Top 10 Champions League Finals of All Time
The Champions League final is a pinnacle moment that showcases the best of European soccer and carries immense significance for the participating teams and players. Ranking the 10 greatest finals in Champions League history.
The Champions League final stands as the grandest stage of European soccer, where monumental matches and extraordinary goals have left an indelible mark on the history of the sport.
As we approach another final, let's reminisce about the greatest Champions League Finals, where Europe's finest teams clashed in epic encounters.
When is the Champions League Final?
The 2023 Champions League Final will kick off at 3pm EST on Saturday 10th June. Manchester City will go into the game as heavy favorites having taken out European giants Real Madrid in the semifinals, while Inter Milan will play the role of the underdog.
The game will be played at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey in front of a sellout crowd of over 76,000 soccer fans.
UEFA Champions League Finals history
Real Madrid will miss out on the final this year, but have been a dominant force in the Champions League throughout their history, including a phenomenal run of winning the title five times in the last decade.
Madrid were the title holders after defeating English club Liverpool in the 2022 UEFA Champions League Final, but Manchester City made sure there would be a new holder this time around with their emphatic semifinal win.
Real Madrid’s Champions League Finals history far outmatches that of any other club. They’ve won 14 titles throughout the history of the tournament, including the first five when it was introduced in 1955. The next best club is Milan, who have won seven, showing just how impressive the Spanish side's record is.
Underdog stories such as Porto’s win under Jose Mourinho in the early 2000s are what makes the tournament so thrilling, while it also allows the greatest clubs from around Europe to compete each year in a showcase of the world’s best soccer talent.
Ranking the Top 10 Greatest Champions League Finals of all time
- 2005-2006 Champions League Finals: Barcelona vs Arsenal
Final Score: Barcelona 2 - Arsenal 1
The 2006 Champions League Final between Arsene Wenger's Arsenal and Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona was a thriller from the get-go.
Just 18 minutes into the game, Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was beaten to a through ball intended for pacey Barca striker Samuel Eto’o, who poked it past Lehmann before he could dive on it. The Arsenal keeper collided with Eto’o and brought him down, denying a clear goalscoring opportunity that resulted in a straight red card. He was the first player to ever be sent off in a European final.
All of a sudden Arsenal found themselves down to 10 men and had to sub off Frenchman Robert Pires to bring on Manuel Almunia in goal. While they might have been a man down it was Arsenal who struck first from a Thierry Henry free kick nodded home by center back Sol Campbell.
Barcelona subbed on striker Henrik Larsson in the second half, who proved a handful for the Arsenal defense and provided the assist for the equalizer, curled in by Samuel Eto’o.
Now tied 1-1, it was Barcelona again just four minutes later, and it was Henrik Larsson again who provided the pass. Brazilian right back Juliano Belletti ran onto his pass and fired it between the legs of the Arsenal keeper from close range with what would be the eventual game winner for the Catalan side.
- 1996-1997 Champions League Finals: Borussia Dortmund vs Juventus
Final Score: Dortmund 3 - Juventus 1
Juventus headed into the 1997 Champions League Final as the clear favorites and the defending champions of the tournament. They had a superstar team led by Zinedine Zidane and Didier Deschamps, but it was Karl Heinz-Riedle who stole the show for the German side.
Riedle put Dortmund one up with a finish off of a set piece, before firing home a header from a corner to double that lead before the half.
A young Alessandro Del Piero came off the bench and flicked one home to bring the game back to 2-1, but it was Dortmund substitute Lars Ricken who would put the game on ice.
He hadn’t touched the ball yet, but ran onto a through pass and instead of taking a touch, hit it first time from more than 30 yards out, lobbing Juve goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi. Dortmund won the game 3-1 to claim their first and only Champions League title.
- 2010-2011 Champions League Finals: Barcelona vs Manchester United
Final Score: Barcelona 3 - Manchester United 1
In 2011, Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United were a powerhouse in English soccer, but Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona at that time was one of the finest teams in the history of the sport.
The two sides had met just two years prior in the final, and Barcelona won that one 2-0, so United were looking to level the scores in the 2011 CL final.
Almost half an hour into the first half, it was Barcelona who took the lead when Xavi found Pedro with a clean outside of the foot pass, and the Spanish winger calmly slotted it past Edwin Van Der Sar. United struck back with a great pass and move from Wayne Rooney that he thundered home, but Barcelona proved to be too much for United once again.
A touch of magic from Lionel Messi made it 2-1, and Barcelona dominated the possession in the second half before making it 3-1 via David Villa. The Catalan outfit had almost 70% of the possession in the game, doing what they did best in that era of soccer and breaking down their opponent with poise and patience.
