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The history of the European Cup and Champions League is long and remarkable, with fifty years of competition finding winners and losers from all parts of the continent.
Tracing the history of the Champions League back to its beginning, it is possible to pick out periods when specific teams or countries dominated the competition, only to find themselves rapidly superseded by another dominant team or teams. The format of the tournament has also undergone several significant changes throughout the years, with the creation of the group stage in 1991 and the inclusion of the runners-up of domestic leagues in the tournament in 1997 as the some of the most noteworthy examples.
Club competitions between teams from different European countries can trace their origins back as far as 1897, when the Challenge Cup was founded as a competition between clubs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that under normal circumstances would not meet in competition. This competition ran until 1911, with its last winners, Wiener Sportclub, retaining the trophy. The Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy was played for in 1909 and 1911 in Turin in Italy involving clubs from Italy, Germany, Switzerland and England.
The Challenge Cup is considered to be the forerunner of the first true pan-European club competition, the Mitropa Cup, which came about following the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following World War I. At that time, the various nations of central Europe were introducing professional leagues. The introduction of an international club tournament was intended to assist the new professional clubs financially. The Mitropa Cup was first played for in 1927.
An early attempt to create a cup for national champion clubs of Europe was made by Swiss club FC Servette in 1930. The tournament called Coupe des Nations was a great success and the champions of the ten major European football nations of the time were invited. The cup was won by Hungarian Újpest FC. Despite the great success, the tournament was never organized again, due to financial issues.
Following World War II, the reduced standing of the Mitropa Cup led to the foundation of a new competition, the Copa Latina, for teams from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. This competition was played as a mini-tournament at the end of each season by the league champions from each country.
A combined list of winners of these early tournaments and the European Cup can be found here.
The Campeonato Sudamericano de Campeones, or South American Championship of Champions Clubs, kicked off in 1948 after years of deliberation and organization and set into motion the antecedent of the Copa Libertadores. French journalist Jacques Ferran was in Santiago, Chile, covering the Championship for the newspaper L'Equipe. Vasco da Gama would go on to win the tournament. Back in France and fascinated with the idea of a continental club champions league, Ferran took the idea to his newspaper firm and Gabriel Hanot, the editor of L'Equipe, immediately begin forming proposals to present to UEFA (who at the time practiced only European national team championships).
The summer of 1953 saw Wolverhampton Wanderers play a friendly game against a South African XI to begin a remarkable run of victories over the next months. Wolves played a series of friendlies against foreign opposition such as Racing Club of Argentina, Spartak Moscow of the USSR, among others, before meeting Honved of Hungary in a game televised live on the BBC. The Honved team included many of the "Magical Magyars" team (regarded as one of the best in the world). Wolves won the game 3–2 which led their manager Stan Cullis and the British press to proclaim them as "Champions of the World", in spite of Honved's defeat to Red Star Belgrade (then lying seventh in their domestic league) days earlier. This was the final spur for Hanot who had long campaigned for a European-wide club tournament to determine who was the best of the continent.
|“||Before we declare that Wolverhampton are invincible, let them go to Moscow and Budapest. And there are other internationally renowned clubs: A.C. Milan and Real Madrid to name but two. A club world championship, or at least a European one — larger, more meaningful and more prestigious than the Mitropa Cup and more original than a competition for national teams — should be launched.||”|
The UEFA congress of March 1955 saw the proposal raised, with approval given in April of that year, and the kick-off of the first European Cup the following season.
Real Madrid dominated the first five competitions, with the team led by Ferenc Puskás, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Gento and José Santamaría winning each of the first five competitions relatively comfortably.
While this was the case, several other clubs did offer some resistance during the late 1950s, notably from Stade de Reims of France, who reached two finals and several Italian clubs such as A.C. Milan and Fiorentina. Hibernian were the first UK club to play the European Cup, reaching the semi-finals of the inaugural tournament in 1955. The English league winners, Chelsea, were denied entry by the Football League's secretary Alan Hardaker, who believed it was in the best interests of English football and football in general for them not to enter. In 1958 a team from London, The London Select XI reached the final of the first Fairs Cup, a competition that began in 1955, took 3 years to complete. They were the first English club to compete in any European Cup Final, losing to Barcelona 6-0 in Spain after a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. Such players as Bobby Robson and Danny Blanchflower featured in the event.
