There are approximately 7.7 billion people on the planet and every one is different. Some love sport, some don’t. Football has a huge global audience, yet there are countless others who can’t stand it.
Everyone’s entitled to their beliefs and interests, but you have to feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t follow the beautiful game in what has been a truly enchanting week of Champions League football.
Liverpool and Tottenham will play just the second all-English Champions League final on June 1. Spurs are appearing in the European Cup/Champions League final for the first time in their history, while Liverpool hope to lift a sixth title.
Fans of both teams will just be praying for victory but after a breathtaking week of semi-final action, neutrals will be hungry for more magic in Madrid.
Although the second legs of their semi-final ties – against Barcelona and Ajax respectively – were sprinkled with stardust, and insanity, you must cast your view wider at what’s been a truly stunning campaign on the continent. One filled with drama, controversy, heartbreak and joy.
The drama started as early as the first qualifying round in July last year. While France were beating Belgium 1-0 in Saint Petersburg to secure a place in the World Cup final on July 10, Macedonia’s Shkendija thrashed Welsh minnows The New Saints 5-0 in Skopje. TNS almost achieved the impossible when they won the return leg 4-0 in Oswestry – but an improbable comeback wasn’t to be.
The tie was to set a precedent though. There have been some epic encounters during the 2018/19 competition – games that would be fit to grace any final. We take a look at 11 of them.
LIVERPOOL 3 PSG 2
September 18, 2018
The Reds have made their second final in succession but they haven’t had it easy as they were pitted in a testing Group C against French giants Paris Saint-Germain and Italy’s Napoli, alongside Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade.
They got off to a flying start but only after throwing away a 2-0 lead at Anfield against PSG. Daniel Sturridge headed in Andy Robertson’s cross before James Milner coolly converted a penalty after Georginio Wijnaldum was felled.
But Thomas Meunier’s left-footed strike made it 2-1 before the break and sloppy defending allowed Kylian Mbappe to equalise for Thomas Tuchel’s side with seven minutes remaining.
The drama wasn’t over though as Roberto Firmino climbed off the bench to rifle in a home winner in stoppage time to the delight of the red half of Merseyside.
TOTTENHAM 2 BARCELONA 4
October 3, 2018
Hard to believe Tottenham are now in the final after they found themselves in a group containing Lionel Messi’s Barcelona, as well as Italy icons Inter Milan and Dutch side PSV.
It didn’t start well either as they lost their first two games, in Milan and at home to Barca, who wiped the floor with them, while they also then drew their third game in Eindhoven.
At Wembley they looked all at sea defensively but Harry Kane’s curler and Erik Lamela’s deflected effort saw them claw back to 2-1 and 3-2 after a stunning strike from Ivan Rakitic and a delightful brace from magnificent Messi, as well as Philippe Coutinho’s opener.
Spurs looked out of their depth and Barca were looking like favourites. How times change.
HOFFENHEIM 3 LYON 3
October 23, 2018
A madcap match in Germany saw six goals scored as Brazilian Joelinton tapped in Nico Schulz’s 92nd minute cross to earn a point for the home side – who ultimately finished bottom of their Group F, won by Manchester City.
French giants Lyon were involved in some seismic spectacles during the group, beating City 2-1 in Manchester on the opening night, as well as taking a point off them at home.
A defensive mistake gifted Bertrand Traore the opener before Andrej Kramaric’s brace put Julian Nagelsmann’s side in the lead. Tanguy Ndombele thrashed in an equaliser before Memphis Depay’s solo slalom seemingly settled it. But the hosts fought back right at the death to seal a memorable point.
JUVENTUS 1 MANCHESTER UNITED 2
November 7, 2018
It hasn’t been a memorable season for United, and there were many lows under Jose Mourinho. But this night was one of the high points as they took a big stride towards the knockout round with a classic late comeback.
There wasn’t much to marvel at under the Portuguese and, for the majority of this tussle in Turin, they had been second best. Sami Khedira and Paulo Dybala struck the woodwork, and David De Gea made some pivotal saves, before former hero Cristiano Ronaldo’s exquisite volley put the hosts in front just past the hour.