Barca won their second Champions League title in three seasons during one of the finest runs of any club in the history of soccer.
- 1993-1994 Champions League Finals: AC Milan vs Barcelona
Final Score: AC Milan 4 - Barcelona 0
AC Milan made the Champions League final in 1994, but by the time they got there they were heavily wounded and missing several key players, including Dutch striker Marco Van Basten, Italian defender and pivotal piece Franco Baresi and Gianluigi Lentini. Their Champions League odds were heavily dented by the missing stars, and they were coming up against a powerhouse Barcelona side.
Barcelona were guided by manager and club legend Johan Cruyff, with a talented roster that featured the likes of Bulgarian forward Hristo Stoichkov and Brazilian forward Romario. The Spanish side were the heavy favorites, but things didn’t go to plan for them in the UCL Final that year.
Daniele Massaro scored twice for Milan to give them a 2-0 lead at half time, and despite Barcelona’s best efforts in the second half, Milan doubled their lead to 4-0. The outcome was stunning and highly unexpected, making for one of the greatest upsets in Champions League finals history.
- 2008-2009 Champions League Finals: Barcelona vs Manchester United
Final Score: Barcelona 2 - Manchester United 0
The 2009 Final in Rome featured two of the world's greatest clubs at the time, and an encounter between Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United.
The 2009 Barcelona roster was unbelievably talented. The front-line featured Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o, with a midfield led by the all time trio of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. The defense, meanwhile, was anchored by Spanish great Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique.
Barca had won La Liga and the Copa Del Rey under Pep Guardiola in his first year in charge, and were now seeking the Champions League to complete a historic season.
Samuel Eto’o gave Barca the lead and a Lionel Messi header made it 2-0, claiming the Champions League title over Manchester United and completing the first ever treble by a Spanish club.
Unfortunately for Manchester United, their run of fine form in the Champions League during that era might have meant three finals in four years, but they met one of the most unstoppable forces in the sport on two of the occasions.
- 2013-2014 Champions League Finals: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid
Final Score: Real Madrid 4 - Atletico Madrid 1
In 2014, two of Spain's biggest rivals would meet in the Champions League Finale in what would be a tense encounter after a sensational battle in La Liga. Atletico had just won the league in a title race between themselves, Real Madrid and Barcelona that saw all three teams finish within three points of one another.
Real had missed out on the league title but sought vengeance in the Champions League, making for a thrilling all-Spanish final.
Atletico center back Diego Godin struck first with a header that made its way past a stranded Iker Casillas, and the game remained 1-0 until the final seconds of the night.
In the third minute of injury time, Sergio Ramos fired home a sweet header from a corner to even the score and force extra time, where Madrid would run away with the game.
Angel Di Maria made a wondrous move to glide into the box and get a shot on goal, and Gareth Bale nodded the rebound into an empty net to make it 2-1 to Real Madrid. Marcelo made it three with a shot that went under the goalkeeper, and when Cristiano Ronaldo was fouled in the 120th minute he converted his own penalty kick to seal it at 4-1.
The win marked the beginning of one of the best Champions League runs in history, with Madrid winning four of a possible five Champions League finals between 2014 and 2018.
- 2011-2012 Champions League Finals: Chelsea vs Bayern Munich
Final Score: Chelsea 1 - Bayern Munich 1 (Chelsea Won 4-3 on Penalties)
In the 2012 UCL Finals, Chelsea found themselves coming up against Bayern Munich at their home stadium the Allianz Arena in Germany. The host site had already been set and when the German side made the final, they were expecting to win the trophy in front of a packed house of Bayern Munich fans.
Bayern took a 1-0 lead via Thomas Muller, and Chelsea couldn’t fight their way back into it until the very end, when Juan Mata whipped in a corner in the 88th minute and Didier Drogba powered home one of the greatest headers you will ever see in a game of soccer.
The power and direction of the header, plus the immaculate timing to level the score makes that goal one of the all time greats, and the game would eventually come down to a tense penalty shootout in front of the Bayern faithful.
When Bastian Schweinsteiger hit the post Chelsea had a chance to win it, and the man stepping up to take the penalty was Didier Drogba, flying high from his last gasp strike in regular time.
Drogba sent Manuel Neuer the wrong way and claimed victory for Chelsea, who lifted the trophy for the first time in club history.
- 2008-2009 Champions League Finals: Manchester United vs Chelsea
Final Score: Manchester United 1 - Chelsea 1 (Manchester United won 6-5 on penalties)
The 2008 Champions League Final was the first all-English encounter in the tournament's history, with Manchester United facing Chelsea in Moscow.
