Football Features

A history of losing Champions League finalists from the 21st century: “I lost sleep over that many, many times”

By Harry Edwards

Published: 12:30, 22 March 2021

The draw for the 2020/21 Champions League quarter-finals has been made and fans have been treated to a repeat of the 2020 final.

Last season’s runners-up, Paris Saint-Germain, were drawn against reigning champions Bayern Munich and given an almost-immediate opportunity for revenge. However, it also represents a big blockade in PSG’s quest for European glory, the one thing that has eluded them in their domination under the current ownership.

PSG have already fared better than a number of runners-up since 2000 who failed to make it past the last-16 but history isn’t really on their side. Of the 20 teams to have lost a Champions League final this century (not including PSG), only seven have reached the semi-finals at least, with four falling at this particular stage.

2020/21 Champions League winner odds (via William Hill): 

  • Man City: 2/1
  • Bayern Munich: 7/2
  • Chelsea: 5/1
  • Liverpool: 6/1
  • PSG: 8/1
  • Real Madrid: 10/1
  • Borussia Dortmund: 28/1
  • Porto: 40/1

All odds in this article are accurate at time of publication (12:00, 22/03/21). You can find more William Hill football markets here. 18+ only. BeGambleAware.

What follows is an account of the ensuing fates and fortunes of each of those 20 losing finalists (which will also partially explain some of the biggest rivalries and bad blood between Europe’s elite right now). Keep an eye out for Real Madrid, the bane of runners-up. It seems they don’t just settle for beating teams in the final; they also enjoy crushing their dreams even earlier in the following season’s Champions League.

2000: Valencia

  • Beaten by: Real Madrid (3-0)
  • Following season’s finish: Runners-up

Having finished fifth in La Liga during the 2000/01 season, and therefore knowing they would not be there for the Champions League’s next instalment, Valencia became one of only two teams to ever lose consecutive European Cup finals in 2001 (the other being Juventus).

After falling to Real Madrid in 2000, it was Bayern Munich who beat Los Che a year later in a final decided by penalties in more ways than one. Gaizka Mendieta put Valencia a goal up against Bayern from the spot before ‘keeper Santiago Cañizares saved a penalty awarded to their opponents minutes later. Bayern did not miss their next penalty earned early in the second half, though. The extra practice served them well and Bayern won the eventual shootout.

2001: Valencia

  • Beaten by: Bayern Munich (on penalties, 1-1 AET)
  • Following season’s finish: Did not qualify

Rafa Benitez took over after the final defeat to Bayern, Inter having poached former coach Hector Cuper, and Valencia used their break from the Champions League to win La Liga in 2001/02 despite scoring only 51 goals. Memorable players included Roberto Ayala and Pablo Aimar, once described as “more talented than Riquelme and Saviola” by Diego Maradona. Valencia won the league title again two years later as well as the Uefa Cup before Benitez left for Liverpool. They remain the last top-flight Spanish champions outside the current ‘Big Three’ of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

2002: Bayer Leverkusen

  • Beaten by: Real Madrid (2-1)
  • Following season’s finish: Second group stage exit

A treble was on the cards for Bayer Leverkusen toward the summer of 2002. Then they lost German Cup final to Schalke along with two of their final three Bundesliga games, allowing Borussia Dortmund to overturn their five-point lead and win the league. Finally (no pun intended), that Zinedine Zidane volley left Leverkusen empty handed for the season. There’s a reason they call them Neverkusen.

That season, Michael Ballack scored six goals from midfield in the Champions League and 17 in the league, so naturally Bayern Munich signed him in the summer. The Leverkusen team he left behind still included talents like Dimitar Berbatov and Lucio for the 2002/03 campaign but barely managed to avoid relegation, finishing 15th in the league, and were eliminated from the Champions League during the second group stage, having taken no points in group that also included Barcelona, Inter and Newcastle United.

2003: Juventus

  • Beaten by: Milan (on penalties, 0-0 AET)
  • Following season’s finish: Round of 16

Juventus have lost more Champions League finals than any team in the competition’s history. They had just beaten Milan to the Scudetto in 2003 but failed to convert domestic superiority into a third European Cup win. Pavel Nedved will have been consoled by a subsequent Ballon d’Or win and other notable names include Edgar Davids, Alessandro Del Piero and, of course, Gianluigi Buffon. The next season, Juventus both relinquished their Serie A title and failed to make it past the last-16 of the Champions League, losing to arguably the 21st century’s ultimate ‘cult’ team, Deportivo La Coruña.