This era culminated in the famous 1960 European Cup Final, at Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland, where Real Madrid obliterated Eintracht Frankfurt of the then West Germany 7–3 in front of BBC and other Eurovision television cameras and a crowd of over 135,000 — still the largest attendance for a European Cup or Champions League final.
Manchester United were enjoying a golden age with the advent of the Busby Babes during this period, winning two successive domestic titles, as well as reaching the semi-finals of the European Cup and the FA Cup Final in 1957. The flair and style of the young team caused them to be seen as major challengers to the dominance of Real Madrid. On the way home from the quarter-final second leg against Red Star Belgrade, which saw United again qualify for the semi-final, the aeroplane carrying the United players, officials and journalists crashed while taking off from a stopover in Munich. The Munich air disaster caused the deaths of eight members of the team, and ultimately ended all hopes that the club would rise to overtake Real, whose unorthodox and cavalier playing style meant that all challengers had been beaten so far.
This team, captained by the impressive Mário Coluna, were joined by the legendary Eusébio during the following 1962 season, where they defended the trophy beating Real Madrid 5–3 in the final at the Olympisch Stadion in Amsterdam.
Benfica would then go on to reach a third successive final in 1963, but lost to Milan, whose city rivals Internazionale would win the trophy in both 1964 and 1965 beating Real Madrid and Benfica in the process. This Grande Inter period is well remembered in Italy with many at the time expecting the club to match the domination of Real throughout the decade.
Of the great 1950s side, only Paco Gento played in all six winning teams, with this Real Madrid being composed solely of Spanish players — a major contrast to the multicultural teams of five years before.
The team, which became known as the Lisbon Lions, managed by Jock Stein, were all born within 30 miles (48 km) of Celtic Park in Glasgow, and as such remain unusual by the event's longstanding nature of attracting players from all over the planet.
Ten years after the Munich air disaster, Manchester United became the first English team to win the competition in 1968, after beating Benfica in the final 4–1 after extra time at Wembley Stadium in London. Matt Busby, United's manager at the time of the disaster in Munich, survived life-threatening injuries suffered in the crash and was still at the helm for United, and two other Munich survivors played in the game — Bobby Charlton, who scored two goals in the game, and Bill Foulkes.
The game was close, and though United scored three times in extra time to win with a flourish, Benfica could have won the game in normal time when Eusébio missed what should have been an easy chance in the last seconds.
The European Cup was now to spend almost the whole of the next decade and a half as the property of just three clubs — each winning at least three finals, and appearing regularly in the latter stages of the competition.
After that though, the "Total Football" of Johan Cruyff, Barry Hulshoff, Ruud Krol, Johan Neeskens, Arie Haan, Gerrie Mühren and Piet Keizer dominated for three years, dispatching Panathinaikos, Internazionale, and Juventus in swift succession.
Each player was able to adapt to play in many positions and roles, strikers switching with defenders at will, Krol creating nearly as many chances as Mühren, Cruyff stopping as many as Hulshoff.
Created by Rinus Michels and refined by Stefan Kovacs, Ajax seemed unbeatable until Cruyff opted to join former coach Michels at FC Barcelona later in 1973. With that and the loss of Neeskens later, Ajax were left to struggle in the premier European competition for over 20 years.
Bayern Munich became the next club to dominate the competition, winning it three times consecutively in the mid-1970s.
Led by Franz Beckenbauer, and starring Sepp Maier, Gerd Müller, Uli Hoeneß and Paul Breitner, Bayern continued on from Total Football, adding their own version of rigidity and organisation to the mix to make an equally as imposing mixture.
Defeating first Atlético Madrid after a replay in 1974, Bayern then beat Leeds United 2–0 in a bad-tempered final at the Parc des Princes in Paris in 1975 and finally Saint-Étienne at Hampden Park, Glasgow, in 1976.
Thereafter the side declined, and Bayern would not win another European Cup for 25 years.
