The 10 Biggest Comebacks in Champions League History
There’s nothing quite like a remarkable comeback in the world of soccer. We rank the 10 biggest comebacks in Champions League history.
The Champions League is one of the greatest tournaments in European soccer. Europe boasts a wealth of high caliber soccer clubs from some of the best leagues in the world, and in the Champions League each year they all come together to face one another for the ultimate prize.
UEFA Champions League History
Since 1955, the Champions League has brought together the best soccer clubs in Europe to fight for the most prestigious trophy on offer.
Powerhouse clubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Chelsea have all enjoyed their fair share of glory in European football. Additionally, there have been remarkable success stories, like the legendary 1995 Ajax squad and the incredible journey of Jose Mourinho's Porto, which have left an indelible mark on the history of the game.
In our exploration of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history, we encounter some truly remarkable stories. It's astonishing to witness how many teams have managed to stage comebacks from being 3-0 down, on the verge of elimination. However, Barcelona's extraordinary feat known as La Remontada takes the concept of a comeback to a whole new level, leaving us in awe of their incredible accomplishment.
Ranking the Top 10 Biggest Comebacks in Champions League History
- 2000 Champions League Quarter Final: Barcelona vs Chelsea
Final Score: Barcelona 5, Chelsea 1 (Barcelona won 6-4 on aggregate)
In the 1999-2000 Champions League, Chelsea held a 3-1 advantage over Barcelona after the first leg. However, Barcelona rectified their mistakes and mounted a strong comeback in front of their home crowd. Brazilian sensation Rivaldo opened the scoring in the 24th minute, followed by a goal from Luis Figo to make it 2-0. Tore Andre Flo of Chelsea managed to halt the Spanish celebrations with an away goal, swinging the momentum back in favor of the London side.
Barcelona had to deliver an impressive second-half performance to level the tie, and Dani Garcia's crucial goal in the 83rd minute forced the match into extra time. In the additional period, Chelsea's Celestine Babayaro was sent off for a foul on Luis Figo in the box, resulting in a penalty that Rivaldo converted to regain the lead for Barcelona. Patrick Kluivert sealed the victory with a header in the 104th minute, propelling Barcelona to the next round.
- 2004 Champions League Quarter Final: Deportivo La Coruna vs AC Milan
Final Score: Deportivo 4, AC Milan 0 (Deportivo won 5-4 on aggregate)
Back in 2004 AC Milan were a powerhouse in Italian football and had one of the most impressive lineups in the Champions League.
During the quarter-finals, they squared off against Spanish side Deportivo, and Milan fans experienced a brief moment of concern when Deportivo took a 1-0 lead at the San Siro. However, Milan swiftly dispelled those worries by scoring four goals of their own, securing a commanding 4-1 advantage heading into the second leg in Spain.
Deportivo struck early in the second leg with a goal from Walter Pandiani, setting the tone for an astonishing turnaround. They proceeded to overpower the Italian giants with a resounding 4-0 victory on home soil, completing a remarkable comeback and eliminating Milan with a 5-4 aggregate triumph.
- 2019 Champions League last 16: Ajax vs Real Madrid
Final Score: Ajax 4, Real Madrid 1 (Ajax won 5-3 on aggregate)
In the 2018-2019 Champions League, Real Madrid aimed to defend their title after winning the competition three years in a row and four times in the last five years. Their opponents, Ajax, faced a daunting task against the Spanish powerhouse. However, it was Ajax who struck first in the first leg of the tie. Despite this setback, Real Madrid mounted a comeback and secured a 2-1 win with two crucial away goals.
Ajax now had to enter the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid and score at least twice against the defending champions. They wasted no time and found the back of the net through Hakim Ziyech just seven minutes into the match. David Neres then capitalized on a well-executed through ball from Dusan Tadic to make it 2-0, giving Ajax the advantage in the tie.
The third goal showcased the exceptional teamwork of the Ajax squad as they swiftly advanced down the field, denying Real Madrid any chance to regain possession. This time, Tadic curled a shot into the top corner from the edge of the box.
Despite Marco Asensio's goal to bring the score to 3-1 on the night for Real Madrid, Ajax sealed the deal with a splendid free-kick effort from Lasse Schone just two minutes later, closing the door on any potential comeback from the Spanish giants.
- 2018 Champions League Quarter Final: Roma vs Barcelona
Final Score: Roma 3, Barcelona 0 (4-4 on aggregate, Roma won on away goals)
Barcelona had routed Roma at the Nou Camp with a 4-1 victory and an impressive display, but an Edin Dzeko away goal gave them a glimmer of hope in the return leg.
The Roma faithful were out in full force despite the almost inevitable outcome, but Dzeko injected even more life into the home crowd with a goal inside six minutes.
