Barcelona's elimination from the Champions League maintained the unwritten tournament rule that it cannot be won back-to-back
AC Milan in 1990 remain the last team to successfully defend the European Cup. Since the current Champions League moniker was introduced for the 1992-93 season, every single reigning title holder has been thwarted in their bid to win it back-to-back, with Barcelona last night becoming the 20th team to be unable to break the jinx. Some have come closer than others, with Milan, Ajax, Juventus and Manchester United all getting to within one game of putting together the two-in-a-row. I look back at two decades of Champions League football and chart just how difficult it has been for each defending champion to retain the most coveted prize in club football.
1992-93: Barcelona knocked out in 2nd round
Johan Cruyff's iconic Barcelona team of the early 90s had the honour of being the first team to start a Champions League season as reigning title holders, although they were soon to discover that winning it twice in a row was a much greater task than lifting it once. Viking Stavanger of Norway weren't expected to cause too much hassle for the Catalans in Round 1 but the plucky Scandinavians made life very difficult for their illustrious opponents at the Nou Camp, with Guillermo Amor getting Barca out of jail with just four minutes remaining. A goalless draw in the second leg kept Barcelona in the competition but they would need to improve fast.
Next up were CSKA Moscow of Russia in Round 2. Barca fell behind in the first leg but plundered an away goal through future sporting director Txiki Begiristain. That made them firm favourites to finish the job in Catalonia and it was all going to plan after half an hour, with Miguel Angel Nadal and Begiristain putting them 2-0 up. CSKA pulled one back just before half-time, though, and struck twice in quick succession with the 60-minute mark approaching. Barca now had to score twice but the shellshocked champions made their exit before the eight-team group stage.
1993-94: Marseille didn't enter
Marseille became the first French club to win the European Cup in 1993, beating AC Milan 1-0 in the final. However the triumph was tarnished by revelations of match fixing at domestic level. They were stripped of their French League title and relegated to the second tier. UEFA decided not to strip them of the Champions League crown but suspended them from the following season's competition.
1994-95: AC Milan beaten in final
In the first year that the group stage was played from the outset of the competition proper, holders AC Milan were drawn with Ajax, AEK Athens and Casino Salzburg. They got off to a bad start, losing 2-0 to Ajax in Amsterdam, before comfortably beating Salzburg at home in a match that was tainted by the Austrians' goalkeeper being hit by a bottle thrown from the stands. UEFA deducted Milan the two points they got for the win (the three-point system hadn't been introduced yet), so the Italians got off the mark with a draw in Athens. They beat AEK at home but lost again to Ajax, leaving them having to beat Salzburg on the final day to stay in the tournament. Daniele Massaro's first half goal spared the champions an embarrassing exit.
Benfica, the side that Milan beat in the 1990 final, were their quarter-final opponents and the reinvigorated holders won the first leg 2-0 at the San Siro, Marco Simone grabbing both goals. A goalless draw in the return leg in Lisbon booked a semi-final date with Paris Saint Germain of France. A tense first leg in Paris was settled in stoppage time by Zvonimir Boban and the away goal effectively swung the tie, with Dejan Savicevic helping himself to both goals in a 2-0 win for Milan in the second leg. They began the defence of their trophy against Ajax and they would end it by facing the same opposition in Vienna. A late goal by Patrick Kluivert, who would later play for AC Milan, gave Ajax their third, and most important, win over the Italians in this season.
1995-96: Ajax beaten in final
Ajax had been given a straightforward-looking draw in the group stage, with Real Madrid the only opponents likely to trouble them greatly. Ferencvaros and Grasshoppers Zurich had been written off from the outset and Ajax hit the ground running with a 1-0 home win over Madrid, courtesy of a Marc Overmars goal. They then put five past Ferencvaros in Hungary and easily beat Grasshoppers at home, although the Swiss side claimed a 0-0 draw in the return. That proved to be a mere speed bump, though, as Ajax won 2-0 at the Bernabeu in their next game and romped home against Ferencvaros to round off the group phase.
The quarter-finals pitted them against Borussia Dortmund, tricky opponents but goals from Edgar Davids and Kluivert gave them a 2-0 win in Germany. Kiki Musampa netted the only goal in the second leg and on they marched to meet Panathinaikos in the semi-finals. The Greeks got a surprise 1-0 victory in Amsterdam but Ajax turned the tables in the second leg, winning 3-0 to advance to their second successive final, with Serie A providing the opposition again, this time in the form of Juventus. Fabrizio Ravanelli opened the scoring early on before Jari Litmanen equalised. The game went to penalties, with Sonny Silooy's miss at 4-2 giving Juventus the trophy.