Liverpool lost in the first round of the 1979 competition to fellow English side Nottingham Forest who went on to win the tournament in arguably the most impressive rise to the top of continental football in the European game's history, guided by their uniquely gifted manager Brian Clough, as they defeated Swedish side Malmö FF 1–0 in the Munich Final. The next year, Forest beat Hamburger SV at the Santiago Bernabéu by the same scoreline to defend the trophy successfully in 1980 and remain the only side to win the competition more times (twice) than their own domestic league (once).
Liverpool returned to the final in 1981 where they picked up their third trophy with a 1–0 win over Real Madrid in Paris.
Hamburg then won the final in 1983, beating Juventus 1–0 in a final which for the first time in seven years featured no English side.
Liverpool, however, were back in 1984 to defeat Roma in their own stadium in a penalty shootout after the teams were tied 1–1, becoming the first team to win the trophy four times since Real Madrid in the 1950s. The match is best known for the antics of Liverpool keeper Bruce Grobbelaar. As Roma's Bruno Conti prepared to take his kick, Bruce Grobbelaar walked towards the goal smiling confidently at the cameras lined-up behind, then proceeded to bite the back of the net, in imitation of eating spaghetti. Conti sent his spot kick over the bar. Grobbelaar then produced a similar performance before Francesco Graziani took his kick, famously wobbling his legs in mock terror. Graziani duly missed and Liverpool went on to win the shootout 4–2, making Grobbelaar the first African to win a medal in the competition.
The consequence was a five-year ban from European competition for English clubs, with a six-year ban on Liverpool. The long term consequences for English club football due to the actions of Liverpool fans at Heysel were arguably severe in terms of top level success, with English clubs initially struggling to make a significant impact in European competition upon their return from the ban – it would be 14 years after Heysel before an English side would again triumph in the competition.
With English clubs banned from participating in European football, the spell of dominance was well and truly over. In the few years that followed the Heysel Disaster, the European Cup was contested between other clubs. 1986, 1987, and 1988 saw the trophy lifted by Steaua București of Romania, FC Porto of Portugal and PSV of the Netherlands, respectively. The final lost by Bayern Munich to Porto was regarded as an especially exciting final, with an audacious back-heel goal by Algeria's Rabah Madjer giving Porto their first title while Steaua shocked Barcelona in Seville in a penalty shoot-out, when Steaua's goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam saved four consecutives penalties to win 2–0, making the Bucharest team the first one from Eastern Europe to win.
In 1989, under the management of Arrigo Sacchi, Milan won the European Cup for the first time in 20 years, defeating 1986 champions Steaua București 4–0 in the final. The following year Milan retained their title, defeating Benfica 1–0 in Vienna. The Dutch trio of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, and Frank Rijkaard were the brilliant heart of the Italian side, which also featured a defence comprising Mauro Tassotti, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Paolo Maldini, often considered one of the greatest defences in the history of the game.
The trophy went to Yugoslav league champions Red Star Belgrade, who beat Olympique de Marseille on penalties after a goalless draw. The 1991 final was also the only final in the 1989–1998 period that failed to feature an Italian team. The ban on English clubs in European football was lifted for the 1990–91 season, but English champions Liverpool were unable to compete in the European Cup because they had to serve an extra year.
English clubs made their return to the European Cup in 1991, following a successful return in the other competitions the previous year (which had seen Manchester United win the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup). Their exploits were unsuccessful during the five years after their return, however, being hampered by the strict "three foreigner" rule, and the trophy stayed with continental clubs.
The 1992, which was going to be the last edition with that name, suffered a change, with the quarter-finals being transformed into a two groups league format. The final, played at Wembley Stadium, was won by Barcelona against Sampdoria. Barça, at the time nicknamed the "Dream Team", were coached by Johan Cruyff, who became the third man to win the European Cup as both a player and a coach.
The competition was named to UEFA Champions League for the 1992–1993 season, suffering some diverse changes of marketing and TV rights thanks to the partnership of UEFA and TEAM Marketing AG. The 8 teams participating in the quarter-finals league format experienced an approach to match organisation and commercialisation that was very new.
Marseille won the 1993 final, defeating Milan, and becoming the first team to win the Champions League and the first European champions from France. They were later banned from defending their crown in what was only the beginning of a collapse which arose from domestic match fixing committed by chairman Bernard Tapie. The club was eventually stripped of their Ligue 1 championship after it was revealed that Tapie had cooked the club's financial books. Marseille remains the only French club to have won the European Cup/Champions League.
