Champions League Best Ever... Kits, including Borussia Dortmund's 1996/97 stylish strip

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Borussia Dortmund side in 1996/97

The two sides entering the Metropolitano Stadium on June 1 can legitimately be pinned up against some of the great European sides witnessed during the competition’s rich history.

Ahead of this blockbuster encounter between Tottenham and Liverpool we’re running a series on Europe’s elite competition called the ‘Best Ever…’ and on this occasion we’re examining the greatest kits to have graced the tournament.

Trimming the list down to five is an enormously tricky task and any one of the five picked hold claim to top spot.

But here is our look at the five best European Cup/Champions League kits.

1. BORUSSIA DORTMUND (1996/97)

It takes something extraordinary to outshine a perfect 30-yard lob in a Champions League final, but BVB’s illuminous winning kit from the 1996/97 edition did just that.

With a vibrant flash of yellow stolen from a highlighter pen that was contrasted perfectly by black trim and shorts, manufacturers Nike came up with a modern classic.

It’s mixture of vibrancy and durability reflected the winning qualities of Ottmar Hitzfeld’s men.

The iconic vector logo of German insurance company Die Continentale also brought the whole design together. Substitute Lars Ricken’s delicate first-time strike versus holders Juventus has been etched into football history. So has the outfit he did it in.

2. AJAX (1971/72)

Johan Cruyff in 1971/72

Johan Cruyff in 1971/72

Simple, but delightfully effective. This description works for Ajax’s emblematic shirt, with red stripe and white arms, plus the distinguished technicians that wore it.

Johan Neeskens, Piet Keizer, Arie Haan, Ruud Krol, Johnny Rep and, of course, Johan Cruyff all donned the jersey during the glorious period from 1971-73 in which Ajax claimed three-successive European Cups.

The jersey they wore, Total Voetbal philosophy they followed and players that featured all earned hallowed spots in the sport’s annals.

All linked together to create a motif, that stands for footballing purity. A special mention must also be made for the all-red ensemble that was used against the black and white of Juventus in 1972/73’s last of the trio of successes.

3. SAMPDORIA (1991/92)

Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini

Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini

Sampdoria have been virtual strangers to the Champions League. They, however, left an indelible impression during 1991/92’s only full campaign in Europe’s premier club tournament (they exited in 2010/11’s play-offs).

As is custom in Italy, La Samp’s nickname details their celebrated kit. I Blucerchiati (The Blue hooped) describes an unique shirt, featuring a base colour of blue plus white, red and black hoops.

The 1991/92 vintage by Asics was also made more alluring by the stylish Edoardo Raffinerie Garrone (ERG) sponsorship emblazoned on it. A team defined by the attacking might of Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli, plus heroics of Gianluca Pagliuca in goal, roared all the way to the final.

There (in a white away kit), only an extra-time free-kick from prolific Barcelona defender Ronald Koeman could deny the then Serie A-holders the grandest trophy of all.

4. BENFICA (1961/62)

The Benfica team in 1961 (Photo Credit: www.slbenfica.pt)

The Benfica team in 1961 (Photo Credit: www.slbenfica.pt)

The television archives do not do justice to the striking kit worn by the commanding Benfica outfit that swept to success in 1961/62. A 5-3 final pulverising of – then – five-time champions Real Madrid featured a two-goal haul from forward Eusebio that beckoned the coming of an all-time great.

Able support was provided by the likes of fellow attacker Aguas and the versatile Domiciano Cavem. Most images of this side are dulled by the black-and-white pictures of the age.

They also detract from the deep red of the Benfica shirt, plus the prominent and oversized pure-white collar that made their outfit so memorable.

5. ROMA (2001/02)

Francesco Totti in 2001

Francesco Totti in 2001

Roma’s participation in the 2001/02 Champions League did not last further than the second group stage (a precursor to the current round of 16). Memories of their enchanting kit, however, have lasted much longer.

Their ensemble was part of Kappa’s quintessential collection at the turn of the Millennium. Skin tight and made of fabric that resembled a surfer’s wet suit, they heralded the end of the baggy shirts that preceded them. The Italian manufacturer sponsored a number of teams, but special alchemy was at play when it came to Roma.

The Giallorossi’s purple red shirt with a gold collar is resplendent of the Eternal City’s deep history – and it never looked better than in 2001/02.

It also helped that ceaseless Brazil right-back Cafu, suave Italy defender Christian Panucci, club legend Francesco Totti and Argentina predator Gabriel Batistuta looked like classical statues on display at the Vatican Museum.

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Champions League Best Ever... Players, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi

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Cristiano Ronaldo

The two sides entering the Metropolitano Stadium on June 1 can legitimately be pinned up against some of the great European sides witnessed during the competition’s rich history.

