The 50 Biggest Chokers in Soccer History

Neri Stein@neristeinFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2011

The 50 Biggest Chokers in Soccer History

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    The Choke. When a big-time player can't deliver in the big-time situation. 

    Or it can be when a whole team hits a month-long skid that rewrites the whole campaign. 

    Who are the biggest chokers in world football history? Read on to find out.

    And as always, holla at me on who feels left out or misplaced. 

50. Barcelona 2009-2010 Champions League

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    The reigning Champions League winners were the best team in world football and were fully expected to be the first team to defend its Champions League crown. 

    But they went out tamely to Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan in the semifinals despite taking the lead with an away goal in the first leg at the San Siro.

    Perhaps we should've known this would happen, considering they'd added a certain player to be named later to their ranks at the beginning of the season. 

49. Mario Balotelli on His Own Ego

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    Mario Balotelli has all the talent in the world, but don't tell him that. His head is already big enough, and it's holding him back.

    Roberto Mancini has showed he's not afraid to bench the could-be superstar, and if Balotelli doesn't stop choking on his own ego, his career won't be nearly as spectacular as it could be.  

48. Barcelona on Cesc Fabregas

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    Barca, if you want Cesc Fabregas, put up the money and get it over with. Likewise, Cesc, whether you want to play for Barca or Arsenal, stop dancing around the issue.  

    This never-ending transfer saga is gettin' real tiresome. 

47. Mike Ashley as Owner of Newcastle United

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    In his four short years as owner of Newcastle United, Mike Ashley has twice put the club up for sale, only to take it off the market shortly thereafter.

    His actions in the last year have been just plain crazy.

    First he fired manager Chris Hughton for leading the team back into the Premier League after just one season in the Championship and leading it into the top half of the table in December.

    Then he sold star striker Andy Carroll, while claiming the player forced through the transfer, for £35 million without putting any of that money toward replacing the young Englishman.

    Or toward re-signing captain and influential midfielder Kevin Nolan this summer. Now, Joey Barton has been released as well despite having a year left on his contract.

    Was Newcastle making more money in the Championship or something, or is the Premier League just too much pressure for some owners?

46. Landon Donovan MLS Cup 2009

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    The 2009 MLS Cup final between Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy went to a penalty shootout after extra time ended at 1-1. 

    Landon Donovan didn't have everything riding on his penalty kick, but he was having the best year of his career and was the captain. 

    And his kick was going about 20 yards over the bar right from the start. 

45. Birmingham City 2011 Post-Carling Cup Trophy

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    Birmingham City were the shock winners of the League Cup in February, and even more shockingly, they were relegated just three months later.

    After their late win over Arsenal, they won just two Premier League games and lost seven making them the fist team to win a trophy and be relegated in the same season. 

44. Arsenal vs Barcelona 2009-2010 Champions League

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    Arsenal put a spirited performance to come back from two goals down at home in the first-leg quarterfinal match against Barcelona in the 2009-2010 Champions League.

    They did even better to come out firing and take the lead at Camp Nou a week later. 

    And then it all came apart, with the help of some guy named Messi. 

43. Real Madrid vs Lyon 2009-2010 Champions League

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    Real Madrid hadn't made it past the Last 16 of the Champions League for five years running, so in the summer of 2009, they shelled out a boat load of money for Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo

    And Lyon sent them packing in the Last 16 a few months later with a 1-0 win at home followed by a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu, getting the second Galacticos era off to a slow start. 

42. Roy Hodgson at Liverpool

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    Roy Hodgson never should've been hired by Liverpool, but he still wasn't as bad a manager as his coaching style and record reflected during his six-month tenure with the Reds.

    Time spent at Fulham and now with West Brom shows he knows what he's doing, and he's been around football enough to have not caved under the pressure of Liverpool as easily as he did. 

41. Argentina 2011 Copa America

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    Superstars Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi have yet to click all together for Argentina, and they're sort of running out of time. 

    Along with Gonzalo Higuain, Pablo Zabaleta, Angel di Maria and more, Argentine was expected to have a big 2011 Copa America as the hosts.

    Instead, they went out on penalties in the quarterfinals against Uruguay, scoring just five goals in four games. 

40. Robinho

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    When Robinho was 15 years old, Pele singled him out as his heir apparent. That's a ridiculously high bar to set, and the 27-year-old has yet to really approach it. 

