The Biggest Games Which Were Decided by the Most Unexpected Heroes

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting was the hero in PSG's last-gap win over Atalanta | DAVID RAMOS/Getty Images

First they laugh at your unsuccessful spell at Stoke, then they endlessly meme your near-impossible goalline miss against Rennes, then you get refused entry to Neymar's birthday party (probably), and win.

With his winner at the death against Atalanta, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has taken a step towards joining Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic and Bojan Krkic in the prestigious list of players who have both won a Champions League medal and played their football at the bet365 Stadium in the same lifetime.

While we can only speculate whether next year's tournament will see Kevin Wimmer or Geoff Cameron perform similar heroics, Choupo-Moting's collector's item of a big-game goal is by no means the first time an enormous match has been decided by a downright bizarre source. Join us on a journey through some of the game's greatest ever matches as we commemorate the weird and wonderful players who have earned themselves an unexpected place in footballing history.


Cristiano Ronaldo, Eder
Eder helped save Portugal and Ronaldo's bacon in Euro 2016 | Allsport Co./Getty Images

The reason why Cristiano Ronaldo's international legacy finally surpassed Lionel Messi's in the eyes of many? A fateful cameo from one of the most forgettable strikers in Premier League history.

Though Ronaldo had dragged a ragtag Portugal side to the final of Euro 2016 through sheer force of will, he could only watch on helplessly for the majority of the final against hosts and clear favourites France as he was forced to reluctantly trudge off with an early knee injury.

For the first time, Portugal's destiny was out of Ronaldo's hands. When Eder, who had scored a grand total of zero goals in 15 Swansea appearances before being loaned to Lille in January, came on shortly before extra time, the then-Real Madrid man can't have been expecting much.

Instead, Eder said 'you know what, I'll be CR7 today' and, with just a little help from a somewhat unprepared Hugo Lloris, picked the ball up on the edge of the final third, held off the challenge of Laurent Koscielney and smashed the ball into the bottom corner of the goal. Not bad for a guy who finished his season at Swansea with two fewer goals than Ashley Williams.

Tim Krul

Van Gaal had an uncharacteristic way of doing things as Holland manager | NELSON ALMEIDA/Getty Images

Over the course of the 2014 World Cup, English football fans had a keen eye on the Netherlands, managed as they were by then-incoming Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal.

Amidst the diving headers, last-minute winners, glorious counter-attacking football and bombastic high-five celebrations, arguably the greatest party trick of the tournament from the Dutchman came in the quarter-final against Costa Rica.

With the Netherlands about to enter a tense penalty shootout against Costa Rica, Jasper Cillessen – who had just won a third consecutive league title with Ajax – was replaced by Tim Krul, who had just finished tenth with Newcastle; the first such substitution in World Cup history.

Whether Krul truly is a penalty expert or whether Costa Rica's heads were simply completely fried by this dramatic change of plot, it worked about as well as the Oranje could have hoped, with Krul saving two penalties and taking his team to the final four in Brazil.

Cillessen would eventually amass 56 caps, but life was cruel on former Carlisle loanee Krul, who appeared just once more for Holland after his heroics in Salvador. Worse, he ended up living in Norwich.

Sergi Roberto

Sergi Roberto
Sergi Roberto was the mastermind behind La Remontada | Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Ahhh, that Barcelona side of the MSN days...if Messi didn't get you, Neymar would, and if he didn't get you, Luis Suarez would, and if they and about twenty other different players didn't get you...then Sergi Roberto would?

The man who will go down in Barcelona history as the architect of La Remontada, that extraordinary 6-1 win against PSG where Barça overturned a four-goal first-leg deficit, was a utility man with just two La Liga goals in his entire career. Well, he has two now, now he's got the taste for it. He hadn't scored in almost 100 top flight appearances at that point.

With less than 30 seconds left on the clock, not Messi, not Suarez but Roberto slid in to meet a Neymar free kick as if he'd been waiting his whole life to do so, and produced limbs the likes of which the Camp Nou may never see again. If you're going to score one goal a season, it stands to reason that you might as well save it for a game like that.