But some magic from Juan Mata – the Spaniard struck a stunning free-kick four minutes from time – and then a Leonardo Bonucci own goal in the 89th minute earned Mourinho’s men a smash and grab victory.
AJAX 3 BAYERN MUNICH 3
December 12, 2018
And you thought the semi-finals had it all. Well, beat this. Two penalties, two red cards and six goals – four of which came in the final eight minutes. There was nothing riding on the final Group E game in Amsterdam – except top spot. Both sides had qualified yet proceeded to play out a Champions League thriller.
Robert Lewandowski put Bayern ahead with the only goal of the first half – booooooring. Dusan Tadic equalised just after the hour before the hosts saw Austrian defender Maximilian Wober sent off for a horrific lunge on Leon Goretzka. Numbers were even again 15 minutes from time when Thomas Muller was sent off for an even more ridiculous challenge – karate kicking Argentine left-back Nicolas Tagliafico in mid air.
Erik ten Hag’s side took the lead when Tadic scored from the spot in the 82nd minute after Jerome Boateng’s clumsy challenge on Kasper Dolberg.
Clement Turpin pointed to the spot at the other end five minutes later when Thiago was upended – Lewandowski calmly slotting in his second. And Kingsley Coman’s sumptuous effort appeared to have won it in the 90th minute, only for Tagliafico to tap in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s cool pass after escaping the offside trap. Wow!
REAL MADRID 1 AJAX 4 (Ajax won 5-3 on aggregate)
March 5, 2019
You’re unsurprisingly going to read more about Ajax, who have won the hearts of so many during this year’s tournament. And no more impressive were they than when overturning a 2-1 defeat in the first leg of their last 16 clash against three-time defending champions Real Madrid – at the Bernabeu.
Yes, fine, Los Blancos have unravelled this season. But for a team with an average age of 22 to go and play the home side off the park was extraordinary.
They raced into a 3-0 lead on the night – 4-2 overall – with Hakim Ziyech, David Neres and the utterly brilliant Tadic converting superbly. Marco Asensio briefly threatened to spoil the party as he made it 4-3 on aggregate but Real still needed two goals.
All hope was extinguished though two minutes later when Lasse Schone scored direct from a free-kick to send the Dutch side through to a quarter-final date with the Bianconeri. There, the young Dutch guns put the Old Lady to sleep.
PSG 1 MANCHESTER UNITED 3 (3-3 on aggregate, United won on away goals)
March 6, 2019
What a rollercoaster it’s been for United fans in 2018/19. A month after the win in Turin, Mourinho was gone. Interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer marched the Red Devils on an 11-match unbeaten run before suffering his first defeat to PSG in the first leg of their last 16 tie.
Up to now United had not been tested, critics said, and the French side would sort them out. They did and a 2-0 deficit seemed insurmountable in the second leg – particularly with the resurgent Paul Pogba suspended and a raft of injuries. But Romelu Lukaku’s brace gave them hope, even though Juan Bernat’s goal still put Tuchel’s side control.
The came late drama as Diogo Dalot’s speculative shot was scrutinised by VAR and Presnel Kimpembe – who should have seen red in the first leg – was deemed to have handled. Cue Marcus Rashford, who thrashed his spot kick past Gianluigi Buffon four minutes into added time to send Solskjaer’s side through to the last eight.
PORTO 3 ROMA 1 (a.e.t. – Porto won 4-3 on aggregate)
March 6, 2019
Drama of the highest order at the Estadio Do Dragao on a night when VAR would play another key role in proceedings. Francisco Soares gave the hosts the advantage when he tapped in the opening goal to make it 2-2 on aggregate after a 2-1 defeat in the Eternal City.
Daniele De Rossi’s penalty gave the Giallorossi the advantage again before Moussa Marega’s second half strike made it all square overall.