1996-97: Juventus beaten in final
Manchester United, Rapid Vienna and Fenerbahce had the task of halting Juventus in the group stage, but the Italian juggernaut made light work of their three opponents. Wins over United and Fener got them off the ground early on before they had to settle for a 1-1 draw in Vienna. Andrzej Lesiak's goal was the only one conceded by Juve in six group games and they whacked the Austrians 5-0 in Turin before racking up further victories against United and Fener. If the rest of the competition ran as smoothly for Marcello Lippi's side, they were nailed-on certainties to retain the trophy.
Rosenborg proved tricky opponents in the quarter-finals, forcing Juve to come from behind to earn a draw in Trondheim. The holders got the job done back in Turin with a 2-0 victory, which set up a rematch with Ajax. Juve recorded a fine 2-1 result in Amsterdam and then dismantled the Dutch side at the Stadio Delle Alpi in a 4-1 romp. They were now expected to put away Borussia Dortmund in the final but the Germans did not read the script, going 2-0 up at half-time and responding to Alessandro Del Piero's second half goal by sending on Lars Ricken to crash home a superb effort that put the final to bed and stunned Juve. For the third year in a row, the defending champions had been beaten in the final.
1997-98: Borussia Dortmund eliminated in semi-finals
An expanded 24-team Champions League meant only the group winners were guaranteed a quarter-final place, which made Dortmund's task a little harder. They warmed to it quickly, though, beating Galatasaray in Istanbul and thrashing Sparta Prague at home, before going down 1-0 away to Parma, Hernan Crespo scoring for the Italians. Home wins over Parma and Galatasaray made sure of their passage to the last eight by the time they travelled to Prague, where they easily beat Sparta 3-0. With 15 points out of 18, they had the joint-best group stage record along with Manchester United.
An intriguing all-German clash with Bayern Munich awaited in the quarter-finals and the first leg at the Olympiastadion ended goalless. It was equally cagey in the return leg in Dortmund and again it was 0-0 after 90 minutes. The tie was eventually settled by Stephane Chapuisat's golden goal in extra time and the holders went on to face Real Madrid in the last four. Goals from Fernando Morientes and Christian Karembeu secured a 2-0 home win for Madrid and it looked like Dortmund were on the way out. A 0-0 draw in the second leg left them as the first defending champions in four years not to get to the final.
1998-99: Real Madrid knocked out in quarter-finals
With the 24-team format again in place, Real Madrid had been given a tricky-looking group containing Inter Milan, Spartak Moscow and Sturm Graz. They began with a 2-0 home win against Inter but, like many before them, came unstuck in Moscow. Happily for them, Sturm Graz were obliging opponents who seemed happy just to be at the Bernabeu, where Madrid thumped them 6-1. It was almost as simple in Austria, where the holders won 5-1, but unsurprisingly their trip to Inter was far more taxing and the Italians beat them 3-1. Real were now second in the group and remained there despite a 2-1 win over Spartak, but 12 points from six games was enough to see them through as one of the two best runners-up.
Quarter-final opponents Dynamo Kiev came with a health warning after their 4-0 hammering of Barcelona at the Nou Camp a year earlier. The Ukrainians took the lead at the Bernabeu through Andriy Shevchenko before Predrag Mijatovic equalised, but it was advantage Dynamo after a 1-1 draw. The prolific Shevchenko scored both goals in the second leg in Kiev to dump the Spaniards out.
1999-2000: Manchester United beaten in quarter-finals
The tournament was again expanded to 32 teams, which meant a return to two teams emerging from the initial groups. Man United were expected to manage this with ease ahead of Marseille, Sturm Graz and Croatia Zagreb, who got a surprise draw at Old Trafford on matchday 1. United won their next two games to get back on track before losing 1-0 in Marseille, although wins over Zagreb and Sturm in their remaining group matches saw them through with relative comfort.
A second group phase had been introduced, with Valencia, Fiorentina and Bordeaux likely to provide tougher tests. United began with a 2-0 defeat away to Fiorentina but after that they rattled off four consecutive wins to give them the luxury of travelling to Valencia with a quarter-final place in the bag. A draw confirmed them as group winners and it wasn't long before they were off to Spain again, with Real Madrid waiting in the last eight. They got a creditable 0-0 draw at the Bernabeu but the Spaniards ran rings around them at Old Trafford, a final score of 3-2 disguising the dominance of the team that would eventually succeed United as champions of Europe.
