8 Champions League ties that were classics due to the away goals rule
The Champions League knockout stages are back this week, but for the first time they’ll be without the away goals rule – which shaped the competition’s iconic two-legged ties since 1965.
There are logical and legitimate sporting arguments to get rid of the rule – very well made by Ian Hawkey in The Blizzard – not least that travel between European countries has come a long way in the past 56 years.
But a cynic might suggest that the decision has been made as a result of UEFA’s desire to see more games go to extra time, with the advertising revenue that comes with it.
Away goals have also played a defining role in some absolutely classic European ties over the years – here are eight standout examples from the Champions League era.
Deportivo La Coruna 5-4 AC Milan (2004)
In an era before unthinkable second-leg fightbacks became relatively commonplace, Super Depor were the standard-bearers – against one of the best sides in European Cup history.
In the period from 2003 to 2007, Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan reached three of five finals, winning two and losing the other after Liverpool produced their unforgettable three-goal comeback.
Perhaps Rafael Benitez’s Reds had some inspiration from Depor, who produced a stunning 4-0 victory over the Rossoneri at the Riazor in the quarter-final the season before.
Walter Pandiani’s bullet header to open the scoring in the first leg at the San Siro, before Milan roared back with four goals in eight minutes to have seemingly killed the tie, gave Depor the faintest hopes for their return home.
The away goal meant they only needed three at Riazor, but they added a fourth for good measure, while Milan remained in the contest throughout – a goal in Galicia would have pushed the tie to extra-time, which made it extra thrilling until the final whistle.
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona (2009)
The classic example of the knife-edge jeopardy that makes away goals so thrilling; Andres Iniesta’s injury-time equaliser at Stamford Bridge meant that Barcelona went from elimination to a place in the final in one fell swoop.
Of course, Chelsea fans will tell you the tie should have been settled long before then…
Barcelona 2-3 Chelsea (2012)
Three years after Iniesta drove a dagger into their hearts, Chelsea got their revenge at the Camp Nou.
Roberto Di Matteo’s Blues produced a defensive masterclass to register a 1-0 first-leg victory over Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona in London.
But they looked to be getting dumped out after a disastrous 10 minutes in Catalunya, in which John Terry was sent off for kicking out at Alexis Sanchez and Barcelona went ahead after scoring twice.
Then Ramires scored, out of nowhere, and Chelsea were back in front on away goals. After a second half of immense pressure and heroic backs-to-the-wall defending, Fernando Torres put their place in the final beyond doubt on the break in injury time. Two special goals in Chelsea history.
Barcelona 6-5 PSG (2017)
Barcelona looked to have hit rock bottom when they suffered a disastrous 4-0 defeat in the first leg of their round of 16 clash with PSG back in 2017. The lack of an away goal killed any suggestion they might complete a comeback.
But Luis Suarez gave them a sniff after just three minutes of the second leg at the Camp Nou, and the remontada looked well and truly on when Lionel Messi notched a third inside five minutes.
Just after the hour mark, Edinson Cavani seemed to extinguish any hopes they’d do the unthinkable. The Uruguayan’s away goal meant that Barcelona went from needing one goal to needing three. Barcelona seemed to lose all momentum and hope and the game kind of drifted for 25 minutes.
Then came seven of the craziest minutes in the history of European football – and Neymar’s finest moment. First the Brazilian scored a free kick. Then he converted a penalty. Then, in the dying seconds of injury-time, he floated in a perfectly-weighted ball over the top for Sergi Roberto to convert. Mind-blowing.
First leg: PSG 4-0 Barcelona
Second leg: 😱
Barcelona vs PSG will always be remembered for La Remontada 😍pic.twitter.com/xVQDKsOAH6
— GOAL (@goal) February 16, 2021
Roma 4-4 Barcelona (2018)
Either way, Barcelona just live for the drama, don’t they?
Roma’s – seemingly consolation – goal in a 4-1 defeat at the Camp Nou proved decisive come their 3-0 victory at the Stadio Olimpico. It also resulted in one of the all-time great pieces of commentary, courtesy of Peter Drury, for their third goal on the night: “Roma have risen from their ruins! Manolas, the Greek God in Rome!”
Man City 4-4 Tottenham (2019)
After Spurs put in a defensively diligent display to beat City 1-0 at home in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final in 2019, all sense went out of the window in a madcap opening 21 minutes at the Etihad, in which Son Heung-min notched a quickfire brace but City scored three to make it 3-3 on aggregate.
That state of play meant that Guardiola’s men had a clear task: win by two clear goals on the night or exit the competition.
Sergio Aguero’s second-half goal was cancelled out by Fernando Llorente, while Raheem Sterling and 55,000 spectators thought he’d done it in injury-time, only to be met with the first major drama of the VAR era, with it ruled out for an offside in the build-up.
Spurs had used up that season’s worth of injury-time theatrics, surely? Maybe not…
Ajax 3-3 Tottenham (2019)
Under the new rules, a goal like this would only take a tie into extra time. Look how they massacred my boy.
Without the away goals rule in the Champions League, THAT Lucas Moura 'winner' 🆚 Ajax would have only taken the tie to extra time 🤯pic.twitter.com/qH4c6RsXft
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) June 24, 2021
Juventus 4-4 Porto (2021)
With Pepe rolling back the years to keep his old Portugal and Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo relatively quiet, Porto produced a giant performance to beat Juventus 2-1 at home in the first leg of their round of 16 clash.
It was a similar fare in the second leg, in which a repeat of the scoreline over 90 minutes in Turin took the tie to extra-time.
Porto looked to be wilting, having been made to hold on with 10 men for close to an hour, when Sergio Oliveira caught Ronaldo and co. napping with a clever, low-drilled free-kick in the 115th minute. Adrien Rabiot struck back a couple of minutes later to ensure a nervy ending, but the second away goal proved enough for Porto.
The last true classic of the away goals era?