40. Greece win Euro 2004
Portugal 0-1 Greece, Estadio da Luz
European Championship final, 4 July 2004
The moment Given that they had only twice qualified for an international tournament before and finished bottom of the official rankings in both tournaments, Greece were the ultimate surprise finalists in Euro 2004.
There was little surprising about Otto Rehhagel’s approach though. Built on diligent defence and exploitation of set-pieces, his tactics were always unfailingly adapted to neutralising the opposition attack. But that’s hardly surprising when your six-game run involves matches against the defending champions, the best team (Czech Republic), a talented Spanish side and two meetings with the hosts.
Since those hosts were equipped with that knowledge as well as the experience of an opening-day defeat to Greece, Portugal were widely expected to right the apparent wrongs of the previous rounds. The cream would surely rise.
Except, only Angelos Charisteas did. Echoing Greece’s two previous knock-out round victories, the striker rose to meet a corner and head in the only goal of the game.
Portugal kept attacking. But simply had no response to Rehhagel’s rigor.
“It was an unusual achievement for Greek football and especially for European football. We took advantage of our chances… The Greeks have made football history. It’s a sensation.” As he’s done throughout the tournament, Rehhagel calls it
“This is a unique moment, which many of us may never experience again… it’s the best moment of my career.” Charisteas
“It’s the greatest gift that God ever gave us.” Captain Theo Zagorakis, although it’s unknown if he’s referring to Rehhagel
“The differences between the big teams and the so-called smaller teams have become smaller.” Rehhagel
What it meant given Greece’s history and quality, the most unlikely winners of a major championship and an absolute tactical masterclass by Rehhagel.
But, as magnificent as the scale of his triumph was, the victory did signal just how much the nature of international football had shifted – and arguably declined. Previously beholden to the quality of the very best players in the world, smaller countries never had such an opportune time to bridge the gaps with astute tactics due the excessive demands of the club game on the big sides. Rehhagel certainly proved that. Greece remain the template – and example – for any mid-tier nation approaching a tournament.
Similar moments that didn’t make it PSV Eindhoven win the 1988 European Cup; Colombia win the 2001 Copa America; FC Porto win the 2004 Champions League
39. Koeman finally delivers Barcelona
Barcelona 1-0 Sampdoria, Wembley
European Cup final, 20 May 1992
The moment In the last year of the old European Cup, Barca had still never won the competition despite two defeated finals. And, after a few anxious moments in a hugely entertaining game against an adventurous Sampdoria, it seemed like that wait could go on. Certainly, it seemed like it would go on another seven minutes to the pain of penalties – the manner in which Barca lost their last final in 1986.
Then, in the 113th minute, Barca were awarded an indirect free-kick about 25 yards from the Sampdoria goal.
Hristo Stoichkov touched it to Jose Maria Bakero. Bakero touched it to Ronaldo Koeman. And Koeman lashed it home superbly.
Finally, Barca were to touch the European Cup.
“When we scored that goal, all I remember thinking was please, please Barca don’t lose your mind. I knew if my players hung on to theirs we would win.” Manager Johan Cruyff
“It was the most important goal of my life. There are Barcelona fans all over the world who still remind me about it.” Koeman
“It was a special victory because it was such a long time coming.” Cruyff
“Barca is no longer simply ‘more than a club’ – it has become the best club in Europe.” Mayor Pasqual Maragall at the club’s official presentation
What it meant That, after 37 years of waiting and watching their closest rivals rack up six trophies, one of Europe’s most storied clubs had finally won the continent’s greatest prize. Moreover, Johan Cruyff’s fantastic Dream Team was properly fulfilled.
