While it appears to be mission impossible for Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Schalke 04 in their UEFA Champions League round of 16 ties, the four teams looking to overcome two-goal first-leg deficits can draw inspiration from a host of unlikely comebacks in the past.
AC Milan 4-1 RC Deportivo La Coruña
RC Deportivo La Coruña 4-0 AC Milan
Walter Pandiani put Deportivo in front at San Siro but that was long forgotten by full time, with Kaká scoring twice as Milan shredded their opponents. Ahead of the return fixture at the Riazor, Depor coach Javier Irureta was hanging onto little more than a dream. "This is of course a very complex, difficult and challenging task," he said. "But in football, miracles often happen, things you might not rationally expect."
Incredibly his side were ahead on aggregate by half-time in north-west Spain, Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valerón and Alberto Luque making it 3-0 – before substitute Fran González added a fourth goal on 76 minutes. Irureta duly promised to take the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela, having prayed for success. "It is worth going to Santiago after this victory," he said. "I will do the walk to Santiago because a promise is a promise."
Real Madrid CF 4-2 AS Monaco FC
AS Monaco FC 3-1 Real Madrid CF
Whatever fairy dust had taken unfancied Monaco to the quarter-finals seemed to have blown away when the final whistle sounded at the Santiago Bernabéu on 24 March 2004. A four-goal post interval salvo from Madrid had sent the principality team into a tailspin, though Fernando Morientes's 83rd-minute strike for the visitors proved a lifeline. Coach Didier Deschamps was not about to admit defeat either, saying: "If I thought that, I'd be better off staying home."
A further goal down with seconds to go until half-time in the rematch, Deschamps might have been tempted to think again, but Ludovic Giuly levelled. Then Morientes – on loan from Madrid – headed a second and Giuly made it 3-1. The eventual away-goals victory might still have evaporated had Raúl González not fired a late chance over the bar. Morientes, meanwhile, was not sure whether to celebrate. "I'm very happy about Monaco's win," he said, "but I have friends in Madrid who must be having a difficult time."
Chelsea FC 3-1 FC Barcelona
FC Barcelona 5-1 Chelsea FC (aet)
Pre-Roman Abramovich, Chelsea were not the European force they would become, and their first-leg triumph over Louis van Gaal's Barcelona – secured by a Gianfranco Zola effort and two in four minutes from Tore André Flo – marked an improbable success for Gianluca Vialli's men. They even came within seven minutes of winning the tie overall when Flo struck again in Catalonia to bring the second-leg score back to 2-1, only for Dani García to notch Barça's third. Rivaldo's penalty and a Patrick Kluivert goal finished off the Blues in extra time.
"It was the most beautiful night of my life," said Barcelona's Gabri García while team-mate Luís Figo concluded: "We played a perfect game. We had a big setback but managed to turn things around." A disappointed Vialli offered a mournful summary: "We did what we didn't want to do: defend negatively."
SSC Napoli 3-1 Chelsea FC
Chelsea FC 4-1 SSC Napoli (aet)
2011/12 round of 16
A change of manager provoked a startling fightback by Chelsea. André Villas-Boas's last European game with the London outfit ended in defeat in Naples; Juan Mata had given his team the initiative, but Ezequiel Lavezzi struck twice either side of an Edinson Cavani effort to leave the English club spiralling towards the exit. "There's a big possibility that, with this away goal, we can turn the tie around," Villas-Boas ventured afterwards.
The Portuguese, however, had been replaced by Roberto Di Matteo by the second leg, when goals from Didier Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard helped move the contest into extra time. Branislav Ivanović finally completed the Lazarus act after 105 minutes. "I've had some great nights but this will probably go down in club history," said Di Matteo, little knowing an even greater triumph in adversity would follow.
AC Milan 2-0 FC Barcelona
FC Barcelona 4-0 AC Milan
2012/13 round of 16
No side had ever recovered from a two-goal first-leg loss without the benefit of an away goal yet Barcelona made light of such unfavourable statistics amid a cacophony of enthusiastic support at Camp Nou. Lionel Messi's sublime first-half double wiped out Milan's lead and David Villa's goal early in the second period put the Blaugrana in control of the tie.
The home side still required some luck – at 1-0, M'Baye Niang hit the post – and they were not safe until Jordi Alba raced through to net a clinching fourth in stoppage time. Vanquished coach Massimiliano Allegri conceded Barça had played "extraordinarily well", while Lionel Messi told UEFA.com: "This is the Barça we and our fans want every game." They will need that Barcelona and more at home to Bayern.
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