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European Cup and Champions League history

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to pick out periods when specific teams or countries dominated the competition, only to find themselves rapidly superseded by another dominant team or teams.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 had 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.

Genesis

Early tournaments

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 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 the First World War. 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 the Second World War, 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.

"Floodlit Friendlies" — The move to a Europe wide club tournament

In the early 1950s, football played under floodlights was still a novelty. The summer of 1953 saw the first set of lights installed at the Molineux stadium of Wolverhampton Wanderers, which were first tested in a friendly game against a South African XI. Over the next months, Wolves played a series of "floodlit friendlies" against foreign opposition. Beginning with Racing Club of Argentina, they also played Spartak Moscow of the USSR, before meeting Honved of Hungary in a game televised live on the BBC. The Honved team included many of the "Magical Magyars" team who had humbled England twice. Wolves won the game 3–2, which led their manager Stan Cullis 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 Gabriel Hanot, the editor of L'Équipe, who had long campaigned for a Europe wide club tournament to be played under floodlights.

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.
Gabriel Hanot

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.

1955 to 1960 — "Los Blancos"

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 AC Milan and Fiorentina. Hibernian were the first UK club to play the European Cup, reaching the semi-finals of the inaugural tournament in 1955.

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's Finest - The Tragedy of Munich

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.

1961 to 1966 — Latin might, Latin power

Real Madrid's domination was ended by their biggest domestic rivals, Barcelona, in the first round of the 1961 competition, starting an era of changing champions.

Barça continued on to the final at the Wankdorf Stadion in Berne, Switzerland, where they were defeated in a close game by Benfica of Lisbon, Portugal.

This team, captained by the impressive Mário Coluna from Mozambique, 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, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Benfica would then go on to reach a third successive final in 1963, but lost to AC Milan, whose city rivals Inter 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.

This era was ended by Real Madrid, who defeated Inter in the 1966 semi-final, before going on to win a sixth European Cup with against Partizan Belgrade in the Heysel Stadium, Brussels.

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.

1967 to 1968 — The Old Empire strikes back

In 1967, Celtic became the first Scottish, British and northern European team to win the competition, beating Inter 2–1 in the Estádio Nacional, in Lisbon, Portugal.

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 the best and most cosmopolitan players from all over the planet.

Celtic are the only club to have won the competition with a team composed entirely of players born in the region of the club they represent. By way of contrast, while Real Madrid fielded many Spaniards in the 1950s and an all Spanish team in 1966, the major stars were from elsewhere; Di Stéfano had arrived from Argentina, while Puskás had defected from Hungary in 1956.

Ten years after the Munich air disaster, Manchester United became the first English team to win the competition, in the 1968, after beating Benfica in the finals 4–1 after extra time at Wembley Stadium, London, England. 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 (for him) an easy chance in the last seconds.

1969 to 1973 — Total Football

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.

The first club to dominate was Ajax, who first lost the 1969 final to AC Milan and then had to watch deadly rivals Feyenoord of Rotterdam win the same title in 1970 against Celtic after extra time.

After that though, the Total Football of Johan Cruijff, Barry Hulshoff, Ruud Krol, Johan Neeskens, Arie Haan, Gerrie Mühren and Piet Keizer dominated for three years, despatching Panathinaikos, Inter 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, Cruijff stopping as many as Hulshoff.

Created by Rinus Michels and refined by Stefan Kovacs, Ajax seemed unbeatable until Cruijff opted to join former coach Michels at 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.

1974 to 1976 — The rise of Bayern

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, Paris, France in 1975, and finally St. Étienne at Hampden Park, Glasgow, in 1976.

Thereafter the side declined, and Bayern would not win another European Cup for 25 years.

1977 to 1985 — English dominance, then disaster

In 1977, Liverpool started a domination of the competition by English clubs which would see six consecutive victories, and a total of seven in eight years.

Liverpool beat Borussia Mönchengladbach 3–1 in Rome, then in 1978 became the first British club to win the trophy twice by beating the Belgian champions, Club Brugge at Wembley.

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 1–0 in the Munich Final. The next year, Forest beat Hamburg 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.

To show the English game's strength in depth, Aston Villa won the competition in 1982 with a 1–0 win over Bayern Munich in Rotterdam.