38. Bayern build from the back
Bayern Munich 1-1 Atletico Madrid, Heysel
European Cup final, 15 May 1974
The moment After a staid European Cup final and a generally unconvincing campaign, Bayern looked to have finally been beaten in the 114th minute of the showpiece. Luis Aragones had just curled in a brilliant free-kick to surely win the game and give Atletico Madrid their first European Cup rather than Bayern. Except, as the entire season had illustrated, Bayern were nothing if not resilient. Pouring forward in the final moments, the ball eventually fell to Georg Schwarzenbeck. It was hardly ideal given that the centre-half was normally the most withdrawn and defensive player in the team, with a paltry goal record.
In the most pressing moment, though, Scwharzenbeck produced. From about 25 yards, he fired in a low, powerful shot that skidded off the turf and into the bottom corner. Bayern were still in the European Cup.
“I got the ball and I saw Schwarzenbeck going forward as the Atletico Madrid players were dropping back into their own half. So I passed the ball to him and shouted shoot’!” Beckenbauer
What it meant That Bayern would go on to win the European Cup final’s only ever replay 4-0 as well as embarking on the competition’s third and last three-in-a-row.
The unlikely manner of the eventual victory – a defender scoring a long-range screamer in the last minute – would also foreshadow the fortuitous nature in which Bayern would secure those trophies, as well as the resilience which made it possible. In 1975 against Leeds, Bayern only won thanks to a dubious penalty and even more controversial offside call. In 1976, Saint Etienne repeatedly hit the woodwork. In 1974, though, Schwarzenbeck made sure to hit the right side of it.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Tommy Smith’s goal for Liverpool in the 1977 European Cup final; Lilian Thuram’s double for France in the 1998 World Cup semi-final
37. Liverpool overturn St Etienne
Liverpool 3-1 Saint Etienne (3-2 agg), Anfield
European Cup quarter-final second leg; 16 March 1977
The moment The Kop was rocking. But then Liverpool had been badly rocked.
Having been thoroughly outclassed in the 1-0 first-leg defeat to the previous season’s finalists, Saint Etienne, few gave Liverpool a chance of progression. And that prediction looked like being proved accurate as, although Kevin Keegan levelled the tie just two minutes into the return, Dominique Bathenay hit a stunning away goal on 50 minutes. Two strikes were now needed. And, given the scale of the task, a miracle.
With Anfield absolutely roaring, though, the trumpets were sounded.
First, Bob Paisley left his seat in the director’s box and made his way to the dug-out to re-assess the situation with Joe Fagan. He ordered David Fairclough – who had already developed a penchant for scoring important goals as a sub – to warm up.
Then, Ray Kennedy hit back on the hour.
But Liverpool still toiled for another 24 minutes with no reward. The game ebbed and flowed. Saint Etienne were always threatening. It didn’t look like it was going to happen. The European Cup would still elude Anfield.
Until, with six minutes left, Fairclough eluded the Saint Etienne defence. Bursting onto a long ball forward and powering past Christian Lopez, the striker slipped the ball home for the most crucial goal of his career.
Anfield erupted. And kept on shaking.
“The atmosphere got better and better as the game wore on. It was the only game in which I found it difficult to focus solely on the football. When the ball was up the other end of the pitch I couldn’t help but look up in amazement at the crowd. The whole stadium seemed to be me moving… You couldn’t better that night.” Phil Neal
“Once Bathenay scored St Etienne’s goal, I – like many – thought that perhaps the French had a little too much for us because they were a special side.” Fairclough
“I never had any doubt about it – I knew I could score… It was a terrific feeling. The amazing thing is, it seemed so quiet as I homed in on the target but when the ball hit the back of the net the noise was just unbelievable.” Fairclough
“In the 10 years I have been here I have never known anything like it. I have played in front of 130,000 for England, but the noise and enthusiasm didn’t compare with this.” Paisley
“St Etienne were probably the best team in Europe at that time and after beating them we all felt we could go on and win the European Cup.” Ray Clemence
What it meant That Liverpool would go on to finally win their first European Cup and start a run of four in eight seasons. Moreover, the winning machine that they became under Paisley was properly set in motion that night in the most wondrous fashion. As Clemence alludes, beating one of the best teams in Europe gave Liverpool an enormous belief that would effectively last and perpetuate itself for almost 15 years.
