Champions League: The 6 Greatest Winners

Nick Miller@NickMiller79Featured ColumnistMarch 12, 2014

Champions League: The 6 Greatest Winners

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    Since the European Cup became the Champions League in 1992, there have been some incredible teams that have lifted the most prestigious trophy in club football.

    Eras have been defined by those that have won, the reputations of managers made extraordinary and all-time greats crowned.

    It has become arguably the highest standard of competition in world football, possibly eclipsing even international football and the World Cup in terms of quality, if perhaps not quite in prestige.

    Here are Bleacher Report's six greatest teams that have lifted the Champions League trophy.


    NB: The teams are listed in chronological order, not ranked by quality.

1. AC Milan, 1994

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    This was a great era for AC Milan. Managed by Fabio Capello, their side boasted the likes of Marcel Desailly, Paolo Maldini and Dejan Savicevic, but in the lead-up to the 1994 final against Barcelona, they were not favourites.

    This was, after all, the Barca "Dream Team," managed by Johan Cruyff and featuring Hristo Stoichkov, Ronaldo Koeman, Pep Guardiola and Romario. They were looking for their second title in three years, having beaten Sampdoria in 1992 at Wembley.

    In addition, the Milan side were in a sort of disarray, with Marco van Basten out with the knee injury that would eventually end his career and record-signing Gianluigi Lentini still suffering the aftereffects of a car crash following his £13 million move from Torino.

    However, the Italians would simply overpower Barca, taking the lead through Daniele Massaro after 22 minutes, and the same player would double their lead on the stroke of half-time.

    Savicevic, with an extraordinary lob from the right, made it three before the win was capped by Marcel Desailly.

2. Ajax, 1995

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    A quick look at the team sheet for the 1995 Champions League winners makes one think that this could not possibly be a team at all, more a collection of the modern greats of Dutch football.

    The De Boer brothers, Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids and Frank Rijkaard all started the final against holders AC Milan, with Patrick Kluivert on the bench.

    They had already beaten Fabio Capello's Milan side 2-0 twice in the group stages, with Louis van Gaal's side producing some scintillating football as they strolled through to the final, brushing Bayern Munich aside in the semi-final with a 5-2 win.

    The final itself was a tighter affair, with Capello's famous defence largely keeping the rapid attacks from Ajax quiet, but after 70 minutes, van Gaal called upon Kluivert, who was just 18 years old and had only made his first-team debut earlier that season.

    With five minutes remaining, Kluivert muscled his way into the box by fighting off two defenders before poking the ball beyond Sebastiano Rossi in the Milan goal.

3. Manchester United, 1999

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    It's worth remembering that the great Manchester United team of 1999 very nearly didn't make it to the final. In fact, they almost didn't make it out of their group, where they faced a remarkably tough set of opponents in Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Brondby.

    With only one team qualifying automatically, United's four draws and two wins weren't enough to put them top of the group, and they only qualified behind Bayern as one of the best runners-up.

    Still, with such a dramatic conclusion, and the first treble in English football history, it's impossible not to include them in this list.

    They then overcame Inter in the second round, followed by that epic semi-final against Juventus, when Roy Keane seemed to drag them through on his own.

    And then the final. Mario Basler gives Bayern the lead. For long spells, United look out of it, without hope of clawing back. Then, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham come on. Sheringham sweeps home a misfired Ryan Giggs shot. Finally, Solskjaer wins it.

    Even reading it or writing it down is enough to give you goosebumps.

4. Internazionale, 2010

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    The Inter side that won in 2010 were perhaps not the most beautiful team to have lifted the Champions League trophy, but they were certainly one of the most effective.

    They were also one of the most adaptable, with Jose Mourinho adjusting his game plan to suit each opponent, even managing to persuade Samuel Eto'o to play on the wing.

    Inter had a tough group, drawing Barcelona in what would turn out to be a dress rehearsal for more dramatic fare later in the competition.

    They finished second, then faced Chelsea before easing past CSKA Moscow to reach Barca again in the semi-final.

    They blitzed Pep Guardiola's side in the first leg before putting on something of an epic rearguard to come through the second, only losing 1-0 after Thiago Motta was sent off in the first half.

    The final was another Mourinho special, with Inter shutting down Bayern Munich and Diego Milito scoring goals in both halves to secure a 2-0 victory.

    That was Mourinho's final game as Inter coach, leaving them as he did Porto for slightly more glamorous things, in this case Real Madrid.

5. Barcelona, 2011

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    Really, you could pick any of the teams in this recent era of Barcelona sides, from Frank Rijkaard's team led by Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o to Pep Guardiola's extraordinary iterations in 2009 and 2011.

    However, it's the 2011 side that really stood out as possibly the peak of Guardiola's tenure, after he'd crafted them into a slick-passing side near perfection, but before he started second-guessing himself with strange formations, as he did in his final year at the Nou Camp.

    Barca strolled through the group stage unbeaten, came back from a first-leg deficit against Arsenal in the next round, thrashed Shakhtar Donetsk in the quarter-final and, perhaps most deliciously, beat Real Madrid in the semi-final.

    The final at Wembley was against Manchester United, and Barca were simply too good for the United team that had just won the Premier League.

    Pedro scored the opener before Wayne Rooney equalised just before half-time. However, in the second half, Barca's dominance showed, with Lionel Messi putting them back into the lead and David Villa sealing the win shortly afterwards.

6. Bayern Munich, 2013

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    Perhaps we haven't yet seen the best of this Bayern Munich side. Their key players are still in the prime of their careers, their manager is only in his first year in charge and they have access to astonishing amounts of money.

    That's a pretty astonishing thought, given how they won the Champions League last season.

    Whereas for most winners, the final is the defining match, for this Bayern side, it was the semi-final against the previously imperious Barcelona.

    Bayern didn't just beat Leo Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Co., they demolished them, winning 4-0 in the home leg and handing out a 3-0 hammering in the Nou Camp.

    When they did reach the final, against domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund, it felt like it was meant to be, the completion of a similar domestic treble that they nearly denied Manchester United in 1999.

    Bayern took the lead through Mario Mandzukic before an Ilkay Gundogan penalty levelled things, and the game looked like it was heading to extra-time.

    However, with just a minute to go, Arjen Robben skipped through the Dortmund defence and scuffed a shot past Roman Weidenfeller to complete the treble.