Ahead of this blockbuster encounter between Tottenham and Liverpool we’re running a series on Europe’s elite competition called the ‘Best Ever…’ and on this occasion we’re examining the greatest players to have graced the tournament.

Trimming the list down to five is an enormously tricky task and any one of the five picked hold claim to top spot.

But here is our look at the five best European Cup/Champions League players.

1. CRISTIANO RONALDO

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Club football’s grandest competition boasts a grandee without compare, in Ronaldo.

The Portugal icon is a five-time Champions League winner. Only fellow Real Madrid legend Francisco ‘Paco’ Gento has more with six (1956-60 and 1965/66, when it was called the European Cup).

His 126 goals and 34 assists lead the way in both categories. Incredibly, he didn’t bag until his 30th Champions League appearance.

We are also, distinctly, not talking about a flat-track bully.

A tally of 65 strikes in 79 knockout-stage appearances points to an incredible potency. The 34-year-old also became the first footballer to smash through the 50-goal barrier at the deep end.

When it comes to finals, he’s also in a league of his own. His 2017/18 brace against – current employers – Juventus and 2013/14’s late penalty versus neighbours Atletico Madrid, plus a fine header for Manchester United against Chelsea in 2007/08, has made him the only man to score in three deciders since the 1992/93 rebrand to the UCL.

The moniker ‘Mr Champions League’ would be ill-fitting on anyone else.

2. ALFREDO DI STEFANO

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The shining light and greatest influence on the tournament’s early kings.

Buenos Aires-born Di Stefano was one of just three players – including Gento and Jose Maria Zarraga – to play a part in all five opening victories for Madrid.

Unlike the other two, Saeta Rubia (Blond Arrow) sensationally scored in each one. This unprecedented run culminated in 1959/60’s hat-trick during the 7-3 demolition of Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt, which is still considered the competition’s defining team performance.

The versatile forward’s unparalleled exploits in the European Cup helped make him a two-time Ballon d’Or winner and a fourth-placed finisher in France Football’s voting for Football Player of the 20th Century.

He was named Honorary President of Los Blancos in 2000 and died aged 88-years old in the Spanish capital on July 7, 2014. We may not see his like again.

3. FRANCISCO ‘PACO’ GENTO

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It takes a special footballer to hold a record for more than half a century.

Francisco ‘Paco’ Gento certainly merits this exalted description. The lightning-quick left winger – or contemporarily an outside left – provided a dynamic presence in the Real Madrid side that swept all before them from 1956-60, plus boasts a longevity that saw him usher a new generation towards success in the 1965/66 edition against Yugoslavia’s Partizan Belgrade.

This sixth triumph, 53 years and counting, makes Spain-international Gento the singularly most-successful performer in the European Cup/Champions League’s storied history. Some achievement.

Remarkably, this tally could have been even greater. He is the only player to have played in the European Cup for 15 consecutive seasons, and he was present for showpiece defeats against Eusebio-inspired Benfica in 1961/62 and Helenio Herrera’s Inter Milan during 1963/64.

4. LIONEL MESSI

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Messi’s unalloyed greatness has, unsurprisingly, touched his stellar performances in the Champions League.

Across 15 campaigns with Barcelona, the iconic Argentina forward has netted 112 times in 135 run-outs to sit second on the all-time list. He is also a four-time winner of the competition, registering in the 2008/09 and 2010/11/ demolitions of Manchester United and performing a prominent role against Juventus in 2014/15 – injury denied him a berth in 2005/06’s final triumph against Arsenal.

September 18’s group-stage hat-trick against PSV Eindhoven was his eighth in the UCL – this represents a competition record. He was mesmeric against Liverpool in the first-leg of their semi-final tie this term but ultimately missed out on an elusive fifth title.

Arch-competitor Cristiano Ronaldo currently has more Champions League goals and wins. But it is the vast promise of a still vibrant future for the 31-year-old Messi, in comparison to his slowing Portuguese nemesis, that could see him march up this list.

5. PAOLO MALDINI

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Longevity defines Maldini’s extraordinary success in the Champions League.

The consummate AC Milan defender’s eight final appearances (winning five, losing three) were experienced across three decades. Of this octet, clean sheets were recorded by the one-club man in half of them.

The now 50-year-old’s sensational career straddled several eras, calling some of the sport’s most-eminent figures team-mates along the way.

There was 1988/89’s 4-0 victory against Steaua Bucharest when Netherlands legends Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten netted braces, 1993/94’s unforgettable 4-0 routing of Barcelona’s fabled ‘Dream Team’ even with a side ravaged by injury and 2002/03’s shootout triumph against fellow Italians Juventus in which Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko netted the decisive penalty.

Liverpool also hold a notable place in Maldini’s memory bank. From the crushing low of 2004/05’s showpiece defeat from three-goals up, to 2006/07’s redemptive 2-1 victory that earned a fifth – and final – title.