    He did lead Santos to its first Brazilian title since Pele was at the club, but he failed to live up to expectations with Real Madrid and especially Manchester City after.

    However, could AC Milan be the club to take him to the top?  

39. Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Barcelona

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    Barcelona gave up Samuel Eto'o and a bucket of money to Inter Milan for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. 

    He ended up scoring in his first four league games and notched 22 total goals overall, but he wasn't getting it done when it counted for the Catalans, and he quickly fell out of favor with Pep Guardiola. 

    After one year with Barca, Ibra moved to former foes AC Milan where he kept up his streak of eight league titles in a row in three separate leagues.  

38. Robbie Keane at Liverpool

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    Robbie Keane didn't come into the best situation at Liverpool, being purchased by the president and not the manager, but he did nothing to help himself or prove he could get it done with a big club by missing numerous sitters during his short stint on Merseyside. 

    To be fair to Keane, Rafa Benitez choked here as well by totally mismanaging the Irish star. 

37. David Beckham With LA Galaxy

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    David Beckham's move to LA Galaxy in 2007 has brought in huge amounts of revenue for the team and the MLS, but on the pitch, he hasn't been worth the mega money he's been paid.

    He's battled injuries each season meaning he's made 69 appearances in just over four years, scoring 12 goals. 

    His marketability is still all there though. 

36. Michael Owen at Real Madrid

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    Michael Owen made an enemy of the Liverpool fans who used to adore him when he forced through a transfer to Real Madrid in 2004. 

    The joke has been on him though. He spent one year at Madrid and wasn't able to hold down a starting spot and went to Newcastle without winning a trophy with Real.

    He battled injuries on and off for Newcastle and has spent a majority of his Manchester United career on the bench. 

35. Gerard Houllier Picking El Hadji Diouf Over Nicols Anelka

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    Nicolas Anelka spent just over half a season with Liverpool and scored four league goals, helping the Reds to finish second in the league in 2001-2002. 

    However, at season's end, Gerard Houiller got cold feet about Anelka's supposed attitude or something and opted for El Hadji Diouf instead. 


34. Brazil vs Paraguay Copa America 2011

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    These were some seriously ugly penalties.

33. Andriy Shevchenko at Chelsea

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    Roman Abramovich is a man who doesn't take no for an answer, and he got his man with a £30 million bid for AC Milan's Andriy Shevchenko in 2006.

    But after 173 goals for Milan in seven seasons and close to 100 with Dynamo Kiev the five years prior, it appeared Shevchenko was all scored out.

    He never lived up to his high transfer fee, scoring just 22 goals and never holding down a starting spot in two seasons. 

32. Wayne Rooney 2010 World Cup

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    Coming off his best season with Manchester United in which he scored 34 goals and was named the PFA Player of the Year, many people expected Wayne Rooney to shine for England in South Africa.

    The ankle injury he suffered against Bayern Munich late in the season didn't help, but Rooney was a complete non factor for the Three Lions, and their World Cup fate went down right along with him.

31. Rafa Benitez at Inter Milan

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    Much like his successor at Liverpool, Rafa Benitez didn't last long at his next club Inter Milan.

    He inherited a side fresh off winning the Coppa Italia, its fifth straight Serie A title and the Champions League, but poor performances in the league and Champions League group stages sent Benitez packing in late December. 

    When he left, Inter were 13 points behind Milan at the top of the table. 

30. Robert Green vs USA

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    England's entire 2010 World Cup could've been different if Robert Green hadn't passed Clint Dempsey's weak shot into the back of the net. 

    Or not. 

29. AC Milan 1995 Champions League Final

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    Milan was aiming to become the first team to ever defend the Champions League crown, and many thought they would, given they were in their third final in three years. 

    But their former star Frank Rijkaard dashed their hopes in the 85th minute when he slotted a ball to Patrick Kluivert who scored the winning goal. 

28. David James 1996-97

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    Liverpool were at the top of the league table for much of the 1996-97 season, but the pressure at the top was apparently too much for goalkeeper David "Calamity" James.

    A series of errors in goal during the title run in gift wrapped another league title for Manchester United, but at least James had a good excuse.

    Video games really can mess with your head, or hands. 