2004: Monaco

  • Beaten by: Porto (3-0)
  • Following season’s finish: Round of 16

Monaco lost the meeting of two underdogs against Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the 2004 Champions League final. They were managed by Didier Deschamps and among their standout players were Patrice Evra, Emmanuel Adebayor, Real Madrid loanee Fernando Morientes and Ludovic Giuly, who was injured before the final. Monaco lost Giuly to Barcelona in the transfer window that summer and Morientes returned to his parent club, Madrid. In the following campaign, they topped a group ahead of eventual winners Liverpool but were knocked out by PSV before the quarter-finals. The result began a 10-year exile from the Champions League before their mid-2010s renaissance with Anthony Martial, Bernardo Silva and, a little later, Kylian Mbappe.

2005: AC Milan

  • Beaten by: Liverpool (on penalties, 3-3 AET)
  • Following season’s finish: Semi-finals

The Milan side of Kaka, Andrea Pirlo and Paolo Maldini only had to wait a couple years to get revenge for the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’, in which Liverpool came back from three goals down to win on penalties. The defeat was so traumatising Pirlo considered quitting football. “For some days I really thought it was over. I had no strength left,” he told Tuttosport a few years ago. They showed the mental strength to reach the semi-finals in the next season, however, losing narrowly to eventual winners Barcelona. The 2007 campaign produced a rematch with Liverpool in the final, which Milan won 2-1 thanks to two goals from Pippo Inzaghi.

2006: Arsenal

  • Beaten by: Barcelona (2-1)
  • Following season’s finish: Round of 16

To date, Arsenal’s best-ever European Cup performance is the 2-1 final defeat to Barcelona in 2006. Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was sent off early but Arsenal took the lead and held it till the last 10 minutes, in which Henrik Larsson inspired Barca to score twice and win the game. Thierry Henry said in a post-match interview: “People always talk about Ronaldinho, and everything, but I didn’t see him today, I saw Henrik Larsson. He came on, he changed the game, that is what killed the game.” Like Monaco, Arsenal were knocked out in the last 16 the following season by PSV. They spent the rest of the decade falling at the quarter-finals and the semi-final on one occasion. Then began a string of seven (7!) consecutive last-16 exits and it’s been the Europa League for Arsenal ever since.

2007: Liverpool

  • Beaten by: Milan (2-1)
  • Following season’s finish: Semi-finals

The drama of 2005 sometimes overshadows how generally solid Liverpool were in the Champions League under Benitez. Liverpool made the semi-finals the season after losing the grudge match against Milan, where they were eliminated by Chelsea, who repeated the trick the following campaign (2008/09) at the quarter-final stage. So began a miserable decade of European football. Liverpool failed to make it out of the groups in Benitez’s final season and did not return to the Champions League till 2014/15, where (again) they didn’t make the knockout stage. Two final appearances under Jurgen Klopp in recent seasons (one successful) have remedied this.

2008: Chelsea

  • Beaten by: Man Utd (on penalties, 1-1 AET)
  • Following season’s finish: Semi-finals

This was the final Chelsea lost partly because of John Terry’s slip in the penalty shootout and was the peak of English teams’ mini-era of Champions League dominance (sort of). They came close to setting up a rematch with Man United in the following season but lost to eventual winners Barcelona in the semi-finals, the second leg of which is famous for Didier Drogba’s infamous “it’s a f***ing disgrace” rant. The primary cause of his anger was the four unsuccessful penalty appeals made by Chelsea to referee Tom Henning Øvrebø, who later admitted: “It wasn’t my best day, really.”

2009: Man Utd

  • Beaten by: Barcelona (2-0)
  • Following season’s finish: Quarter-finals

“I lost sleep over that many, many times,” said Rio Ferdinand of a headed goal scored by Lionel Messi (who is 5ft7) in the 2009 Champions League final. Sir Alex Ferguson’s United were knocked out by Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals a year later but would be back for a third final appearance in four years during the campaign that followed.

2010: Bayern Munich

  • Beaten by: Inter Milan (2-0)
  • Following season’s finish: Round of 16

Mourinho’s treble-winning Inter were the main source of misery for Louis van Gaal’s Bayern in the Champions League at the turn of the decade. Bayern were one game shy of a treble themselves when Inter beat them in the 2010 final and the Serie A giants also eliminated their rivals from the Bundesliga in the first round of knockout ties in 2011. Shortly after this, Bayern would sack Van Gaal amid fears of missing out of the top four. The seeds for future success were already being sown, however; David Alaba signed his first pro contract with the club, Arjen Robben was on fire in his second full season and Jupp Heynckes was about to take over as head coach the next summer.