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Champions League Best Ever... Goals with Gareth Bale's bicycle kick at number one

Matt Jones - Editor 16:02 26/05/2019
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Gareth Bale's Champions League final goal against Liverpool

The two sides entering the Metropolitano Stadium on June 1 can legitimately be pinned up against some of the great European sides witnessed during the competition’s rich history.

Ahead of this blockbuster encounter between Tottenham and Liverpool we’re running a series on Europe’s elite competition called the ‘Best Ever…’ and on this occasion we’re examining the greatest goals to have graced the tournament.

Trimming the list down to five is an enormously tricky task and any one of the five picked hold claim to top spot.

But here is our look at the five best European Cup/Champions League goals.

1. GARETH BALE

Real Madrid v Liverpool, Champions League final – May 26, 2018

Is there anything better than scoring the winner in a Champions League final? In football, certainly not. Especially in these circumstances. Your team is level at 1-1, second best to Liverpool.

You’ve endured a testing season in terms of form, injury and relationship with the manager, while the unforgiving Los Blancos fans are not exactly your biggest supporters. So, you come on with an hour gone and produce not only the crucial goal to put your side 2-1 ahead – but a stunning and perfectly executed overhead kick that will go down as the greatest goal ever scored in a final, and arguably the best the competition has ever seen.

It’s also better than a near mirror image goal scored by club icon Cristiano Ronaldo earlier in the competition. Not that it seems to have bought much good faith for Bale, who is still admonished by Real fans. If that goal doesn’t buy you eternal love, nothing will.

2. LIONEL MESSI

Barcelona v Real Madrid, Champions League semi-final first leg – April 27, 2011

Messi the magician could maybe have had his own Champions League top five, and this would be top of the list. Even by his exalted standards he’d have to admit this goal was a bit special.

He starts the move just inside his own half with a pass to Sergio Busquets who proceeds to receive the most illegitimate assist by merely touching it back to the Argentine who proceeds to dance around five players in white – including Sergio Ramos twice – before slotting beyond Iker Casillas with his weaker right foot.

He’d also shrugged off the attentions of Lassana Diarra and Marcelo and sprinted past a bamboozled Raul Albiol before slotting home. Additionally, you have to applaud the context in which it is scored; against Barca’s fierce foes to put them 2-0 up at the Bernabeu and place one foot in the final – they went on to beat Manchester United 3-1 for their fourth crown.

3. ZINEDINE ZIDANE

Real Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen, Champions League final – May 15, 2002

A lot like Bale’s in the sense that, apart from being an absolute belter, it was a pivotal strike in a final. The Frenchman has overseen a golden European period for Los Blancos in which he led them to three straight Champions League successes – it was the first time any club had done so since Bayern Munich in the mid-1970s.

But it was as a player that Zizou initially made his name, and he was pretty imperious. Everything about the strike is stunning. Zidane stops as he has to readjust his body after Roberto Carlos’ hooked cross, which is slightly behind him.

Then there’s the shimmy as he moves into position, then the focus and consummate control as he volleys it assuredly past the despairing dive of the helpless Hans-Jorg Butt. Iconic.

4. RONALDINHO

Barcelona v Chelsea, Champions League last 16 second leg – March 8 2005

It’s fair to say no-one saw this strike coming, no-one except the mercurial Brazilian of course. This was peak Champions League viewing for supporters in their mid-30s, when barn-burning knockout games were played with regularity among the elite and the goals rained down.

This quarter-final tie was a thriller, eventually won 5-4 by Chelsea. Having lost the first leg in Spain 2-1, they stormed back into contention by taking a 3-0 lead at Stamford Bridge – only for the pony-tailed one’s double.

The second, after he’d scored a penalty, was stunning and meant Barcelona were going through at 4-4. A long ball was headed clear only to Andres Inisesta who flicked the ball to Ronaldinho, with seemingly nothing on.

Ricardo Carvalho stood him up impressively enough but then stood rooted as Ronaldinho stepped and shimmied his right foot before punching the ball with the toe of his boot just inside Petr Cech’s post. Unbelievable.

5. DEJAN STANKOVIC

Inter Milan v Schalke, Champions League quarter-final first leg – April 5, 2011

There didn’t seem to be too much of note in the opening minute of this quarter-final, first leg tie at the San Siro – save for some seemingly brave and excellent goalkeeping from Manuel Neuer.

The giant German rushed out to head bravely away as Inter’s Diego Milito chased a long ball. Neuer’s header almost reached the halfway line. But Stankovic steadied himself and volleyed it straight back from where it had come, his controlled strike perfectly struck as it arrowed back over a sea of motionless white shirts, plus Neuer, and into the unguarded net.

Just 33 seconds had elapsed. As it was, it was a rare highlight for the hosts who went on to suffer a 5-2 hammering and lost the tie 7-3 on aggregate. But at least Stankovic had this improbable goal to savour.

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