27. USA vs Brazil 2009 Confederations Cup Final

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    Fresh off handing No. 1 Spain its first defeat in almost three years, the US was actually looking like it could be a player in international football. 

    They further backed that claim by leading Brazil 2-0 at halftime of the 2009 Confederations Cup final. 

    And then they choked, allowing three second-half goals as Brazil put Team USA firmly back in its place.  

26. Steve McClaren as England Manager

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    Given that Steve McClaren's nickname when he was announced as the new England manager in 2006 was "Second Choice Steve," not everyone was high on him. After that, he didn't handle the pressure too well.

    His first task was to qualify for the 2008 European Championships in a supposed "easy" group (you really should stop saying that England), and despite starting strong, they eventually failed to qualify.

    McClaren's reign ended with a 3-2 defeat to Croatia at Wembley.  

25. USA vs Japan 2011 Women's World Cup Final

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    The US had this game won twice, once in normal and again in extra time. But they let in two cheap Japan goals before absolutely crumbling under the pressure of penalties. 

    And they wouldn't have had to worry about any of that if they'd put away maybe one of their six excellent chances in the first 20 minutes of the match. 

24. West Ham 2006 FA Cup

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    Much like the US, West Ham had this game won thanks to a couple of defensive errors from Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina of Liverpool, but they let the Reds claw their way back in. 

    Paul Konchesky gave them back the lead in extra time, but leaving Steven Gerrard unmarked is never a wise idea. 

    The Hammers then fell to that old foe penalties, with three of their kicks saved by Reina. 

23. Brazil 1982 World Cup

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    Being one of the greatest teams to never win a World Cup is really not what you want. 

    Brazil were naturally the favorites in 1982 and were cruising until they met Italy in the second round. A 2-2 draw would've sent Brazil through, but Paolo Rossi completed his hat trick and went on to win the Cup with Italy.

    Many Brazilians blamed manager Tele for continuing to play attacking football when the scores were level, but he just couldn't help going for glory. 

22. Italy 2010 World Cup

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    For the first time, Italy failed to win a single match at the World Cup. 

    The reigning champions finished last in their group in South Africa following draws against Paraguay and New Zealand and a loss to Slovakia.

21. Ghana vs Uruguay 2010 World Cup

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    Unlike England, Ghana got the handball call. They just couldn't make it count. 

    Ghana's best player in the World Cup could've make his side the first African nation to get to the semifinals with the last kick of the 120-minute-plus match, but he hit the top of the bar.

    And once it went to penalties, there was only going to be one winner.  

20. Ronaldhino With Brazil

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    Ronaldhino is another super-talented footballer who lets his ego get in the way and shows off when he should just get down to business.

    He had a great overall 2002 World Cup but fizzled at the confederations Cup a year later.  

    He had a fantastic 2005 Confederations Cup but was a non-factor for Brazil a summer later when it really counted. 

    He didn't soothe the feelings of Brazil fans when he hosted an all-night party in Barcelona just a couple days after Brazil were eliminated.

    Just hurting yourself here pal.   

19. Liverpool 1996 FA Cup Final

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    Liverpool faced off against Manchester United in 1996 FA Cup final, and they did it in style. Before the game at least.

    The Reds players wore cream-colored Emporio Armani suits and strode along the pitch prior to kickoff. Liverpool went on to lose the match 1-0 thanks to an 85th minute winner from Eric Cantona.

    I'd choke on that candy-cane striped tie as well.   

    Photo courtesy of

18. Arsenal 4-4 Newcastle

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    Arsenal jumped to four-goal lead inside 30 minutes away to Newcastle in early February, and the Gunners looked like they were on the way to putting up a cricket score.

    And then Abou Diaby was sent off on the 50th minute (with help from Newcastle's Joey Barton, it must be said). 

    After that, Arsenal collapsed and let the Magpies claw their way back in the biggest comeback in Premier League history.

    Check Tiote scored the equalizer with a fantastic long-range strike in the 87th minute, and the fans who stayed were greatly rewarded for their loyalty.

    Arsenal fans meanwhile, could only look on in utter disbelief. 

17. Jose Mourinho vs. Barcelona 2010-2011 Champions League

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    Jose Mourinho led his Inter Milan side past Barcelona in impressive fashion in the 2009-2010 Champions League, and Real Madrid scooped him hope hoping he could do the same for them. 

