As we await the potential return of Champions League football, we’re looking back on the 20 greatest goals scored over the past 20 years in Europe’s premier club competition. Given our 21st century cut-off line, some spectacular strikes, unfortunately, miss out; Lars Ricken’s classy chip, Jean-Pierre Papin’s sweet volley, and arguably the best goal in tournament history, Mauro Bressan’s audacious overhead kick, are out of contention. But the turn of the century has delivered a series of memorable goals to carry the torch.
Honorable mentions: Alessandro Florenzi vs. Barcelona (2015); Marc Overmars vs. Liverpool (2001)
20. Mesut Ozil vs. Ludogorets (2016)
With the caveat that, yes, it was Ludogorets, Mesut Ozil showcased his trademark tranquility on the ball when he left a goalkeeper and two defenders reeling in Bulgaria. The calm demeanor makes it all the more disrespectful.
19. Ramires vs. Barcelona (2012)
Ramires? Ramires! There’s something special about spectacular goals coming from unlikely sources, especially in crucial moments. The Brazilian’s triumphant chip against Barcelona in 2012 is an all-timer for Chelsea fans.
18. Thierry Henry vs. Real Madrid (2006)
Grace. Pace. Poise. Power. This memorable Thierry Henry tally against Real Madrid had it all. The Arsenal icon bounced off of two defenders, dribbled past another, and outran all of them before sliding the ball into the bottom corner.
17. Amantino Mancini vs. Lyon (2007)
This dizzying array of stepovers will leave you seeing stars. Poor Anthony Reveillere is still spinning after Roma’s Amantino Mancini put him in a blender before lashing home one of the tournament’s most satisfying goals.
16. Hugo Almeida vs. Inter Milan (2005)
Hugo Almeida couldn’t have hit this any sweeter. It’s a perfect free-kick, and one of the most audacious in tournament history, too. The sound when the ball smacks the mesh is so damn pleasing.
15. Hernan Crespo vs. Liverpool (2005)
Liverpool’s surreal comeback in the 2005 final has largely made this goal a forgotten artifact, but it’s worth celebrating, both for Hernan Crespo’s clever little dink and, more impressively, Kaka’s obscene pass.
14. Michael Essien vs. Barcelona (2009)
It was rendered moot by Andres Iniesta’s last-gasp strike, but Michael Essien etched his name on lists like this forever by uncorking a seething volley with his weaker foot. Going bar down is just the cherry on top.
13. Juninho vs. Bayern Munich (2003)
A true free-kick master. Any number of efforts from dead-ball wizard Juninho Pernambucano could be singled out for praise, but doing this to Oliver Kahn – while making him crash into the post – is quite the feat.
12. Cristiano Ronaldo vs. FC Porto (2009)
If this ball didn’t hit the back of the net, it would still be traveling. Cristiano Ronaldo, the Champions League’s all-time top scorer, had no business beating the ‘keeper from another area code like that. What a rocket.
11. Lionel Messi vs. Bayern Munich (2015)
This will forever be remembered as the day Jerome Boateng ceased to exist as a professional footballer. Lionel Messi, who will appear again on this list, snatched another man’s soul at the Camp Nou. The finish wasn’t bad, either.