11 of the most legendary substitutions in recent football history

  • Rob Swan

It’s not just the 11 players who start a match that are vitally important to a football team - the substitutes on the bench are equally as valuable to any manager.

Subs can often make a big impact off the bench. Just because you don’t start a game doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t end up being the hero.

There have been some legendary substitutions in recent times and a video showing 11 of them has gone viral on YouTube, racking up an astonishing seven million views within the first two days of being uploaded.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Gareth Bale and other household names all feature.

But which of the following is the greatest substitution?

Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool) v Barcelona

It was one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history.

Liverpool, 3-0 down from the first leg, recorded a remarkable 4-0 victory over Barcelona at Anfield to reach the 2019 Champions League final.

And substitute Georginio Wijnaldum, who came on at half-time for the injured Andy Robertson, turned the tie on its head by scoring two of the goals inside 122 seconds.

Liverpool v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Second Leg

Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) v Liverpool

Furious after being omitted from Real Madrid’s 2018 Champions League final starting line-up by Zinedine Zidane, Gareth Bale responded in the best possible way after replacing Isco in the 61st minute.

The Welshman scored one of the greatest goals in Champions League history minutes after entering the fray before doubling his tally - and wrapping up a 3-1 victory for Los Blancos in the process - in the closing stages of the match.

Real Madrid v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Final

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) v Wolfsburg

This has to be *the* most astonishing impact ever made by a substitute.

Bayern Munich were 1-0 down against Wolfsburg in September 2015 when Pep Guardiola sent on Robert Lewandowski in place of Thiago Alcantara.


By the 60th minute, Bayern were 5-1 up - and Lewandowski had scored all five goals in just eight minutes and 59 seconds.

The Pole subsequently became the quickest scorer of three, four and five goals in Bundesliga history and Guardiola’s reaction said it all.


Lionel Messi (Barcelona) v Real Betis

Lionel Messi is only ever a substitute when a) he’s not fully fit, or b) it’s a fixture that Barcelona believe that can win without him, offering the Argentine legend a well-earned rest in the process.

But whenever the five-time Ballon d’Or winner comes on from the bench, he tends to make a big impact.

Back in May 2013, with the scores locked at 2-2, Messi came on as a second-half substitute and scored a vital brace to inspire Barça to a 4-2 win over Real Betis. The result left the Catalan giants just one win away from another La Liga title.

FC Barcelona v Real Betis Balompie - La Liga

Mario Gotze (Germany) v Argentina

It’s the dream of every aspiring footballer: scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final.

Very few players have managed to do this throughout history, but Mario Gotze is one of them.

The midfielder replaced Miroslav Klose just before the end of normal time, with the deadlock unbroken, and popped up with the biggest goal of his career in the 113th minute.


Eder (Portugal) v France

Portugal were the underdogs heading into the Euro 2016 final against tournament hosts France even before losing Cristiano Ronaldo to injury in the 25th minute.

But they lifted the Henri Delaunay Trophy thanks to a 109th-minute goal from substitute Eder, who had replaced Renato Sanches late in the second half.

He cemented his name in Portuguese folklore in the process.


Francesco Totti (AS Roma) v Torino

The legendary Francesco Totti further endeared himself to the AS Roma supporters in April 2016 by scoring the equaliser and the winner after coming on for Seydou Keita in the 86th minute.

Totti levelled the scores moments after coming on with a finish at the back-post, making it 2-2, before sealing all three points for the Giallorossi from the penalty spot minutes later.


Juliano Belletti (Barcelona) v Arsenal

Barcelona won the 2006 Champions League final thanks to a 2-1 win over Arsenal in Paris - and Juliano Belletti was the unlikely hero of the night.

The Brazilian defender, who came on for Oleguer in the 71st minute, scored the most important goal of his life with nine minutes left on the clock.

UEFA Champions League Final: Arsenal v Barcelona

Kevin-Prince Boateng (AC Milan) v Lecce

When Milan found themselves 3-0 down at half-time to Lecce in October 2011, Massimiliano Allegri reacted by making two substitutions: Alberto Aquilani for Massimo Ambrosini and Kevin-Prince Boateng for Robinho.

By the 63rd minute, Milan were back on level terms thanks to a remarkable hat-trick from Boateng, who took the game by the scruff of the neck after entering the fray.

Mario Yepes then completed the comeback for Milan by scoring the Rossoneri’s fourth goal in the 83rd minute.

AC Milan's midfielder Kevin Boateng (L)

Sergi Roberto (Barcelona) v PSG

A contender for most extraordinary game in Champions League history, Barcelona’s epic 6-1 win over PSG in March 2017 will never be forgotten.

Neymar was the Man of the Match and it was the Brazilian’s exquisite pass which led to substitute Sergi Roberto - on for Rafinha in the 76th minute - sticking the ball into the back of the net with seconds remaining.

FC Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) v Barcelona

Real Madrid sealed a 3-1 victory over Barcelona in the first leg of the 2017 Spanish Super Cup and it was a goal from substitute Cristiano Ronaldo that put Los Blancos 2-1 ahead in the 80th minute.

The Portuguese superstar, who had replaced Karim Benzema earlier in the second half, scored a magnificent goal past Marc-Andre ter Stegen and celebrated by holding his shirt up to the Camp Nou crowd.

He was sent off moments later - and even gave the referee a push afterwards - but he’d still done enough to win the game for Madrid during the short amount of time he was on the pitch.


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