Seven dramatic final UCL group games, ft. Arsenal, Liverpool, Newcastle…
The final day of the Champions League group stages has few equals for ‘As Things Stand’ drama.
It’s the closest club football has to the NFL’s RedZone, with teams going from progressing to the knockouts to being sent home at the drop of a hat.
We’ve looked back at seven of the most dramatic final days in the Champions League era – we’re sure they won’t be the last.
Juventus v Rosenborg, 1998
When we remember Juventus’ dramatic defeat to Manchester United in the 1998-99 Champions League, we often forget the manner in which the Italian side even made it that far.
Juve were without a win until the final day of group stage action, having drawn their first five games against Athletic Bilbao (twice), Galatasaray (twice) and Rosenborg.
They hosted the Norwegian side on the final day and finally picked up a win but would still be on their way out if Galatasaray were able to pick up a point at already-eliminated Athletic.
Ultimately, in addition to their own players, they had Julen Guerrero to thank for helping them squeak through by the narrowest of margins, before a late Antonio Conte winner saw them through to that semi-final.
Galatasaray v AC Milan, 1999
With five minutes remaining in their final group game in December 1999, AC Milan were on their way through to the second group stage. By the time Antonio López Nieto blew his final whistle, they were fourth – not even good enough for a UEFA Cup spot.
With Chelsea beating Hertha Berlin, Milan knew a win would be enough, and goals from George Weah and Federico Giunti helped them go from 1-0 down to 2-1 up.
However, Hakan Şükür popped up with an equaliser and a topsy-turvy game ended with future Milan midfielder Ümit Davala putting away a penalty in the final minute.
Not only did the result cost the Italian side a place in the UEFA Cup, but it gave one to Gala, and the Turkish side grasped it with both hands: the win over Milan was their only home victory in the Champions League, but they proceeded to see off Bologna, Borussia Dortmund, Real Mallorca, Leeds United and Arsenal to end the season with a European trophy.
Feyenoord v Newcastle United, 2002
After three group games in 2002, Newcastle United were all but dead and buried with three defeats. However, victories over Juventus and Dynamo Kiev (the former with Andy Griffin the unlikely match-winner) let their fans believe.
It wouldn’t be easy, though: Feyenoord had held Juve and Dynamo at De Kuip, and knew a win would be enough to see them through if the Italian club won in Ukraine.
As both games entered stoppage-time, Juve were ahead, while Feyenoord had come back from 0-2 to 2-2 and were chasing a winner.
Instead, though, it was the visitors who snatched an unlikely place in the second group stage, squeezing the ball in at the near post after Patrick Lodewijks had denied Kieron Dyer.
Arsenal v Lokomotiv & Dynamo Kiev v Inter 2003
Arsenal had almost as tough a task on their hands one year later, taking a single point from their first three outings and needing an 88th-minute Ashley Cole winner in game four to keep them in the hunt.
We all know about the famous 5-1 win at Inter, but the job wasn’t done – they still needed to beat a Lokomotiv Moscow side which needed at least a point to guarantee their own progress.
Robert Pirès and Freddie Ljungberg did the business for Arsenal, meaning anything but a draw in the Dynamo-Inter game would send the Russians out.
Daniele Adani’s goal had Inter on the verge of progress until Diogo Rincón’s late equaliser ultimately proved too much for the visitors and not enough for the hosts, leaving both teams at Highbury to celebrate.
Liverpool v Olympiacos, 2004
Liverpool’s 2004-05 campaign was all about comebacks, both in the final in Istanbul and in a group game at Anfield in December which almost had the Reds licking their wounds before Christmas.
Rafa Benitez’s team were left needing three goals after Rivaldo put the visitors ahead, and they left it very late: Florent Sinama-Pongolle equalised on the night, but it was still 1-1 going into the last 10 minutes before Neil Mellor and Steven Gerrard rescued the hosts.
Incidentally, the result came two years on from what almost ended up being another famous Liverpool comeback: needing a win at Basel, they went from 3-0 down to level things up in the 85th minute but couldn’t find a winner.
Juventus v Bayern Munich, 2009
The 2009-10 Champions League was a bizarre tournament throughout, with many crediting a volcanic ash cloud for helping Inter make it all the way past Barcelona and into the final, but their opponents at the Bernabéu in May were arguably even more fortunate to make it there.
Bayern’s away goals victories over Fiorentina and Manchester United were dramatic enough, but the fact they even made the knockout stages at all was impressive.
Home and away defeats to Bordeaux had left Louis van Gaal’s team needing to win at Juventus’ Stadio Delle Alpi to progress, and Juve had not lost a home European game sine 2004.
David Trézeguet put the hosts ahead, and that could easily have been game over, but Bayern fought back with four unanswered goals to make it through – the first of them a penalty converted by goalkeeper Hans-Jörg Butt.
Dinamo Zagreb v Lyon, 2011
Ajax were probably feeling pretty happy with their standing going into the final round of group games in 2011: even if they lost at home to Real Madrid and Lyon won in Croatia, the French club would need a seven-goal swing to make it through.
Ajax were 2-0 down at half-time, but it didn’t look likely to matter as the score was level in Zagreb – Nicolás Lodeiro and Miralem Sulejmani’s controversially disallowed goals were painful at the time but didn’t look as though they’d matter all that much.
How wrong they were. Lyon found the net six times in 30 minutes after the break, including a second, third and fourth goal of the night for Bafétimbi Gomis, as Dinamo collapsed under the strain of playing more than an hour with 10 men.