2011: Manchester United

  • Beaten by: Barcelona (3-1)
  • Following season’s finish: Group stage exit

Two years on from the first Champions League final between the sides, Man United faced Barcelona at Wembley looking to complete a Premier League and Champions League double. The Blaugrana and Messi once again had other ideas, marking the beginning of the end for Sir Alex Ferguson’s illustrious career as Man United manager. Hopes of a fourth Champions League final in five years were squashed before they could even get started when a Man United side filled with stars bowed out of the Champions League at the group stage, finishing third below Benfica and Basel. They were then knocked out of the Europa League last-16 by Athletic Bilbao. A real low point for the club, and it really hasn’t gotten too much better since.

We earlier referenced a quote from Ferdinand, who has in several interviews seemed genuinely quite scarred by those two meetings with Barcelona. Perhaps so were the club as a whole. Man United have endured a poor decade in the Champions League by their standards (in those seasons where they’ve actually qualified), having been eliminated at the Group Stage on three separate occasions and never making even the semi-final since 2011.

2012: Bayern Munich

  • Beaten by: Chelsea (on penalties, 1-1 AET)
  • Following season’s finish: Winners

This was supposed to be Their City, Their Stadium, Their Cup, as Bayern Munich contested the 2012 Champions League final at the Allianz Arena against Chelsea. But fate had other ideas. Mario Gomez, who had scored 12 goals in the Champions League and 26 in the Bundesliga that season, had a night to forget and Bayern gave up a late lead, eventually losing to Chelsea on penalties, with Ivica Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger missing in the shootout after Arjen Robben had also failed in game. It capped a trophyless season as Bayern were also beaten in the league and cup by Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund. They bounced back in emphatic fashion, however, earning some revenge on the way.

2013: Borussia Dortmund

  • Beaten by: Bayern Munich (2-1)
  • Following season’s finish: Quarter finals

After winning the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal the previous season, the only thing missing on Jurgen Klopp’s quest to become Germany’s best club was the Champions League, and they reached the final with the trio of Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus and Mario Gotze forming their wonderful attack (combining to score 71 goals across all competitions). But just as they had lost their Bundesliga crown to Bayern, so too did they fall in the Champions League final. It was a tight game at Wembley, won by Arjen Robben in the dying stages after Ilkay Gundogan had cancelled out Mario Mandzukic’s opener. A quarter-final exit followed the next season, where Dortmund were one of Real Madrid’s victims en route to La Decima.

2014: Atletico Madrid

  • Beaten by: Real Madrid (4-1 AET)
  • Following season’s finish: Quarter-finals

After Valencia’s win in 2004, Real Madrid and Barcelona tightened their stranglehold on La Liga, sharing the next nine league titles. But then came Atletico Madrid to ruin the party and win their 10th league title, secured by drawing with Barcelona on the final day of the season. Diego Costa had been the star of their season, scoring 36 goals across all competitions including eight in the Champions League to help Atleti reach the final. He unfortunately lasted just nine minutes in the showpiece event before succumbing to injury despite, according to Costa himself, having undergone pre-game treatment involving horse placenta and “electroshocks [applied while] the doctor was smoking two cigarettes” in a desperate attempt to be fit.

Standing in the way of Atleti and the double that evening were, of course, rivals Real Madrid, and we all know what happened next. Diego Godin looked to have won the Champions League for Diego Simeone’s side, but Sergio Ramos scored an injury-time equaliser to secure Real Madrid another 30 minutes in which they scored three unanswered goals. Real Madrid would knock Atletico out of the 2014/15 Champions League too, winning 1-0 in the quarter-finals.

2015: Juventus

Beaten by: Barcelona (3-1)

Following season’s finish: Round of 16

Ah Juventus, we meet again. The sixth of seven times Juventus have been losing finalists in the Champions League came in 2015 when they knocked out defending champions Real Madrid to ruin the dream of an El Clasico showpiece, taking on Barcelona. For years, the Champions League has been Juventus’ obsession, with domestic domination secured, but they just haven’t been able to add to their two victories so far (the last coming in 1996). This time it was Massimiliano Allegri who would fall short with Juventus, having already wrapped up Serie A and the Coppa Italia, with the likes of Paul Pogba, Carlos Tevez and Andrea Pirlo joining that Giorgio Chiellini-Leonardo Bonucci-Andrea Barzagli triumvirate in defence. Barcelona were the victors in the final, and Juventus could only reach the last-16 stage in the following season after being drawn against Bayern Munich.

