THE TOP 10 MATCHES OF THE DECADE

DECADE DIARIES << SERIES
KUSHAGR DIXIT |21st December 2019

There have been some awe-inspiring clashes this decade with some of the greatest comebacks ever seen in football. At the same time, there have also been titanic contests which helped shape the destiny of the victors. Here we take you through some of those matches in the Top 10 Matches of The Decade

10. Manchester City vs Leicester City (2015-16 Premier League)

The 2015-16 season of the Premier League is sure to go down in history as the season of the underdog, the season when dreams came true and when the existing power dynamics in the league weren’t just challenged but effectively decimated. The match in question took place in February, 2016 with Leicester City atop of the Premier League as the unlikely leaders and visiting the home of title favorites for a top of the table clash. Even till then, the-then Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri had refrained from mentioning anything with regards to a title challenge.

The Foxes went to the Etihad and set up in their usual 4-4-2 with Jamie Vardy leading the line and Riyad Mahrez in support.

Leicester flew out of the blocks and took the lead through Robert Huth in the 3rd minute when he powered home a header from an early corner. This early lead meant that Ranieri’s men could sit in a low block and play on the counter which is what they did, scoring again at the start of the 2nd half through Mahrez. The joy of the Leicester fans was soon to be doubled as the Foxes scored from yet another corner through Robert Huth thus, exposing City’s lack of physical presence in their own box. Even though Sergio Agüero did grab a consolation in the 87th minute, the match had long been wrapped and the points were well on their way to the Midlands.

This was the match that many in the Foxes’ squad would go on to claim as the one that made them believe and believe they did, winning the Premier League in 2015/16 in a season best defined as the dream that a club saw with its eyes open, not just this decade in-terms of the shock value and the feel-good factor this league title win will remain as a reference point forever.

9. Spain vs Netherlands (2014 World Cup Group stage)

This was a match that marked the end of one of the most successful international sides in modern history and the first time that the finalists of the previous edition of the World Cup had met each other in the group stages as Spain and the Netherlands locked horns. It was Louis van Gaal’s Dutch side who created the first clear chance when Robben slipped Wesley Sneijder clean through but Casillas’s one-handed save kept the ball out. That miss appeared costly when Xavi released Costa into the penalty area and he fell under the challenge of de Vrij. Xabi Alonso slotted the resulting penalty past Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen but rather than leading to a period of dominance, Vicente del Bosque’s men sat back and tried to defend their lead and the Oranje accepted the invitation to get forward and finally enjoyed some possession.

However, it was Spain who came closest to scoring a second when Andrés Iniesta played in David Silva with a glorious pass but the midfielder’s tame chipped effort was turned away by Cillessen. It was a missed opportunity that would come back to haunt the Spaniards as within five minutes, Robin van Persie had scored the goal that would prove to be the turning point of the match.

The former Arsenal striker escaped the attentions of Sergio Ramos and met Daley Blind’s crossfield pass with an astonishing 15-yard header that looped over a despairing Saint Iker.

The Dutch left the field at the break with wide smiles and they carried that momentum into the second 45.

Louis van Gaal’s men deservedly took the lead when Xavi – the heartbeat of Spain’s midfield for so long – lost possession and Blind supplied another pinpoint aerial pass from the left, which Robben expertly controlled before evading Gerard Pique and finishing confidently. de Vrij bundled in a third goal after Casillas missed Sneijder’s inswinging free-kick. David Silva thought he had given the world champions hope when he scored from close-range but his effort was correctly ruled offside and moments later, Netherlands were 4-1 up.

Casillas, who had earlier produced a stunning save to keep out a Robben volley, turned villain when he miscontrolled a back pass from Sergio Ramos and was tackled by van Persie and the Dutchman then duly slid the ball into an empty net.

Soon after, Robben then capped a fine individual performance with an even better solo goal. The winger raced from inside his own half to latch on to Sneijder’s through ball and outpaced Ramos before taking the ball round Casillas and smashing it past two defenders on the line.

