Knockout Kings – Ten of the best European comebacks

Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City all face an uphill struggle if they are to progress in Europe and Bayern Munich seemingly face the impossible needing five without reply against an irresistible Barcelona.

So for all those fans who have all but given up hope of their side recovering, here’s a rundown of the top ten comebacks in European knockout football to give you all a sense of renewed optimism!

10. Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Espanyol

(Leverkusen win 3-2 on penalties after 3-3 aggregate score)
Ulrich Haberland Stadion, Leverkusen, 1988 UEFA Cup Final second-leg.

In the days when the UEFA Cup final was contested over two legs, Espanyol looked odds-on favourites to secure the trophy after a 3-0 first-leg win in Spain.

Javier Clemente’s side would have been able to taste success with the second-leg deadlocked at 0-0 after an hour of play.

Although with German efficiency at its very best, Leverkusen fought their way back into the tie and three goals without reply sent the match into a penalty shootout.

Espanyol even had the cushion of a 2-0 advantage in the shootout itself but a Leverkusen side inspired by goalkeeper Rüdiger Vollborn again clawed their way back and were UEFA Cup champions with a 3-2 spot kick triumph.

9. Partizan Belgrade 4-0 QPR

(Partizan win on away goals after 6-6 aggregate score)
JNA Stadion, Belgrade, 1984 UEFA Cup second round second-leg.

QPR ventured into Europe in 1984 and looked resounding favourites to progress to the UEFA Cup third round having beaten Partizan Belgrade 6-2 at Loftus Road.

With such an emphatic performance at home, you wouldn’t have betted against the West London side picking up a positive result in Belgrade.

Well unfortunately for QPR, Partizan got their act together on home soil and after four goals without reply, Alan Mullery’s team were out of the competition.

8. Middlesbrough 4-2 Steaua Bucharest

(Middlesbrough win 4-3 on aggregate)
The Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough, 2006 UEFA Cup semi-final second-leg.

On route to the UEFA Cup final, Middlesbrough pulled off a couple of quite amazing comebacks in 2006, most notably to secure victory against Steaua Bucharest and book their place in Eindhoven for the final against Sevilla.

Steve McClaren’s hopes of guiding Boro to silverware before he took on the England job looked to be up in smoke when, having already won 1-0 in the first-leg, Steaua increased their aggregate advantage with two goals inside half an hour at the Riverside Stadium.

Just like in the previous round, Middlesbrough needed to find four goals to progress and that is exactly what they managed to do.

Goals from Massimo Maccarone, Mark Viduka and Chris Riggott offered renewed hope and then Italian front man Maccarone notched up his second of the game in the last minute of normal time to send Boro into their first ever European final.

7. Real Madrid 4-0 Borussia Mönchengladbach

(Real Madrid win on away goals after 5-5 aggregate score)
Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid, 1985 UEFA Cup third round second-leg.

When you know that a club like Real Madrid classes this comeback as the greatest in their history, you know that it must be special and special it most certainly was.

German side Borussia Mönchengladbach were in dream land having thumped the then UEFA Cup champions 5-1 in Germany and it seemed there was no way back for the holders.

Leading 2-0 at half-time at the Santiago Bernabéu, the job was nowhere near complete for Real Madrid and it wouldn’t be until the last ten minutes that the tie swung back in their favour.

Jorge Valdano and Carlos Santillana proved to be the heroes as they struck the decisive late goals to provide Real Madrid with victory in the competition that they would go on to retain.

6. Deportivo 4-0 AC Milan

(Deportivo win 5-4 on aggregate)
Estadio Riazor, La Coruña, 2004 Champions League quarter-final second-leg.

Spanish side Deportivo La Coruña pulled off an unthinkable comeback to dump AC Milan out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage.

Holders Milan were in cruise control having dominated the first-leg at the San Siro and taken a comfortable 4-1 lead with them to Spain.

Although this is where the comforts were brought to a seismic halt as goals from Pandiani, Valeron and Luque gave Depor the away goal advantage.

To compel Carlo Ancelotti’s misery, Fran’s deflected half-volley flew past Dida in the 75th minute to complete the rout and ensure that Deportivo would be in the hat for the semi-finals.

5. Juventus 2-3 Manchester United

(Manchester United win 4-3 on aggregate)
Stadio Delle Alpi, Turin, 1999 Champions League semi-final second-leg.

Not for the first time in 1999 Manchester United fought back from behind to grab an astounding and somewhat unlikely victory.