Hamburg SV 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.

However, Liverpool were back in 1984 to defeat AS 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 the competition.

Liverpool returned to defend the trophy in Brussels a year later, but the 1–0 defeat by Juventus was rendered meaningless due to the death of 39 Juventus fans in the Heysel Stadium.

The consequence was a 5-year ban from European competition for English clubs, with a 6-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.

1986 to 1988 — Unexpected endings

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 Bucharest of Romania, FC Porto of Portugal and PSV Eindhoven 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 FC Porto their first title while Steaua Bucharest shocked Barcelona in Seville.

1989 to 1991 — The return of Milan

AC Milan won the European Cup in 1989 and retained it the following year. The Dutch trio of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard were the brilliant heart of the Italian side. Milan missed out on a third successive European crown in 1991, when the trophy went to Yugoslav league champions Red Star Belgrade who beat 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.

1992 to 1996 — Italian consistency

English clubs made their return to the European Cup in 1991, following a successful return in the other competitions the previous year. However, their exploits were unsuccessful during the five years after their return, being hampered by the strict "three foreigner" rule, and the trophy stayed with continental clubs.

Serie A clubs reached the final in seven consecutive seasons, winning twice. The 1992 final, played at Wembley Stadium, was won by Barcelona against Sampdoria. Barca, coached by Johan Cruyff, was known as the "Dream Team" at the time of its win.

The competition was named to UEFA Champions League for the 1992–1993 season. Marseille won the 1993 final, defeating A.C. Milan, but 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 French First Division league 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.

In 1994, A.C. Milan reclaimed the trophy by comprehensively beating a star-studded 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 Barca. 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 an Ajax side powered by the brilliant 19 year-old striker Patrick Kluivert. 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. 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.

1997 and 1998 — Phoenix risen

Borussia Dortmund achieved a significant upset by winning the Champions League in 1997 when they beat holders Juventus in the final having gone into the game as significant underdogs, having already eliminated Manchester United in the semi-final.

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).

1999 — "Football, bloody hell"

1998–99 will be remembered for 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, then beating Italian giants Inter Milan and Juventus, winner over the latter in both legs coming from behind. They had also forged a reputation for late comebacks in England as they picked up the Premiership 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 Roy Keane suspended, goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, playing his last game for the club, would captain 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 for a David Beckham corner, and were rewarded when substitute Teddy Sheringham turned home the equaliser after Ryan Giggs miss-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. 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.

2000 to 2002 — Spanish dominance

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 Holland) 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 Barcelona in 1992 and Real Madrid in 1998. La Liga had three semi-finalists in the 2000 Champions League (Real Madrid, Valencia 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. This was the first final to feature two teams from the same country. 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 Di Stéfano and Puskás was the much-hyped "Galactico" 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.

2003 — "Il Ritorno di Milan"

The next season saw Italian clubs return to the top of the European table. 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 A.C. 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 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 6 group matches in style, while a mediocre Spartak Moscow side lost them all. AEK Athens drew 6 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 3 group stage games and progress to the second round, they did so by defeating Juventus, Dynamo Kiev and Feyenoord to finish second in the group on 9 points.

2004 to 2006 — Unexpected results and triumphant comebacks

2004: Outsiders

There was a major upset in 2004 when FC Porto defeated Monaco 3–0 to win the European Cup. 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 claim the scalps of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Chelsea as European football's big names tumbled out.

FC Porto and their charismatic manager, José Mourinho, achieved the rare feat of following up a UEFA Cup victory by winning the European Cup 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 No. 10 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.

2005: The miracle of Istanbul

There was a similar surprise in 2005. This time it involved two of Europe's most successful clubs. Six-time European Champions A.C. 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 F.C. for the first time since Heysel, and then upsetting runaway Premiership winners Chelsea F.C..

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. After Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek made a fine save from a Shevchenko free-kick, one of the European Cup Final's greatest ever comeback began. Captain Steven Gerrard scored with a header before Vladimír Šmicer's long-range drive made it 3–2 just two minutes later. And 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.

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 again saved from Shevchenko. Liverpool had captured their most unlikely European Cup victory, and as five-time winners earned the honour of keeping the trophy.

