In the news · Sport

Champions League finals and first-time losers

Last night Bayern Munich beat Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League final to win the trophy for the sixth time. As I wrote on the eve of the match, here, it was only the second time that a German team had taken on a French team in the final, and once again it was the German team that prevailed.

That earlier piece reflected on the dominance of teams from “The Big Three” football leagues (Spain, England and Italy) in this competition. This year’s final was only the ninth in the 65-year history of the Champions League / European Cup that did not feature a team from “The Big Three”. This year was only the second time that Spain, England and Italy were not even represented at the semi-final stage. During my trawl through Champions League history I noticed that a pattern is emerging involving teams playing in the final for the first time.

PSG are the seventh team this century to make it to their first final, and all of them have lost. The other six first-time losers, with the year of their debut final in brackets, are: Valencia (2000), Bayer Leverkusen (2002), Monaco (2004), Arsenal (2006), Chelsea (2008) and Tottenham Hotspur (2019). Only two of them have made it to a second final: Valencia (2001) and Chelsea (2012). The latter are the only team in this select group who have won the trophy, by beating Bayern Munich on penalties.

In the last 30 years only two teams have won the trophy in their first final: Red Star Belgrade (1991) and Borussia Dortmund (1997). 1991 was the last time that both finalists were debutants (Marseille were the runners-up), so it was bound to happen that year. The finals in 1991 and 1992 were the last time (before 2019 and 2020) that debutants featured in two successive finals: Sampdoria lost to Barcelona at Wembley in 1992 to give the latter their first European Cup.

Barcelona had lost their first final (against Benfica in 1961) and are one of seven teams who have won the trophy after doing so. They have also had the longest wait so far between losing their first final and winning the trophy (31 years). Here is the full list:

  • AC Milan (lost to Real Madrid in 1958, beat Benfica in 1963)
  • Barcelona (lost to Benfica in 1961, beat Sampdoria in 1992)
  • Ajax (lost to AC Milan in 1969, beat Panathanaikos in 1971)
  • Juventus (lost to Ajax in 1973, beat Liverpool in 1985)
  • Hamburg (lost to Nottingham Forest in 1980, beat Juventus in 1983)
  • Marseille (lost to Red Star Belgrade in 1991, beat AC Milan in 1993)
  • Chelsea (lost to Manchester United in 2008, beat Bayern Munich in 2012)

For the record, 22 teams have won the trophy. Seven of them lost their first final, so that means that 15 of them have won their first final, namely: Real Madrid (1956), Benfica (1961), Internazionale (1963), Celtic (1967), Manchester United (1968), Feyenoord (1970), Bayern Munich (1974), Liverpool (1977), Nottingham Forest (1979), Aston Villa (1982), Steua Bucharest (1986), Porto (1987), PSV (1988), Red Star Belgrade (1991) and Borussia Dortmund (1997) .

Last night PSG became the 26th team to lose their first final. Here are the other 18 teams who have reached the final and not yet gone on to win the trophy, along with the year(s) they were finalists: Reims (1956, 1959), Fiorentina (1957), Eintracht Frankfurt (1960), Partizan Belgrade (1966), Panathanaikos (1971), Atletico Madrid (1974, 2014, 2016), Leeds United (1975), St Etienne (1976), Borussia Moenchengladbach (1977), Brugge (1978), Malmo (1979), Roma (1984), Sampdoria (1992), Valencia (2000, 2001), Bayer Leverkusen (2002), Monaco (2004), Arsenal (2006) and Tottenham Hotspur (2019).

As usual in any piece involving football, I will make a point of singling out Leeds United, the team I have supported since childhood, and whose only appearance in the final was in 1975. Only four teams have waited longer to make it to a second final. Despite the team’s imminent return to the Premier League after 16 years in lower divisions I am not expecting them to play in the Champions League again anytime soon.





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