With the title races in England and Spain looking particularly mouth-watering, football fans could be forgiven for focusing solely on the present. But as 2010 draws to an end, it is worth taking a moment to consider some of the highlights of the past ten years.

The balance of power at club level has shifted on several occasions, from the Real Madrid galacticos to the all-Serie A Champions League final of 2003 to the English supremacy between 2005 and 2008. At international level, France and Italy have endured highs and lows, England and Argentina have struggled to fulfil their obvious potential, and Spain have finally emerged as a real force.

Picking the top ten moments meant overlooking countless strong performances, but the final selection represents a string of incredible achievements or milestones that will live long in the memory.

Here are the top ten moments of the last ten years:

1) Liverpool’s second-half comeback in Istanbul, Champions League final 2005

Even diehard Reds fans had given up hope with their team trailing AC Milan by three goals to nil at half-time – but Rafael Benitez and his players responded in style. Steven Gerrard and Vladimir Smicer cut into the lead before Xabi Alonso’s equaliser completed arguably the most incredible comeback in Champions League history. The three goals came in the space of six dramatic minutes and Liverpool went on to win the trophy on penalties, to claim their fifth European Cup crown.


2) Greece turn established order upside down, Euro 2004

Having qualified only once before for a European Championships, and not won a single game, nobody expected the Greeks to last long at Euro 2004. However, from their first group game with Portugal through to the final against the same opposition, Greece, led by wily old German coach Otto Rehhagel, showed the power of team spirit and organisation. Time and again they were written off, but as the Portuguese and Czechs licked their wounds, the Greeks celebrated.

3) Arsenal’s “Invincibles”, Premier League 2003/04

Given Arsenal’s current trophy drought, it is easy to forget how recently the “Invincibles” dominated English football. Led by Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires, Arsene Wenger’s men produced a 49-game unbeaten record in the Premier League that secured the 2004 title. With the Premier League going from strength to strength, it will be many years before such an incredible streak is repeated.

4) Rejuvenated Ronaldo fires Brazil to glory, 2002 World Cup

After lengthy periods on the treatment table, many feared that the Ronaldo of old would not reappear. But at the 2002 World Cup, he stole the show with some vintage displays of pace, movement and clinical finishing. The Brazilian won the Golden Boot with eight goals, including the winner in the semi-final and both goals in the final. The Golden Ball went to Germany’s Oliver Kahn but, in truth, the tournament was all about Ronaldo. He had proved that on his day he was still the best in the world.

5) Italy make the headlines for the right reasons, 2006 World Cup

Italian football was rocked by match-fixing allegations in 2006, taking a particular toll on Juventus and AC Milan. This was the backdrop as Italy travelled to Germany for the 2006 World Cup – but a month later, Fabio Cannavaro and company were celebrating a heroic triumph. The Italians won their group, squeezed past Australia and thumped the Ukraine to reach the last four. It was run built on a rock solid defence and that proved key again in a 2-0 extra-time victory over Germany in the semi-final. Just to complete the jaw-dropping effort, Italy defied their poor record in penalty shootouts to win the final on spotkicks. The off-field issues had brought the squad closer together, with Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso and Cannavaro producing some of the best form of their careers.

6) Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid, November 2010

It was just one game, but it was billed as the battle of the two best teams on the planet. This year’s El Clasico arguably featured the two strongest starting line-ups to ever square off. But Barcelona’s stars – led by Lionel Messi and Xavi – eclipsed their bitter rivals, who had hoped the arrival of Jose Mourinho would give them an edge, in what many have called the greatest club performance of all-time. The quality of the Barcelona passing and finishing was so high that the scoreline in no way flattered Josep Guardiola’s men.


7) FC Porto stun the rest of Europe, 2004

This was a feat that may not be repeated for many years, as total outsiders muscled their way to Champions League glory and Jose Mourinho made his name. Porto dumped out Manchester United, Lyon and Deportivo La Coruna before a comfortable win over Monaco in the final. As favourites like Arsenal, Real Madrid and AC Milan slipped up, Mourinho guided his players to the unlikeliest of triumphs. Combined with Greece’s Euro 2004 success, it was certainly the year for upsets.

8) Roman Abramovich arrives at Stamford Bridge, 2003

The Premier League was turned on its head when Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich became the owner of Chelsea. Not only did it transform the Blues into title contenders overnight, but it also opened the way for other foreign businessmen to invest in football clubs. Chelsea won the Premier League title in 2005, 2006 and 2010, and reached the Champions League final in 2008. Abramovich changed the landscape of English and European football – it would never be the same again.

9) Real Madrid break transfer fee record to land Cristiano Ronaldo, 2009

It had seemed inevitable for several years that Cristiano Ronaldo would some day join Real Madrid, however the transfer fee certainly caused a shock or two when the announcement was made. Los Blancos have paid the four biggest fees in history – Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Kaka and Ronaldo – but the £80M price tag indicated that money in the game had boomed. Entering 2001, the record was £37M – ten years later, that mark had more than doubled.

10) Arsenal 2-4 Manchester United, February 2005

With Chelsea running away with the Premier League title, this was a fight for second place and a chance to restore some pride. The game had a bit of everything, starting with confrontations in the tunnel between Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane. Momentum swung one way then the other before Manchester United landed the knockout blow. Keane was dominant in midfield, Dennis Bergkamp had some sublime touches for The Gunners and two-goal Cristiano Ronaldo emerged as a man who loves the spotlight.