Dimitar Berbatov: Liverpool losing to Leverkusen is among my greatest games

Dimitar Berbatov in action for Leverkusen
Berba in action at Anfield in 2002

Betfair Ambassador Dimitar Berbatov discusses what makes a great game and picks the highlights from his career with Leverkusen, Spurs and Manchester United...

On Liverpool v Leverkusen 2002: "We had to score to go through and we did it in the 88th minute. We just couldn’t believe it, everybody was jumping in the centre circle. There was so much drama that night and it was just an unbelievable experience for me."

What makes a great game? It depends. Some great football matches have loads of goals and entertainment but don't actually have any importance - a friendly or end of season game for instance.

I remember being at Wembley to watch Tottenham and Leicester in the final game of the 2018 season, which Spurs won 5-4 having been 3-1 down.

There was nothing a stake but it was fantastic to watch. Probably because the players were free of expectation and weren't fighting for points they felt free to express themselves on the pitch and that leads to more entertainment and a great game. Games like that can feel like pure football sometimes.


Then again, for other people, a Champions League final that finishes 1-0 can be a great game. Some will love to see the tactical battle - the formation and systems - but others will find that boring.

High drama, tactical battles and the many types of great games

For me, I like a mix of all this put together. I've watched many great games and played in several, and they are all different, so it's not easy to define a great game.

A great game doesn't have to have loads of drama, maybe if you're on the winning side perhaps but it's painful for the losing side. If you lose, you never want to be involved in a dramatic game again. I've experienced both!

I like to watch different kinds of games. Sometimes it's good to watch a match, where there's no pressure, and because teams play a pure match - the kind you'd play with your friends. I like to watch tactical battles too, paying attention to systems, tactics and how teams are transitioning from defence to attack. You can learn a lot from watching those matches.

Marco Van Basten's beautiful goal

I used to have a book - I still have it as my mother somehow kept it - and I remember bringing it out every time I had breakfast, lunch or dinner. It tells the story of some of the big football tournaments and the standout moment for me was when Holland beat Russia in the Euro 88 final and Marco van Basten scored that goal.

Of course, I caught that game as soon as I could and I have watched it many times since and it's still one of the best goals ever scored in a final. That it came from one of my favourite players made it all the more special.

It was a great game - it had late drama, a European Championship final, a beautiful goal. I remember Rinus Michels holding his hat in his hands when Van Basten scored that goal as he just could not believe what he'd seen, and it's a great image that stays with me to this day.

Unbelievable experience at Anfield in 2002

As for a memorable game I played in, one that stands out is a 4-2 defeat of Liverpool with Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League knockout stage back in 2001-02.

It was everything you want from a game. No one really gave us a chance as it was a great Liverpool side and we'd lost the first leg. Both teams traded goals all the way through, but it was locked at 3-2 right at the end.

We had to score to go through and we did it in the 88th minute. We just couldn't believe it, everybody was jumping in the centre circle. There was so much drama that night and it was just an unbelievable experience for me.

In a match like that, a player tries to concentrate on what they need to do. Time is running out. But you stay calm and keep pushing all the way to the last minute. Sometimes when you play in a great match - and this was the case when Leverkusen beat Liverpool - you don't realise how big what you've achieved is until afterwards.

Hat-trick hero for United against Liverpool

Personally - and, trust me, it is just coincidence that it's another Liverpool game - but scoring the hat-trick for Manchester United to beat them was an amazing feeling. I have been part of other great games.

United beating City 4-3 when Michael Owen scored that winning goal in injury time. Other games stand out while not quite having the same significance - scoring four for Spurs when we beat Reading 7-4 and beating West Ham 4-3 when Paul Staltieri scored in the last minute at Upton Park. After those games I was like: 'Oh my God, that was a hell of a game.'

For Spurs, the League Cup Final win in 2008 was big. The club had been waiting a long time for silverware and was up against a big-name Chelsea side - Drogba, Lampard, Terry.

Berba pen v Chelsea.jpg

Again, the scoreline doesn't sound special - 2-1 - but we executed our gameplan and winning the trophy was an exceptional feeling. I scored a penalty to level the game midway through the second half. I felt calm and confident despite the pressure and despite Petr Cech being against me. I was playing great football that season, scoring goals regularly and my confidence was sky high. I just felt so good.

I had my rage inside me as well, which I showed to the fans after I scored, screaming at the fans: "Come on!"

After the game, I watched it back and thought: "Berbs, what if you had missed?" Fortunately, I was in a great place and everything worked out for me.

Alexander-Arnold's cunning stunned Barcelona

As for games I've watched, Liverpool's comeback in the second leg against Barcelona in the Champions League was unbelievable. This is not just Barcelona, it's Lionel Messi's Barcelona, and to beat them 4-0 was just incredible.

Liverpool showed us all of their strengths that night, and the cunning that Trent Alexander-Arnold showed at the death with his quick corner was something that only a player with great footballing intelligence can execute. To spot that opportunity in that moment, and to get it right, is truly special.

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