This Saturday night sees the ultimate showdown in European football, the Champions League Final. Facing off against one another are the current holders and La Liga champions Real Madrid and 2014/15 finalists and Serie A champs Juventus. Both have won the thing a few times and neither outfit will be overawed by the occasion. Real will go in as slight favourites, but who’s brave enough to totally write off the wily, classy Italians?
So, then? Spain or Italy? Where’s that enormous trophy heading back to? It’s holidayed in both countries a fair amount over the years. And spent plenty of time in other destinations too. But which countries have won the Champions League the most in its 55 year history (for ease, we’re calling the old European Cup the Champions League too here)?
Let’s find out…
Joint 7th – Scotland / Romania / France / Yugoslavia: 1 Win
There are fifty countries in Europe. Yet in the five and a half decades of Europe’s elite football competition, teams from only thirteen nations have ever filled those 110 final places. It makes sense when you consider the relative strength of, say, the Cypriot league compared to the big leagues. But, still. The field is small.
Before we tip our hats to the countries with one winner, let’s recognise those countries that have provided a few beaten finalists. So well done to Belgium (Club Brugge), Sweden (Malmö) and Greece (Panathinaikos).
Patronising over, let’s move on. With a single instance of European glory, we’ve got the following:
- Scotland – Celtic were beaten finalists in 1970, but that blow was cushioned somewhat by them having won the trophy three years previously. They beat Internazionale 2-1, coming from behind. It looks unlikely that they’ll repeat that feat any time soon, though. Still, if a Scottish team is going to do it, it has to be them.
- Romania – That’s right, there’s been a Champions League winner from Romania. Steaua Bucharest. They did the same as Celtic. They won it (in 1986 against Barcelona, no less) and then lost another final three years later.
- France – In 1993, Marseille conquered Fabio Capello’s Milan by a goal to nil, with a team featuring the likes of Alen Bokšić, Rudi Völler, Didier Deschamps, Marcel Desailly and Fabien Barthez. So far, it’s France’s only win. Porto denied Monaco back in 2004’s final. And Stade Reims – now Ligue 2 – have lost a couple too.
- Serbia (Then Yugoslavia) – When Partizan Belgrade made the final in 1966, they probably figured that was going to be the best performance in Europe’s top football competition by a team from their nation. But it wouldn’t even be the best showing by a club from their city! Red Star Belgrade went on to win it outright in 1991.
6th – Portugal: 4 Wins
In the 1960’s, Benfica were a force to be reckoned with in European football. Having Eusebio in your ranks helps with that kind of thing. They appeared in five finals in the decade, winning two and losing three. Their most famous defeat, in this country at least, being to Manchester United back in 1968.
The other Portuguese wins would come via Porto. Now, we all know about Jose Mourinho’s unlikely antics thirteen years ago, but few people recall the Dragões’ even more unlikely 1987 win when they defeated Bayern Munich in the final.
5th – Netherlands: 6 Wins
You’ve already heard about Celtic’s final heartbreak back in 1970. It was Rotterdam side Feyenoord that beat them that night, 2-1 after extra time.
The 1970’s were to be a golden era for Dutch sides in Europe. Well, a golden era for Ajax, anyway. For, despite Feyenoord’s heroics in 1970, it was to be the team from Amsterdam that would win the next THREE European Cups. 1973 was to be the last in Ajax’s haul, though until 1995, that is. That side boasted Edwin van der Sar, Michael Reiziger, Danny Blind, Frank Rijkaard, Clarence Seedorf, Ronald de Boer, Jari Litmanen, Marc Overmars, Nwankwo Kanu and Patrick Kluivert (amongst others). So it’s no surprise they won the thing.
4th – Germany: 7 Wins
Now we’re down to the four biggest leagues in Europe and you might think, with Germany’s success as a national side, that they might have collected a few more Champions Leagues titles in their time. But German teams have lost as many as they’ve won when it comes to the big final – seven victories, seven defeats.
The symmetry doesn’t stop there. Borussia Dortmund have a final win (1997) and a defeat (2013). Hamburg have a final win (1983) and a defeat (1980). And Bayern Munich? Well, they’ve competed in ten Champions League finals, winning,- yep, that’s right – five and losing five.
Joint 2nd – Italy: 12 Wins
Now for the medals. And we’d start with bronze, but there is no bronze. Both Italy and England are tied (at least until Saturday, anyway), so share the spoils, each having twelve elite European title-winning sides. Six tactics-focused sides from the boot-shaped country have made – and lost – finals. With three of those (Roma, Fiorentina and Sampdoria) never recovering and picking up a trophy. The other three have, though…
Internazionale bagged two successive Euro titles in the mid-sixties and one, under Jose Mourinho, in 2010. But their city rivals, the Rossoneri of Milan, easily trump that. They’ve made the final eleven times, winning seven and losing four (the most memorable of which came twelve years ago against Liverpool).
Italy’s other golden child? One of this year’s finalists, Juventus. They’ve won the Champions League twice. But, more notably, they’ve lost it a record SIX times. Could this Saturday see them settle things up a little? Or will the Old Lady of Turin extend their misfortune?
Joint 2nd – England: 12 Wins
Now you might not need a whole lot of background on which teams from England have picked up The Big One. You no doubt know. The last time came a full five years when Chelsea, somehow, took the trophy off a deserving Bayern Munich side on penalties. That was the Blues’ second final appearance. The first coming four years previously when they were slightly less lucky with a shoot-out against Sir Alex Ferguson’s troops.
Arsenal and Leeds United have both made – and lost – finals. Aston Villa (yes, really) won the thing back in 1982. And, let’s not forget, Brian Clough’s heroics at Nottingham Forest (two Euro titles in a row…).
But it is, of course, Manchester United (three wins in five final appearances) and Liverpool (five wins in seven) who have given England its best European nights. United’s 1999 finale providing the competition with one of its most memorable moments. And Liverpool’s 2005 comeback against Milan is still barely believable, isn’t it?
1st – Spain: 16 Wins
Okay, no prizes for figuring out that it’s Spain that’s given us the most trophy wins down the years. They’ve taken the trophy back to the Iberian Peninsula 16 times in 27 attempts. Valencia and Atletico Madrid have managed five winless appearances between them. But, as you’d expect, it’s the big two that dominate.
Barcelona have nabbed five titles in eight attempts, with four of those trophies won in the past eleven years. But it’s Real Madrid that have the real pedigree here. They lost three times in the final, but won an incredible ELEVEN. In 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2014 and 2016.
Should Cristiano Ronaldo and his men do the business on Saturday night we could be adding ‘2017” to that lengthy list…