Spain’s torrid evening was summed up when substitute Fernando Torres failed to score from three yards. The striker looked certain to register a consolation, only for Blind to arrive with a timely last-ditch challenge.

The full-time whistle was met with scenes of Dutch joy and Spanish woe, on the turf and in the stands. Netherlands embarked upon a lap of honour, while for many in the Spanish squad, it was the beginning of the end of one of the greatest international teams to have graced the world stage.

8. Liverpool – Barcelona (2018-19 Champions League Semi-final)

Roared on relentlessly by their fans, the Reds produced an incredible all-action display to claw back and then ultimately overturn their 3-0 deficit from the Camp Nou with an unanswered four-goal drubbing of the Catalans. It was the first time since 1986 – when Barcelona knocked out Gothenburg in the old European Cup – that a team had recovered a three-goal first-leg deficit to win a semi-final in this competition.

Liverpool did not stop – maintaining an astonishing tempo to press, harry and hassle their illustrious visitors, and ultimately defeat them. Divock Origi started the unlikely revival, tapping home from close range after seven minutes when ter Stegen had failed to hold on to a Henderson shot. But, it was only when substitute Georginio Wijnaldum scored twice in the space of 122 seconds after the break that the tie truly swung in Liverpool’s favor; his 1st coming in the shape of a shot after a low cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold and the 2nd coming in the form of a header from a delicious ball by Xherdan Shaqiri.

Barcelona were rattled, and even Lionel Messi was unable to steady the ship before Origi struck again with the goal that would decide the tie, on aggregate after Trent Alexander-Arnold caught the visitors’ defence napping from a corner that was very famously, “taken quickly”.

The Blaugrana did try to regain a sense of control but rarely have the Catalans been made to look so clueless on the pitch and it is to the credit of Klopp’s men that they did so and in spite of the efforts from Coutinho and Jordi Alba, by then Anfield was rocking and the home fans stayed on their feet to cheer their side home in the closing minutes, with a shell-shocked Barça side unable to fashion any serious response.

The final whistle brought delirious celebrations on the pitch and in the stands, where the Reds supporters had played their part in a match for the ages

7. Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich (2011-12 Bundesliga)

The match that thrust Der Klassiker into the spotlight for many football fans across the globe came during Jürgen Klopp’s reign at Dortmund. Under the charismatic coach’s “heavy metal football” philosophy, Die Schwarzgelben set the Bundesliga alight with a squad that mixed homegrown talent and intelligent signings that had previously flown under the radar. They had won the club’s 4th Bundesliga title in the 2010/11 season and with just five games to go in the 2011/12 campaign, Dortmund were leading the league standings again – three points ahead of the record champions.

That match was virtually that year’s Bundesliga final and it was an incredibly tense affair, although Bayern controlled the possession, Dortmund had more chances. In a match which was a hard-fought encounter, the attacks ebbed and flowed with the game being just about anyone’s.

What BVB had in their armoury was the killer instinct of Robert Lewandowski, who broke the deadlock in the 77th minute after cheekily deflecting an edge-of-the-box-effort from Kevin Großkreutz with his heel.

In the 86th minute, Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller fouled Arjen Robben in the box, gifting the visitors a golden opportunity to level from the spot. Just when it seemed that Bayern would be able to prolong the fight for the title, Weidenfeller made good on his mistake and saved Robben’s penalty.

The Dutchman had another chance to equalize from open play shortly after, but when Neven Subotić inadvertently headed against his own bar, Robben skied his attempt to force home a close-range rebound. In the end, an ecstatic Dortmund squad celebrated with their fans in what surely felt like their 2nd Bundesliga title on the bounce – a sensation that became a reality only two weeks later

6. Barcelona vs Atlético Madrid (2013-14 La Liga)

Barcelona hosted Atlético Madrid in the final round of the 2013-14 La Liga campaign with both teams at the top of the table, separated by just 3 points. The team from Madrid was looking to end the Real-Barça dominance and came into the match as the table-toppers. Any psychological edge that Simeone’s men might have had from that lead in the table quickly frittered away when in the opening 20 minutes, they lost two of their key players.

