Saturday, May 28

7 epic conclusions to league seasons – ranked

There’s nothing quite like the last day of the season when everything is left to play for.

The excitement of two or three teams going at it in the final 90 minutes to lift the title, avoid relegation or sneak into the continental spots is almost unmatched across football. It’s often even more compelling than a one-off final.

So, here’s seven of the most exciting conclusions to seasons in some of the best leagues around the world…ranked by just how dramatic they were.

Lyon's french forward Karim Benzema celeLyon's french forward Karim Benzema cele

Benzema inspired Lyon in 2007/08. / JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT/GettyImages

More often than not in recent years, PSG have walked their way to the Ligue 1 title, but it was not always so. There was a time when the Parisians were battling relegation.

One such season was 2007/08 when, on the final day, they still needed to avoid defeat to ensure survival. That was one of a number of narratives, with Lyon battling Bordeaux for the title, and a quarter of the league scrapping it out for four European spots.

Despite throwing away a 1-0 lead, PSG managed to beat Sochaux 2-1, while results conspired against Lens who were unable to catch the Parisians or Toulouse, being relegated on 40 points.

A Karim Benzema-inspired Lyon beat Auxerre 3-1 to wrap up the title, with Bordeaux drawing 2-2 to relegated Lens. And Marseille clinched the final Champions League spot with a dramatic 4-3 win over Strasbourg – enough to see off competition from Nancy, who at one point in the day were four points clear in third.

Metz vs Le Mans was the only game that didn’t have anything riding on it with the hosts already relegated and the visitors stuck in mid-table. And even that ended up in a 4-3 win for Metz, who had taken a 3-0 lead inside 34 minutes.

What a day!

Carlos Tevez, Diego Armando MaradonaCarlos Tevez, Diego Armando Maradona

Tevez looked to Maradona for inspiration. / Marcos Brindicci/GettyImages

The most famous rivalry outside of Europe and one of the most intense in the world, Boca Juniors and River Plate really know how to put on a show.

Heading into the final day of the 2019/20 season, River were top by a point and had held that position for seven weeks. All they needed to do was beat mid-table Atletico Tucuman and the title was theirs.

But despite battling from 1-0 down to head in level at half-time, River just could not break their opponents, leaving the door ajar for their fierce rivals.

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Over at La Bombonera, though, Boca were having struggles of their own, still at 0-0 against Gimnasia – then managed by Boca legend Diego Maradona – after 70 minutes.

Thankfully for Boca, veteran striker Carlos Tevez had earlier planted a kiss on Maradona’s lips for good luck and despite the Argentine icon’s best efforts to thwart his former club, Gimnasia gave way.

Tevez’s 71st-minute thunderbolt from outside the box caused utter chaos in the stands and punished River Plate to the absolute maximum. We’re sure Maradona had a smile on his face away from the cameras, too.

Gabriel BarbosaGabriel Barbosa

Flamengo knicked the title on the final day in 2020. / Buda Mendes/GettyImages

There are those in Brazil who miss the old playoff system, claiming the league format makes for a boring conclusion to the season. Absolutely nobody could make that claim for the 2020 season, though, as Flamengo and Internacional went head-to-head for the title.

Internacional had clawed their way to the top for six consecutive weeks as the season raced towards its climax, and they looked set to win their first title since 1979.

But everything changed when they met challengers and defending champions Flamengo in the penultimate game. Internacional took a 12th-minute lead away from home but blew it thanks to goals from Giorgian Arrascaeta and Gabriel Barbosa. Advantage Flamengo, who leapfrogged their rivals with a two-point lead ahead of the final match.

Both teams concluded their seasons at the same time on a dramatic Thursday night. Flamengo just needed to beat Sao Paulo away and the title was theirs again, but were unable to get the job done, going 1-0 down just before half-time, then falling behind again after equalising to seal a 2-1 defeat. Sao Paulo had held first place themselves earlier in the campaign before falling apart in the second half, but showed their quality at the worst time for Flamengo.

That left the door open for Internacional but, incredibly, after VAR had denied them both a penalty and a goal for offside, they played out a 0-0 draw at home to 12th-placed Corinthians, meaning they fluffed the title by just a single point.

