Arsenal vs Chelsea (2003/04 Champions League quarter-finals)
When Arsenal – on their way to becoming the Invincibles in 2004 – drew Claudio Ranieri’s newly moneyed Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-finals, the Gunners were installed as hot favourites. At a feverish Stamford Bridge, Eidur Gudjohnsen capitalised on Jens Lehmann’s mistake, before a neat Robert Pires header gave Arsenal an away-goal cushion for the return leg at Highbury.
In north London, the Gunners set on Chelsea at an incredible pace, but despite dominating the first half they only had a Jose Antonio Reyes goal to show for their efforts. Remarkably, Arsenal maintained their ferocious assault in the second half but soon ran out of steam; Gunners midfielder Gilberto likened it to “a boxer punching himself out in the latter stages of a fight”.
With 20 minutes remaining, a speculative Claude Makelele effort was spilled by Lehmann, and Frank Lampard tapped home the rebound. That squared the tie. Then in the dying moments, Wayne Bridge plundered the winner after a delicious one-two on the edge of the Arsenal box. The Blues had done it. The blue tidal wave had finally overwhelmed Arsenal, and things haven’t quite been the same for the Gunners ever since.
Wolves vs Tottenham (1972 UEFA Cup Final)
The first-ever UEFA Cup final was a two-legged affair contested by two heavyweight English outfits in Tottenham and Wolves.
At Molineux in the first leg, the match was tied up at 1-1 until Spurs striker Martin Chivers rifled in an unstoppable late winner for the north London side – his second of the night.
It was the defining moment of a tense tie. A goal to the good – and an away one at that – Bill Nicholson’s men won the trophy in front of an ecstatic 54,303 White Hart Lane crowd, despite a gutsy Wolves side drawing level on the night through David Wagstaffe.
It wasn’t enough, though, and Spurs won 3-2 on aggregate.
Nottingham Forest vs Liverpool (1978/79 European Cup first round)
“If we beat Liverpool in the European Cup,” barked Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough, “perhaps people will actually start to take us seriously.”
They certainly did after this.
Pumped up by Clough’s insistence that his 1978 league champions were better than the European Cup holders, Forest made Liverpool look like European novices at the City Ground in the first round, first-leg clash in September 1978. Goals from Colin Barrett and a young Gary Birtles gave Forest a 2-0 lead to take to Anfield for the second leg.
Despite Liverpool skipper Phil Thompson’s insistence that Forest would crumble, the backline held firm with Peter Shilton making several fine stops and skipper John McGovern instilling order. Forest drew 0-0, won the tie and went on to win the European Cup. Clough had proved his point.
Liverpool vs Chelsea (2004/05 Champions League semi-finals)
Despite being a whopping 33 points behind soon-to-be champions Chelsea in the Premier League, and Blues boss Jose Mourinho insisting the pressure was all on Liverpool at Anfield, Rafa Benitez’s side stuck manfully to their task in reaching their first European Cup final in 20 years.
Following a 0-0 Stamford Bridge snoozefest a week earlier, Liverpool players – blown away by a spine-tingling version of You’ll Never Walk Alone before kick-off – galloped out of the blocks and took a third-minute lead through Luis Garcia. Milan Baros, attempting to lift the ball over Petr Cech, was floored by the Czech keeper and, despite Chelsea protests, Garcia’s strangled effort was adjudged to have crossed the line.
Liverpool successfully held Mourinho’s side at bay, won 1-0, and reached a hugely uneventful Champions League final against Milan.
Manchester United vs Chelsea (2008 Champions League Final)
Late, late into the Moscow night, Manchester United and Chelsea played an epic Champions League final.
Cristiano Ronaldo nodded the Red Devils ahead, before Frank Lampard nipped in to equalise for Chelsea. There were misses galore, from Carlos Tevez and Lampard, who also hit the woodwork with Didier Drogba as the Blues pushed forward for the winner.
But the game went to penalties, where Chelsea skipper John Terry missed the chance to win the cup for his team by hitting the post after slipping. He was in good company; Ronaldo missed for United.
But Nicolas Anelka’s lesser-remembered spot-kick – saved by Edwin van der Sar – meant that United had prevailed in the all-English affair and were crowned European champions for the third time.