Off the pitch, the sound and the ferocity of the night would also give Anfield an international reputation for electric atmospheres. As the fans belted out ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ and ‘Que Sera, Sera’, the French commentators present remarked how they couldn’t believe their ears. That legacy would prove even more lasting than the illustrious period of success.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Saint Etienne 3-0 Dynamo Kyiv, 1975-76; Barcelona 3-0 Gothenburg, 19865-86; Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea, 2004-05; Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool, 2008-09
36. Sacchi’s sweetest moment
Milan 4-0 Steaua Bucharest, Camp Nou
European Cup final, 24 May 1989
The moment Ruud Gullit hadn’t been properly fit in weeks. Milan hadn’t won their domestic title. And, most importantly, they hadn’t won the European Cup in 20 years. Indeed, until the semi-finals of the 1988-89 campaign, they had generally been unconvincing.
But you would have guessed none of that as they took to the Camp Nou pitch.
In a performance that was one of the most perfect fulfilments of Arrigo Sacchi’s dynamic new attacking philosophy, Milan absolutely destroyed 1986 champions Steaua Bucharest from first moment to last. Gullit and the magnificent Marco van Basten hit two each in an utterly overwhelming display.
“From the first minute, we played our best football. It was a demonstration of the great confidence we had gained.” Mauro Tassotti
“I was exhausted by the end. In all my life I’d never had so many shots to deal with.” Steaua goalkeeper Silviu Lung
“If there is such a thing as a perfect performance, this was it.” Mauro Tassotti
“The morning after we beat Steaua Bucharest I woke up with a feeling I have never experienced since. I had this unusual, sweet taste in my mouth. I realised it was the apotheosis of my life’s work.” Sacchi
What it meant Over the past few decades, there have actually been very few distinct and defining tactical philosophies. Most managers tend to borrow from a number of them to form their own improvised system. To a degree, of course, this is exactly what Sacchi did. But such were the extremities of his approach that he is one of the few tacticians to significantly alter the history of football. Certainly, the success of his philosophy completely altered attitudes in Serie A and ushered in the much more aggressive, abrasive football of the ’90s.
And there were few occasions when the system proved so successful as in the 1989 European Cup final.
However, the fact it only secured a single Serie A title and two European Cups over four years is no coincidence.
Essentially, the approach was so demanding that it proved exceptionally difficult to consistently execute to the maximum. Sacchi, however, ensured that tended to happen on the most important nights.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Barcelona 2-0 Manchester United, 2009; Spain 1-0 Germany, 2010 World Cup semi-final; Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United, 2011
35. Ajax show Bayern who the real bosses are
Ajax 4-0 Bayern Munich, Olympic Stadium
European Cup quarter-final first leg, 7 Match 1973
The moment Two templates of the same style, two of the greatest sides in the history of European football… but, on this occasion, only one emphatic winner.
Given that the Bayern-dominated West German team were starting to monopolise international football and Ajax were in the midst of monopolising continental club football, this could have been billed as a battle for the past, present and future.
Except Ajax quickly proved that all of that would be played on their terms. In one of the team’s finest displays, the defending European champions eviscerated the Germans. As an illustration of the Dutch dominance, a Bayern team that had scored 20 goals in the previous two rounds kept most of their players camped around the box.
That approach meant it took Arie Haan 53 minutes to open the scoring. But, thereafter, the levy broke. As Gerry Muhren later said, “it was more than a goal, it was a dam breaking. They were afraid. We could see it in their eyes.”
Very soon, everyone else could see it on the pitch. Muhren scored a magnificent volley that, infamously, Dutch cameras faled to catch before Haan got his second and Johan Cruyff wrapped things up.
