It’s crunch time in the Champions League this week as football fans across Europe eagerly anticipate the quarter-finals of world football’s best club competition, with several of the sport’s leading names hoping to make their mark in the latter stages.
The likes of Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City will all have realistic ambitions of being crowned as champions of Europe this season, though each will need their leading names to step up on the biggest of occasions.
World football’s finest often deliver when it matters most and this list of players have regularly proven the difference in the Champions League’s later rounds, here are the seven players with the most knockout stage goals in UCL history:
Karim Benzema – 18 goals
Perhaps an underrated presence amongst the Champions League’s finest forwards of recent years, Karim Benzema ranks as the fifth-highest scorer in the competition’s history despite largely operating in the shadow of some illustrious names.
The Frenchman’s selfless style has made him a firm favourite at Real Madrid for more than a decade, Benzema having now moved past the legendary Ferenc Puskas in the club’s all-time scoring charts and closing in on his 250th goal in the famous all-white colours.
Benzema’s haul of goals includes 65 in 120 appearances in the Champions League, with 18 of those goals coming in the knockout stages during a career that has seen the forward lift the trophy on four occasions.
The 32-year-old memorably netted the opener in Real’s 3-1 final victory over Liverpool in 2018, capitalising on a horrific mistake from goalkeeper Loris Karius to deflect to the ball in and hand the Spanish side the lead.
Raul – 18 goals
Only two players have ever scored more Champions League goals than Raul, the forward the home-grown hero of a Galactico era at Real Madrid.
Raul came through the academy ranks at Real Madrid after crossing from cross-city rivals Atletico as a teenager, becoming the club’s youngest ever player when making his debut before establishing himself as one of the most important players in the Spanish side’s history.
The forward scored 323 goals in all competitions and was part of the side which won three Champions League titles in just five seasons over the turn of the millennium, scoring in final victories over Valencia in 2000 and Bayer Leverkusen two years later.
Those goals saw Raul become the first ever player to score in two Champions League finals, part of 18 knockout goals he scored during a career that delivered 71 strikes in Europe’s premier competition.
Andriy Shevchenko – 18 goals
Andriy Shevchenko’s heyday at AC Milan saw the forward become one of the most feared finishers on the continent, the Ukrainian the focal point of a formidable side under the guidance of Carlo Ancelotti.
The Ukrainian had burst onto the scene during the nineties in his homeland with Dynamo Kyiv, his ruthless finishing ability evident as he fired Dynamo to the last four of the competition – eliminating holders Real Madrid in the quarter-finals – during the 1998/99 campaign.
It would be following his move to Milan where Shevchenko would etch his name into Champions League history, however, scoring prolifically including the decisive penalty during the Rossoneri’s shoot-out victory over Italian rivals Juventus to lift the trophy in 2003.
Shevchenko finished his career having scored 48 Champions League goals in 100 appearances for Dynamo, Milan and Chelsea, twice finishing as the tournament’s leading scorer and netting 18 times throughout the knock-out stages.
Named as winner of the Ballon d’Or in 2004, Shevchenko is the second-highest scoring player in Milan’s history following a memorable career in Italian football.
Thomas Muller – 21 goals
Thomas Muller has proven an ever dependable source of goals throughout a trophy-laden era at Bayern Munich, the forward edging closer to the Champions League’s all-time top 10 following an illustrious career in Bavaria.
The German goal-getter’s current tally stands at 44 goals in 112 Champions League appearances, with almost exactly half of his tally coming in the knockout stages – a testament to the star’s ability to influence the biggest of occasions.
Muller has scored in every stage of the competition throughout his career including in Bayern’s final defeat to Chelsea in 2012, though he formed part of the side that bounced back to claim the trophy the following year, netting eight times in their victorious campaign including in both legs of their 7-0 aggregate thrashing of Barcelona in the semi-finals.
The 30-year-old’s unique style has seen him nickname the Raumdeuter for his ability to interpret space, Muller continuing to ghost into dangerous positions and exert his influence for one of world football’s finest sides.
Robert Lewandowski – 22 goals
The leading scorer in this season’s competition and arguably the best number nine in world football at present, Robert Lewandowski has become one of the Champions League’s great goalscorers over the course of the past decade.
Lewandowski made his name in the colours of Borussia Dortmund and helped fire the German side to the final of the competition in 2013, his four-goal haul in the semi-final first leg against Real Madrid one of the most iconic individual performances in Champions League history.
A move to Bayern Munich followed where he has continued to take his game to even greater heights, becoming the highest scoring non-German player in Bundesliga history and the third-highest overall, finishing as the division’s leading scorer on five occasions.
Fourth amongst the Champions League’s all-time record goalscorers on 66 goals, his goal-per-game average is a figure bettered by only Lionel Messi and Ruud van Nistelrooy throughout the Champions League era.
The Poland international is yet to win Europe’s biggest prize despite his goalscoring exploits that include 22 knockout stage goals, though few would bet against Lewandowski firing Bayern to success this season, the 31-year-old having averaged a goal every 47 minutes throughout the 2019/20 European campaign.
Lionel Messi – 47 goals
We move on to our rather predictable top two, with Lionel Messi coming in second of the two footballing superstars who have dominated European football for more than a decade.
The Argentine is regarded by many as the best player to have ever graced the beautiful game, the record goalscorer in the history of Argentina, Barcelona and La Liga and a player who counts ten Spanish league titles and four Champions League trophies amongst his extensive collection of major honours.
Messi has scored a phenomenal 115 goals in just 142 appearances, the highest goal-per-game ratio of any player in the Champions League era with 47 of those goals coming in the competition’s knockout stages.
Messi scored goals in final victories over Manchester United in both 2009 and 2011, whilst he has finished as the tournament’s leading scorer on six occasions – including four consecutively between 2009 and 2012.
Amongst his most memorable knockout stage performances include four and five goal hauls against Arsenal and Bayer Leverkusen respectively, whilst his semi-final destructions of Real Madrid in 2011 and Bayern Munich in 2015 were Messi at his virtuoso and unstoppable best.
Cristiano Ronaldo – 67 goals
The undisputed king of the Champions League and a man who saves his very best for the latter stages of the tournament, Cristiano Ronaldo is a man who needs little introduction given his exploits on Europe’s biggest stage.
Ronaldo sits clear as the all-time record goalscorer in the competition and has scored a staggering 67 goals in the knockout stages, a figure higher than all but Lionel Messi and Raul have managed in the entirety of the Champions League.
Ronaldo’s list of records include:
- First player ever to reach a century of Champions League goals
- Scored at least 10 goals in seven consecutive seasons
- Most goals in a single knockout stage campaign (10 – 2016/17)
- Most home goals
- Most away goals
Ronaldo first won the competition during his time at Manchester United and scored in the club’s final victory over Chelsea, later becoming the first player in history to score in three finals after netting in Real Madrid’s successes in 2014 and 2017.
He is the only player to have won the tournament five times in the Champions League era, adding four titles with Real Madrid during a glittering career at the Bernabeu in which he became the club’s all-time record goalscorer.
Ronaldo moved to Juventus two years ago with the task of ending the club’s long wait for a Champions League title and whilst he has so far failed to fire the Italians to glory, there is no player more capable of influencing the biggest occasions under the bright lights of European football.