The official website for European football

Down but not out: the greatest comebacks

Published: Friday 4 April 2014, 13.30CET
No side has overturned a three-goal first-leg deficit since the advent of the UEFA Europa League, but – as discovers – amazing things happen in this competition.

rate galleryrate photo
  • loading...
Published: Friday 4 April 2014, 13.30CET

Down but not out: the greatest comebacks

No side has overturned a three-goal first-leg deficit since the advent of the UEFA Europa League, but – as discovers – amazing things happen in this competition.

Things are looking bleak for Valencia CF ahead of their quarter-final decider against FC Basel 1893 – no team has ever recovered a three-goal first-leg deficit in the UEFA Europa League. However, as discovers, an opening defeat is not necessarily a disaster in this competition.

1975/76 second round
Ipswich Town FC 3-0 Club Brugge KV
Club Brugge KV 4-0 Ipswich Town FC
"It will be a miracle for us to score four times without Ipswich scoring," said Club Brugge defender, and later Belgian national team coach, Georges Leekens after a 3-0 first-leg defeat in England. However, that was exactly what happened.

Brugge flew out of the blocks and were 2-0 to the good inside the opening half-hour thanks to goals from Raoul Lambert and Daniël De Cubber. Then Ulrik Le Fèvre pounced on a rebound to level the aggregate score before the interval, yet although Ernst Happel's side were in the ascendancy, they had to wait until two minutes from time to grab the winner. Another future Belgium boss René Vandereycken headed in Le Fèvre's cross to break Ipswich hearts and complete what Lambert called one of the most memorable games of his career. He said: "Our best match was the final at Anfield against Liverpool, but our home game against Ipswich was certainly the most spectacular."

1984/85 second round
Queens Park Rangers FC 6-2 FK Partizan
FK Partizan 4-0 Queens Park Rangers FC (Partizan win on away goals)
Playing at Arsenal FC's Highbury, rather than their customary Loftus Road, QPR took seamlessly to the less familiar surroundings. Though 2-1 behind at one stage, and down to ten men following Warren Neill's dismissal, the west London side came back to win 6-2 with the help of a Gary Bannister double. Even that, though, was not enough. QPR manager Alan Mullery already had regretful experience of facing Yugoslav opposition, having 16 years earlier become the first England international to be sent off. His team promptly surrendered their four-goal advantage in Belgrade to lose on away goals – and Mullery's time at the helm ended soon after.

Partizan midfielder Zvonko Živković, who set one up and scored the decisive fourth, had returned from military service only three days before but felt it was a momentous game for him and his team-mates. "After a long period out of football I was in front of 50,000 fans," he said. "We all felt the emotion but believed that together we could beat a strong opponent to go through. It is not fair to speak about individuals after a match like that. As a team and a club we created something amazing. That match was a defining moment in our careers."

1985/86 third round
VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach 5-1 Real Madrid CF
Real Madrid CF 4-0 VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach (Madrid win on away goals)
Beaten in sub-zero temperatures a fortnight before, Madrid's second-leg task against Jupp Heynckes's Gladbach side was made all the more challenging by the absence of suspended trio Hugo Sánchez, Rafael Gordillo and Chendo as well as the injured Manuel Sanchís. However, they got off to the perfect start when Jorge Valdano put them 2-0 up inside 18 minutes. The Merengues' fightback had seemingly run out of steam with a quarter of an hour remaining but Santillana had other ideas.

The striker scored twice in the final 14 minutes, including an 89th-minute clincher, to send the Spanish outfit through to the next round, and they went on to beat 1. FC Köln in the final. "This was a feat to go down in the history of Spanish football," said Madrid forward Juanito. "I have played in two World Cups and won titles with Madrid but tonight's comeback was immense. This is the happiest night of my life."