“A few months earlier we had beaten them 5-0 in a friendly in Munich and they didn’t exactly enjoy it. At 5-0, we decided to stop. It was enough.” Gerry Muhren
“We killed them physically.” Ruud Krol
“Bayern follow their game plan exceptionally well. After all, you can’t expect them to play attacking football in Amsterdam.” West German manager Helmut Schoen, analysing the game on TV
“Never since have I lost like that. It is the worst defeat of my career. I had to mark Johan Cruyff, so can you imagine how down I was after the game?” Bayern midfielder Franz Roth
“I was constantly having flashbacks of a game I knew I could never forget. The lessons Ajax taught would be heeded all over the world.” Former French defender Robert Budzynski in L’Equipe
“That game will remain one of the best ever by Ajax. We were at the top of our glory and we were transcended by the support of a whole nation, the whole European football community. Our style was admired by everybody. And even if that Bayern team had guts and talent we knew that we would keep up with them without a problem. Everybody wanted us to go through. That is why that victory was so important.” Johan Cruyff
What it meant Most immediately, that Ajax would become the first team since Real Madrid to win the European Cup three times in a row and secure their transcendent legacy. Moreover, the victory also proved that Ajax had no equal. The only reason that they didn’t prolong their domination was because, partly bored by success, the nucleus of the team disbanded with Cruyff – in particular – leaving for Barcelona.
And, as if to emphasise that point, it was the humiliated Bayern that stepped into the vacuum. They would go on to repeat Ajax’s feat of three in a row in a much less resounding fashion. Many of their players, however, claimed that the embarrassment of that defeat hardened them for the seasons and successes ahead.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Ajax 5-2 Bayern Munich, 1995; Juventus 1-0 Manchester United, 1996
34. Figo alters the Galactic order
Luis Figo signs for Real Madrid
Spanish league, 25 July 2000
The moment It was the point at which the relentless pre-season Spanish media circus definitively stopped moving.
The most beloved and famous player in the Barcelona squad had defected to Real Madrid in an unprecedented world-record £42m transfer.
Sure, other players had moved between the clubs before. But never quite like this. Never so out of the blue. Never without some form of discord which pushed the player out – as with Michael Laudrup.
In particular, Barca fans never quite expected betrayal from this player. And Luis Figo looked almost sheepish when a camera caught up with him parked in his car shortly after the transfer was announced.
In truth, it was something of a gamble on the Portuguese’s part. Figo had struck a deal with Florentino Perez whereby, if the businessman became Real president in that summer’s elections, he would make the move once Madrid had enacted a buy-out clause in his contract. But, given that the presiding president Lorenzo Sanz had been involved with the club for so long and had just overseen the conquest of two Champions League seasons in three years, Perez seemed no more than an outsider.
The public announcement of the Figo “deal” in the build-up, however, proved a trump card. Sanz was forced out of office. And Figo was forced out of Barcelona.
Chaos ensued. Not least at Camp Nou when the two clubs met in December.
“It’s cheap at the price.” Roy Keane on the world-record fee
“Everything here has stopped at the moment… but I will not let Barcelona down.” Barcelona president Joan Gaspart
“We hate you so much because we loved you so much.” Banner at Camp Nou for the season’s first Clasico
What it meant much more than a world record fee and a pig’s head.
For a start, the nature of the transfer escalated the rivalry between the clubs to levels that had been unseen for years, particularly given the manner in which Valencia and Deportivo had started to impinge on their assumed dominance. And, as well as deepening the political intrigue between the clubs, it would also have an effect on the politics within them. Many future presidential candidates from both clubs would copy Perez’s strategy, not least Joan Laporta at Barca three years later with the Ronaldinho-Beckham saga.
Indeed, that would be the most lasting effect of the transfer: the manner in which it deeply affected both club’s future philosophies.
At Madrid, infamously, it would signal the start of the Galactico era as well as the apparent peak of the Champions League’s obsession with money and bombastically buying big.
