Soccer can be a hard sport to stage a comeback in. There’s not a ton of scoring, and if a team has a lead to protect, it can always just get super defensive; “park the bus” in the parlance of the sport and try and hold on. Fortunately on occasion, comebacks happen, often to our surprise. Here are some of the biggest and best comebacks in the history of soccer.
This one is recent and partially responsible for this article in the first place. In the 2019 Champions League semifinals, Liverpool was trounced 3-0 by Barcelona on the road. They headed home without two of their best players, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, for a second leg that many thought was just an afterthought. Instead, the Reds stunned Barcelona, winning 4-0 at home and taking the tie.
Liverpool's win over Barcelona prompted this article, but if they hadn't, Tottenham Hotspur would have done so the very next day. Spurs gave up two goals to Ajax in the first half of their second leg, which meant they needed three goals in the second half to advance to the finals. They had yet to score a goal in the tie. Then, Lucas Moura posted a second-half hat trick, including an unbelievable goal deep into stoppage time, to give Spurs the 3-2 win in the game, and a spot in the Champions League Final.
We’re sticking with Liverpool because when you think soccer comebacks, the Miracle in Istanbul is one of the first games that comes to mind. The Reds were facing AC Milan in the Championship League Final taking place in Turkey. Milan dominated the first half of this 2005 matchup, going up 3-0. Somehow Liverpool regrouped and scored three goals in the second half. Then they took home the title with a victory in the penalty kick shootout.
We’re going way back to 1953 for this one. The Bolton Wanderers were up 3-1 in the FA Cup final with only 20 minutes left to play. With a minute left, Blackpool tied things up, but they weren’t done. They added one more in extra time and emerged as winners.
Manchester City has a ton of wealth backing them and as such have become one of the powerhouses of European football. This was not always the case. In fact back in 1999 they were way down in England’s Division Two. They needed to win a game over Gillingham to get promotion. Manchester City were down 2-0 in the waning minutes of the game before finally getting one in the 90th minute. They added another in injury time, won the game, and promotion, in a shootout and changed the history of their franchise.
The Germans are known as a football powerhouse. Sweden is known for being the country Zlatan Ibrahimovic plays for. So when Germany was up 4-0 in a qualifier for the 2014 World Cup, you would figure a win was a lock. You would have been wrong. Sweden, led by Zlatan, somehow scored four goals in the second half to earn a well-deserved point.
Mali was facing off against Angola in the opening match of the 2010 African Cup of Nations. It seemed like the host country was going to start things off with a bang, as Angola was leading 4-0 late into the game — as in, they were up 4-0 with only 11 minutes left. However, all Mali needed was 11 minutes to score four goals and tie the game, ruining the opener for Angola fans.
Sorry Barcelona fans, but you’d been on the losing end of a couple of major comebacks. France’s Metz was playing Barcelona in the 1984 European Cup Winners’ Cup. The first leg was lost 4-2 at home by Metz, and basically everybody assumed it was over. That includes the country of France, which didn’t even bother televising the road leg in Spain. Barcelona scored first, but Metz then responded with four goals, winning the tie 6-5.
It’s hard to come back from being down 3-0 at the half. It’s even harder when down to 10 men thanks to a red card. Manchester City should have had no hope of taking down Tottenham Hotspur in this 2004 FA Cup contest. Instead, Man City scored four goals in the second half, pulling off an incredible shorthanded victory.
This 2012 League Cup matchup had it all. First, Arsenal fell behind 4-0 to Reading, a surprise to say the least. Then the Gunners were able to come back and tie the game at four, sending it into extra time. Arsenal took a 5-4 lead before Reading tied the game again. Arsenal then added two more goals, winning this truly bonkers tie by a score of 7-5.
We had a couple of bad memories for Barcelona fans earlier on this list, so let’s give them a happy memory as well. In the 2000 Champions League quarterfinals, a not-yet-dominant Chelsea squad surprised Barcelona by taking the first leg, 3-1. In the second leg, Barcelona equaled the tie at three goals apiece, but then Chelsea scored again. That left Barcelona needing another goal to force extra time, at which point they scored twice more to take the tie 6-4.