Edin Dzeko, the Bosnian striker, once again proved his worth as he cleverly maneuvered past Gerard Pique in the box, drawing a foul that awarded Roma a penalty. Daniele De Rossi stepped up and successfully converted, narrowing the gap to 3-2, with Roma gaining momentum.
A pivotal moment arrived when a corner kick was delivered from the right side. Center back Kostas Manolas made a remarkable run, outmaneuvering his marker, and skillfully directed the ball into the far corner, resulting in a 3-0 victory on the day and a 4-4 aggregate scoreline. The crucial away goal from Edin Dzeko played a vital role in Roma's stunning comeback, eliminating Barcelona from the competition.
- 2012 Champions League last 16: Chelsea vs Napoli
Final Score: Chelsea 4, Napoli 1 (Chelsea won 5-4 on aggregate)
Chelsea’s 2012 season was a turbulent one, and after the first leg against Napoli they fired manager Andre Villas-Boas and appointed his assistant and former club legend Roberto Di Matteo as interim manager until the end of the season.
With an uphill battle after the first leg's 3-1 defeat in Italy, Chelsea returned to Stamford Bridge. Didier Drogba opened the scoring on 28 minutes with a sublime diving header from an equally impressive Ramires cross.
A corner headed in by John Terry made it 2-0 on the night despite Napoli’s valiant efforts defensively. Chelsea seemed to be on their way to a comeback win with the momentum in the game, but Napoli’s Swiss midfielder Gokhan Inler controlled and fired goalwards with 55 minutes played to earn an away goal for Napoli and put them further out of reach in the tie.
A handball in the box gave Chelsea a penalty and Frank Lampard thundered it past the Napoli keeper to tie it all up at 4-4 on aggregate. Extra time was now looming, and it would be in the 105th minute that Chelsea completed the comeback.
Didier Drogba swiveled and fired a cross into the box, which fell perfectly at the feet of Branislav Ivanovic, who converted with a delightful strike to make it 5-4 and push Chelsea into the quarter finals.
Chelsea would go on to win the Champions League that year, going from a troubled season and some farfetched Champions League odds to the tournament's champions under Roberto Di Matteo.
- 1999 Champions League Final: Manchester United vs Bayern Munich
Final Score: Manchester United 2, Bayern Munich 1
The 1999 Champions League final marked one of the best comebacks ever. Manchester United trailed 1-0 against Bayern Munich and were getting desperate in the final moments of the game in hope of forcing extra time.
Teddy Sheringham, the substitute English striker, stepped up and found the back of the net, leveling the score at 1-1 in the 91st minute. Manchester United were back in the game, but their comeback wasn't over.
Another substitute, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, made an impact just two minutes later. Following Sheringham's equalizer, a corner from David Beckham was directed towards the back post by Sheringham. Solskjaer displayed remarkable instinct as he poked the ball into the roof of the net, giving United a 2-1 lead.
The 1999 CL Final remains one of the all time greats for such late drama, with the 1999 Manchester United roster escaping the clutches of defeat in the dying moments before stealing the title from Bayern Munich.
- 2019 Champions League Semi Final: Tottenham vs Ajax
Final Score: Tottenham 3, Ajax 3 (Tottenham win on away goals)
Ajax won the first leg of the 2019 Champions League semi final clash with Tottenham in London, which gave them the advantage in the second leg when they returned to the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam.
Ajax then scored inside five minutes to double their lead from a corner in front of the home crowd. Hakim Ziyech put what felt like the final nail in the coffin when he smashed home a delightful strike on the 35-minute mark, and the Ajax fans were hysterical as they dreamt of a return to the Champions League final.
It would take Spurs until the second half to get one back, and it was Lucas Moura who slotted it in. Less than five minutes later Ajax failed to clear and some tidy footwork from Lucas once again created a shooting opportunity which he blasted through traffic to offer some hope to the Spurs fans who’d made the trip.
Ajax still had a 3-2 aggregate lead, but a Spurs goal would swing the momentum and send them through on away goals. With 90+5 minutes played and Ajax holding on for dear life, Lucas Moura appeared again.
A Dele Alli knock down converted by Lucas finished off one of Tottenham’s best soccer comebacks of all time. Soccer fans we’re in shock and the Ajax players crumbled to the ground as Spurs were heading for their very first Champions League final appearance.
- 2019 Champions League Semi Final: Liverpool vs Barcelona
Final Score: Liverpool 4, Barcelona 0 (Liverpool won 4-3 on aggregate)
In the 2019 Champions League semi-finals, both matches witnessed remarkable comebacks. However, it was eventual champions Liverpool who claimed the number three spot here with their sensational resurgence against Barcelona.