And, although the lopsided approach would eventually prove unsustainable in terms of consistent success, its initial victories did force Barcelona to completely reassess their strategy and more consciously return to their roots. That summer, Joan Gaspart notoriously squandered the Figo money on a series of flops, with the period representing a nadir for the club. Three years later, with Real bringing in Beckham, new Barca president Joan Laporta would address the supporters with the following speech:
“We are working hard with young players, and soon there will be more from our youth divisions. At the same time we study the football market and if we identify a player who can improve the team then we will invest in them. We have the resources to buy the best, but we don’t want to buy a player if we have an emerging equivalent in our B side.”
Similar moments that didn’t make it Silvio Berlusconi takes over AC Milan, 1985; Roman Abramovich takes over Chelsea, 2003; Robinho goes to Manchester City, 2008
33. Di Stefano goes to Real Madrid
Alfredo Di Stefano signs for Real Madrid
Spanish league, 15 September 1953
The moment In May of 1953, life wasn’t exactly regal for Real Madrid. They hadn’t won any trophy in six years. They hadn’t won the Spanish title in 20. And, worse, a brilliant Barca team were on the verge of their second league victory in two years.
Then came potential doomsday news. Barcelona had struck a deal with River Plate to bring football’s hottest property, Alfredo Di Stefano, to the Camp Nou.
For President Bernabeu, whose visions of creating the greatest power in European football had so far proven as empty as the trophy cabinet in the newly-built stadium named in his honour, this was a nightmare situation. And simply couldn’t be allowed to happen. Luckily for him, certain state officials apparently agreed.
And, even more luckily, there was a window of opportunity.
Since Di Stefano had actually gone outside Fifa’s jurisdiction to avail of the riches of the then disenfranchised Colombian league with Millonarios, Barca had to wait until his contract there was up in 1954 to complete the deal.
Meanwhile, Real did their best to destroy it. First of all, astutely spotting such an odd discrepancy, Real circumvented Barca’s arrangement by striking a deal with Millonarios.
Then, they got help from friends in high places. Bernabeu’s old friend, the newly-promited Spanish minister for sport General Moscardo, passed a remarkable temporarily law banning further importation of foreign players.
In limbo then having already travelled to Barcelona in May 1953, Di Stefano ‘enjoyed’ regular visits from Real officials. A frequent topic of those visits was Kubala’s role in Barcelona, with the officials implying the town wasn’t big enough for the both of them. Di Stefano could have Madrid to himself though.
With the situation at an impasse, Barca president Marti Carreto travelled to Madrid to negotiate with both the Spanish federation and Real. After hours of tortuous negotiation, he agreed to release Di Stefano so long as the Argentine went to Juventus. It was only after Carreto left, however, that Moscardo then suggested the idea of ‘sharing’ the player. Real would have him for the 1953-54 and 1955-56 seasons, Barca for the 1954-55 and 1956-57. Backed into a corner, Carreto eventually put his signature beside Bernabeu’s on 15 September 1953. It was to be one of his last acts as Barca president. Within a week, he was forced to resign because of the level of rancour in Catalonia. Equally apoplectic, the interim board tore up the deal in disgust. A compensation fee of 5.5m pesetas was awarded.
The eventual price paid would be much, much higher for Barca though.
“This guy smells of football.” Bernabeu after his first meeting with Di Stefano
“When I arrived in Barcelona from South America that May, no one knew whether I was to play there or for Real Madrid. They both claimed to have bought me. At one stage, there was even talk of loaning me to Juventus. I got fed up with it all. I told Barcelona I was getting the next flight back to Buenos Aires. But then in September, Santiago Bernabeu, the Real president, pulled some strings somewhere, so I went to Madrid.” Di Stefano offers an exceptionally simplistic version of events
“It all starts with Alfredo. I’d say he was the beginning of everything. That’s how we became famous all over the world. Real Madrid: a winning team.” Real Madrid defender Pachin
What it meant Undoubtedly the most important transfer in football history. It altered the course of Spanish football. It altered the course of the European Cup. And it effectively created Real Madrid as the most successful and prestigious club in the game’s history.