So, to extra time, where there was time for Edin Dzeko’s cute chip to be cleared off the line and VAR to come into play when Fernando flopped to the floor in the box. Turns out he was tugged needlessly by Alessandro Florenzi and, after a long delay, a spot kick was awarded.
Alex Telles scored it in the 177th minute but there was still time for more drama. Unlike the Porto penalty, VAR deemed there had been no foul on Patrik Schick by Marega – prompting the Italian team’s president James Pallotta to say: “Last year we asked for VAR in the Champions League because we got screwed in the semi-final and tonight, they’ve got VAR and we still get robbed.”
MANCHESTER CITY 4 TOTTENHAM 3 (4-4 on aggregate, Tottenham won on away goals)
April 17, 2019
It may seem facetious to say, but this truly has to go down as one of the all-time great Champions League games. Surely City would come back after losing the first leg at Tottenham’s new stadium – a game in which Sergio Aguero missed a penalty?
Well, they did, going ahead through Raheem Sterling. But Spurs are made of stern stuff and – unbelievably – went 3-1 up in the tie when Son Heung-min’s three-minute brace made it 2-1 on the night. Bernardo Silva equalised instantly as four goals were scored in the opening 11 minutes.
Sterling’s second in the 21st minute made it 3-2 to City although they were behind in the tie. Aguero rectified that – and made up for his spot kick miss – by slamming home Kevin De Bruyne’s pass, a third assist for the Belgian.
But VAR would visit this game to ultimately decide it as first Fernando Llorente’s goal – it gave Spurs the edge at 4-4 overall – was allowed, but Sterling was denied his hat-trick in stoppage time when Aguero was pinged for being offside. Insanity.
LIVERPOOL 4 BARCELONA 0 (Liverpool win 4-3 on aggregate)
May 7, 2019
Ok, now this is where it gets silly. Barcelona aren’t the supreme force they were under Pep Guardiola, but they still have Messi, who’s arguably as good as he’s ever been. Liverpool are playing some stunning football under Jurgen Klopp, but surely they were dead and buried after a Messi-inspired 3-0 win at the Camp Nou in the opening leg?
Who knows what happened, perhaps Barca took their foot off the pedal with Mohamed Salah and Firmino out. It certainly appeared that way as a succession of first half chances were spurned – Messi particularly culpable. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard as the old saying goes, and Barca certainly didn’t work as hard as the Reds at Anfield.
Braces for Wijnaldum and Divock Origi of all people turned the tie on its head. Istanbul was some turnaround in 2005, but this had fans and critics alike claiming the ‘Miracle on Merseyside’ to be even better. The greatest comeback in the Champions League ever? Um…
AJAX 2 TOTTENHAM 3 (3-3 on aggregate, Tottenham win on away goals)
May 8, 2019
As if dared to prove that Wednesday’s game couldn’t possibly live up to the standards 24 hours earlier, injury-hit and jaded Tottenham – shorn of Kane – looked down and out when Ajax’s relentless pressing and energy saw them zip into a 2-0 lead through 19-year-old captain Matthijs de Ligt and Ziyech.
Ziyech was a blur throughout the game as he harried and hunted opponents without the ball and twisted and turned defenders with it – the practicing Muslim could have been nowhere near 100 per cent as he was seen breaking his fast for Ramadan 23 minutes into the game.
Yet it was Tottenham who look starved as Ajax enjoyed a feast.
But then, something special happened. Just like there seemed to be something in the air at Anfield the previous night, so too was this game touched by greatness.
Lucas Moura – unwanted by PSG – was lively throughout and scored a quickfire brace to somehow drag Mauricio Pochettino’s men back into the fight. At 3-2 down both sides resembled faded heavyweight boxers teetering on the brink, trading blow for blow before Moura struck the knockout punch.
His hat-trick goal came with seconds remaining and left his manager and pretty much everyone inside the ground or watching around the world in tears – either of joy or agony. How can you not love football?
Liverpool face Tottenham in what will be only the second all-English Champions League final next month, 11 years after domestic rivals Manchester United beat Chelsea in a dramatic penalty shoot-out in Moscow.