Liverpool almost failed to qualify from the group stage. Participating in Group A, along with Monaco , Deportivo La Coruña and Olympiacos, Liverpool were placed third on matchday 6 and had to win with a clean sheet or by at least two clear goals in their last match against Olympiacos at home. At half-time, the Greeks were leading by a goal to nil; although Florent Sinama Pongolle had equalised two minutes after the break, the score was still 1-1 with less than ten minutes left. After 81 minutes, Neil Mellor gave Liverpool the lead before, with just four minutes of normal time left, Steven Gerrard fired in a spectacular goal from 25 yards to seal the 3-1 victory that took them into the knock-out stages.

Rule changes: league position and qualifying

There was further controversy as Liverpool had finished fifth in their domestic league and thus were not automatically entitled to enter the 2005–06 competition. The Football Association had entered Everton as the final entrant after their fourth place finish in the league, and did not wish to replace the team with Liverpool to allow the defence of the Champions' League (despite having made provision for such an eventuality the previous season when Arsenal faced Chelsea in the quarter-final).

If Everton were to be replaced with Liverpool, it would be the second time in which Liverpool had caused Everton not to qualify for the cup although they had gained a spot (English clubs were banned after the Heysel stadium disaster, a season in which Everton had finished first). This was in contrast to the Spanish football authorities who in 2000 had replaced Real Zaragoza with Real Madrid.

Liverpool and the FA lobbied hard for a special fifth Champions League place for the team, claiming it was UEFA rules rather than the FA's previous decisions that were keeping Liverpool from the competition. After some debate, UEFA decided to grant special dispensation and allow Liverpool to defend their title, but they had to enter the tournament at the First Qualifying Round. The ruling also stated that if the team made it into the Champions League proper the other English teams would have to split the prize money that was due to them. The rules of the competition were also changed to prevent any further dispute if the same situation happened again; future winners not qualifying through their domestic league will take the place of the team claiming the last Champions League spot in the domestic League. If the same situation were to happen again, where Everton claimed the fourth and final Champions League place in the English Premiership with Liverpool finishing fifth, Liverpool would take Everton's place in the Champions League and Everton would have to settle for a UEFA Cup spot.

The situation almost presented itself again in the 2005–06 season, when Arsenal made progress all the way to the final of the Champions League while performing poorly in their own domestic league, finding themselves behind their local rivals Tottenham Hotspur — it was only on the last day of the domestic season that Arsenal achieved the final Champions League qualification spot, with Spurs, who had held fourth place for several months, going into the UEFA Cup. Had Arsenal finished fifth, then gone on to win the Champions League, then they, and not Spurs, would have been England's final entrant into the next season's competition.

This changes the previous rules where the winners of the competition had to qualify in order to defend their title, just like the winners of World Cup, as it was assumed they would finish in the qualification places in their domestic league. All winners are now however, as described, allowed to defend their title.

2006 — "Victoria para el Barça!"

After 3 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 in 2004. In 2006, they made a truimphant return with Barcelona and Villarreal in the semi-finals. The semi-finalists were Villarreal, Arsenal, AC Milan and Barcelona. Barcelona overcame Chelsea and Benfica in the knockout stages, while Villarreal beat the Glasgow Rangers and Inter Milan, AC 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 Villareal (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.

2007 — "Vendetta di Milan"

Route to semi-finals

The Premier League boasted three semi-finalists with Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea, with the last spot being held by A.C. Milan. 2006 Champions League finalist Arsenal was the only English disappointment, unable to repeat its record shutout streak from last year and being hampered by injuries to Thierry Henry, as they were eliminated 2–1 by PSV Eindhoven in the round of sixteen. Manchester United lost 2–1 to A.S. Roma in the first leg but returned home to deliver a 7–1 drubbing. Man Utd's closest Premiership competitors Chelsea edged Valencia with a goal in the 90th minute. Liverpool knocked out defending champions Barcelona in the round of sixteen, including a comeback 2–1 away victory at Nou Camp and then holding Barca to 0–1 at Anfield to advance on away goals. Liverpool then they proceeded to comprehensively shutout PSV in the quarterfinals, which included a 3–0 first leg victory, and a 1–0 win in their second leg as they rested their key players. Milan continued their dominance of Bayern Munich, leading most of the first leg until Bayern equalized with a stoppage time strike to level it at 2–2, with Daniel van Buyten scoring both goals for Bayern; the Italians beat the Germans at their home stadium 2–0.