2016: Atletico Madrid

  • Beaten by: Real Madrid (on penalties, 1-1 AET)
  • Following season’s finish: Semi-finals

Another Madrid Derby final, and this time the scoreline was a lot closer than in 2014. Still, the outcome was the same. Altetico Madrid and Real Madrid had fallen to Barcelona in the league, although just three points separated the sides come the end of the season, with Antoine Griezmann having to pick up the goalscoring responsibilities following Costa’s departure two summers prior. This time it was Real Madrid who took the lead through Ramos before Yannick Carrasco equalised with 10 minutes to go, taking the game to extra time once again. There was still no separating the sides until the fourth round of penalty kicks, with Juanfran unable to convert, handing Real Madrid the chance to win, which fell to Cristiano Ronaldo. Once again, it was Real Madrid who knocked them out of the following season’s Champions League, this time in the semi-finals.

2017: Juventus

  • Beaten by: Real Madrid (4-1)
  • Following season’s finish: Quarter-final

Silver medal number seven for Juventus came with the same back line as in 2015, but a newer midfield and attack. Miralem Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuain were signed, as Pogba joined Man United and Pirlo had previously retired, and the Argentinian picked up the goals with 32 across all competitions. Like in 2015, Juventus had won the league and cup, so were only missing the Champions League in their dream treble. But, as you well know by their position on this list, it didn’t happen. This time it was Real Madrid who ended Juventus’ dreams with a 4-1 thrashing despite Mario Mandzukic’s wonderful bicycle kick having evened the match at half-time. Juventus then fell to the same fate as Atletico, in that they were knocked out by Real Madrid the following season at the quarter-final stage.

2018: Liverpool

  • Beaten by: Real Madrid (3-1)
  • Following season’s finish: Winners

The 2018 Champions League final was the first step in Liverpool’s climb back to the top of football after years in the wilderness. Like Borussia Dortmund five years earlier, Klopp was at the helm and had spent the previous few seasons building the team up from the ground, signing the likes of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk. In his first season in charge, Klopp had led Liverpool to a Europa League final, before losing to Sevilla.

Spanish opposition would stop them again in the Champions League in 2018. In what may be known to some as the Gareth Bale final (and to others the Loris Karius one) Liverpool were rocked early by a shoulder injury to Mohamed Salah. When Karim Benzema gave Real Madrid the lead after a goalkeeping error, they quickly responded through Mane. Then Bale scored one of the best Champions League final goals ever through a bicycle kick and added another from range (thanks to another mistake from Karius) to condemn Liverpool to defeat.

Liverpool will be playing Real Madrid in this season’s quarter-finals and there remains bad blood between some of the participants, so expect the cameras the follow Sergio Ramos, Mohamed Salah and Jurgen Klopp closely. It was a tangle with Ramos that caused Salah’s shoulder injury in 2018 and Klopp accused the Real Madrid defender of putting Salah “down like a wrestler” through his “ruthless and brutal” challenge. Ramos responded by saying: “It’s not the first final he’s lost, [maybe] he wants to use that as an excuse for losing. Some of us have been operating at a very high level for many years. Not sure he can say the same.”

Liverpool bounced back, of course, winning the following season’s Champions League in an all-English final, achieving ‘Six, Baby’ and cementing three words in football meme culture: Corner taken quickly.

2019: Tottenham Hotspur

  • Beaten by: Liverpool (2-0)
  • Following season’s finish: Round of 16

Tottenham were just the third London club to reach the final of the Champions League, after Arsenal and Chelsea, and they were also the third to lose one. The 2018/19 Champions League season was one of the most dramatic in history as both Tottenham and Liverpool recovered from big semi-final deficits to set up an all-English final, with Lucas Moura the hero for Mauricio Pochettino’s side against Ajax. But in the final, it was all Liverpool. An early penalty from Salah put them in control and Origi completed the scoring late on. Like Juventus before them, Tottenham only made it to the last-16 the following year, falling to RB Leipzig.

2020: Paris Saint-Germain

  • Beaten by: Bayern Munich (1-0)
  • Following season’s finish: N/A

We don’t yet know how PSG’s season after losing the Champions League has gone, of course, but they are making a good claim for another spot in the final after heartbreak at the hands of Bayern Munich and former player Kingsley Coman. The French champions won a difficult group ahead of RB Leipzig and Manchester United and pummelled Barcelona in the last-16, despite going through a transition period under Thomas Tuchel and now Pochettino. They have, unfortunately, been drawn against Bayern again in the 2020/21 Champions League quarter-finals but the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Marquinhos will be out for revenge.