Top 5: Champions League Semi-Finals

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The Nou Camp witnessed one of the greatest Champions League semi-finals last night, a match packed with goals, incidents, red cards, missed penalties and dodgy attempts to dish out dead legs.

Europe's premier cup competition has been no stranger to drama, whether in its old incarnation as the European Cup or in its present format. While finals can often be tense, close affairs - Liverpool's 2005 resurrection against Milan the exception - earlier knock-out rounds, and the semi-finals especially, are usually the places where goals are traded, referees are lambasted and nerves are shredded.

Over the past 10 years the Champions League has hosted some absolute classic semi-finals, as Europe's elite jostle for a place to compete for the holy grail of club football. Focusing on the most recent match-ups in the two-legged semi final era, we pick the five best Champions League semi-final ties.

5. Real Madrid v Juventus 2002/03 (3-4 aggregate)

The 2002/03 final was widely regarded as one of the dullest matches in finals history. An all-Italian affair between Juventus and AC Milan, who each did their best to confirm the stereotype of Serie 'A' football as tactically tight and defensively sound but ultimately negative.

However, the Old Lady's second-leg semi-final encounter with Real Madrid was anything but dull. A titanic tussle between two of Europe's heavyweights had left Juve 2-1 down on aggregate from the Bernabeu and needing a miracle to progress against the Galacticos. 

Spearheaded by the effervescent and evergreen Alessandro Del Piero, goals from Trezeguet, Del Piero and Nedved put them 3-0 ahead in the second-leg and 4-2 up on aggregate. Gianluigi Buffon saved a Figo penalty but a late Zidane strike set up a nervy finish, with another Madrid goal enough to take them through on away goals. However, Juve held on, setting up the first ever all-Italian final.

4.Chelsea v Liverpool 2004/05 (0-1 aggregate)

The first tie at Stamford Bridge may have lacked goals but the second-leg more than made up for it in terms of sheer drama and controversy. A disputed fourth minute goal from Luis Garcia, the so-called "ghost goal", was enough to send the Reds through at the expense of Mourinho's Chelsea side.

The Champions League draw seemed to have a habitual desire to pair these two Premier League foes against each other, with similarly dramatic results. Their encounter in 2006/07 ended on penalties and their epic 2009/10 quarter final finished up 7-5 on aggregate to Chelsea. However, this choice is also a nod towards what was to come later in Istanbul.

Liverpool may have ridden their luck here as the newly-crowned Premier League champions battered Benetiz's Reds, but Drogba and co ultimately came up short. After Gerrard's strike against Olympiakos in the group stage, their rearguard action against Juventus in the quarters and this semi-final tie, Liverpool's comeback against Milan capped off one of the greatest European campaigns ever.

3. Inter Milan v Barca 2009/10 (3-2 aggregate)

A 3-1 first leg lead for Inter set up a mouthwatering second-leg clash at the Nou Camp. After Pedro scored first in Milan, Mourinho's side roared back with goals from Wesley Sneijder, Maicon and Diego Milito to put them in a commanding position heading to Spain.

However, the crucial away goal gave Barca hope, with many onlookers predicting the Catalans would still progress. What was to follow was one of the greatest defensive displays in history, to be eclipsed possibly only by Chelsea's last night. The reining champions had Messi, Ibrahimovic, Yaya Toure, Xavi and Pedro in their side and had swept all before them as they attempted to win back-to-back Champions League titles.

Like Chelsea, Inter were reduced to 10 men in the Nou Camp, Motta getting his marching orders in the first half after Busquets made a meal of a raised hand. Pique notched with 10 minutes left, meaning a Barca goal would send them through - and they should have got it. Bojan had what would of been a tie-winning goal ruled out for handball as the clock wound down and Inter went on to defeat Bayern and lift the trophy.

2. Manchester United v Juventus 1998/99 (4-3 aggregate)

United secured their place in their first final in 31 years after they came back from 2-0 down at the Stadio Delle Alpi to eliminate Juve. Famous as much for Roy Keane's performance in spite of a yellow card that ruled him out of the final, United went into this tie struggling to find form following a 1-1 first-leg draw at Old Trafford.

Two goals from Filippo Inzaghi put Juve ahead before Roy Keane and Dwight Yorke hauled United back into the match. With the tie poised at 2-2 and United heading through on away goals, the Italians poured forward, laying siege to Schmeichel's goal.

Jaap Stam had earlier cleared off the line before Yorke and Irwin each struck a post as United picked up the Italians on the break. Inzaghi then had a would-be hat-trick goal ruled out for offside before Yorke wiggled through the defence and rounded the keeper, allowing the onrushing Andy Cole to tap in. United went on to win the final, scoring two late goals to oust Bayern Munich and lift the trophy at the Nou Camp.

1. Chelsea v Barcelona 2011/12 (3-2 aggregate)

Possibly the greatest night in Chelsea's history. A slender 1-0 first-leg gave the Blues a chance to eliminate the world's best team on their own patch but it didn't begin well. Goals from Busquets and Iniesta put the Catalans 2-0 up, while Chelsea captain John Terry managed to get himself sent off in-between for a needless off-the-ball knee to Alexis Sanchez's leg.

A Messi-like chip from Ramires gave the Blues a precious away goal just before half time. However, a heroic defensive display to match Inter's two year's previously on the same turf would be required to send the Blues through. The world's best player, Lionel Messi, missed a penalty and struck a post as Barca piled on the pressure. Chelsea defended for their lives on their edge of their 18-yard box and Bosingwa showed Terry how it should be done at the heart of the defence.

All this before the much maligned Fernando Torres popped up with a 90th minute goal to seal the tie and send the Blues through. An unforgettable night of football and one of the all-time greatest Champions League matches. If one game could bump Chelsea's defeat to Barcelona in 2009 off the list, this was it.

European News
Premier League
UEFA Champions League
Manchester United

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