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May 26, 2011

European Cup classics

Ahead of this weekend's Champions League showpiece between Manchester United and Barcelona at Wembley, we have selected our First XI European Cup finals.

Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt (1960)

Real Madrid dominated the early years of the competition and while their first triumph -a 4-3 victory over Stade Reims - was particularly dramatic, the team's zenith came in 1960, when a devastating attacking display against German champions Eintracht Frankfurt handed the Spanish giants a fifth successive title - an achievement that remains unparalleled.

The 135,000 fans that packed inside Glasgow's Hampden Park were wowed by the finishing prowess of two of the game's legends as Alfredo Di Stefano grabbed a hat-trick and Ferenc Puskas became the first (and thus far only) player to score four in a European Cup final.

Daily Record columnist Jim McLean, who attended the match, said: "There were so many people on the terracing at Hampden it was a struggle to see the match, but genius shone through in any case... It was, without fear of contradiction, one of the greatest games I ever witnessed. Entertainment defines football and Madrid had the supreme talent in Ferenc Puskas.

Benfica 5-3 Real Madrid (1962)

A year earlier, Benfica had ended the five-time champions' stranglehold on the competition by beating their rivals Barcelona in the final. Real returned in 1962 determined to regain the trophy, but on a night when Puskas and Di Stefano were expected to be the jewels in the Spaniards' crown once again, it was Benfica's Black Pearl who glistened brightest.

A 20-year-old Eusebio stole the show in Amsterdam as the Portuguese champions fought from 2-0 and 3-2 down to win 5-3. The young striker scored the decisive two goals - the first a coolly dispatched penalty, the second a fizzed 25-yard drive - and a Portuguese superstar was born.

Celtic 2-1 Inter Milan (1967)

One of the continent's most fearsome sides at the time, Inter Milan impressed but never truly enthralled as Helenio Herrera's revolutionary catenaccio tactic helped them ruthlessly claim back-to-back European Cups in 1964 and 1965. Entering the 1967 final as heavy favourites, La Grande Inter (as the group were known) were expected to add a third title against Scottish minnows Celtic in Lisbon.

But Jock Stein's attack-minded Hoops - the antithesis of an Inter side that placed great emphasis on counter-attacking football - produced one of the biggest shocks in European football history. With the scores tied at 1-1, Stevie Chalmers netted an 85th minute winner for the 'Lisbon Lions' - a nickname bestowed for their brave display – and they became the first British side to win the trophy.

After the 2-1 victory, Stein said: "There is not a prouder man on God's Earth than me at this moment. Winning was important, but it was the way that we won that has filled me with satisfaction. We did it by playing football; pure, beautiful, inventive football. There was not a negative thought in our heads."

Feyenoord 2-1 Celtic (1970)

It may have been Ajax's revered band of Total Footballers that got Europe salivating in the 1970s with their delightful interpretation of the beautiful game, but it was Dutch rivals Feyenoord who first brought the European Cup back to the Netherlands after a thrilling victory over Celtic at the San Siro.

Ernst Happel - who would later win the competition with Hamburg - was the tactical mastermind behind Feyenoord, a team created in his own image, possessing both rugged determination and guile in abundance. Celtic took the lead through a great strike from Tommy Gemmell - who had scored the equaliser in the 1967 final against Inter - but Feyenoord battled back, captain Rinus Israel nodding home the leveller.

The Rotterdam outfit exuded complete control through most of the contest and were finally rewarded with an extra-time winner, a misjudged header from Billy McNeill allowing Ove Kindvall to superbly control and lift the ball over the keeper to send Feyenoord into a 116th minute frenzy. They may have been overshadowed by their more illustrious Amsterdam counterparts in the years that followed, but it was Feyenoord who reached the Holy Grail first.

Bayern Munich 4-0 Atletico Madrid (1974)

Bayern Munich's first taste of European Cup glory was also notable as the first and only final that has been settled by a replay. The Bavaraians' first meeting with Atletico Madrid ended 1-1 at the Heysel Stadium after an extra-time opener from future Spanish European Championship-winning boss Luis Aragones was cancelled out by a 30-yard thunderbolt from Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck.

Played just two days after the first match, Bayern were simply sensational in the replay, thrashing Atletico 4-0 thanks to brace each from Uli Hoeness and Gerd "der Bomber" Muller. It was a merciless performance from the German side and it was no coincidence that, less than two months later, six of Bayern's starting line-up would win the World Cup as part of the West Germany team that beat the Netherlands 2-1 at their Olympiastadion home.

Liverpool 3-1 Borussia Monchengladbach (1977)

Building on the foundations laid by predecessor Bill Shankly, Liverpool stepped up to the next level under the stewardship of Bob Paisley, who delivered the club's first ever European Cup in 1977 with a convincing 3-1 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach. Having just secured a second successive league title and tasted continental glory in the UEFA Cup a year earlier, the Reds entered the game brimming with confidence.

Monchengladbach had several reigning world champions in their ranks - Berti Vogts, Herbert Wimmer, Jupp Heynckes and Rainer Bonhof all won the World Cup with West Germany in 1974 - but a Liverpool team inspired by Kevin Keegan and Steve Heighway were superb against the side they had beaten to lift the UEFA Cup four years earlier. Terry McDermott gave the Reds a first-half lead but Allan Simonsen – the only non-German in Monchengladbach's line-up levelled. However, Paisley's charges were not be undone and Tommy Smityh put them back into the lead before Phil Neal converted a penalty to put the result beyond doubt.

