Good news – after its five-month absence, this season’s Champions League finally gets back underway.
Things are even more tense than usual with games being decided after 90 minutes, rather than the two legs that we’re accustomed to, in the knockout stages.
Champions League betting will be made harder, as there’s no home advantage – and matches are not only being held behind closed doors, but the Estádio da Luz and Estádio José Alvalade, both in Lisbon, will host the remaining fixtures. There’s no doubt that this is a year – not just a football season – we’ll never forget, so let’s take a look back at some of our favourite memories from Europe’s elite cup competition.
1. 2004: Jose Mourinho’s wild celebrations
The Special One is no stranger to an OTT celebration, but how could we forget that moment in the 2003-04 season when Porto knocked out Mourinho’s future club, Manchester United? Despite Porto winning the first leg of their Round of 16 clash, it looked as though United would go through on away goals, having been ahead 1-0 in the second leg. But when Costinha equalised in the dying stages to send Porto through 3-2 on aggregate, the Portuguese manager went wild. The iconic celebrations saw Mourinho leap up from the dugout and bolt it down the touchline to join his team at the corner flag – epic! It was justified though, as after beating Lyon and Deportivo La Coruña, Porto won the final triumphantly against Monaco.
2. 2004: Rooney’s debut to remember
Ahead of the 2004-05 season, a certain Wayne Rooney joined Manchester United, and it was a memorable debut on the European stage. Having been ruled out since limping off against Portugal at Euro 2004, it was a dream start for the youngster. The Red Devils were hosting Fenerbahçe in the second game of Group D. What better way to enamour yourself to the fans than by bagging a hat-trick? The 18-year-old became the youngest player to score a hat-trick on a debut in the Champions League – a record that’s yet to be broken. The pick of the bunch? His third goal from a direct free-kick, despite the Fener wall splitting. And he wasn’t done there – he set up the assist for David Bellion to score the game’s final goal as United won 6-2.
3. 2005: That night in Istanbul(!)
We can’t mention the greatest moments without mentioning the manner in which Liverpool won the final in 2005. It was a horrendous start, when Paulo Maldini put AC Milan ahead after 50 seconds, and the heavy favourites were three goals to the good at half time, courtesy of a Hernán Crespo brace. However, the underdogs came out for the second half lining up in a different formation and made a second substitution – and the comeback was soon on. Goals from captain Steven Gerrard, Vladimír Šmicer and Xabi Alonso sent the scores level and that’s how it stayed after 90- and 120-minutes. We all know what happened next – Milan missed their first two penalties and the ascendancy was very much with Liverpool. From three goals down, to win the shootout 3-2 and forge the greatest comeback in Champions League history!
4. 2017: Barcelona’s almighty comeback vs PSG
Barcelona’s journey in the 2016-17 Champions League looked all but over after the first leg in the Round of 16, as they were on the end of a 4-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain. But at the Camp Nou, PSG were unrecognisable, and the hosts were dominant – becoming the first team to overturn a four-goal deficit. The Catalan giants were 5-3 down on aggregate after 88 minutes but scored three goals in the game’s final seven minutes – including two injury time goals from Neymar and Roberto. The Nou Camp erupted as Barça were victorious 6-1 on the night and 6-5 on aggregate – and made the quarter-finals for the tenth successive season.
5. 2018: Final to forget for Loris Karius
Real Madrid won their third successive Champion League title and overcame Liverpool, where Reds’ goalkeeper Loris Karius had a personal nightmare. After a goalless opening period, the first mistake came six minutes after the break. Karius threw the ball against the foot of Karim Benzema and watched in horror as the ball rolled into the back of the net. Although Liverpool hit back through Mohamed Salah, Real regained the lead through a wonder strike by Gareth Bale. The Welsh winger added to his tally, securing the win, as Karius once again was at fault – fumbling the 30-yard strike. And that was the end of his tenure at Anfield, as he was shipped out on loan to Beşiktaş!