Liverpool suffered a humiliating defeat at the Camp Nou in the first leg, with Lionel Messi stealing the show and Barcelona emerging as 3-0 winners. As the Spanish giants traveled to England to finish the job, the odds seemed stacked against Liverpool.
Yet, Liverpool refused to bow down to their opponents. They swiftly struck back with an early goal, as Divock Origi tapped in a rebound after a well-executed move. Goalkeeper Alisson made a crucial save, denying Leo Messi and Coutinho from securing that critical away goal.
Gini Wijnaldum then displayed his goal scoring ability by poking home a precise cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold. Just two minutes later, Wijnaldum headed in another goal, leveling the series at 3-3.
Trent Alexander-Arnold showcased his brilliance once again. He caught Barcelona off guard during a Liverpool corner, swiftly delivering the ball into the box to an unmarked Divock Origi, who calmly tapped it in to secure a 4-0 victory. This remarkable comeback propelled Liverpool into the Champions League final.
- 2017 Champions League Round of 16: Barcelona vs Paris Saint Germain
Final Score: Barcelona 6, PSG 1 (Barcelona won 6-5 on aggregate)
Barcelona's comeback in the 2017 round of 16 is one of the most sensational moments in recent soccer history. Dubbed 'La Remontada' (meaning 'the comeback'), it perfectly captures the remarkable nature of the event.
In the first leg against PSG, Barcelona suffered a crushing 4-0 defeat, seemingly putting them out of the competition. The odds were stacked against them as they faced a monumental challenge in the second leg at home in the Nou Camp.
Historically, no team had ever advanced after trailing 4-0 in the first leg of a European competition. But Barcelona fans were in for an unforgettable night.
Just five minutes into the game, Luis Suarez capitalized on a loose ball inside the box, heading it home to give Barcelona an early boost. They had to wait 35 more minutes for the second goal, which came from a sliced clearance attempt by PSG's Layvin Kurzawa.
Early in the second half, Thomas Meunier's challenge on Neymar resulted in a penalty, coolly converted by Lionel Messi to make it 3-0. The Barcelona fans rallied behind their team, fueling the momentum. But PSG struck back through Edinson Cavani, making it 5-3 on aggregate, with the away goal advantage.
Barcelona still needed three more goals in the final 30 minutes to progress du to away goals. Neymar stepped up, scoring a brilliant free kick, reigniting hope. Moments later, he converted a penalty after Luis Suarez was fouled, making it 5-1 on the night and 5-5 on aggregate. However, as it stood, Barcelona was still heading home.
In the dying moments of added time, Neymar lofted a hopeful pass into the box, and defender Sergi Roberto managed to sneak behind the defense, touching the ball past the goalkeeper and completing 'La Remontada.' The Camp Nou erupted in chaos, witnessing one of the greatest soccer comebacks ever.
- 2005 Champions League Final: AC Milan vs Liverpool
Final Score: AC Milan 3, Liverpool 3 (Liverpool won 3-2 on penalties)
When it comes to Champions League comebacks, it doesn’t get any better than the 2005 UEFA Champions League final which is considered the biggest comeback in soccer history. Liverpool went into the final against one of the most impressive teams in AC Milan's history, and quickly found themselves trailing when defender Paolo Maldini fired home from a set piece inside 60 seconds.
The far from ideal start got worse for the English outfit when Hernan Crespo doubled the lead. The title seemed out of reach when the Argentinian got his second after getting on the end of a stunning Kaka through ball right before the half time whistle.
Liverpool were trailing 3-0 at the half and it was going to take a historic performance to somehow pull it back. What followed created the greatest Champions League final in history. A Steven Gerrard goal at the 54 minute mark gave them hope, and two minutes later they made it 3-2 through Vladimir Smicer. All of a sudden everybody watching was holding their breath.
They then got a penalty less than five minutes later and the opportunity to square the game. Xavi Alonso saw his penalty saved, but was able to convert the rebound and in doing so complete the comeback. Within the space of 10 minutes Liverpool went from 3-0 down to 3-3.
The intense matchup went into extra time, and Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko had a chance to win it for Milan with just minutes to play before a penalty shootout. A Jerzy Dudek double save denied him, and penalties would decide the outcome.
The deciding penalty would once again be Andriy Shevchenko, who was perhaps still thinking about his golden opportunity to win it before the final whistle in extra time. Dudek saved his penalty and won the Champions League for Liverpool, marking one of the greatest soccer comebacks in Champions League history.
Parameters for ranking
These all time Champions League comebacks have been ranked based on the feat of the comeback itself, while considering the importance of the moment. For example, in isolation Barcelona’s comeback against PSG is likely the greatest in Champions League history, but when you consider what Liverpool did in the 2005 final, and the team they did it against, it has to be number one.
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