RANKED: The best UEFA Champions League finals in history… including that night in Istanbul

As the eyes of the footballing world prepare to descend on Wembley Stadium this Saturday for a clash of two European titans in the 2023/24 UEFA Champions League final, FromTheSpot has compiled a list of the five best final showdowns in the competition’s history.

From Liverpool’s stunning night in Istanbul to Manchester United’s treble-winning triumph over Bayern Munich, the UEFA Champions League has produced a plethora of spectacles throughout its history – and fans will be hoping that the magic of the competition continues to shine through when Borussia Dortmund face Real Madrid this weekend.

5) AC Milan v Barcelona [1993/94]

AC Milan won 4-0

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Athens’ Olympic Stadium played host to an enthralling clash of two European giants in 1994, as Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona faced off against an injury-ravaged AC Milan – and would be forced to trek back to Catalunya empty-handed after suffering a 4-0 defeat in Greece.

The Blaugrana had won their first European crown just two years prior, and were confident of adding another trophy to the Camp Nou cabinet given the Rossoneri’s disrupted preparations in the buildup to the final.

Marco van Basten, sidelined through a long-term injury, would not be the only high-profile absentee from Fabio Capello’s side. Both Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta were suspended – and Gianluigi Lentini, the world’s most expensive player at the time, was kept out through injury.

Capello’s squad was further weakened by a UEFA regulation that meant only three non-nationals could feature – so the likes of Brian Laudrup, Jean-Pierre Palin and Florin Raducioiu were left in Milan. It spelled certain doom for the Rossoneri.

But Barcelona were affected by that ruling too, with Johan Cruyff choosing to leave Michael Laudrup out of his squad for the final – a decision that would benefit Capello, who famously said “Laudrup was the guy I feared but Cruyff left him out, and that was his mistake” after Milan recorded a 4-0 win over the Blaugrana.

A first-half double from Daniele Massaro handed the Italian side a comfortable lead at the break, which was quickly extended as Miguel Angel Nadal was beaten by a superb lobbed finish from Dejan Savicevic just two minutes into the second half. Marcel Desailly completed the rout, handing AC Milan their fifth European crown – and their first since the tournament rebranded as the UEFA Champions League.

4) Manchester United v Bayern Munich [1998/99]

Manchester United won 2-1

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While the 1998/99 UEFA Champions League final was perhaps not the most interesting title decider throughout the opening ninety minutes, Manchester United’s stunning stoppage-time victory still comes in at fourth place in our ranked list.

These two teams had faced off earlier in the tournament, with Bayern Munich having won the group and the Red Devils progressing as one of the best runners-up. Led by the great Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United had seen off both Internazionale and Juventus in their bid to reach the final and were just one win away from completing a historic treble.

While Manchester United had already won both of their domestic competitions in the ten days leading up to this UEFA Champions League clash at Camp Nou, Bayern also needed a victory to keep their own treble hopes alive – though they’d go on to lose the DFB-Pokal final on penalties to Werder Bremen.

But in Barcelona, Bayern Munich looked unbeatable for ninety minutes. Mario Basler had opened the scoring after just six minutes, with his low free-kick creeping around the United wall. Chances simply weren’t falling for the Mancunians, and their hopes of lifting their first European title since 1968 were drifting away rapidly.

That was until Ole Gunnar Solskjær entered the fray with ten minutes left to play, immediately forcing a save from Oliver Kahn and breathing life into the United attack. As the clock ticked into three minutes of stoppage time, desperation paid off for the English side: a poor effort on goal from Ryan Giggs fell perfectly for Teddy Sheringham, picking out the bottom corner with aplomb to seemingly force extra time.

But that would not be needed. Manchester United pushed forward in their numbers, and a corner delivery swung into the box by David Beckham was nodded across the face of goal by Sheringham. Solskjær’s outstretched leg reacted first, poking the ball into the roof of the net to leave Bayern silenced in Barcelona.

3) Real Madrid v Liverpool [2017/18]

Real Madrid won 3-1

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It’s not a final that Liverpool fans will be in any rush to remember, but the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League final in Kyiv is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining title deciders we’ve been treated to over the years.