The Red Devils, already under the cosh following a 1-1 draw with Juventus at Old Trafford, were in further disarray when Filippo Inzaghi grabbed two goals inside 11 minutes in the Stadio Delle Alpi.

Led by the energetic and courageous Roy Keane, United somehow managed to claw their way back into the tie with goals from the Irishman himself and Dwight Yorke.

Despite picking up a booking that would keep him out of the final, Keane rallied his troops and the comeback was complete when Andrew Cole tapped the ball into an empty net to send United through.


4. Barcelona 1-4 Metz

(Metz win 6-5 on aggregate)
Nou Camp, Barcelona, 1984 European Cup Winners’ Cup first round second-leg.

Barcelona were firmly in the driving seat in this Cup Winners’ Cup first round tie having gone to France and picked up a 4-2 win.

The Catalan club had even grabbed the first goal at the Nou Camp resulting in a 5-2 aggregate lead that, you would have thought, would have crippled their French opposition into submission.

Although a spirited fight-back, lead by Yugoslav born Zvonko Kurbos’ hat-trick, meant that Metz somehow managed to turn things around and achieve the most unlikely of results to claim a heroic 4-1 victory.

3. Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich

Nou Camp, Barcelona, 1999 Champions League Final.

Manchester United completed an amazing and unprecedented treble on that fabled evening in Barcelona, establishing a reputation as the ultimate kings of the comeback.

With the suspended Roy Keane and Paul Scholes watching on from the sidelines, United had it all to do after Mario Basler had given Bayern Munich a sixth minute lead.

Although despite having created little during the entirety of the final, United remarkably found an injury time equaliser.

After Bayern had failed to effectively clear a David Beckham corner, Ryan Giggs sent in a shot from the edge of the area that fell directly into the path of Teddy Sheringham who managed to scuff an effort into the corner of the net.

Extra-time beckoned and while Manchester United fans gathered their breath, who would have believed what would happen next.

As David Beckham swung in another accurate corner, Sheringham flicked the ball goalwards and into the path of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who converted into the roof of the net to spark scenes of sheer jubilation.

2. Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan

(Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties)
Atatürk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul, 2005 Champions League Final.

The manner in which Liverpool bounced back from a three goal deficit at half-time against AC Milan still baffles many supporters.

Milan were thoroughly in control in Istanbul but the never-say-die attitude of the Anfield club, fronted by the simply outstanding Steven Gerrard set up one of the greatest ever comebacks in a European final.

Yes Liverpool fans, need I remind you, Italian giants AC Milan were heading into the half-time break 3-0 up following goals from Paolo Maldini and a brace from Hernan Crespo.

Although Liverpool came out in the second half a rejuvenated side and the fight-back began after only 53 minutes when Gerrard sent an unstoppable header past goalkeeper Dida.

A couple of minutes later and Vladimir Smicer’s right-footed drive had found the net to give Liverpool even further optimism that a remarkable comeback may just happen.

And just before the hour mark Xabi Alonso duly obliged, smashing home following Dida’s save from the penalty spot to spark wild scenes of euphoria in Turkey.

From here on in you just knew it was to be Liverpool’s final and after Andriy Shevchenko had sent a tame penalty straight at the jelly-like Jerzy Dudek, the Reds had rounded off a sensational comeback to win the penalty shootout 3-2.

1. Bayer Uerdingen 7-3 Dynamo Dresden

(Bayer Uerdingen win 7-5 on aggregate)
Grotenburg Stadion, Uerdingen, 1986 European Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final second-leg.

Two German clubs would meet in the Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final as Bayern Uerdingen staged one of the most spectacular comebacks ever to be witnessed in the professional game.

Dresden travelled to Uerdingen safe in the knowledge that they possessed a 2-0 advantage from the first-leg and were seemingly home and dry when they raced to a 3-1 half-time lead in the return leg.

The away side could afford to concede four goals in the last half an hour and would still progress but the events that followed would surely not have appeared in the wildest dreams of even the most optimistic of Uerdingen supporters.

Goals from Wolfgang Funkel, an own goal, a delightful lob from Wolfgang Schäfer and a cracking run and finish from Dietmar Klinger made it 5-3, although this still wasn’t enough for Uerdingen.

Enter Wolfgang Funkel to convert his second penalty of the night to give Bayer the aggregate lead for the first time in the tie and then cue outright ecstasy when Wolfgang Schäfer breaks with the ball on the counter-attack and finishes at the second attempt to make it 7-3.

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