Between 1992 and 1998 Serie A clubs reached the final in seven consecutive seasons, winning twice.
In 1994, Milan reclaimed the trophy by comprehensively beating a star-studded FC Barcelona side, 4–0, in what many have hailed as one of the finest European Cup Final performances of the modern age. Milan were the underdogs, with two key defenders forced to sit out, but coach Fabio Capello spurned the traditional Italian caution of catenaccio and led them to a rout of Johan Cruyff's "Dream Team". Milan defender Marcel Desailly had previously played for Marseille when they won the Champions League, being the first player to win the Cup in consecutive seasons with different clubs, and also making him the first player to transfer to the finals opposing side.
Milan also went on to reach the final in 1995 but lost 1–0 to a youthful Ajax side featuring Edwin van der Sar, Frank de Boer, Ronald de Boer, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Marc Overmars and Patrick Kluivert, as well as the veterans Frank Rijkaard and Danny Blind. It was the club's first triumph since 1973, when they had won three titles consecutively, and much of the squad in the 1995 victory also dominated the Dutch national team for the following decade. Ajax, in turn, reached the next final in 1996, but fell to Juventus after a penalty shoot-out.
By this time, world football had just begun to adapt to the radical changes brought on by the Bosman ruling. It was best known for allowing out-of-contract players to move to other clubs without a transfer fee, but its most important impact was on the Champions League. It meant the elimination of quotas against European Union nationals, so players from EU member states were not considered foreigners for clubs in EU member states any more.
Borussia Dortmund won the UEFA Champions League in 1997. In a memorable 1997 UEFA Champions League Final in Munich, Dortmund faced Juventus. Karl-Heinz Riedle put Dortmund ahead shooting under the goalkeeper from a cross by Paul Lambert. Riedle then made it two with a bullet header from a corner kick. In the second half, Alessandro Del Piero pulled one back for Juventus with a back heel. Then 20-year old substitute and local boy Lars Ricken latched on to a through pass by Andreas Möller. Only sixteen seconds after coming on to the pitch, Ricken chipped Angelo Peruzzi in the Juventus goal from over 20 yards with his first touch of the ball. Dortmund lifted the trophy with a 3–1 victory. Dortmund manager Ottmar Hitzfeld was able to lift the title for the first time.
In 1997–98, UEFA allowed the runners-up of top European leagues to compete in the European Cup (now officially the UEFA Champions League). UEFA's rationale was that the quality of its premier tournament increased by including more top teams from big leagues rather than minnows. Despite the new changes, an old face claimed the crown in 1998: Real Madrid won their first European Cup since 1966 and seventh overall when they beat Juventus 1–0 in the Italian club's third straight final (and second straight defeat).
1998–99 will be remembered for the upset of Ottmar Hitzfeld's Bayern by Manchester United's treble success. United had forged an impressive path to the Final by emerging from a group containing Barcelona and Bayern Munich unbeaten, before defeating Italian giants Internazionale and Juventus in the quarter- and semi-finals, respectively. The semi-final produced a particularly memorable tie as Manchester United came from behind in both legs, earning a 1–1 home draw with an injury time equaliser and a 3–2 away victory after two early Filippo Inzaghi strikes looked to have made the Italians strong favourites. United had already forged a reputation for late comebacks in England as they picked up the Premier League and FA Cup en route to the Champions League final. Having succeeded in both the league and FA Cup, the omens appeared to be with Manchester United for the Champions League. With Paul Scholes and captain Roy Keane suspended, goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel – playing his last game for the club – captained the team on the night, which was the 90th anniversary of the birth of Sir Matt Busby.
Their opponents, Bayern Munich, were also chasing The Treble, and took the lead after just six minutes through a clever Mario Basler free-kick. It appeared to be enough for Bayern as Manchester United failed to find a way through, although Schmeichel was in inspirational form to keep his team in the game. With referee Pierluigi Collina signalling three minutes of stoppage time, the English club sent everyone forward (including Schmeichel) for a David Beckham corner, and were rewarded when substitute Teddy Sheringham turned home the equaliser after Ryan Giggs mis-hit a shot at goal. Just over a minute later, another Beckham corner again provided the danger as Sheringham headed it on to fellow substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who flicked out a boot to send the ball into the roof of the net and win the European Cup for Manchester. United's manager, Alex Ferguson, memorably summed the experience up in a post-match interview when he said: "Football, bloody hell." It was the club's first success since 1968 and marked the first English winner since Liverpool in 1984.