Their first casualty was the in-form Diego Costa, with 27 goals in the league that season who had only just returned to the side after missing the previous match and he lasted just 14 minutes before his hamstring went after a brief sprint. Costa limped off in tears and just seven minutes later, it got worse for the visitors. Arda Turan, so often the creator of Atleti’s best chances landed on his back awkwardly when challenging for possession and he too was unable to continue.

To the Rojiblancos’ credit, they did not let that double whammy disrupt them as they managed to keep Barcelona at an arm’s length, whilst also threatening occasionally themselves. Tiago directed a header over the bar from Koke’s inviting cross, before Pedro missed with a similar attempt for Barcelona soon after. The game was at a knife’s edge.

There had barely been a shot on target in the first half hour but it was a moment of brilliance from Alexis Sanchez that gave Barcelona the lead. Cesc curled a ball into the box for Lionel Messi who with his back to goal, chested the ball into the path of an onrushing Sanchez, who smashed a first-time effort from the tightest of angles just inside the top right of the Atlético goal.

The half-time whistle provided Simeone the chance to offer words of encouragement to his players and whatever he said evidently worked as the visitors made a storming start to the 2nd half. David Villa’s shot on the turn struck the post, before the former Barcelona striker saw a low, left-footed effort saved by Pinto, but their pressure paid dividends just five minutes after the restart. Gabi whipped a corner into the middle of the area where the lionhearted Diego Godin rose highest to send a bullet header low into the back of the net.

Barcelona needed to regain the initiative if they were to successfully defend the league title and the balance of play quickly swung back in their favor, with the visitors seemingly content to soak up pressure and try to hit the hosts on the counter.

Messi, quiet for large periods of the game had the ball in the net midway through the second half, but the Argentine’s effort was ruled offside before Alves struck a shot from distance that seemed destined for the top corner only for Thibaut Courtois to react superbly to push the ball over his goal.

The Atleti players held their nerve to keep Barcelona at bay in the final 10 minutes before the final whistle confirmed their status as league champions. The underdogs showcased that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

5. Manchester City vs Queen’s Park Rangers (2011-12 Premier League)

Hypothetical or not, it is no exaggeration to say QPR could have been relegated because of English midfielder, Joey Barton’s moment of madness. The strange thing was that they actually improved when they were down a man. City were nervous, rushing passes, unable to find their usual rhythm despite having a huge amount of possession. Then, on 66 minutes, a sudden, damp silence fell over the stadium as QPR broke, the substitute Armand Traoré crossed from the left and Jamie Mackie’s header gave the away side the lead.

City seemed totally devoid of ideas but, to their credit, they always kept going. Everyone in the stadium was getting more and more worried as the time seemed to fly by but then the board went up for extra-time and the rest, as they say is history.

They were 2-1 down going into stoppage time, on the verge of a defeat so harrowing they would never have been allowed to forget it with fans simply labelling it as ‘Typical City’ due to the club’s past failings. What happened next, however was simply extraordinary.

Edin Džeko’s header to make it 2-2 came in the 92nd minute, at a point when the crowd were watching in almost numb disbelief. It goes like this: four of the five minutes of extra-time had elapsed when Sergio Agüero found himself with the ball. He was inside the penalty area, on his right foot, and it was then that everything suddenly seemed to go into slow motion. This was the moment football blurred with pandemonium. The ball was slotted into the back of the net, the Argentine’s shirt was off, the victory run had started and the stadium was a mosh pit of flailing bodies.

The tie remains as one for the highlight reel and the greatest advertisement for what Premier League football can deliver at its very peak.

