
7. Juventus 2-3 Manchester United, 1998/99
To say that Roy Keane’s display in this game was among his best for Manchester United is like saying that Henry VIII was a little bit of a horror.
When the offside Filippo Inzaghi put Juve 2-0 up inside 11 minutes – and 3-1 on aggregate – it was a Keano-inspired display that led the Red Devils into the Camp Nou final through sheer force of will. The whole-hearted Irishman scored, got booked and played a vital role in Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole’s goals to reach a showdown he was forced to miss through suspension.
6. Monaco 3-1 Real Madrid, 2003/04
You're not really supposed to celebrate goals against former employers according to modern football… so what about when you’re on loan and your parent club are still paying 65 per cent of your wages?
Apparently that doesn't apply if you're Fernando Morientes. Monaco were 5-2 down on aggregate with 45 minutes remaining against a side boasting former club-mates Raul, Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, only for Morientes to lead a stunning comeback. First, he assisted Ludovic Giuly, before his own header gave the French side genuine hope. When Giuly completed his brace, Real were finished.
“I’m going to enjoy this,” Morientes declared.
5. Deportivo La Coruna 4-0 Milan, 2003/04
No team had ever managed to overturn a three-goal first-leg deficit in the history of the Champions League, so Deportivo didn't exactly harbour much hope in trying to repair a 4-1 mauling by holders Milan on home soil.
But boss Javier Irureta had a dream – literally, becoming convinced that his players would pull through on the morning of the match. Incredibly, future Birmingham striker Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valeron and Albert Luque (later of Newcastle) gave Depor a 3-0 half-time lead.
Fran’s astonishing 76th-minute winner left Carlo Ancelotti white as a ghost. “The game turned out exactly the way I dreamt it,” Irureta beamed.
4. Milan 4-0 Barcelona, 1993/94
“You’re better than them,” Barça coach Johan Cruyff told his team. “You are going to win.”
His players, who had lifted the trophy two years earlier and four consecutive league titles, didn't doubt him.
Centre-back Miguel Angel Nadal recalls the squad thinking they were “guaranteed” to triumph, partly thanks to having Europe’s deadliest frontline – Hristo Stoichkov and Romario – up top. And yet Fabio Capello thought he could “relax” because Cruyff (who'd reached UEFA’s foreigner limit) didn’t pick Michael Laudrup, which turned out to be the case as Milan shut off Barcelona’s supply line.
Daniele Massaro netted two, and Marcel Desailly hit the fourth, but it was playmaker Dejan Savicevic who stole the show with a glorious 47th-minute lob that Barcelona would have been proud of. Cruyff’s Dream Team were never the same again.
3. Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich, 1998/99
2. Barcelona 6-1 Paris Saint-Germain, 2016/17
“This is a sport for crazy people,” said Barça coach Luis Enrique. “I’d like to cry, but tears don't come out.”
Bewilderment seemed the only fitting response after the most preposterous game in recent footballing memory. Barça were only playing for pride, really, having been devoured 4-0 in Paris three weeks earlier, but somehow they had a 3-0 lead within 50 minutes thanks to Luis Suarez, Layvin Kurzawa's own goal and Lionel Messi spot-kick.
Hope was brutally punctured at the Camp Nou, however, when Edinson Cavani’s 62nd-minute strike left the Catalans needing three more to go through. Ludicrously, they somehow got them all in the last five minutes. Two Neymar goals and a late Sergi Roberto winner caused incredible scenes of delirium, capping a stunning, mental fixture.
1. Milan 3-3 Liverpool, 2004/05
The Miracle of Istanbul, as it must be legally referred to at all times, is European football’s most implausible and engrossing clash. Liverpool were well-drilled and had talent, but this was a side with Djimi Traore at left-back – in a team that had finished 37 points behind Chelsea that year.
What set this apart was the sheer shock of the comeback. Paolo Maldini had netted from Milan’s first attack, then Hernan Crespo added two more. Liverpool were being humiliated.
But then something magical: an extraordinary rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone at the interval, and then the madness began: Didi Hamann marshalled Kaka, Steven Gerrard took control, and in six minutes – thanks to Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso – Liverpool were level. And yet the adversity wasn't over: you can't forget Jerzy Dudek’s point-blank save to deny Shevchenko, Gerrard’s demonic drive and Jamie Carragher’s cramp-ravaged warfare.
Then came the shootout, where Dudek’s spaghetti-leg nostalgia – and his saving of that final spot-kick at 12.29am local time – earned Liverpool their fifth European Cup. The Champions League's greatest ever game.