The 1999–2000 season saw UEFA again ease the entry requirements for the Champions League. Now the top three leagues (Spain, Italy, and Germany, according to UEFA's rankings) could enter four teams, while the next three (England, France, and the Netherlands) could enter three.
This season saw Spanish clubs return to the top of the European table and the start of a somewhat dominance in the Champions League in the 21st century after winning two European cups in the 1990s with FC Barcelona in 1992 and Real Madrid in 1998. La Liga had three semi-finalists in the 2000 Champions League (Real Madrid, Valencia CF and Barcelona) and the first all-country European Cup/Champions League final between Real Madrid and Valencia. Real Madrid started the 21st century in similar fashion to their 20th century exploits by defeating Valencia 3–0 to lift the European Cup again. On the way to the final, Real also achieved the remarkable feat of successively eliminating last year's runners-up (Bayern Munich, semi-finals), and champions (Manchester United, quarter-finals). The tie against Manchester United has obtained legendary status among Madrid fans after a memorable away victory at Old Trafford (2–3) which included a fine goal created by midfielder Fernando Redondo, dubbed el taconazo (backheel) de Old Trafford.
La Liga had another good outing in the 2001 Champions League, with Real Madrid and Valencia again reaching the semi-finals. Los Che returned to the Final again in the 2001 only to lose again. The winner this time was Bayern Munich, who had earlier ousted defending champions Real Madrid in the semi-finals, which finally erased the memory of their 1999 final defeat. That match ended 1–1 and Bayern won the shootout 5–4. That win also gave coach Ottmar Hitzfeld the distinction of winning the European Cup with two different teams, having lifted it in 1997 with Borussia Dortmund. Valencia had now lost two Champions League finals in a row.
There were echoes of Real Madrid's legendary 1960 final victory when they faced another German team (Bayer Leverkusen) in the 2002 final at Glasgow's Hampden Park. Bayer became the first finalist never to have won their domestic league. Furthering the comparisons with the classic team of Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás was the much-hyped Galáctico policy Real Madrid were pursuing at the time, where they intended to sign one world-class player a year. That season they added multiple FIFA World Player of the Year winner, Zinedine Zidane, to their ranks for a world record fee of €71 million. Zidane and Madrid lived up to the hype; the Frenchman displayed textbook skill to acrobatically volley home the winner in their 2–1 victory that gave the club its ninth European Cup, after defeating fellow La Liga side Barcelona in the semi-finals, where the Spanish dominance continued with them having the most semi-finalists for the third season running with two in 2002 (three in 2000, two in 2001 and two in 2002) and culminating with Real Madrid becoming European Champions for the third time in five seasons.
As a footnote, that defeat capped off a thoroughly unfortuitous season for Bayer Leverkusen. They first surrendered the German league title in the last game of the season, then lost the European Cup final, finally conceding the German Cup final to achieve an unenviable runners-up treble. And to add insult to injury, some of that side (including midfield star Michael Ballack) then went on to lose the 2002 FIFA World Cup Final with Germany that summer.
The next season saw Italian clubs return to the top of the European table. Juventus also made history in the European group stage by defeating Olimpiacos 7–0. Also, David Trezeguet scored the fastest goal ever in the Champions league group stage; the shot that resulted in a goal was clocked at 97.76 mp/h (157.33 km/h). Despite dominating the competition through the 1990s, Italian clubs fell so far so fast in the intervening years that Italy didn't boast a single quarter-finalist in 2002. The following season, however, saw three Italian semi-finalists—and a final between Milan and Juventus. Milan won their sixth European Cup when they beat their old rivals 3–2 on penalties following a 0–0 draw. The victory was especially sweet for captain, Paolo Maldini, who lifted the trophy in Manchester exactly forty years after his father Cesare had done so for Milan in London. Another remarkable fact was accomplished by Clarence Seedorf, who won the Champions League for the third time, and with three different clubs. He won the cup earlier with AFC Ajax in 1995 and Real Madrid in 1998.