A perfectly placed Ronaldo header made it 1-0 to United before Frank Lampard leveled it for Chelsea with 45 minutes played.
The game went to extra time where Chelsea saw Didier Drogba sent off for slapping United defender Nemanja Vidic, an event that would prove crucial with a penalty shootout looming.
With penalties underway, Cristiano Ronaldo was the first to miss, taking a stutter step before failing to send Petr Cech the wrong way. Cech made the save which would lead to an eventual opportunity for Chelsea captain John Terry to win it all for his club.
As he took his run up he slipped and his penalty attempt went wide, blowing the shootout wide open once again. As the rain came down Nicolas Anelka was now under pressure to score or Chelsea would lose, and Edwin Van Der Sar palmed his penalty away to win the title for Manchester United.
It was one of the best UCL Finals in recent history made even more tense by the rivalry between two of English soccer's biggest clubs.
- 1998-1998 Champions League Finals: Manchester United vs Bayern Munich
Final Score: Manchester United 2 - Bayern Munich 1
In the memorable 1999 Final, Manchester United faced Bayern Munich, showcasing one of the greatest squads in the club's illustrious history. Led by iconic players including Peter Schmeichel, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, and a formidable strike duo of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, United aimed to secure a historic treble alongside Bayern Munich.
The two sides had come out of the same group in the tournament having drawn both games of the group stage in Manchester and Munich. Bayern would take the lead in the final with a deflected free kick that wrongfooted Peter Schmeichel.
Munich then applied the pressure throughout the game and United got a lucky break a couple of times to keep the game at 1-0, but they couldn’t find the net themselves. That was, until injury time.
At this point Manchester United were desperate. The goalkeeper was up in the box in a desperate attempt to get bodies forward and find an equalizer, which finally came in the 91st minute via Teddy Sheringham who poked home a Ryan Giggs shot as it came towards him. The sideline went crazy and Manchester United players swarmed Sheringham as they leveled the game, but they weren’t done there.
Less than two minutes later in the 93rd minutes Norwegian substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer loitered in the box for a United corner after winning it for his side. Beckham whipped it in and found the head of Teddy Sheringham, who nodded it onto the foot of Solskjaer who poked it into the roof of the net.
United scored twice in two minutes and went from being down and out to winning the Champions League in one of the greatest Champions League final games of all time.
- 2004-2005 Champions League Finals: Liverpool vs AC Milan
Final Score: Liverpool 3 - AC Milan 3 (Liverpool won 3-2 on penalties)
The 2005 Champions League Final truly had it all, and it will forever be tough to beat as the best champions league of all time.
AC Milan's squad at the time was one of the best ever fielded. They had world champions and superstars everywhere. The defense is one of the best ever constructed, featuring Brazilian icon and World Cup captain Cafu, Italian legends Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini and Dutch stone wall Jaap Stam.
The midfield was anchored by Gennaro Gattuso with playmakers Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf and Brazilian Kaka, and then strikers Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo were two of the clubs all time greatest performers in front of goal.
Liverpool were anchored by captain and club legend Steve Gerrard, but their team didn’t have the star power of Milan, and early on it looked like they might have been out of their depth.
Paolo Maldini volleyed home from a free kick inside the first minute making for a disastrous start for Liverpool, and it got worse when Hernan Crespo scored twice in five minutes to make it 3-0 before the half.
At that point, Liverpool had been written off. They looked defeated and Milan were playing with style. But then less than 10 minutes into the second half Liverpool were given a lifeline by their main man Steven Gerrard, who nodded home a header to make it 3-1 and spice up the action a little.
Then two minutes later substitute Vladimir Smicer tried his luck from the edge of the area with a sweet strike that made it past Dida in the Milan goal, and suddenly it was 3-2 with everything to play for.
As the second half unfolded Liverpool seemed to be on an unstoppable mission, and when Steven Gerrard was held in the box they won a penalty and a chance to level the score. Xabi Alonso stepped up to take it only to see it saved by Dida, but managed to get a foot to the rebound and force it in. Liverpool were tied all within the space of less than 10 minutes.
The game went to extra time, and in the dying moments Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek made a double save from Andriy Shevchenko that he calls ‘the save of my life’ to deny Milan, and the game went on to penalties.
Milan missed their first two giving Liverpool an edge, and when Shevchenko stepped up to take their fifth it was 3-2 to Liverpool and he had to put it away. He tried to place it down the middle but a diving Dudek got something on it and kept it out, completing an impossible comeback and the best Champions League final you’re likely to see for a very long time.
Parameters for ranking
These all time great Champions League Finals have been ranked based on the thrill factor of the match itself, including penalty shootouts, last gasp goals and some of the tournaments biggest upsets and comebacks.
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