Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Real Madrid vs. Manchester City: Where does this Champions League comeback rank among greatest in history?

It was another magical night in the greatest club competition in the world — the UEFA Champions League. Manchester City looked to be cruising into the UCL final with a 5-3 aggregate lead after Riyad Mahrez opened up the scoring in the 73rd minute at Real Madrid. Los Blancos had not recorded a shot on goal, they wouldn’t until the 90th minute, and they needed two goals just to force extra time. They got the two goals from substitute Rodrygo before Karim Benzema’s extra time penalty kick saw Real win the second leg 3-1, advancing 6-5 on aggregate. You can argue it was the most improbable comeback because in the others below, there was plenty of time to pull it off — maybe a half or an entire game. But what Real managed to do on Wednesday won’t be forgotten by anybody who witnessed it, while City will want to forget a collapse that will bring sleepless nights all summer.

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Looking back through the years of this historic competition, where does Wednesday’s this jaw-dropping second-half comeback (or collapse, depending on your rooting interest) rank? Here’s my top five and an honorable mention, and of course two of these have been from Real Madrid this season.

Honorable mention: Deportivo 4, AC Milan 0 (2003-04 quarters)

An absolutely shocking turn of events. AC Milan crushed Deportivo La Coruna 4-1 in the first leg, and there was no way a team featuring the likes of Dida, Cafu, Paolo Maldini, Andriy Shevchenko and arguably the world’s top young talent Kaka, were going to blow this. Now, Deportivo were no pushovers, featuring top talents like Juan Carlos Valeron and Alberto Luque, but Milan were the defending champs and got absolutely obliterated, losing the second leg 4-0 and crashing out 5-4 on aggregate. This was one of those results, during my childhood, that taught me the magic of this sport.

5. Real Madrid 3, PSG 1 (2021-22 round of 16)

I’ll put this shocking comeback here as the third-best all time. Sure, it wasn’t via a crazy amount of goals, and not having the away goals rule anymore added to the intrigue and belief that Real were still in it. But even if there were away goals, Real still would have advanced. The Gianluigi Donnarumma mistake off the Benzema pressure turned the tide, and Real never looked back. With the added storylines of Lionel Messi facing his old rivals and Kylian Mbappe taking on what many believe will be his next team, Real did was seemed unthinkable with 30 minutes to go. Benzema is already a Real Madrid legend, but this was next level stuff from the Frenchman. 

4. Liverpool 4, Barcelona 3 (2018-19 semis)

The beginning of the end for Lionel Messi at Barcelona. This collapse was a result Barca that still haven’t recovered from. A 3-0 win in the first leg at Camp Nou seemed like more than enough to advance after 90 minutes at Anfield. In all honesty, a 3-0 win for the Reds would have been a shock, so 4-0? Out of this world. The Trent Alexander-Arnold quick corner to Divock Origi is a play ingrained in our dreams for eternity, and it’s the stuff of nightmares for Blaugrana supporters. 

3. Real Madrid 3, Man City 1 (2021-22 semis)

The only reason this is third is because of the superior differences Barcelona and Milan had to make up below. But in terms of the most clutch comeback, this is up there with any two-leg affair in the competition’s history considering they needed two goals in added time to just force extra time. 

Rodrygo delivered with his two most important touches, forcing the extra half hour before Benzema put it away like only he knows how. Here is the goal that brought Real level on aggregate:

As clutch as they come. Real may not always be the most convincing team on the field, but there is no denying the result and what just they just pulled off.

2. Barcelona 6, PSG 1 (2016-17 round of 16)

This is the all-time epic collapse for PSG. They defeated Barca 4-0 in the first leg but lost the second leg 6-1 at the Camp Nou with Sergi Roberto’s late winner. PSG conceded four times in the second half and three times after the 88th minute. Known as La Remontada (The Comeback) for Barca supporters, they cleared a four-goal deficit and won by five, which left Unai Emery stunned on the PSG sideline. This marked the first time ever a team fought back and won after being down four goals in two-legged tie. 

1. Liverpool 3, AC Milan 3 — Reds win in PKs (2004-05 final)

There is no topping this. The final in Istanbul is one of the most iconic soccer matches in history, one that I remember vividly. Props to my high school soccer coach for letting us watch it in his classroom before practice. Not all heroes wear capes. 

But this game was just bonkers, with Milan taking the lead a minute in through Maldini. It was 3-0 by the half with an Hernan Crespo double, the last goal coming in the 44th minute to surely end any hope of a comeback. But it was Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer an Xabi Alonso off his own missed penalty kick, tapping in the rebound, drawing level with three goals in seven minutes. The game went to extra time, then came penalties, and the rest is history. Jerzy Dudek was the hero in the shootout, but he also had a memorable double save on Andriy Shevchenko late in extra time to force the spot kicks.

Istanbul, 2005 — the greatest comeback on the biggest of stages that the sport has seen. 

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