    Alas, he choked under the pressure. 

    Perhaps the 5-0 La Liga thrashing last November was weighing on his mind when the semifinals came around in April because Mourinho completely changed his tactics.

    He apparently didn't think Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil, Angel dí Maria, Sami Khedria and more could even hope to play with Barca's Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, so he had his side play anti-football and just break up Barca's passing in any way they could. 

    Barca's players were throwing themselves around theatrically the whole tie, but Mourinho's tactics were just awful. He needs a better plan this season.  

16. John Aldridge 1988 FA Cup Final

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    With Wimbledon leading Liverpool 1-0 in the 1988 FA Cup final, John Aldridge was fouled in the area and stepped up to take the penalty himself. 

    Aldridge hadn't missed a penalty all season, but Wimbledon keeper Daivd Beasant had noted that Aldo had gone to the keeper's left on each one. 

    Aldo went left again and became the first to ever see his penalty saved in a cup final at Wembley, and Wimbledon went on to win 1-0. 

15. Manchester United 1994-95 EPL Season

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    Manchester United failed to win a trophy in the 1994-95 season for the first time since 1988-89. 

    They didn't make it out of the group stage of the Champions league and only made it to the third round of the League Cup. The were runners-up to Everton in the FA Cup, but the biggest choke came in the league on the final day of the season.

    Blackburn lost to Liverpool, but the Red Devils could only manage a draw at West Ham, and the Kenny Dalglish and Alan Shearer-led Rovers won the title.  

14. AC Milan 2005 Champions League Final

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    AC Milan were up 3-0 by halftime and were surely cruising to their seventh European Cup in their 10th overall final appearance, second in just three years.

    But they got ahead of themselves and lost it to a Liverpool side who were certainly tenacious and scrappy but by no means the best club in the competition and a side that was just minutes away from being eliminated in the group stages.

    Three goals in a six-minute second-half spell tied the scores and ultimately sealed the deal for Milan because once it went to penalties, there was no way Liverpool wasn't going to complete the miracle comeback.  

13. England's Golden Generation

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    England's golden generation of football may be the most over-hyped team ever. Not saying they aren't talented but that talent has only been on display with their club sides. 

    For England, they've choked phenomenally. 

    The 2006 World Cup was their shining moment as they crashed out on penalties to Portugal in the quarterfinals, and blaming it on their wives and girlfriends being a distraction was an even bigger step down.

    They failed to qualify for the 2008 Euros as we've previously discussed, and the utter fiasco that was the 2010 World Cup has put an end to this chapter in the Three Lions' history. 

12. France 2010 World Cup

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    No one was really expecting France to make a lot of noise on the pitch at the World Cup last summer, but the way they behaved off it was just embarrassing. 

    Nicolas Anelka screaming at his coach during halftime against Mexico and the rest of the team refusing to practice is beyond insulting to their nation and their fans, and it's the ultimate case of footballers choking on their incredibly large egos. 

11. Liverpool and Rafa Benitez January 2009

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    God this is humiliating. I couldn't even bring myself to watch the whole video.

    Rafa Benitez was never going to last at Liverpool because he couldn't handle the pressure of Sir Alex Ferguson, and his "rant" in January of 2009 made that incredibly clear. 

    On Jan. 9, 2009, Liverpool were at the top of the table before a match at Stoke at the weekend when Rafa delivered his now infamous rant full of "facts" claiming referees were afraid of "Mr. Ferguson." 

    Liverpool went on to draw its three league matches that month to let Manchester United back into the title race, which they eventually won, though Liverpool put some pressure on them come March and April.

    It was United's 18th league title, pulling them level all-time with the Reds, and they've now surpassed that.

10. Arsenal End of 2010-2011 Season

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    Much like Liverpool in 2009, Arsenal had everything going for them and then abruptly collapsed. 

    We've already touched on the 4-4 draw with Newcastle, but the first real collapse came against arch-rivals Tottenham at the Emirates in November. The Gunners had a 2-0 lead at halftime but let Spurs come back and win it 3-2. 

    The defense was a problem area for Arsenal all year, and it was their downfall in the Carling Cup loss to Birmingham City in February. 

    They were a bit hard done by against Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16, and it looked as though the players carried all those negative feelings into their league performances letting leads against Liverpool, Tottenham and more slip away.