2000-01: Real Madrid beaten in semi-finals
Sporting Lisbon, Spartak Moscow and Bayer Leverkusen had the pleasure of taking on Real Madrid in the first group phase, although the holders had to come from 2-0 down to get a draw in Lisbon in their first game. After that initial scare they clicked into gear, winning their next four matches to guarantee them as group winners by the time they travelled to Moscow. A 1-0 win for the Russians enabled them to join Madrid in the second group stage.
They now faced Leeds, Anderlecht and Lazio in their bid for the quarter-finals. They beat each of those to leave them virtually assured of progression at the halfway point of the group and they drew away to Lazio before a 2-0 win over Leeds meant they could afford an inconsequential defeat at Anderlecht. In the quarter-finals they took a 2-0 lead away to Galatasaray but the Turkish side hit three second half goals to stun the holders. Real had their warning, though, and they cruised to a 3-0 home win to earn the right to play Bayern Munich in the last four. Giovane Elber's goal secured a 1-0 away win for Bayern, who completed the job back in Munich.
2001-02: Bayern Munich eliminated in quarter-finals
Sparta Prague, Spartak Moscow and Feyenoord were Bayern's opponents in the first group phase and the former earned a draw in Munich on matchday 1. Bayern won 3-1 in Moscow before having to settle for a draw away to Feyenoord. The Germans won their last three games in the group to advance with comfort to the second group stage.
Manchester United were the big draw in this round, with Boavista and Nantes expected to make up the numbers. A late Paulo Sergio goal rescued a point at home to United before they beat Nantes away. Boavista proved harder than expected, holding Bayern to a goalless draw in Portugal and getting within nine minutes of a repeat scoreline in Munich. In the end the Germans eased through after a draw at Old Trafford and a home win over Nantes.
Against Real Madrid in the quarter-finals they fell behind to an early Geremi goal before late strikes from Claudio Pizarro and Stefan Efffenberg gave Bayern a 2-1 home win. The Spaniards won the second leg 2-0 in Madrid, Ivan Helgeura and Guti the scorers, to end the holders' dreams of retaining the trophy.
2002-03: Real Madrid beaten in semi-finals
Roma, Genk and AEK Athens stood in the way of Real Madrid in the first group phase and the holders began their quest for a 10th European Cup in flying form, thrashing Roma 3-0 in Italy and knocking six past Champions League newcomers Genk without reply. The two games with AEK saw Madrid stumble as they could only pick up 3-3 and 2-2 draws. AEK, in fact, drew all six of their group games. Madrid then lost at home to Roma and could only manage a draw away to Genk, but in a group where no one team dominated, they had done enough to come out on top.
In contrast to the flying start they made in phase one, Real Madrid were slow out of the traps in the second group stage. They lost 1-0 away to AC Milan and were amazingly held to a draw by Lokomotiv Moscow. A win over Dortmund, with whom they then drew in Germany, improved their chances of progression and they closed out the group with victories against Milan and Lokomotiv to secure second place.
With rumours abounding that they were going to sign David Beckham from Manchester United in the summer, it was perhaps inevitable that the two clubs should meet in the quarter-finals. A blistering performance at the Bernabeu produced a 3-1 win, but the away goal gave United hope for the second leg. Vicente del Bosque need not have worried, though, as a Ronaldo hat-trick rendered United's 4-3 home win irrelevant. Beckham was sprung from the bench and scored twice for United.
Next up were Juventus, who lost to Real in the 1998 final. In the first leg in Madrid, Ronaldo put the hosts in front before David Trezeguet equalised. Roberto Carlos got the winner but the tie was nicely balanced going into the return leg at the Stadio Delle Alpi. A Pavel Nedved-inspired Juve proved too good for Madrid and a 3-1 home win ensured an all-Italian final, with Milan knocking out Inter in the other semi.
2003-04: AC Milan beaten in quarter-finals
AC Milan's group stage opponents were Ajax, Club Brugge and Celta Vigo and they kicked off with a 1-0 home win against Ajax, Filippo Inzaghi on target. They were held to a 0-0 draw in Vigo and then sensationally lost 1-0 to Brugge at the San Siro. Their two trips to the Low Countries, though, proved fruitful and a couple of 1-0 victories confirmed them as group winners by the time they met Celta at home. A 2-1 win for the Spanish side allowed them to accompany Milan into the last 16.
The second group phase had been scrapped in favour of a two-leg home and away format which exists to this day. Milan were expected to make light work of Sparta Prague and ultimately they did, although they had been kept scoreless in Czech Republic. In winning the return 4-1, they scored as many goals that night as they had managed in their previous seven in Europe. Their next San Siro outing also finished 4-1, with Deportivo la Coruna ruthlessly put to the sword by Kaka and co.
