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 Liverpoo
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 individual performances.
1. Ronaldo | Manchester United v Real Madrid | 2003 Champions League semi-final second leg
Not many opposing players receive a standing ovation at Old Trafford, but a simply brilliant display from Ronaldo was deserving of it when Real Madrid knocked Manchester United out at the semi-finals stage.
Having suffered a 3-1 defeat in the first leg at the Bernabeu, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side desperately needed to score the opener but Ronaldo bagged it instead, spinning away from Rio Ferdinand and striking a bobbing ball first-time to beat Fabian Barthez at the near post.
The Brazilian’s movement proved a nightmare for United’s defence. He didn’t press from the front or track back but just loitered in dangerous positions instead, conserving his energy – crucial for a player whose knee injuries forced him to miss two years of football – before exploding with a sprint in behind at the opportune moment.
His goal-poaching instincts came to the fore for his second, reacting quickest when Roberto Carlos was played in, he was on hand to tap in his ball across goal.
It was no surprise to see United defenders panicking when O Fenomeno received possession in midfield, facing goal. He used Luis Figo’s run as a decoy, feinting left before checking onto his right, bamboozling Wes Brown and thumping a swerving effort from distance to beat Barthez.
It capped a thrilling hat-trick perfectly and the home support rose in unison to acknowledge it when Ronaldo was substituted 23 minutes from time.
2. Ferenc Puskas | Real Madrid v Eintracht Frankfurt | 1960 European Cup final
Only three players have ever scored a hat-trick in a European Cup final. To be one of them and not have the match ball sitting in your trophy cabinet is incredibly harsh but that’s precisely the fate that befell Alfredo Di Stefano in 1960.
The Real Madrid legend’s treble was incredibly bettered by Ferenc Puskas who bagged four against Eintracht Frankfurt at Hampden Park.
The Hungarian scored a left-footed belter from a tight angle for his first, converted a controversial penalty for his second and buried a rare header for his third. He rounded off his quadruple with the pick of the lot. Turning on a sixpence inside the area, he smashed his effort into the top corner with his left.
He even had time to set up Di Stefano for his own hat-trick goal. It was a sensational display against a formidable Frankfurt side, despite what the 7-3 scoreline suggests – the German outfit scored 12 goals past Scottish champions Rangers in the semi-finals.
Puskas remains the only player to score two hat-tricks in European Cup finals, repeating the feat in the 1962 5-3 defeat to Benfica.
3. Roy Keane | Juventus v Manchester United | 1999 Champions League semi-final second leg
Every time Roy Keane is reminded of his heroics in Turin, he almost seems offended. Was he supposed to just give up? Did he give any less in other games? Compliment that display in his presence at your own peril.
Still, the Irishman’s tenacity and unrelenting character was the architect of many United comebacks and the one that beat Juventus 3-1 away to book a spot in the final was the pick of the bunch.
After 11 minutes in Italy, United trailed 3-1 on aggregate courtesy of Filippo Inzaghi’s early brace. Keane’s glancing header from David Beckham’s corner pulled one back for the Reds but his greatest contribution was still to come.
Ten minutes after scoring, he was booked for a foul on Zinedine Zidane which meant he would miss the final if United progressed but he fought tooth and nail to get his side there anyway.
Keane competed fiercely and bossed a midfield that was also occupied by Zidane, Edgar Davids and Didier Deschamps in opposition. Dwight Yorke equalised in the 34th minute before Andy Cole’s winner six minutes from time sent United through 4-3 on aggregate.
United’s skipper didn’t participate in the glorious night at Camp Nou but his contribution in Turin remains one of the pivotal moments in the team’s iconic treble-winning season.
4. Gareth Bale | Inter Milan v Tottenham | 2010 Champions League group stage
Gareth Bale was already on his way to being a star at Tottenham but this performance sparked his meteoric rise on a global level, making the likes of Real Madrid sit up and take notice.
Within 10 minutes at the San Siro, Spurs were two goals behind and a man down as Heurelho Gomes was sent off in the process of conceding a penalty. But it got even worse when Dejan Stankovic and Samuel Eto’o made it 4-0 at the break.
Then, Bale received the ball on the halfway line, burst past Maicon and Javier Zanetti and into the box before drilling his shot into the far corner to score one of the great Champions League solo goals. He showed great pace again in the 90th minute before an identical finish and then completed his hat-trick in injury time, hitting that bottom corner again with a first-time strike.
Spurs lost the group game 4-3 but Maicon was one of the best right-backs at the time and the sight of Bale flying at him must still wake him up in a cold sweat.
5. John Aston | Manchester United v Benfica | 1968 European Cup final
The history books remember the names of George Best, Bobby Charlton and Eusebio. Tales are told of Brian Kidd’s wild goal celebration, Alex Stepney’s crucial save and an injured Dennis Law watching from a hospital bed.
But John Aston’s Man of the Match display in the 1968 European Cup final was the quintessential unsung hero performance.
Having come through the ranks alongside Best, his style was in stark contrast to the Irishman’s genius and flair. His hard-working, orthodox wing-play complemented his team-mate on the opposite flank and terrorised Benfica in the final at Wembley.
During the 4-1 victory after extra time, his relentless runs down the left flank and pinpoint crossing – one of which led to Kidd’s goal – made all the difference. He didn’t get on the score sheet but in dominating the game on his side, aggressively attacking right-back Adolfo for 120 minutes with lung-bursting runs, he pressed down on one point of the back-line until cracks appeared all across it.
After the final whistle Benfica coach Otto Gloria said: “I laid plans for coping with Best and Charlton and the other stars, but nobody warned me about this boy Aston.”
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