Di Stefano’s influence – both when it came to the minutiae of the pitch and the major moves off it – transformed Real as an institution. Within a year of his arrival they won the title. Within two years, they had won the first European Cup and embarked on a run that still remains a record.
After Di Stefano, Real would break many more.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Eric Cantona signs for Manchester United, 1993; Ronaldinho signs for Barcelona, 2003
32. Kostadinov fires France out
France 1-2 Bulgaria, Parc des Princes
World Cup qualifier, 17 November 1993
The moment All France had to do was keep the ball in the corner. With the clock ticking into the 45th minute, they may have already seen Emil Kostadinov cancel out Eric Cantona’s opener but were surely on the verge of a first World Cup in eight years.
Bulgaria, after all, had been an effective team who had pushed them hard behind Sweden. But hardly one capable of alchemy. Not when the exquisite David Ginola – a 69th-minute sub for the exhausted Jean-Pierre Papin – had the ball near the corner flag.
Except, rather than retain possession, the winger played a wild cross over Cantona’s head.
Suddenly, with 23 seconds left, full-back Emil Kremenliev was surging up the pitch. Three quick passes later and Lubo Penev was looking for another option. He saw Emil Kostadinov careering towards the box. And lofted the ball forward.
In a spectacular movement that only saw its blistering pace matched by its precision, Kostadinov controlled the ball in his stride before walloping an unstoppable half-volley in off the bar.
France were devastated. Bulgaria jubilant.
“The worst defeat of my life.” Eric Cantona
“God is Bulgarian!” A screaming TV commentator
“The French were so scared they played with their buttocks clenched. We knew that’s how they would be and our tactics were based on that. They played for a draw and never went looking for a win. They didn’t deserve to qualify and we hit them where it hurt most.” Stoichkov
“[Ginola] sent an Exocet missile through the heart of French football. He committed a crime against the team, I repeat: a crime against the team.” Departing manager Gerard Houllier offers a bitter parting shot but also starts a feud that persists to the present day
What it meant Most immediately, that Bulgaria would become one of the most exhilarating teams at the 1994 World Cup. Having never previously won a match at the tournament before, they would unexpectedly reach the semi-finals by claiming a bigger scalp in defending champions Germany along the way.
In the long-term, France would start the painful but ultimately joyous path to the 1998 World Cup. Although the famous Clairefontaine academy had already opened five years before the Bulgaria defeat, that result would make the French federation ensure that all of the avenues leading to the national team’s performances were streamlined by the time their tournament came around. Seven years after Kostadinov struck that goal, France had become one of the finest teams of all time by winning a double of World Cup and European Championship.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Bulgaria beat Germany, USA 94; Croatia beat Germany, France 98; Czech Republic beat Germany, Euro 2004
31. The Clasico’s first famous five
Real Madrid 5-0 Barcelona, Bernabeu
Spanish league, 25 October 1953
The moment Alfredo Di Stefano hadn’t even been a Real Madrid player for a month. But then this performance only underlined that his influence on the club was to be instant, emphatic and extreme. Within 10 minutes of his first ever Clasico, he poked home his first ever goal against Barcelona by finishing a swift passing move.
Within 40, he had been instrumental in every Real goal as they raced into a 4-0 lead through two from Roque Olsen and another from Luis Molowny.
And, by the 85th, Di Stefano appropriately wrapped up a resounding 5-0 win.
“The most perfect of scorelines. One for every finger on the hand.” Spanish media
What it meant In the context of that campaign, that Real Madrid would depose Barcelona as Spanish champions. In the context of history, that Di Stefano would drive them to eventually completely overshadow Barca in terms of trophies.
And, in the context of the Clasico, that 5-0 would become a mythic score – more perfect and resounding than any other result. Since then, there have been four further victories by that score, with every one of them coming at – and also exacerbating – apparent fault-lines in Spanish football history.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Real Madrid 5-0 Barcelona, 1994-95