One of a manager’s most underrated aspects is to make use of the bench he has to impact games visibly. Very rarely does that happen on big occasions, but when it does, it usually turns out to be spectacular.
Substitutions are on many occasions used to halt the opposition’s momentum and on some occasions, to trigger a reaction from your team in the hope that they can turn the game around.
Here are seven such substitutions that made the difference and rewarded their managers’ bravery:
7. Tim Krul (Netherlands vs Costa Rica, 2014 WC Quarter-final)
It was the 120th and last minute of the 2014 FIFA World Cup quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica, and manager Louis van Gaal had one substitution left. In came penalty specialist Tim Krul for first-choice keeper Jasper Cillessen, and the legendary manager’s choice paid off.
The then Newcastle goalkeeper made two tremendous saves off two well-struck penalties, ensuring that the Dutch moved through to the semi-finals against Argentina.
6. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich vs Wolfsburg, Bundesliga 15/16)
Robert Lewandowski was brought on at half-time against an impressive Wolfsburg side, who were 1-0 up at the Allianz Arena in the 2015/16 Bundesliga.
The Polish striker proceeded to put in a performance that would live forever, scoring five goals in nine minutes to put Bayern Munich 5-1 up in the 55th minute.
One of the best images of all time also emerged as a consequence of this performance, as Pep Guardiola, who has presumably seen it all, had his mouth gaping open after the Poland captain’s final goal, a stunning scissor kick.
5. Vladimir Smicer (Liverpool vs AC Milan, Champions League Final 2005)
Vladimir Smicer was thrust into action against a dominant AC Milan side in the 2005 Champions League final after crafty winger Harry Kewell limped off in the first half. Smicer had faced his own injury problems that season, missing seven months of action due to a ligament tear, which had Liverpool fans cowering with fear over his match-readiness.
The Reds walked down the tunnel at half-time down 3-0, but made one of the greatest comebacks of all time, as they drew level at 3-3 in the second half, with Smicer receiving plenty of plaudits for a stunning 20-yard strike in a performance where he worked his socks off.
Eventually, they won on penalties to clinch the trophy.
4. Patrick Kluivert (Ajax vs AC Milan, Champions League Final, 1995)
Patrick Kluivert was 18 years old when he had a breakout season among other talented prospects in the 1994/95 season for Ajax. However, not relying upon his experience, Ajax manager Louis van Gaal sought to bring on the young striker for Jari Litmanen in the 70th minute mark instead of starting him in the Champions League final in Vienna.
Despite initially looking unable to create any immediate impact, Kluivert burst into life five minutes before the end of normal time, scoring with a brilliant finish past Milan goalkeeper Sebastiano Rossi to ensure the game ended in favour of the Dutch underdogs.
That would be the first of many important goals scored by the Dutchman in his career.
3. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid vs Liverpool, 2018 Champions League Final)
Gareth Bale suffered a torturous 2017/18 season, as he was behind the likes of Isco, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez in Real Madrid‘s pecking order.
However, Champions League finals really bring out the best in the Welshman, as he came off the bench to score a brace to thwart Liverpool and help Real clinch their third consecutive Champions League title.
The game was locked at 1-1 when Bale came on, and after scoring an absolutely spectacular bicycle kick past Karius, he took the game out of the Reds’ hands by scoring from an audacious 35-yarder that sneaked through the German goalkeeper’s hands.
2. Sheringham and Solskjaer (Manchester United vs Bayern Munich, Champions League Final 1999)
Teddy Sheringham came on in the 67th minute in Barcelona when Manchester United trailed 1-0 against Bayern Munich. They were still trailing when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was introduced 14 minutes later.
They were still trailing when the game entered added time. What happened after that is so iconic that it is hard to believe it really happened.
David Beckham swung in two corners, the first met with a shot by Ryan Giggs that was turned in by Sheringham while the second was headed on by the goalscorer for Solskjaer to poke home.
Sheringham and Solskjaer, who had previously made many an appearance off the bench to win it for the Red Devils, really outdid themselves by scoring in the Champions League final.
1. Mario Gotze
Mario Gotze came on for veteran striker Miroslav Klose in the 88th minute of the grandest stage of football, the World Cup final.
The 2014 final was a drab affair, with not many chances being created as both teams looked to eliminate errors. Germany struggled to break down Argentina’s dogged defensive line led by lynchpin Javier Mascherano, until a cross from fellow substitute Andre Schurrle from the left flank was chested down by Mario Gotze, before he finished brilliantly with his weaker foot.
It is one of the most iconic goals of all time and will remain that way.
Seven most inspired substitutions in football history