The 7 Best Comeback Stories in Football History
Everybody loves a good comeback; it’s just the nature of the beast. Even when one’s team might be on the receiving end of a damaging overhauling of the odds, it’s hard to not appreciate the efforts of the underdog.
Here, we’ll look at not just memorable matches where an outfit might have seemed down for the count only to rise from the ashes, but also stories of post-retirement as well as returns to former stomping grounds.
7. North Korea 3 Portugal 5, 1966 World Cup Quarterfinal
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Finding themselves 3-0 down to a shockingly good North Korea side, all seemed just about hopeless for Manuel da Luz Afonso’s Portugal at the quarterfinal stage of the 1966 World Cup.
However, Goodison Park would witness an incredible fight to reclaim dominance by a man totally befitting of such responsibility and one of the greatest to don the nation’s colours, Eusebio.
The prolific forward forced his team into overdrive, netting four goals in the space of 32 minutes and providing his country with the means to move onto the next stage of the competition following a 5-3 victory.
Portugal would go on to claim third-place honours behind West Germany and winners England.
6. Newcastle 4 Arsenal 4, 2010-11 Premier League
This was everything a neutral could ask of a match. It’s games like these that affirm the notion that the Premier League is the most entertaining division in the world, albeit for some woeful defending at times.
Going in at the break, goals from Theo Walcott, Johan Djourou and a Robin van Persie brace had put Arsenal 4-0 up against Newcastle United, who looked down and out to say the least.
However, some magical halftime words from manager Alan Pardew must have worked wonders—along with an Abou Diaby red card—as the Magpies managed to claim a draw against their north London rivals.
Joey Barton netted twice from 12 yards along with a Leon Best goal, but it was Cheick Tiote’s 87th-minute screamer that capped off a truly special performance. It was deserving of a draw, one would have to say.
5. Ian Rush Makes His Anfield Return
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Still the club’s top scorer by quite some margin, Ian Rush courted the interest of Juventus in 1987 and joined the Old Lady with the vision of broadening his horizons both in Italy and across Europe.
The Welshman famously complained that life in Serie A “was like living in a foreign country” and scored just seven goals in a sole season with the Italian giants.
Just a year after he’d left, Rush was once again a Liverpool player when he made his return to the club in 1988, the club where he would go on to spend a further eight years of his career and create to a monumental tally of 346 goals in 660 appearances for the English side.
4. Hungary 2 West Germany 3, 1954 World Cup Final
Facing a Hungary team in the prime of their existence, West Germany found themselves on the worse end of an 8-3 drubbing in the group stages of the 1954 World Cup.
With Ferenc Puskas leading them, Hungary seemed clear favourites to take the title that year and would have too were it nor for some late German heroics.
It was Puskas and Zoltan Czibor that put the Hungarians up 2-0 before eight minutes had even passed only for West Germany to pull off possibly the greatest World Cup comeback ever, winning 3-2 to bring happiness to a post-Second World War nation.
3. Liverpool 3 AC Milan 3, 2005 Champions League Final
A fixture that will forever be embedded in the memory of every Liverpool fan as well as those outside the Reds’ fraternity, the Istanbul final of 2005 showcased some of the best qualities that can come out of football.
A Hernan Crespo double as well as an addition from Paolo Maldini had given AC Milan a 3-0 lead going in at the break but the next 45 minutes would turn European football temporarily on its head.
Steven Gerrard led his Reds in the assault, netting himself as well as providing ammunition in the build up to scores courtesy of Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso.
The following penalty shootout will be famed for the “Spaghetti Legs” heroics from Jerzy Dudek, who ultimately saved two spot kicks from some of the best in the business, sealing an outrageous win for one of England’s biggest clubs.
2. Pele Returns from Semi-Retirement
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Arguably the greatest player of all time also had a few comebacks of his own in his career, but none perhaps had more impact than the Brazilian’s coming out of retirement to join the NASL.
Back then, the North American Soccer League was still a growing creature but the acquisition of one of the sport’s legends raised interest in the United States’ take on things like never before.
In 1972, the three-time World Cup winner “retired” from the game after 17 seasons playing with his one and only native club, Santos, although he would still get in the occasional game because, let’s face it, this is Pele.
However, in 1974, the then 34-year-old signed a three-year deal with the New York Cosmos, substantially raising awareness in the American game.
One could argue that Major League Soccer might not be what it is today without the choice of Pele to make such a surprising move to Manhattan, setting a precedent for today’s big stars making their way to the US.
1. Manchester United 2 Bayern Munich 1, 1999 Champions League Final
Whenever the idea of a comeback is mentioned around football, thoughts immediately turn to the successful Champions League campaign of Manchester United in the 1998-99 season and that dramatic night in Barcelona.
In truth, it was another great comeback in the semifinal against Juventus that had even allowed the Red Devils to find their way to the competition’s crescendo, but that won’t be remembered anywhere as vigorously as the final.
It’s ironic that the greatest comeback features one of the smaller scorelines, but it was the fashion in which Manchester United staged their rebellion that made this match so good.
Mario Basler’s sixth-minute free kick had put Bayern Munich ahead early, a lead the Germans maintained for pretty much the whole fixture.
However, substitute Teddy Sheringham came to Sir Alex Ferguson’s rescue in the first minute of added time, finishing on the turn from eight yards out to draw the English outfit level.
With extra time looking likely, it was then Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s turn to etch his name in the history books, netting a 93rd-minute winner that any viewer would find difficult to forget.
Miraculous wouldn’t be overstating things.