4. Real Madrid vs Liverpool (2017-18 Champions League Final)

Real Madrid had already achieved the impossible the year before when they had defeated Juventus in Cardiff to retain their Champions League title, becoming the first ever team in the competition’s history and now had the opportunity of going one better by bettering the Scousers in Kiev. The match started in a cagey manner with both the teams very aware of each other’s attacking threats and playing a bit within themselves during the initial stages.

Mohamed Salah’s injury, courtesy of a challenge by Sergio Ramos left the Egyptian with no other option than to depart the proceedings, a devastating sight for the Merseysiders as their talisman was left in tears as he could play no further part in a contest of titanic consequences. However, Liverpool showed fight and were not ready to back down, emerging as the better amongst the two sides despite Salah’s injury.

The match though was to turn on its head in the 2nd half as Karim Benzema gave Los Blancos the lead in the 51st minute by intercepting an attempted underarm pass by goalkeeper Loris Karius. The Merseyside team did regain their composure to equalize in the 55th minute through Sadio Mané but then started the Gareth Bale show as the Welshman produced what would arguably go down as the greatest goal in a Champions League final.

Bale hit an overhead kick which flew into the top corner, leaving not just the goalkeeper but the entire stadium bamboozled, while Cristiano Ronaldo had done just the same against Juventus earlier in the competition but the stage and the importance of that goal dwarfed all others. Bale would go on to score once again in the 83rd minute, sealing Los Merengues 3rd European Cup in a row as a dire Karius had fluffed his lines yet again.

More than the match itself, it was the embodiment of that fabulous Real Madrid team led through the armband by Sergio Ramos but in spirit and sheer excellence by Cristiano Ronaldo as they etched their names into history as the greatest team in the Champions League era.

3. AS Roma vs Barcelona (2017-18 Champions League Quarter-final)

The stage was the quarter-final of the Champions League and the venue was the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Barcelona had won the 1st leg at home 4-1 and most of the footballing world had assumed that such a deficit wouldn’t ever be overturned again. The Blaugrana had come back from a 4-goal deficit and defeated PSG at Camp Nou, but this was different, this time it was the Catalans with the advantage and they were expected to go through with utmost ease.

What unfolded that night in Rome is the stuff of legends, as the legend Peter Drury put it ever so affably, that night “Roma rose from their ruins.”

The match started with hope amongst the Giallarossi faithful of a positive result in Rome and they were given an instant shot in their arm by Edin Džeko who scored in the 6th minute. This goal came so early in the 2nd leg that it had some Romans frothing at the thought of downing the mighty FC Barcelona.

To say that AS Roma completely outplayed and outfought their opponents that night wouldn’t be a wrong assertion as they had almost twice the number of attempts on goal.

This is a classic tale of persevering until one succeeds and persevere is what Roma did as they kept on pushing and earned a penalty in the 58th minute. Up stepped the Roma captain Danielle De Rossi and smashed the ball into ter Stegen’s bottom left corner, bringing the noise in the stadium to a crescendo and it was almost as if the supporters were willing the ball into the net. With every attack, there was a rise in anticipation and then in the 82nd minute, the unthinkable happened.

Cengiz Ünder swung in a corner and Kostas Manolas rose higher than anyone to head it into the net.

There were people crying in the stands, some in sheer disbelief and the others in utter shock as what had transpired that night was truly special, a spectacle beyond comprehension.

2. Brazil vs Germany (2014 World Cup Semi-final)

The World Cup semi-final between Brazil and Germany in 2014 was a sight to behold. The fact that the Germans ended up winning wasn’t at all surprising but the manner in which they did, beggared belief. For seven first-half minutes, Germany conjured football of a savagery unwitnessed against significant opposition in the tournament’s history. This was football as a blood sport, between the 8th second of the 23rd minute and the 49th second of the 29th minute. Germany, one goal to the good already, scored four more, piercing Brazil’s defence with such frequency and brutality, engendering such horror among onlookers that footage really should be viewed through the foggiest shower curtain.