Liverpool enjoyed a bright start to the clash in Ukraine’s capital city, forcing early chances through Trent Alexander-Arnold – but Jürgen Klopp’s side were dealt a killer blow before the half-hour mark when Mohamed Salah suffered a dislocated shoulder following a scuffle with Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos.

Chances began to present themselves as the half wore on, and Karim Benzema looked to have found the breakthrough just before the break when he tapped home from a Cristiano Ronaldo header, only to be judged offside.

But Benzema needed just six second-half minutes to open the scoring, hurtling a poor Loris Karius throw into the back of the net as Liverpool’s title hopes looked to unravel. That wouldn’t be the case though: Sadio Mané swiftly restored hopes as he tapped home from close range following a James Milner corner delivery.

From that point onwards, it was the Gareth Bale show. Having replaced Isco shortly after the hour mark, the Welshman needed just two minutes to flick a bicycle kick past Karius following Marcelo’s cross from the left flank.

Karius would be left with his head in his hands when Bale netted his second of the evening; a swerving long-range effort that soared through the hands of the German goalkeeper and into the back of the net – confirming Real Madrid’s status as 13-time European champions.

2) Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid [2013/14]

Real Madrid won 4-1, after extra time

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A derby match in the final of Europe’s elite competition is always guaranteed to be special, and with plenty on the line for both of Madrid’s best teams as they ventured across the Iberian Peninsula to Lisbon’s Estádio da Luz, the 2013/14 final was destined to be one for the ages.

Just days before the showpiece European decider, Atletico Madrid had claimed the LaLiga title at Camp Nou and had their hearts set on delaying Real Madrid’s La Décima dream: to become the first side in history to record ten titles in the competition.

With just eight minutes on the clock, a flareup of a pre-existing injury forced Diego Costa to be withdrawn – leaving Atletico Madrid heavily reliant on their resolute defence that had been so influential in their domestic success throughout the course of the LaLiga campaign.

But los Rojiblancos fought on, seizing the lead with ten first-half minutes remaining when Diego Godín flicked a looping header over Iker Casillas. Diego Simeone’s men would surely try to defend that lead with their lives; whether they’d be able to do it against Real’s top-class front line was a different story.

With Atletico Madrid on the verge of their first-ever UEFA Champions League title, Sergio Ramos arrived on the scene in the third minute of second-half stoppage time to nod home a Luka Modrić delivery and force a further thirty minutes of play in the Portuguese capital.

Try as they might, Atletico’s defence simply couldn’t hold against los Blancos. Ángel Di Maria was influential in handing Carlo Ancelotti’s side the lead for the first time, his shot only parried as far as Gareth Bale – and the Welshman nodded home from two yards out in the 110th minute.

Marcelo added breathing room when he slotted past Thibaut Courtois from inside the box, but it was the task of none other than Cristiano Ronaldo to wrap up the victory from the penalty spot after being fouled by Gabi in the 120th minute.

1) AC Milan v Liverpool [2004/05]

Liverpool won the penalty shootout after a 3-3 draw

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There was no doubt about this one. A little under twenty years ago, Liverpool recorded the comeback to beat all comebacks; the win that would see them etched into UEFA Champions League history and remain fixed at the top of lists like these for years to come.

AC Milan lives up to their pre-match billing and cemented their status as favourites to lift their 7th European crown when Paolo Maldini handed the Rossoneri the lead inside the opening minute – and when Hernán Crespo added a quickfire double before the break, Liverpool’s chances looked to be dead and buried.

But the story was not over there: a three-goal drubbing wouldn’t be worthy of top spot in this list, after all.

Steven Gerrard headed home merely nine minutes into the second half, reducing the deficit to two. Less than ten minutes later, the Reds were level. Vladimir Šmicer’s long-range drive narrowed the gap further, before Gerrard was felled in the area to give Xabi Alonso chance to convert from the spot; his rebounded attempt found the back of the net after his initial attempt was saved.

Extra time came and went thanks to a remarkable double-save from Jerzy Dudek to deny Andriy Shevchenko, who would once again prove himself as the hero in the ensuing penalty shootout as he reacted well to deny the Ukrainian with the last kick of the game.

The Miracle of Istanbul is perhaps one of football’s better-known stories, and for good reason. It’s deserving of the top spot on this list, and it will take some beating if it’s ever to be knocked from its perch.


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