In the group stage of that year, there was also an interesting feature. Three teams had the same result in all their matches. Fancy Barcelona managed to win all six group matches in style, while a mediocre Spartak Moscow side lost them all. AEK Athens drew six times and became the first team that failed to qualify from the group stage undefeated, finishing third. The competition was also notable for Newcastle United making history in it by being the only team ever to lose their first three group stage games and progress to the second round; they did so by defeating Juventus, Dynamo Kyiv, and Feyenoord to finish second in the group on nine points.
There was a major upset in 2004 when FC Porto defeated AS Monaco 3–0 to win the Champions League. Goals were scored by Carlos Alberto, Deco, and Dmitri Alenichev. Neither team had been tipped for any success in the competition, but between them they managed to defeat the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Chelsea as European football's big names tumbled out.
Porto and their charismatic manager José Mourinho achieved the rare feat of following up a UEFA Cup victory by winning the Champions League the next season. Russian international Alenichev became only the third player after Ronald Koeman and Ronaldo to score a goal in two consecutive different European finals and Vítor Baía became the tenth player to have won the three European club titles. This well-deserved victory was based on a tight defence, a battling midfield and a skilful front line, all beautifully orchestrated by the team's playmaker, Deco. In that season, it was the first time ever that a metropolitan area (Athens, though Piraeus is formally another town) was represented in the group stage by three teams: Olympiacos (Piraeus), Panathinaikos, and AEK Athens.
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There was a similar surprise in 2005. This time it involved two of Europe's most successful clubs. Six-time European Champions Milan faced four-time winners Liverpool in what could be considered one of the most dramatic finals in the competition's history. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, having claimed the crown two years previously and boasting a star-studded lineup that included the ageless Paolo Maldini and Ukraine's Andriy Shevchenko along with a new threat in the form of the Brazilian attacking midfielder Kaká. Liverpool, on the other hand, had struggled through a domestic league campaign that saw them only finish fifth, but produced an incredible series of performances in Europe, beating Juventus for the first time since Heysel, and then upsetting runaway Premiership winners Chelsea.
Milan broke through after just 52 seconds, Maldini striking the fastest goal in European Cup Final history. The Italians, buoyed by a sensational showing from Brazilian star Kaká, took control of the game. Shevchenko fed Hernán Crespo five minutes before half-time to make it 2–0, only for Crespo to add another two minutes later after a defence-splitting pass from Kaká. At 3–0 down at half-time, Liverpool looked dead and buried; so much so that a small minority of Liverpool supporters left the match at half-time, a decision that they would later come to regret.
Liverpool's Spanish manager Rafael Benítez changed the course of the game when he introduced German midfielder Dietmar Hamann, who helped to stifle the previously instrumental Kaká. After Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek made a fine save from a Shevchenko free-kick, one of the European Cup Final's greatest ever comebacks began. Captain Steven Gerrard scored with a header before Vladimír Šmicer's long-range drive made it 3–2 just two minutes later. On the hour mark, Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso completed the comeback by converting the rebound from his saved penalty kick to make it 3–3, with Liverpool's three goals coming in the space of only six minutes.
Milan almost won it at the end of extra time when Shevchenko was twice denied in quick succession by Dudek. That proved crucial as they moved on to a penalty shoot-out where Liverpool triumphed 3–2 when Dudek, at the urging of colleague Jamie Carragher, consciously mimicked Bruce Grobbelaar's legendary 1984 "spaghetti legs" routine. Amazingly, the stunt worked its magic again, as Dudek again saved from Shevchenko in the decisive spot kick, after having watched Serginho blast his penalty over the bar and Andrea Pirlo have his penalty also saved – Hamann, Djibril Cissé, and Šmicer scored for the Reds to give them the win. Liverpool had captured their most unlikely European Cup victory, and as five-time winners earned the honour of keeping the trophy.