Or so it appeared. Nobody could have envisaged what happened in the second leg in La Coruna. Deportivo had cancelled out the three-goal deficit before half-time and actually led the tie on away goals. Milan chased a goal to put them back in the driving seat but Fran piled on the misery with 15 minutes to go and the holders had been dethroned in extraordinary circumstances. It wasn't the first time Milan let a three-goal lead slip...
2004-05: Porto eliminated in last 16
Porto won the 2004 Champions League under Jose Mourinho, who left for Chelsea that summer and it was written in the stars that they should meet in the group stage, with Paris Saint Germain and CSKA Moscow also to be encountered. Porto had not only lost their manager but also several key players after their shock triumph and after four games they had a measly two points and just one goal. No Champions League winner had ever been knocked out at the first hurdle and Porto needed wins over CSKA and an already-qualified Chelsea to stave off this dubious honour.
Qualify for the last 16 they did, but they would have to raise their game significantly to knock out Inter Milan. Obafemi Martins put the Italians 1-0 up in the first leg before Ricardo Costa plundered an equaliser. The away goal had made Inter favourites and a hat-trick from the enigmatic Adriano put pay to Porto's hopes at the San Siro in a 3-1 defeat.
2005-06: Liverpool beaten in last 16
Liverpool won the 2005 Champions League despite finishing 5th in the Premier League, so they had to negotiate three qualifying rounds before taking their place in the group stage. With UEFA promptly changing the rules to avoid a repeat, they will be the only defending champions not to be granted automatic passage to the competition proper. After a hard-fought win away to Real Betis, Liverpool then drew at home to Chelsea before recording two wins over Belgian also-rans Anderlecht. A 0-0 draw with Betis at Anfield ensured Rafael Benitez's side a place in the last 16, although they still had to get a point at Chelsea to confirm top spot, which they did with their third goalless draw of the group.
Liverpool had only conceded once in the group stage, a defensive record which should have set them up nicely for a meeting with Benfica. The Portugese side were under-rated, though, and Luisao's late header in Lisbon gave them a 1-0 victory. When Liverpool transfer target Simao put Benfica ahead at Anfield with a wonder goal, the tie was effectively up and Fabrizio Miccoli worsened the damage with a late goal on a sorry night for the five-time European champions.
2006-07: Barcelona beaten in last 16
Chelsea, Werder Bremen and Levski Sofia represented a mixed draw for Barcelona in the group stage. The holders destroyed hapless Levski 5-0 at the Nou Camp but needed a last-gasp Lionel Messi goal to rescue a point in Bremen. They then went down 1-0 to Chelsea and could only manage a 2-2 draw in the return. Barca were staring early elimination in the face but Levski rolled over again and early goals from Ronaldinho and Eidur Gudjohnsen gave them a 2-0 win over Werder Bremen, who would have dumped the holders out with a draw.
They met Liverpool, their predecessors as European champions, in the last 16, with the Nou Camp staging the first leg. Deco put Barca in front early on but Craig Bellamy equalised just before half-time and John Arne Riise stunned the home crowd with a second half winner. At least Barcelona managed to win the second leg 1-0, with Gudjohnsen on target, but the away goals rule proved their undoing.
2007-08: AC Milan knocked out in last 16
Celtic, Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk did not seem like an overly taxing group stage draw for Milan. They defeated Benfica 2-1 in their first match but then went down by the same scoreline away to Celtic on a night when Dida made a clown of himself in front of the watching millions. Shakhtar were brushed aside with ease, Milan winning both games by a three-goal margin, before a draw away to Benfica and a 1-0 home win over Celtic ensured the first place that had been expected.
Arsenal awaited in the last 16 and the first leg ended 0-0 at the Emirates, with Emmanuel Adebayor submitting his entry to the 'Miss of the Season' contest. With the Gunners experiencing a domestic wobble at the time, Milan looked set to finish the job at home, but they couldn't make the breakthrough and late goals from Cesc Fabregas and Adebayor gave Arsenal a deserved win. For the fourth consecutive season, the Champions League holders bowed out in the first knockout round.
2008-09: Manchester United beaten in final
Alex Ferguson himself would nearly have picked Celtic, Villarreal and AaB Aalborg if he could, although United started with a 0-0 home draw against Villarreal in a match the holders dominated. They upped the ante in their next two matches, easily seeing off Aalborg and Celtic, before Ryan Giggs got them out of jail with a late equaliser in Glasgow. A scoreless draw in Villarreal was enough to copper-fasten first place in the group, although they finished with only two wins from six as Aalborg left Old Trafford with a point.