9. France 1994 World Cup Qualification

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    While the French team in South Africa may have embarrassed the nation, at least they were there.

    In 1993, France had all but secured qualification for the 1994 World Cup, but two stunning upsets to Israel (last place in the group) and then Bulgaria, meant France would be watching from home for the second World Cup in a row. 

8. Bayern Munich 1999 Champions League Final

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    I'd say AC Milan allowing three goals to Liverpool in the whole of the second half and extra time is less of a choke than what Bayern Munich did six years earlier.

    Bayern was leading Manchester United 1-0 from the sixth minute until allowing the equalizing goal in the first minute of stoppage time and then the winner two minutes later. United didn't let it get to extra time.

    And this was a United side without Roy Keane or Paul Scholes.

    AC Milan's collapse is a quite stunning, but Bayern's injury-time meltdown is still hard to believe. 

7. Roberto Baggio 1994 World Cup Final

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    Roberto Baggio scored a late equalizer and an extra-time winner from the penalty spot in the Round of 16 against Nigeria. 

    He scored the winner against Spain in the next round with just three minutes to go and two goals against Bulgaria in the semifinal to send the Italians to the 1994 World Cup final.

    But that's where the pressure became too much. 

    After 120 minutes of 0-0 football with Brazil, the game went to penalties, and Baggio (with a heavily bandaged hamstring, it must be said) missed in spectacular fashion, and Brazil won its fourth World Cup. 

6. Spice Boys

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    The Spice Boys consisted of Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Jamie Redknapp, David James, Stan Collymore, Jason McAteer and more.

    They were the uber-talented Liverpool golden generation that was supposed to continue the club's dominance from the '70s and '80s but couldn't get the job done when it counted.

    We've discussed James' sometimes comical goalkeeping and the FA Cup final fiasco, but this squad choked all throughout the '90s.

    They were certainly talented enough to challenge Manchester United, but they were too distracted by their newfound celebrity status, good looks and money. 

5. Liverpool vs Arsenal 1989

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    Liverpool actually had their 19th league title won all the way back in 1989, in front of their home crowd.

    But they choked and lost it.

    Arsenal had to win by two clear goals to win the title, and Liverpool hadn't lost by that much at Anfield in over three years.

    Then, in the last minute, of the last game, on the last day of the season, Michael Thomas scored that second goal to the astonishment of the Kop.

4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Champions League

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    If you're looking for Champions League glory, Zlatan Ibrahimovic may not be the way to go.

    The league is a different story, but Ibra has never fared well on the biggest stage in club football, and just leave him at home if you're playing an English side.

    He's never won against an English team, with his only goals coming at Arsenal in the 2010 quarterfinals. 

    Barcelona won it without Ibra in 2009, with him, they went out to eventual champions and Ibra's former club Inter in 2010 and they won it again this year after sending him to AC Milan. 

    It looks like Ibra and the European Cup were just not meant to be. 

3. England Penalty Takers

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    Penalty shoot-outs have not been kind to England. 

    They have been eliminated in a penalty shoot-out in the 1990 World Cup, the 1996 Euros, the 2004 Euros and the 2006 World Cup, and none of them have been pretty.

    England has a 17 percent success rate in penalty shoot-outs, the worst of major footballing teams. 

2. John Terry 2008 Champions League Final

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    Andy Gray's description of John Terry as a Greek God as he walks to the penalty spot is perfect, especially seeing as he misses it.   

    There you go Chelsea fans. I didn't put this at No. 1.  

1. Brazil 1950 World Cup Final

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    The biggest upset in world football, the biggest shock in world football and also, the biggest choke. 

    Brazil needed only a draw in front of 200,000 of their fans at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, and they even gave themselves some cushion with Friaca's 47th minute goal.

    It wasn't enough though.

    Juan Schiaffino scored the equalizer in the 66th minute, and then, 10 minutes from time, Alcides Ghiggia flew down the right side, scored what would be the World Cup winner and silenced the crowd.

    This was such a big choke that many Brazilians refused to acknowledge it, the national team changed their uniforms and many of the 1950 squad quietly left football.

    The Marcana stadium is currently undergoing renovations and should be ready by the 2014 World Cup. I wouldn't be surprised if the final wasn't held there though.