The match got off to a frantic start as both teams set out to attack, but it was Die Mannschaft who took the lead in the 11th minute via a set piece. Kroos curled in a corner from the right, finding an unmarked Mueller near the edge of the six-yard box, who volleyed in past Júlio César for the opening goal. Germany doubled their advantage in the 23rd minute as Klose set the World Cup’s all-time scoring record for an individual with 13 goals to his name, outdoing the one and only Ronaldo Nazário

A minute later, it was 3-0. Philipp Lahm served as the provider this time, crossing from the right flank for Kroos to power in an accurate first-time shot at the back post. The Real Madrid midfielder then made it 4-0 two minutes later, slotting in past César after swapping passes with Sami Khedira in the box.

Khedira had his turn in the 29th minute, stretching Germany’s lead to 5-0 with an easy finish following a Brazil giveaway.

The home fans in the Estádio Mineirão were stunned into silence, many shedding tears in shock and disbelief. Germany weren’t finished though, Schurrle, a second-half substitute, scored Germany’s sixth in the 69th minute, sweeping home a cross from Lahm. The Chelsea man also bagged his side’s seventh goal 10 minutes later, finishing high at the near post from Mueller’s looping pass. Brazil pulled a goal back through Oscar in the 90th minute, but the late strike was little more than consolation as the damage had already been done by the ruthless Germans.

1. Barcelona vs Paris Saint-Germain (2016-17 Champions League Quarter-final)

Barcelona met Paris Saint-Germain for only the third time in the Champions League in the 2016-17 season. Both the giants had been drawn to face each other in the quarter-finals that year with PSG having lost the two previous encounters in the 2012–13 and the 2014–15 seasons on aggregate.

The 1ST leg was played on the 14th of February at the Parc des Princes in Paris and the former Real Madrid player Angel Di María put the Parisians in front on 18 minutes with a freekick after Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti had committed a foul. Julian Draxler made it 2–0 in the 40th minute having been assisted by Marco Verratti. Di María would then score once again from a long range shot at the 55th minute and Edinson Cavani sealed off the perfect night for PSG scoring the 4th and final goal of the match with 72 minutes on the clock. What was truly remarkable was that the PSG team had allowed Barcelona to muster only one shot on target during the entire 90 minutes, which for a front 3 of Messi, Suarez and Neymar was unheard of.

The 2nd leg was played on 8 March at the Camp Nou in Barcelona. The Catalans got the ball rolling from the start with Luis Suarez scoring the 3rd minute itself despite the best attempts of Thomas Meunier to prevent the goal. The Blaugrana kept on believing and pushing the entire match and were rewarded with a Layvin Kurzawa own goal in the 40th minute. As the half drew to a close there was a sense of anticipation in the crowd that maybe just maybe this wasn’t as out of reach as it had earlier seemed. The third goal came in the 50th minute via a penalty which was converted by Lionel Messi after Neymar had been fouled in the box by Thomas Meunier.

The third goal had gotten the Barcelona fans off their seats in hope that this was going to be a stunning night but they were dealt a body blow on the 62nd minute when Edinson Cavani scored leaving them requiring three more to win due to the away goals rule. This is when Neymar stood up and scored two goals in the closing stages: a free kick in the 88th minute and a penalty in the 91st minute to make it 5-1 on the night.

What happened next is a part of football folklore as the man of the moment Neymar once again glided into the final third and delivered a cross into the penalty area, which was then converted by Sergi Roberto thus making it 6-1 on the night and 6-5 on aggregate. The fact that all of this happened in the 95th minute was something out of a fairytale, as the referee blew his whistle the entire stadium rose up to salute their heroes for, they were ever so thankful for an experience of a lifetime – La Remontada.

Best of the Rest

Borussia Dortmund vs Schalke (2017-18 Bundesliga)

The Ruhr Derby at the Signal Iduna Park in November of 2017 was a match which best typified these two eternal rivals. Borussia Dortmund started off like they had done for most of that season, taking the game to their opponents and produced one of the most breathtaking first half displays in recent Bundesliga memory. They opened the scoring in the 12th minute through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and quickly added to their lead through an own goal by Benjamin Stambouli in the 18th minute.

