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Ranking best Champions League final goals: Air Ronaldo, Bale’s bicycle and the timeless Zidane among top picks

With the UEFA Champions League final between Premier League pair Manchester City and Chelsea coming up later this week on CBS and Paramount+, it is the ideal moment to reflect on previous finals and the famous goals that those encounters have produced. Superstar names such as Zinedine Zidane, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos all feature and both of this season’s finalists have the players capable of adding their names to the list in Porto.

Here are our picks.

10. Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United (2008)
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Manchester United’s 2008 Champions League success was the start of a love affair that has produced five titles for the Portuguese with four more coming during his time with Real Madrid. However, his headed opener in Moscow before Frank Lampard’s equalizer and a missed penalty in the shoot-out was one of the first glimpses of Air Ronaldo which has become a regular sight since them.

9. Didier Drogba, Chelsea (2012)

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. In his final actions for Chelsea before leaving, the Ivorian equalized to take the game to extra time and penalties before being the hero from the spot to confirm a 4-3 win. In terms of major contributions, they do not come much bigger than this.

8. Steven Gerrard, Liverpool (2005)

At half-time in Istanbul back in 2005, Liverpool were 3-0 down to AC Milan and Italian success appeared to be a mere formality. Yet 15 minutes later, Rafa Benitez’s Reds were level at 3-3 after pulling off one of the most memorable comebacks in Champions League history. It all started with man of the match Gerrard’s header in the 54th minute that got his teammates and the fans believing.

7. Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid (2014)

Many of these crucial strikes have actually been headers and this one continues the trend with the Spaniard’s effort in the third minute of time added on breaking Atletico Madrid hearts as Real took a big step towards their famous tenth (La Decima) UCL crown when Ramos cancelled out Diego Godin’s opener. Considering Atleti’s collapse, Ramos’ goal had a devastating impact.

6. Lionel Messi, Barcelona (2009)
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The Argentine magician has scored precious few headed goals over his years of brilliance, but one of those moments came at Stadio Olimpico in Rome when he nodded past Edwin van der Sar to double up on Samuel Eto’o opener to confirm a 2-0 Barca win over Manchester United and his second of four Champions League titles to date.

5. Diego Milito, Inter Milan (2010)

Like with Drogba, it is hard to imagine a more heroic contribution towards a team’s success than scoring the key goal in a final victory and the South American did that twice for Inter against Bayern Munich as the Italians got their hands on their third European Cup and Jose Mourinho’s second at Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid. Milito’s second saw him bamboozle the German defense before beating Hans-Jorg Butt to send the Inter fans into raptures.

4. Hernan Crespo, AC Milan (2005)

To score twice in five minutes and still finish on the losing team must have been gutting for the Argentine and the nature of Liverpool’s comeback also means that Milan’s first half regularly gets forgotten, but Crespo’s second goal is a work of art thanks largely to Kaka’s magnificent assist before the predatory finish.

3. Mario Mandzukic, Juventus (2017)

Although it was ultimately for nothing as Real Madrid went on to comfortably win 4-1, there was a moment when Juventus fans believed that they could win in Cardiff when the Croat scored a sensational acrobatic equalizer which lasted until the hour mark when the Spaniards took control. 

In terms of the biggest stage, there have been few better technical strikes …

2. Gareth Bale, Real Madrid (2018)
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… With one or two exceptions and this being one of them. With the clash against Liverpool being tied at 1-1 when he took to the pitch in Kyiv, the Wales international needed just two minutes to produce one of the cleanest bicycle kick finishes ever executed to decide the game for Real as they picked up a third consecutive title.

1. Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid (2002)

Which brings us to one last Real Madrid finals winner and it is the Frenchman’s magnificent volleyed effort in Glasgow during a 2-1 win over Bayer 04 Leverkusen that has gone down as one of the classic Champions League goals and forms an important part of Zidane’s legacy as a player. It is one of those goals that simply never gets old and is rightly considered UCL heritage.