When it comes to midweek European football action, the UEFA Europa League is often overlooked in favor of its more glamorous older brother, the Champions League, hence, it is imperative to consider the best comebacks in the competition.
However, since the creation of a third-tier European competition in the Europa Conference League, we have seen much more emphasis placed on the middle child out of the three. And this season, the competition is truly heating up.
This season, the Europa League has seen seven Champions League winners feature in the competition, as well as a further three finalists in the same competition.
As well as that, modern-day European heavyweights have starred in the tournament this term, with Barcelona, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Juventus all featuring at one point or another.
The latter three of those four aforementioned teams remain in the competition at the time of writing, and online bookmakers which provide football, basketball, and eSports betting with bitcoin have made the three giant clubs the favorites for glory this term.
Naturally, as fans easily forget the Europa League, many won’t remember some of the epic comebacks that have taken place over the years.
Sure, we all remember Liverpool coming back from the dead against Barcelona in the Champions League, but how many of you remember the Reds coming back from three goals down against Borussia Dortmund in Europe’s second-tier competition? We imagine it’s a short list.
So, since you – and perhaps the majority of the footballing public – can’t recall the greatest Europa League comebacks of all time, we’ve decided to compile a list for you. Here it is.
Salzburg’s Bullish Charge Past Lazio
Ever since energy drink Red Bull took over SV Austria Salzburg back in 2005 – and subsequently renamed the club Red Bull Salzburg – they had been the dominant force in European football.
They won the Austrian Bundesliga in their second season following the rebranding and added a further seven championships to their collection in the decade that followed. But Die Roten Bullen never managed to convert their domestic dominance into continental success.
Their best chance of securing European silverware came back in 2018, however, they faced a tough challenge in the quarterfinals against Lazio.
The Biancocelesti had one of Europe’s truly elite strikers on their books in Ciro Immobile, and the Italian hitman had netted 64 goals since his €9.45m move from Sevilla in the summer of 2016. As such, the team from the capital of Italy was a firm favorite to progress.
Those predictions looked accurate when Lazio ran out as comfortable 4-2 winners in the Stadio Olimpico, with Immobile almost inevitably bagging for his side. But Salzburg’s two away goals meant they were well and truly alive in the tie ahead of the second leg in the Austrian mountains.
Well, they were alive right up until Lazio’s main man broke the deadlock in the 55th minute, giving his side a three-goal lead with just 40 minutes remaining.
But the champions of Austria managed to hit back through current Hoffenheim striker Mu’nas Dabbur. That lifted the spirits of the home faithful inside the Red Bull Arena. But even the most optimistic Salzburg fan couldn’t imagine what was about to come.
As the match entered its final third, the hosts went goal crazy. Firstly, Malian midfielder Amadou Haidara gave his side the lead on the night, then two minutes later, Hwang Hee-chan netted again to put his side within touching distance of the semifinals. The fans barely had time to settle themselves before their side scored once again, this time through Stefan Lainer.
Thanks to three goals in six minutes, Salzburg now lead the tie 6-5 on aggregate, and their more illustrious Italian opponents couldn’t find an equalizer. It was indeed the Austrian champions that had found a way to win, and they secured their spot in a European semifinal for the first time in the club’s history.
Valencia Almost Complete Back-to-Back Comebacks
Four years prior to Salzburg’s success, it was former Spanish champions Valencia who were stealing the show. They faced off against Swiss champions FC Basel in the quarterfinals of the tournament that year, however, a brace from Matías Emilio Delgado as well as a late Valentin Stocker goal handed the Spaniards a 3-0 defeat in the first leg.
They faced an uphill task in reaching the semifinals, but with the likes of Dani Parejo, Éver Banega, Nicolás Otamendi, and Juan Bernat in their ranks, anything was possible. The Mestalla was rocking for the second leg, and the volume was amped up to unthinkable levels when Paco Alcácer and Eduardo Vargas gave the hosts a 2-0 lead at halftime. But as the second half got underway and progressed, a third goal never came, not until the 70th minute at least.
Alcácer would pop up once again to make it 3-0 and send the tie to extra time. The two teams once again couldn’t be separated, or so we thought. Alcácer would complete his hat trick in the 114th minute before Banega scored a second in extra time and a fifth on the night three minutes later.
That victory set up an all-Spanish semifinal against Sevilla, and Valencia very nearly completed a heroic comeback once again. They lost 2-0 in Andalusia but in the return leg at the Mestalla, they managed to take a 3-0 lead on the night and a 3-2 lead overall by the 70th minute. Then, in the 94th minute, their hearts were broken courtesy of Stéphane Mbia’s last-gasp header.