Inter Milan were United's opponents in the last 16 and the English side had to be content with another 0-0 draw at the San Siro. It could have made for a nervy night at Old Trafford but Nemanja Vidic gave them an early lead and Cristiano Ronaldo doubled the advantage in the second half. In the quarter-finals against Porto, United fell behind early on but goals from Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez turned the game around before Raul Meireles snuck a last-gasp leveller for Porto. At 2-2 and with the second leg in Portugal, United were now underdogs, but a superb long-range effort from Ronaldo in the sixth minute was enough to see them into the semi-finals for the third year in a row.
Domestic rivals Arsenal provided the opposition in the last four and United won the first leg 1-0 at Old Trafford. The tie was still in the balance ahead of the second leg but was soon killed off by Park Ji-sung and Ronaldo. It ultimately finished 3-1 to United, who had Darren Fletcher harshly sent off. Still, they had become the first reigning champions in 12 years to make it to the final, but their hopes of being the first side since 1990 to retain the trophy were dashed by a majestic Barcelona side in Rome.
2009-10: Barcelona knocked out in semi-finals
Barcelona were drawn with Inter Milan, Dynamo Kiev and group stage first-times Rubin Kazan and they began with a scoreless draw away to Inter. Dynamo Kiev went down 2-0 at the Nou Camp before, in a result that stunned Europe, Rubin went to Catalonia and won. Barca could then only manage a draw in Russia, leaving them staring at a shock group stage exit. Pep Guardiola's side produced the goods when it mattered, though, with wins over Inter and Dynamo propelling them to top spot in the group.
They met Stuttgart in the last 16 and were held to a 1-1 draw in Germany, Zlatan Ibrahimovic cancelling out Cacau's goal for the hosts. The second leg proved far more straightforward, with Barca easing to a 4-0 victory. Their next challenge was Arsenal and two goals from Ibrahimovic at the Emirates seemed to put the tie to bed, but the Gunners responded and at 2-2, it was game on once more. Arsenal even had the temerity to take the lead through Nicklas Bendtner at the Nou Camp, but Lionel Messi then turned in one of the great performances of the modern era, scoring all of Barcelona goals in a 4-1 win.
Barca got reacquainted with Inter Milan in the semi-finals and all was going well when Pedro Rodriguez gave them the lead at the San Siro, but Jose Mourinho's side slammed three past the holders in reply and the Catalans would have it all to do in the return leg. Inter frustrated the life out of them at the Nou Camp and although Gerard Pique's late goal ensured an exciting finish to the game, Barca had left it too late.
2010-11: Inter Milan beaten in quarter-finals
As he did with Porto six years earlier, Jose Mourinho left Inter after guiding them to Champions League glory, with Rafael Benitez his replacement. The Italians had a disappointing 2-2 draw with FC Twente to begin with but they followed that up with a 4-0 thrasing of Werder Bremen and a 4-3 win over Totttenham that nearly saw the visitors recover from four down. Spurs beat the defending champions 3-1 in London but a home win over Twente meant that a last-day hammering in Bremen was irrelevant.
In a repeat of the previous year's final, Inter met Bayern, this time in the last 16. A stoppage time goal by Mario Gomez won it at the San Siro for Bayern, who at one stage led the second leg 2-1. With Inter on the ropes, Wesley Sneijder and Goran Pandev made it 3-2 and sent the holders through on away goals. They also had German opposition in the quarter-finals, but underdogs Schalke recorded a 5-2 win in Italy and also won the return leg to end Inter's defence of the trophy.
2011-12: Barcelona eliminated in semi-finals
AC Milan would provide a stern test in the group stage for Barcelona, but BATE Borisov and Viktoria Plzen were likely to be disposed of with ease. So it proved, with Barca knocking 15 goals past the two whipping boys without reply. Milan earned a draw at the Nou Camp with Thiago Silva's last-gasp header, but an entertaining 3-2 win at the San Siro ensured Pep Guardiola's men won the group.
They were expected to be much too good for Bayer Leverkusen in the last 16 and indeed the tie was over as a contest after Barca won the first leg 3-1 in Germany. They hammered the 2002 finalists 7-1 at home, with Lionel Messi becoming the first player to score five in a Champions League match. They met Milan again in the quarter-finals, winning 3-1 in the Nou Camp after a goalless first leg. Old foes Chelsea awaited in the semi-finals and, despite dominating at Stamford Bridge, Didier Drogba got the only goal of the game for the Blues. Barca took a 2-0 lead in the return leg and were playing against 10 men after John Terry's red card, but Ramires pulled one back with a stunning lob and, with the holders needing a goal, Fernando Torres struck on the counterattack at the death to ensure that the curse of the defending champions lives on for another season.