1987/88 third round
Budapest Honvéd FC 5-2 Panathinaikos FC
Panathinaikos FC 5-1 Budapest Honvéd FC
Panathinaikos were on a high after eliminating Juventus to reach the third round but three weeks after their heroics in Turin they were caught cold in Budapest. Honvéd cruised into a 5-0 lead inside 63 minutes with Kálmán Kovács scoring four and Imre Fodor the other. Dimitris Saravakos grabbed what appeared at the time two consolations but a fortnight later they proved crucial. Despite the 5-2 defeat in Hungary, 75,000 supporters filled the Olympic Stadium in Athens, hoping for a miracle.

Roared on by vociferous support, Panathinaikos wiped out the first-leg deficit by the 55th minute. Vangelis Vlachos netted twice before the break and Kostas Antoniou notched the third. József Fitos pulled one back to revive Honvéd, only for Kostas Mavridis and Kostas Batsinilas to seal the comeback and leave the crowd in raptures. "We were hammered in Budapest by a short player named Kovács who scored four goals," said Panathinaikos coach Vasilis Daniil. "So in Athens, instead of sticking with Giannis Kallitzakis – my best but very tall defender – I decided to sacrifice him. I played Lakovos Chatziathanasiou because of his short frame and it paid off."

1987/88 final
RCD Espanyol 3-0 Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Bayer 04 Leverkusen 3-0 RCD Espanyol (Leverkusen win 3-2 on penalties)
The presence of two first-time European finalists had suggested a tight affair, but Espanyol looked like running away with the two-legged showpiece when they racked up a 3-0 first-leg win in Spain courtesy of two goals from Roberto Losada and one from Miguel Soler. Still three to the good at half-time of the return match, Javier Clemente's team had one hand on the trophy.

Leverkusen, however, had not read the script. Milton Tita, Falko Götz and Cha Bum-kun all scored in 25 frantic second-half minutes to herald a most unexpected period of extra time. A penalty shoot-out was needed and again Espanyol went in front, 2-0, but Leverkusen keeper Rüdiger Vollborn then made three successive stops to earn a remarkable triumph. "I am completely overwhelmed that we can celebrate this win," said Bayer coach Erich Ribbeck. "It is one of the biggest moments in our club's 84-year history. I think it was fate that this happened in a penalty shoot-out. Now we are in heaven."

2009/10 round of 16
Juventus 3-1 Fulham FC
Fulham FC 4-1 Juventus
Fulham were meant to throw in the towel after losing 3-1 in Turin. And when David Trezeguet put the Bianconeri in front at Craven Cottage inside two minutes, Roy Hodgson's side looked positively doomed. Bobby Zamora struck back soon enough and Fabio Cannavaro was dismissed inside the half-hour, yet Fulham still required three unanswered goals merely to force extra time.

Though Zoltán Gera got the first just before the interval and the second soon after, Juve proved a tough nut to crack thereafter. It would take something special and Clint Dempsey supplied it with a spendid chip eight minutes from time. "When I got the ball I was wondering whether to shoot or try to dink it towards the far post, but it came into my mind to go for it," said Dempsey. "So I just went with it. Nine times out of ten I don't think I'd have hit it as well as I did."

Last updated: 04/04/14 13.35CET

Related information

Team profiles features

How Guardiola made his mark at Barcelona
  • How Guardiola made his mark at Barcelona
  • Classic UEFA Champions League semi-finals
  • How Juventus got back to the top
  • Futre on futsal finals in Lisbon
  • 2002 Futsal Cup final: Where it all began
  • Sporting stalwart Benedito opens up
  • Greatest UEFA Champions League comebacks
  • Prudnikov wants Dina to make history again
  • Kairat's Joan targets trophy again
  • Snap shot: Ajax overturn 3-1 first-leg defeat
1 of 10
  • © 1998-2015 UEFA. All rights reserved.
  • The UEFA word, the UEFA logo and all marks related to UEFA competitions, are protected by trade marks and/or copyright of UEFA. No use for commercial purposes may be made of such trade marks. Use of signifies your agreement to the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.