The returning and fit again Mario Goetze scored a memorable third in the 20th minute with Raphaël Guerreiro making it 4-0 in the 25th minute.

The Schalke faithful and the team alike were left shell shocked at this display by the Black and Yellows. But, as they say, the toughest times bring out the toughest of people and that’s what Schalke did with Burgstaller scoring in the 61st minute, Amine Harit added a second in the 65th minute and Schalke kept applying the pressure.

They would go on to score a 3rd in the 86th minute to set up a frantic finish with Naldo firing in the equalizer in the stoppage time to cap off a truly remarkable night.

Tottenham vs Chelsea (2014-15 Premier League)

Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea came into this New Year’s Day match at the top of the league, looking to stave off a challenge from a resurgent Manchester City. As fate would have it, it was Spurs that made the better start but they were behind on the scoreline when Hazard’s mazy run ended in a shot against a post, with Oscar firing the loose ball back towards Costa who had the simple task of tapping it in. From there, Chelsea looked set to dominate. Cesc Fàbregas provided the service for Costa to run into the channels with support arriving from Hazard and Oscar – and they could have been given a penalty when Jan Vertonghen handled as he fell in the box.

All this while Harry Kane seemed to have his own plans for the match and with the help of the excellent Nacer Chadli, he first reversed the momentum and then pulled Spurs out of sight in the space of 22 minutes either side of half-time. Out of nothing, the English striker cut in from the left, evaded three challenges and fired past Courtois low from outside the penalty area. Then, when Cesar Azpilicueta was dispossessed on the halfway line, Christian Eriksen fed Chadli, who hit the post before Rose followed up for a second. With Chelsea rattled, Cahill was sluggish as he caught Kane in the box, allowing Townsend to make it 3-1 at the break through a penalty. When Kane neatly turned Nemanja Matic to finish inside the far post, Spurs looked capable of handing out a humiliation to the table toppers.

Eden Hazard, however stopped the rot with a low finish after a one-two with Fàbregas, but any suggestion of a Chelsea fightback was snuffed out when Chadli deservedly got on the scoresheet after being played in by Kane to make it 5-2 to Tottenham.

John Terry rounded off a hugely entertaining game when faced with an empty net at the far post but it was just scant consolation as the North Londoners had won the derby and kept the 3 points with them at the Lane.

Juventus vs Napoli (2019-20 Serie A)

What should have been an easy Juventus win turned out to be an absolute cracker of a match, the night started with Wojciech Szczesny saving superbly from Allan and the Bianconeri struck within seconds of the resulting corner being cleared, as Douglas Costa raced into the box and pulled the ball back for Danilo to finish. It was 2-0 three minutes later, Higuain spinning away from Koulibaly and firing into the top-right corner in fine style against his former club. Victory for a commanding Juve was seemingly assured 62 minutes in, when Ronaldo met Costa’s cut-back and placed a left-foot shot beyond the attempted block of Koulibaly and dive of Alex Meret for his first goal of the season.

Suddenly, though, they seemed to crumble and Carlo Ancelotti’s substitutions started bearing fruit. At first Kostas Manolas met Mario Rui’s cross with a fine header and, barely two minutes later, Hirving Lozano slotted past Szczesny after being picked out by Piotr Zielinski from the left. The Old Lady did attack in the meanwhile with another Douglas Costa shot brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Meret. But the anxiety seemed to build within the stands and just as that happened Napoli snatched an equaliser when Di Lorenzo diverted Jose Callejon’s delivery into the net from inside the six-yard box. This gave the Neapolitans hope that they would get something out of the game when all had seemed lost yet, with barely 90 seconds remaining, a hopeful free-kick was lofted into the Napoli area and Koulibaly sliced a clearance high into his own net with no Juve player nearby.

It was a cruel blow to Napoli as Juventus maintained their near perfect home record and came away with the 3 points.