United were looking to secure another European triumph to add to their Premier League crown, having held off Liverpool’s title challenge and edging out Barcelona in the semi-finals.
Chelsea, meanwhile, had battled past the Reds in their semi-final to reach the Champions League final for the first time.
Cristiano Ronaldo made the breakthrough for United at the Luzhniki Stadium with his 42nd goal of the season, heading in at the back post from Wes Brown’s cross after 26 minutes.
Chelsea keeper Petr Cech saved a diving header from Carlos Tevez and then denied Michael Carrick from the rebound.
It proved a key moment as the Blues then fought back to equalise just before half-time.
Michael Essien’s attempted shot from 25-yards took two deflections on its way towards goal, the most telling was off the back of United captain Rio Ferdinand.
It changed the direction of the ball into the path of Frank Lampard, who duly supplied the finish from six yards.
The second half proved a somewhat scrappy affair, with the weather conditions worsening.
With 12 minutes left, Didier Drogba’s 20-yard effort had Edwin Van Der Sar beaten, but cannoned back off the post.
United sent on Ryan Giggs to make his 759th appearance for the club, breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s record.
As the final went into extra time, Chelsea were denied again by the woodwork when Lampard’s shot crashed against the crossbar.
At the other end, Blues captain John Terry cleared a goalbound effort from Giggs off his own line.
With tempers boiling over, an ugly melee resulted in Drogba becoming only the second player – after Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann in 2006 – to be sent off in a Champions League final.
The Ivory Coast forward was shown a red card by Slovakian referee Lubos Michel for slapping United defender Nemanja Vidic.
Tevez, around whom the original incident centred, and Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack were also booked.
With neither side able to break the deadlock, the European Cup was settled by the lottery of spot-kicks.
All of the first four penalties were scored, before Ronaldo saw his effort saved by Cech.
With a chance to win the trophy for the London club, Terry stepped up to take Chelsea’s fifth penalty, but his standing foot slipped just as he went to kick the ball, which spun onto the outside of the post.
As the shootout eventually moved to sudden death with the scores locked at 5-5, Ryan Giggs slotted in – before Van Der Sar proved the hero when he saved Nicolas Anelka’s shot to seal a third European Cup triumph for United.
Liverpool’s astonishing win over Barcelona was a Champions League tie for the ages – but Tottenham may have trumped them with what could be the competition’s greatest comeback.
Spurs trailed 3-0 on aggregate with just 35 minutes plus stoppage time remaining against Ajax in Amsterdam, only for Lucas Moura’s hat-trick to sensationally see them through to the final.
That is the latest a team have trailed by three goals before winning a knockout tie in the Champions League era – trumping Liverpool’s memorable 2005 final in Istanbul by one minute.
The Reds’ own efforts against Barcelona rank fifth on the list – their three-goal deficit lasted only until Divock Origi’s seventh-minute opener at Anfield, giving them 83 minutes for a fightback completed by Georginio Wijnaldum’s brace and Origi’s second goal.
Monaco trailed Real Madrid 5-2 on aggregate going into first-half stoppage time in their 2004 quarter-final, before Ludovic Giuly sparked their comeback to win on away goals.
Barcelona trailed Paris Saint-Germain 4-0 after the first leg of their last-16 tie in 2017, so have their own claim to the greatest comeback on that basis. They were still three down with 49 minutes remaining in a second leg they eventually won 6-1.
They also overturned an early three-goal deficit to beat Chelsea 6-4 on aggregate after extra time in their quarter-final in 2000, but have often been on the receiving end.
Indeed, lightning has struck twice in successive seasons for the Catalan giants as Liverpool’s comeback happened just a minute quicker than Roma’s similar effort in last year’s quarter-final. Roma lost 4-1 in the Camp Nou but won the return leg 3-0.
Deportivo La Coruna’s famous win over AC Milan in 2004, having lost the first leg 4-1, saw them complete their comeback in 85 minutes after Walter Pandiani’s fifth-minute strike in the second leg.