After three years of dominance by La Liga during 2000–2002, Spain teams were not as successful during 2003–2005 as they only had semi-finalists Real Madrid in 2003 and Deportivo de La Coruña in 2004. In 2006, they made a truimphant return with FC Barcelona and Villarreal CF in the semi-finals. The semi-finalists were Villarreal, Arsenal, Milan, and Barcelona. Barcelona overcame Chelsea and Benfica in the knockout stages, while Villarreal beat Rangers and Internazionale. Milan beat Bayern Munich and Olympique Lyonnais, and Arsenal beat Juventus and Real Madrid. Making use of their 1–0 victory at Highbury, Arsenal succeeded in holding off Villarreal (including a Jens Lehmann save of a late penalty from Juan Román Riquelme) to a 0–0 draw which put them through to final. Barcelona played Milan in the other semi-final, and held on to the 1–0 advantage of the first leg to qualify for the final.
In the final, held on 17 May at the Stade de France, Lehmann became the first player ever to be sent off in a European Cup/Champions League final after fouling Samuel Eto'o just outside the penalty area. The sending off was the subject of some protest, as Eto'o had already passed off to an open Ludovic Giuly who put the ball in the goal; however, the referee had blown the whistle for the foul. Arsenal nonetheless took the lead off a Sol Campbell header in the 37th minute and held it for most of the second half, with substitute keeper Manuel Almunia tipping away a shot by Eto'o. Eto'o equalised off a probing feed from substitute Henrik Larsson in the 76th minute; this goal was disputed by Arsenal as they had thought it was scored from an offside position. Five minutes later, another Larsson ball found Juliano Belletti, who put the second goal through the legs of Almunia to give Barça their final 2–1 margin.
In a repeat of the 2005 semi-final, Liverpool knocked out Chelsea this time in a shootout. Chelsea won the first leg at Stamford Bridge 1–0 thanks to a goal by Joe Cole, but Daniel Agger levelled the aggregate scoreline at Anfield. Thus, the match went to penalties which Liverpool won 4–1, with keeper Pepe Reina saving twice. This was Chelsea's third semi-final defeat in four years.
The first leg of the other semi-final, at Old Trafford, was an exciting match with Cristiano Ronaldo opening the scoring, only for two Kaká goals to put Milan ahead 2–1 at half time. A Wayne Rooney brace in the second half gave United a 3–2 aggregate lead. The second leg at the San Siro, however, was a one-sided affair with Milan outclassing Man United from the start and winning 3–0 thanks to goals from Kaka, Clarence Seedorf and Alberto Gilardino.
As a result of the semi-final outcomes; 2007 was to feature an unofficial Third Place play off as losing semi-finalists Chelsea and Manchester United happened also to be FA Cup finalists; the latter match was played four days prior to the Champions League final, Chelsea winning 1–0 in (after extra time).
Milan won the final 2–1, two goals from Filippo Inzaghi proving to be the difference. Liverpool scored late on through Dirk Kuyt, giving the Reds hope of another amazing comeback but to no avail. Steven Gerrard was given the chance to blast home from 30 yards in the 92nd minute, but his strike hit a defender. Milan were champions for a 7th time.
The final in Athens, however, was marred by the actions of fans off the pitch. In the aftermath of the final many Liverpool fans were blamed for attempting to get into the match without valid tickets by overwhelming the security at entry points, causing many fans with legitimate tickets to be turned away.Liverpool's officials defended the behavior of their fans against widespread criticism by claiming that many fans without tickets were allowed entry to the Stadium, and that the choice of a modern venue with extensive security checks were inadequate. Former Conservative leader Michael Howard stated, "It's not a football stadium ... Ticket checks were a joke. Many people with valid tickets were not allowed in."
UEFA officials later hit back at claims of inadequate systems, with William Gaillard stating, "It is obvious that at one point the police felt overwhelmed and it is much to their credit there were no dangerous incidents. UEFA and Gaillard famously branded Liverpool's supporters "Europe's worst" for their actions in Athens.
The 2008 UEFA Champions League Final was the first all English club final in European Cup/Champions League history, and was played out between Manchester United and Chelsea in front of a packed-out Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. United took the lead midway through the first half when Cristiano Ronaldo's header met Wes Brown's cross and bounced into the bottom left-hand corner of Petr Čech's goal. Poor defending, however, enabled Frank Lampard to equalise in the last minute of the first half. Although both sides created chances, the scoreline remained 1–1 until the end of extra time, and penalties loomed. Both teams scored their first two penalties, but Cristiano Ronaldo's shot was saved by Petr Čech. However, for Chelsea's last penalty, their captain John Terry slipped as he was taking the shot, and the ball hit the outside of the post and flew helplessly wide. In the second round of sudden death, Ryan Giggs successfully converted his penalty before Edwin van der Sar won the Champions' League for United by saving Nicolas Anelka's effort.