The Guardian's account of the game commented: "As the game finished, the 24,000 Liverpool supporters who had regaled the Olympic stadium throughout with songs from home... reacted not with relief but with the jubilation of those who had known all along that the result would be right. Indeed, for the major part of the game there was little doubt that Liverpool would win."

Porto 2-1 Bayern Munich (1987)

Porto may now be recognised as one of European football's pre-eminent forces, having won the Champions League, UEFA Cup and Europa League in the past eight years, but when they faced Bayern Munich in 1987, their status was of no more than Portuguese minnows. Bayern had not won the European Cup for 11 years but they were nonetheless expected to brush aside the threat of Porto.

Sure enough, Ludwig Kogl's diving header put Bayern into the lead but the Bavarians and captain Lothar Matthaus would, for the first but not last time, be undone by two late goals in the final. Surprise package Porto emerged victorious thanks to 76th and 81st minute strikes respectively from Rabah Madjer and substitute Juary, with skipper Joao Pinto lifting the trophy - the pinnacle of the one-club man's 16-year career at the Estadio das Antas.

AC Milan 4-0 Barcelona (1994)

When Milan met Barcelona in Athens, it was expected to be a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object as the then four-time winners and 1993 runners-up from Italy took on the 1992 champions: Johan Cruyff's Catalan Dream Team. The watching world waited for sparks to fly, but while Rossoneri fireworks shot into the stratosphere, the Blaugranas' were timidly extinguished.

In one of the most comprehensive displays ever seen at European football's showpiece fixture, Milan demolished Barca 4-0, two goals from Daniele Massaro and one each from Dejan Savicevic and Marcel Desailly delivering another dose of continental glory to the San Siro stars. World class players the ilk of Hristo Stoichkov, Ronald Koeman and Romario were reduced to Sunday League spectators against Fabio Capello's Milan juggernaut.

The performance is widely regarded as one of the best ever in a European Cup final, with goalscorer Desailly later concluding: "It was a night when everything clicked for us and Barcelona did not have a chance."

Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich (1999)

The last final of the millennium provided the most dramatic conclusion ever witnessed in European football as Manchester United, 1-0 down going into injury-time, scored twice in two minutes to leave Bayern Munich stunned and defeated.

Mario Basler's low free-kick put Bayern ahead in the sixth minute and the Bavarians went on to boss the game, with Peter Schmeichel saving from Stefan Effenberg and Carsten Jancker, while Mehmet Scholl saw his lobbed effort hit the crossbar. A United side that had dominated domestically, lifting a Premier League and FA Cup double, looked tired and lacked drive without suspended midfield pair Paul Scholes and Roy Keane. But as Bayern edged towards a deserved victory, United won a 91st minute corner and Schmeichel joined the throngs of red shirts in the box.

"Can Manchester United score, they always score," ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley uttered as David Beckham prepared to swing in the delivery. They did just that; Teddy Sheringham prodding home a last-gasp equaliser to send the United fans wild. However, that was not to be the end, and as the final seconds of injury time ticked away, United were awarded another corner. Beckham's cross was met by Sheringham, who flicked on to fellow substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to write his name into the club's history books.

On what would have been legendary coach Sir Matt Busby's 90th birthday, Tyldesley's words - "Manchester United have reached the promised land" - captured the moment perfectly.

Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan

If United's was the most dramatic comeback in European Cup history, Liverpool can surely boast the most unlikely and impressive return from the brink of defeat. Surprise finalists in 2005, Rafa Benitez's Reds faced an AC Milan outfit led by the genius of Kaka, punctuated by the goals of Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo. The Rossoneri stamped their authority on the Istanbul final in an embarrassingly one-sided first half, with a Crespo brace adding to Paulo Maldini's first-minute opener to put Carlo Ancelotti's side on course for a second Champions League triumph in three seasons.

Dietmar Hamann was sent on at half-time as Benitez opted to play three at the back and the Merseysiders found a way back into the match when Steven Gerrard headed home nine minutes after the interval. Six minutes later and goals from Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso had remarkably brought Liverpool level and their dream of a fifth European Cup was restored.

The match went to extra-time and Jerzy Dudek thwarted Shevchenko with an outstanding double save to set up a penalty shootout. Dudek - invoking the wobbly legged spirit of former Reds goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar - was the spot-kick hero, saving from Andrea Pirlo and Shevchenko again to complete a most improbable victory.

Barcelona 2-1 Arsenal (2006)

An entertaining game that ebbed and flowed eventually saw ten-man Arsenal washed away by Barcelona's talented tidal wave. An exhilarating contest really burst into life in the 18th minute, as the pinnacle of Jens Lehmann's career of calamities arrived at the Stade de France. The German goalkeeper was red carded after recklessly bringing down Samuel Eto'o just outside the box and the Gunners faced an uphill battle.

Parisian romanticism appeared to be in the air, though, when Arsene Wenger's stole into the lead in the 37th minute courtesy of Sol Campbell's header from a Thierry Henry free-kick. But, after 40 minutes of probing, the Catalans finally found a way through the Gunners' resolute defence; second-half substitute Henrik Larsson setting up Eto'o for an equaliser. And it was the Swedish super sub who was provider again four minutes later as Juliano Belletti slotted through Manuel Almunia's legs to become one of the most surprising European Cup-winning goalscorers in the competition's history.

•  Follow me on Twitter: @marklomasESPN

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