Kostas Manolas

Kostas Manolas
What is it about defenders and Champions League comebacks? | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Anyone who makes almost 200 Serie A appearances is certainly no mug, but with Roma progressing towards a fairly routine Champions League exit against Barcelona after a 4-1 defeat in the first leg, those assembled at the Stadio Olimpico on a balmy April evening wouldn't have pegged Kostas Manolas as the gamechanger.

And yet, Barcelona, previously the upsetter against PSG, were now the upsettee (if either of those words exist). The Champions League did what it does best, serving us up yet another match for the ages and the classic spectacle of a Barça collapse.

Manolas claims that with Roma already two up, he turned to defensive partner [Federico] Fazio and said, ‘We are going to score – and you or I will be the ones to do it'. The thought of former Tottenham Hotspur walking red card Fazio deciding the tie on the night is one of history's great what-ifs.

Divock Origi

Divock Origi
Corner taken quickly... ORIGI!!! | Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images

One thing you'll notice about this list...Barcelona feature quite prominently in it. Whether refusing to accept defeat, or refusing to accept an almost certain victory, these guys have no respect for the concept of a normal game of Champions League football, and you have to respect it.

Their 2019 tie against Liverpool very much fell into the category of 'refusing to accept certain victory', where Barcelona miserably failed to match the quality of a first leg where they were all-but toying with the Reds at times.

You know what happened, so we'll recap in the briefest possible terms - Trent Alexander-Arnold settled the tie with a swiftly-taken set piece. The man on the other end of this bit of quick thinking? Divock Origi, who has never scored more than 11 goals in a league season at Anfield since his much-hyped signing from Lille.

Possibly the last remaining willing super-sub.

Angelos Charisteas

Charisteas took advantage of some... questionable marking to give Greece an early, and permanent lead | FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT/Getty Images

Let's take a brief breather from goings on in Catalonia to cross the border to Lisbon, where something very strange has just happened at the Estádio da Luz.

The Portugal of Rui Costa, Luis Figo, Deco, Ricardo Carvalho and a young Ronaldo, hosts of Euro 2004 and conquerors of England's Golden Generation have just, with the hopes of a nation urging them onwards, lost the tournament final to a Greece side with barely two world-class players to rub together.

Even by Greece's standards it can't be overstated just how ordinary Charisteas' career was before and after the final. Before it he'd just scored seven goals in all competitions for Bremen, and after it he became the fifth-choice striker at Ajax.

But if Charisteas' thumping headed game-winner was sandwiched between an awfully dry club career, it was the tastiest of fillings.

Vincent Kompany

Vincent Kompany
'Don't shoot, Vinny!' | Michael Regan/Getty Images

'Everyone was saying, ‘Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! [...] So I said, ‘Hold on a second – I’ve not come this far in my career for young players to tell me when I can take a shot or not’ and I just took it.'

As explanations behind wonder goals go, Vincent Kompany's is one of the most remarkable in Premier League history.

With Manchester City needing all three points to edge closer to the Premier League title with Liverpool at their heels, Kompany took a touch, made as if he was going to lay it off, then unleashed an absolute missile into the top-right corner which fooled just about everyone.

That'll tell 'em, Vince.

Juliano Belletti

Juliano Belletti
Belletti turned it around for Barcelona in a controversial final | Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Ok, that's long enough - it's time to start talking about Barcelona again.

The hero this time? Former Chelsea right-back Juliano Belletti. His goalscoring qualifications up to the point of the 2006 Champions League final? Well, it was his only ever goal for Barcelona across three seasons. The goal itself? Neither Manuel Almunia nor Freddie Ljungberg's finest hour, as the Belletti escaped the attentions of the Swede before sliding the ball through Almunia's legs.

It was perhaps the ultimate proof that with nerves setting in and legs tiring, unexpected players tend to step up in these scenarios - so don't be surprised if the next Champions League final is settled by Andreas Christensen. Against Barcelona, obviously.