Milan won the 2003 Champions League and looked primed to follow that up with another victory in 2004. A quarterfinals matchup with Deportivo La Coruna, far from a Spanish stalwart, wouldn’t trip them up. That was doubly true after they won the first leg at home, 4-1. Yet somehow La Coruna had the game of their lives at home in the second leg, and when the final whistle blew they had won the tie, 5-4.
Real Madrid has had more Champions League success than any other team in the world. Monaco, simply put, is not on their level. That didn’t matter in 2004. Real Madrid won the first outing at home with ease, notching a 4-2 victory. They then scored first in the second leg, making the job even harder for Monaco. The Ligue 1 squad did not give up, though. Instead they managed to score three goals at home, meaning they went through on away goals.
What is it about Barcelona that lends them to being in so many dramatic games? The nouveau riche PSG had dominated the first leg at home, winning by a score of 4-0. No team had ever overcome a 4-0 deficit in a Champions League tie, and Barcelona couldn’t even rely on winning via away goals. Barcelona scored three goals, but then Edinson Cavani got one back, which also meant that PSG had an away goal to their name. Barcelona scored two more goals to tie the matchup, but that wouldn’t be enough thanks to the away goal rule. That meant they still needed one more goal in extra time. Somehow, they managed to get it.
Yes, it’s weird that North Korea was involved in one of the biggest comebacks in World Cup history. It’s even stranger they were the ones who got ahead first. In the 1966 quarterfinals, North Korea took a 3-0 lead over Portugal in the first 30 minutes of the game. However, the Portuguese had a little guy named Eusebio. The legend scored a whopping four goals, and another Portugal goal gave them a 5-3 win.
In soccer, a two-goal lead can be pretty formidable. That was certainly the case in the 2018 World Cup, when Japan had a 2-0 lead over Belgium in the knockout round. It seemed like the Belgians would disappoint again. Instead, they scored two goals to tie the game and then added another one in the waning moment to get a 3-2 win. It was the first time a team in a World Cup knockout round had overcome a two-goal deficit in regulation since…Portugal in 1966.
Normally you wouldn’t hear many people talking about a soccer game from 1957 between Charlton and Huddersfield. As such, you probably know this was a pretty crazy comeback to be included. With less than a half-hour left in the game, Huddersfield were up 5-1. Then, thanks in part to four goals from Johnny Summers, Charlton took a 6-5 lead. Huddersfield scored to tie the game, but then Charlton added another goal for the insane 7-6 win.
This is another instance of a team overcoming a 2-0 deficit to win a game, 3-2. However, there’s so much more to this epic comeback. It took place in the 1954 World Cup Final, for example. It is impressive that West Germany overcame that two-goal hole to beat Hungary, but you have to know just how good Hungary was at the time. Their national team hadn’t lost in five years, and they had beaten this same West Germany team by a score of 8-3 in the group stage. Nobody expected the Germans to win before the game started, making their comeback even more amazing.
Arsenal came out of the gates on fire in this Premier League matchup. The Gunners were up 4-0 before the game was even 30 minutes old. It seemed like they were going to cruise to victory. Instead, Newcastle United would not be deterred, scoring four goals in the second half to earn a 4-4 tie that stunned Arsenal fans and drove the home crowd into delirium.
When Manchester United was managed by the legend Sir Alex Ferguson, stoppage time at the end of games was nicknamed “Fergie time,” due to the fact his teams seemed to have a knack for pulling out results late. There is no more famous instance of this than the 1999 Champions League Final. Granted, United was only down 1-0 to Bayern Munich, but there was basically no time left in the game. All Bayern had to do was run out the clock. Instead, Man U managed to somehow score two goals in added time for their first European title since 1968.
You probably didn’t watch the 2003 U-17 World Cup. As such, you may not have seen one of the biggest comebacks in a major soccer tournament ever. Portugal seemed to be rolling past Cameroon. They were up 5-0 after scoring a goal in the 52nd minute. There was no way Cameroon could pull off a comeback, right? Instead, the African nation managed to score a whopping five goals to earn a 5-5 tie.