World Football

Football's finest fightbacks

Liverpool celebrate winning the 2005 UEFA Champions League final
© Getty Images
  • 15 years ago today Liverpool staged an unbelievable comeback in Istanbul
  • FIFA.com recalls some of football’s greatest fightbacks
  • Some FIFA World Cup thrillers feature

Many felt Liverpool were hobbling into a lost cause in the UEFA Champions League final. Those who didn’t had been converted by half-time. AC Milan had raced into a 3-0 lead and the question at that stage seemed to be whether the Italians could become the first team to win the fixture by more than a four-goal margin.

Steven Gerrard and team-mates had other ideas, and what followed in Istanbul is arguably the greatest comeback in Champions League history.

Liverpool produced another contender by reversing a three-goal deficit against Barcelona in the 2018/19 semi-finals, while the victims at Anfield that day produced one of their own with a sensational, Neymar-inspired 6-1 victory, which snatched a 6-5 aggregate triumph against Paris Saint-Germain in the 2017 Round of 16.

The daddy of football competitions has also produced some unforgettable fightbacks. Switzerland 1954 is remembered for arguably the greatest upset in FIFA World Cup™ history – Hungary’s ‘Magical Magyars’, who had demolished West Germany 8-3 in the group stage, relinquished a 2-0 lead to lose to the same side in the Final. But eight days before ‘The Miracle of Bern’ a numerically grander comeback unfolded. The hosts, 3-0 up, lost 7-5 to Austria in ‘The Heat Battle of Lausanne’, which remains the highest-scoring match in the competition’s history.

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Swiss Josef Hugi’s exploits that day make him one of only three players to hit a hat-trick and end up on the losing side in a World Cup match. Poland’s Ernst Wilimowski, who got four in a 6-5 loss to Brazil at France 1938, and Soviet Union’s Igor Belanov, in a 4-3 defeat by Belgium at Mexico 1986, are the others.

In 1966, Korea DPR had inconceivably eliminated Italy, and raced into a 3-0 lead against Portugal in the quarter-finals, only for four-goal Eusebio to headline a 5-3 fightback victory.

And who could forget ‘Night of Seville’ 16 years later? It included some heavenly football, the infamous Toni Schumacher-Patrick Battiston collision and four extra-time goals. The last of those, a Klaus Fischer bicycle-kick, seized West Germany - who were 3-1 down as the clock hit 100 - a 3-3 draw with France, whom they then edged on penalties.

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Battiston, a substitute who had been on the field a matter of minutes, broke two teeth, cracked three ribs and damaged a vertebra via Schumacher’s wild charge from goal. "I have forgiven him," Battiston later said. "Over time I have come to realise people have forever marked him with this."

Belgium’s Nacer Chadli-propelled rally against Japan at Russia 2018 was the most recent great World Cup comeback, and fellow FIFA competitions have produced more of the same.

Scotland were 3-0 up against Argentina with little over 15 minutes remaining at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, but the underdogs battled back to snatch an unlikely and dramatic point, eliminating the Scots in the process.

Further back, at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Helsinki 1952, Soviet Union heroically turned a 5-1 deficit against Yugoslavia into a 5-5 draw, only to lose the replay.

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Vsevolod Bobrov, who scored four times in that tie against Yugoslavia, became an ice hockey player and fired Soviet Union to gold at the 1956 Winter Olympics.

Yugoslavs have also been on the right end of heroic comebacks. Crvena Zvezda were 6-2 down with little over half-an-hour left of the second leg of their UEFA Cup clash with Dynamo Berlin in 1978, but won on away goals. Crvena went on to eliminate Sporting Gijon, Arsenal, West Brom and Hertha Berlin before being edged by Borussia Monchengladbach in the decider.

Partizan produced a mirror image in the same competition six years later. Six-two down to QPR, the tie finished 6-6 and they advanced on away goals.

Elsewhere in continental club competition, three unanswered second-half, second-leg goals helped Zaire’s V Club upset Asante Kotoko in the 1973 African Cup of Champions Clubs final, while Peruvian underdogs Sporting Cristal turned a 3-0 first-leg loss to Uruguayan heavyweights Nacional into a 4-3 aggregate victory in the 1993 Copa Libertadores.

The Concacaf Champions League hasn’t been short of comebacks either. Toluca trailed America 4-1 on aggregate with just over 20 minutes remaining on their 2003 semi-final, but emerged 5-4 winners and went on to lift the trophy, while Chicago Fire turned a four-goal deficit into a 6-5 win to reach the last four a year later. Santos Laguna, 4-1 down to Montreal Impact in 2009, scored in the 92nd and 95th minutes, both courtesy of Darwin Quintero, ‘The Goal Scientist’, to complete a remarkable turnaround.

The is no systematic science to football. And as the old saying goes, ‘It’s not over till it’s over.’

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