Inter v FiorentinaXInter v FiorentinaX

Ronaldo felt the pain of Inter’s collapse. / Grazia Neri/GettyImages

Nowadays, Inter are very much seen as one of the powerhouses of Italian and European football. But back in the day, they were more of a bridesmaid, better known for epic and impossible failures.

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They don’t come any more spectacular than their 2001/02 collapse.

The Nerazzurri had led the then-18-team table for 15 out of 33 weeks heading into the final round of matches. The formula was simple; beat Lazio – who had both won and lost titles on the previous two final days themselves – in order to avoid losing out to either Juventus or Roma.

In the stands, Lazio and Inter fans sat together, with the hosts desperate to stop rivals Roma from winning the Scudetto. But on the pitch, it was a different story, with Lazio twice coming from behind to eventually beat Inter 4-2.

Both Roma and Juventus won their games against Torino and Udinese, respectively, with the latter leapfrogging Inter to the title. Hector Cuper’s men even dropped below Roma into third. Once the news came through, we witnessed the iconic images of Ronaldo in tears on the Inter bench.

When in Milan, do not mention May 5!

Patrik Andersson, Willy Sagnol, Stefan Effenberg, Oliver KahnPatrik Andersson, Willy Sagnol, Stefan Effenberg, Oliver Kahn

Bayern scraped over the line in 2001. / Stu Forster/GettyImages

Remember when Bayern had to work for the Bundesliga title? Well, they’ve arguably never worked harder for it than in 2000/01.

The Bavarians had lost top spot in game 29 when Schalke beat them 3-1 in Munich to take first for themselves. But by game 33, Bayern had wrestled the lead back.

They just needed a point against 13th-place Hamburg on the last day and the title was theirs, regardless of what Schalke did. But the Royal Blues certainly put the pressure on, completing 2-0 and 3-2 comebacks to beat relegated Unterhaching 5-3.

And Schalke thought they had it when news came through that Sergej Barbarez had given HSV an unlikely 90th-minute lead against Bayern. So convinced were supporters that celebrations had already broken out in the stands.

But ecstasy soon turned to heartbreak when, in the 94th minute, Patrik Andersson rifled home a shot from an indirect free-kick. The away end erupted, the Bayern players were in delirium and Schalke, well, they felt a pain almost impossible to replicate anywhere in sport.

Real Madrid's Malian midfielder Mahamado...Real Madrid's Malian midfielder Mahamado...

Real Madrid broke Barcelona hearts right at the end in 2007. / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/GettyImages

El Clasico is a rivalry like no other and in 2006/07, Real Madrid took four points from Barcelona, winning 2-0 at home before leaving the Camp Nou with a 3-3 draw in a game they probably should have won.

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But avoiding defeat proved immensely valuable when, on the final day, Real Madrid came from 1-0 down to beat Mallorca 3-1 with goals from Jose Antonio Reyes (x2) and Mahamadou Diarra in the space of 12 second-half minutes. Los Blancos pipped Barcelona to the Liga title by virtue of their head-to-head record – the primary tie-breaker in Spain.

The Blaugrana passed up the chance to go top just a week earlier, throwing away a 2-1 lead to draw 2-2 in the final minute at home to city rivals Espanyol, while just 12 games previous, Real Madrid were all the way down in fourth.

Manchester City v Queens Park Rangers - Premier LeagueManchester City v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League

The most iconic moment in Premier League history? / Tom Jenkins/GettyImages

Going from fourth to title winners in the space of 12 games is impressive. And Bayern’s 2001 success was certainly dramatic. But nothing will ever top that Sergio Aguero moment. One that had grown men in tears and every single man, woman and child of a sky blue persuasion staring in utter disbelief. Sir Alex Ferguson couldn’t quite get his head around it either.

Going 2-1 down at home to struggling QPR, being unable to break down 10 men, and looking set to throw away your first title since 1968 to your nearest rivals. May 13, 2012, had all the makings of a nightmare to end all nightmares for Manchester City fans.

But when, well, you know what happened next. Dzeko, 92 minutes. A flick-on from Mario Balotelli in the 94th to AGUEROOOO! A nightmare became the ultimate dream.

Manchester City have commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Premier League’s greatest-ever moment with a statue of Aguero that, honestly, has been a long time coming. Nothing will ever top this.

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