Valencia was the only La Liga team to advance to the quarter-finals, knocking out Serie A leaders Inter on away goals, but falling to Chelsea in the next round. Barcelona and Real Madrid were eliminated in the round of sixteen; Madrid has not advanced beyond the quarter-finals since 2003. Madrid won their home leg 3–2 against Bayern Munich with two crosses from David Beckham, but Bayern triumphed 2–1 on the second leg after Roberto Carlos conceded the ball early which led to Roy Makaay scoring the quickest goal in Champions League history. Spanish teams Sevilla, Osasuna, and Espanyol, however, have made the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup, with Sevilla defeating Espanyol in the final.

Both Ligue 1 teams, Lille and Lyon were defeated in the round of sixteen. Lille lost to Manchester United in an acrimonous first leg with Ryan Giggs' controversial free kick being the difference; the French protested that they had insufficient time to assemble their defensive wall which allowed Giggs to score.

Semi-finals

This was Milan's third consecutive trip to the semi-finals and fourth in five years, keeping them at the top of UEFA rankings, while Chelsea had also reached that stage in three of the last four years. The Chelsea–Liverpool matchup was a rematch of the 2005 semi-final. Each of the four possible final matchups would have been compelling for various reasons:

  • As Manchester United and Chelsea were then first and second in the Premiership standings (and would eventually finish in that order), and made the final of the FA Cup, there was a possibility that all three competitions could come down to a Man United–Chelsea showdown, with the possibility of the Treble being completed.
  • A Man Utd–Liverpool matchup would exemplify the traditionally heated rivalry between the two teams; it would also be a major potential logistical problem due to two teams located only 50 km apart and their large numbers of fans using the two nearby airports.
  • A Chelsea–Milan final would see Blues striker Andriy Shevchenko playing his old team.
  • A Liverpool–Milan final would be a rematch of the 2005 final.

All four managers/coaches of the clubs in the Champions League semi-finals had previously managed Champions League-winning teams; three of them with their current club, though José Mourinho had taken key players and staff to join him at Chelsea.

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 José 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).

Final

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. The aftermath of Liverpool's defeat also saw many of their fans engage in wild fights with Milan fans in the city, who were guilty of none of the same behaviors. 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 stating '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.

2008 — The Russian connection

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 Cech's goal. However, a series of deflections and a defensive error on United's part allowed 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 Cech. However, for Chelsea's last penalty, their captain John Terry appeared to slip 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.

Evolution of the Championship format

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:

  • 1955–1991: Knockout format, one club per country (the league champion) plus the defending champion
    • 1955: many countries were represented by a team not the domestic champion
    • 1956–59: the domestic runner-up was allowed to compete where the domestic champion was also European champion
  • 1991–1993: Three knockout qualifying rounds, group phase with 2 groups, 2 group winners meet in final, one club per country (the league champion) plus the defending champion
  • 1993–1994: Knockout semi-finals added following group phase
  • 1994–1997: One knockout qualifying round, group phase with 4 groups, group winners and all runners-up to 8 club knockout phase, one club per country (the league champion) plus the defending champion
  • 1997–1999: Two knockout qualifying rounds, group phase with 6 groups, group winners and 2 runners-up to 8 club knockout phase, up to two clubs per country
  • 1999–2003: Three knockout qualifying rounds, two group phases with 8 first phase group winners and all runners-up moving to 4 second phase groups, second phase group winners and all runners-up to 8 club knockout phase, up to four clubs per country
  • Since 2003: Three knockout qualifying rounds, one group phase with 8 groups, group winners and all runners-up to 16 club knockout phase, still up to four clubs per country.

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.

Further reading

The following books each provide an excellent history of the European Cup / Champions League:

  • “Europe United: A History of the European Cup / Champions League” by Andrew Godsell (2005)
  • “50 Years of the European Cup and Champions League” by Keir Radnedge (2005)
  • “The European Cup: An Illustrated History” by Rab MacWilliam (2000)
  • “Champions of Europe: The History, Romance and Intrigue of the European Cup” by Brian Glanville (1991)
  • “The European Cup 1955–1980” by John Motson and John Rowlinson (1980)

See also

References

External links

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