Champions League final: 12 greatest performances since 2000, featuring Messi and Ronaldo

  • Kobe Tong

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The Champions League final will always be one of the biggest events in the sporting calendar.

Only the FIFA World Cup is revered as a more prestigious trophy for those who ply they trade in Europe, while some players would even say 'Big Ears' is the silverware they desire the most.

This season has marked the strangest ever route to Champions League glory with the COVID-19 pandemic necessitating a World Cup-esque tournament to take place in Lisbon.

Champions League final

All the quarter-final and semi-final fixtures were played over one leg as opposed to two, while no fans will be in attendance to see Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain slug it out for glory.

Nevertheless, just because there won't be thousands of supporters chanting their names in person, that's not to say that both sets of players won't be getting themselves hyped for the game.

And such is the illustrious nature of the Champions League that there are plenty of touchstones for inspiration when it comes to the final over the years.

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Greatest final performances

There have been no shortage of iconic performances from Liverpool's miracle in Istanbul, Chelsea upsetting the odds in Munich and Real Madrid reigning as kings of Europe for three years.

However, sometimes it's individual players that make the difference on big nights like that and we've decided to look back at some of the greatest ever displays in Champions League finals since 2000.

We've selected the 12 individual performances that we consider to have been the most impressive and attempted to rank them from the 'least great' to the 'most great'. Check out our picks below:

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12. Henrik Larsson vs Arsenal (2006)

We start with one of the most unique performances on the list because Larsson actually started the 2006 final on the bench, but his impact was undeniable when he took to the pitch on 61 minutes.

Larsson turned provider for both Samuel Eto'o and Juliano Belletti to finally break down a 10-man Arsenal side and win the game for Barcelona within the space of four minutes. Incredible stuff.

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11. Diego Milito vs Bayern Munich (2010)

Milito's display at the Bernabeu wouldn't necessarily make for a gripping highlights reel - Inter Milan did only have 35% possession, after all - but it couldn't have been more clinical for Jose Mourinho.

The Argentine forward became one of the world's best number nines under the 'Special One' and that couldn't have been clearer than when he scored twice on the biggest night of his career.

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10. Kaka vs Liverpool (2007)

The entire Milan team was out for revenge after the events of Istanbul two years earlier and Liverpool were on the receiving end of a masterclass from their Ballon d'Or-bound star man.

Turning provider for Filippo Inzaghi's match-winning goal with a superb through-ball was just the tip of the iceberg and who could forget his iconic 'I Belong to Jesus' celebration at full-time?

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9. Gareth Bale vs Liverpool (2018)

The second substitute performance on the list and while Larsson chipped in with two assists from the bench, Bale provided two goals to elevate Real Madrid to victory against Liverpool in Kiev.

Sure, his second strike might have been a huge howler from Loris Karius, but we couldn't help tipping our hat to a performance that included one of the Champions League's greatest ever goals.

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8. Angel Di Maria vs Atletico (2014)

Sergio Ramos might have hoovered up the column inches with his last-minute goal to rescue 'La Decima', but we can all agree that Di Maria was the best player on pitch in, of all places, Lisbon.

The then Real star will be looking to replicate an incredible performance that featured a stunning assist for Bale's winner when he turns out for PSG in the same arena tonight.

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7. Zinedine Zidane vs Leverkusen (2002)

It only seems right that a man who has dominated in the Champions League as a manager also won the competition as a player with an absolute masterclass for Real Madrid at Hampden Park.

But yes, yes, yes, the elephant in the room is that Zidane capped off this performance with one of the most beautiful goals ever scored, smashing home THAT left-footed volley for the winner.

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6. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Juventus (2017)

To the people who say Ronaldo's performances in finals are overrated, we respectfully disagree and we could easily have included his skill-ladened, Michael Essien-tormenting display from the 2008 final.

But we've instead gone for his two-goal haul during the 4-1 humbling of Juventus in Cardiff, showing the sort of poacher-like instincts that made him an unstoppable scoring machine latterly with Real.

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5. Oliver Kahn vs Valencia (2001)

Sure, Kahn was pretty impressive during regulation time, only conceding from Gaizka Mendieta's spot kick, but it was during the penalty shootout that the German's performance became legendary.

Kahn astonishingly saved penalties from Zlatko Zahovič, Amedeo Carboni and Mauricio Pellegrino to inspire Bayern to European glory with one of the competition's finest ever goalkeeping displays.

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4. Didier Drogba vs Bayern Munich (2012)

Perhaps we've ranked this display a little too highly and yes, Drogba did concede a penalty, but we just couldn't help rewarding a performance that screams the word 'inspiring'.

Drogba elevated a flagging Chelsea side to European glory that looked beyond their reach with a stunning, equalising header and nerves of steal to convert the title-winning penalty. Simply iconic.

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3. Lionel Messi vs Manchester United (2011)

Sir Alex Ferguson named this Barca side as the toughest team he ever faced and it was the mercurial Messi who was the jewel in their crown during an utter masterclass at Wembley.

Naturally, the Ballon d'Or collector bagged the winning goal with a stinging strike, but also completed 10 dribbles (a finals record) and made Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand look like cardboard cutouts.

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2. Xavi vs Manchester United (2009)

Aside from, by our estimations, being the greatest ever team to win the Champions League, there was also plenty of individual quality on display in Rome and nobody could hold a candle to Xavi.

The Spanish maestro played a key role in Eto'o's opening strike, provided an iconic assist for Messi's header and generally ran rings around United to bag himself the Man of the Match award.

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1. Steven Gerrard vs AC Milan (2005)

Could it have been anything else? Gerrard helped inspire one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history when he headed Liverpool back into the game by making it 3-1 against Milan's all-stars.

The Reds legend also won the penalty that drew Liverpool level on the night, while also mixing his incredible defensive and offensive acumen to ensure his team of underdogs bagged the trophy.

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GIVEMESPORT's Kobe Tong says

Does it get any better than captaining a Liverpool team that finished 5th in the Premier League to come back from 3-0 down against one of the greatest teams ever assembled? Err, no.

Context plays a massive role in the legacy of Gerrard's performance, but even if you forget about the narrative of the game, there's no denying that the England man was spectacular.

You'd be forgiven for thinking he was playing in about 15 different positions throughout the game, playing a huge role in the goal that sparked the comeback and the goal that completed it. 

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So, yes, there are plenty of wonderful performances for PSG and Bayern players to choose from to get themselves hyped, but they should look no further than Stevie G for the absolute gold standard.

That's not to say that Thiago Silva and David Alaba should be turning their attention to Djimi Traoré, mind...

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