En route to the final, FC Barcelona overcame Chelsea when Andrés Iniesta scored for Barcelona in injury time, advancing them to the final. The other semi-final saw Arsenal face Manchester United, with United winning the first match 1–0 then winning in London 3–1, advancing through on a 4–1 aggregate scoreline. On 27 May 2009, Barcelona overcame Manchester United at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, winning 2–0 with goals from Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi. This made Barça the first team from La Liga to win a domestic cup, domestic league, and European Cup treble. This was made all the remarkable by the fact that it was coach Josep Guardiola's first season in charge, with just one year as coach of the B team as previous experience. At 38, Guardiola, who also won the title as a player with Barça in 1992, became the youngest coach ever to lead a team to the trophy.
For the first time in five years, no English teams were featured in the Semi-finals (three English teams were in the finals for each of the past three seasons before), with Manchester United and Arsenal both being eliminated in the quarter-finals. Internazionale stunned Barcelona with a 3–1 win in Milan in the semi-final first leg, holding them to 1–0 the second leg, thus advancing through. Bayern Munich defeated Olympique Lyonnais 4–0 on aggregate to advance to the final. On 22 May 2010, Internazionale, coached by José Mourinho, beat Bayern at the Santiago Bernabéu through a brace from Diego Milito. This made Inter the first team from Serie A to win a domestic cup, domestic league, and European Cup treble, and only the sixth team ever to do so (it has happened once per decade, following Celtic in 1967, Ajax in 1972, PSV in 1988, Manchester United in 1999 and Barcelona in 2009). Inter president Massimo Moratti, son of former president Angelo Moratti, succeeded in bringing the title back to Internazionale 45 years after the latest European Cup success, achieved by his father's presidency. Samuel Eto'o played in the third Champions League final of his career, and with Internazionale's triumph over Bayern Munich, became the only player to win two consecutive trebles in consecutive seasons.
On 28 May 2011 at Wembley Stadium in London, Barcelona dominated the match, winning 3–1 with goals from Pedro, Lionel Messi, and David Villa, securing their fourth Champions League title. Wayne Rooney scored for Manchester United to level the score going into half-time. This marked Barcelona's fourth title overall and third title in six seasons (2005/06 to 2010/11).
On 19 May 2012 at Allianz Arena in Munich, Chelsea finally delivered the big prize to London and also back to England. In a come-from-behind victory over Bayern Munich they stunned a partisan home crowd by winning 4-3 on penalties, after the game had finished 1-1 after extra time. Bayern enjoyed much possession but failed to capitalise, allowing Didier Drogba to equalise late in the game after Thomas Müller had given Bayern the lead. During the penalty shootout Petr Cech saved two penalties and set the stage for Drogba to score the winner with the final kick; also his final kick of the ball as a Chelsea player.
The 2012-13 competition saw major shocks in the semi-finals: Spanish superpowers FC Barcelona and Real Madrid were trashed by German clubs Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, respectively. After having won 7-0 on aggregate against FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich went into the Wembley final as favourites. Bayern Munich beat Dortmund 2-1, with Arjen Robben scoring the winning goal 89 minutes into the match, thus living up to their role as favourites and revenging their previous final losses in 2010 and 2012.
The format of the competition has evolved substantially over the years, notably with the introduction of a Group Phase beginning in 1991, and multiple national representatives in 1998. The following summarizes the evolution of the championship format through the years:
Prior to 1970, aggregate draws were settled by a play-off and (if necessary) coin-toss. Since then, it has been via the away goals rule and (if necessary) a penalty shootout. The final retained the potential for a replay until the late 1970s.
|1957–58|| East Germany|
Republic of Ireland
|1996–97||Serbia and Montenegro|
|2003–04||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
The following books each provide an excellent history of the European Cup / Champions League: