The UEFA Champions League group stages are nearing their conclusion, and the pressure to qualify for the last 16 is palpable. It would be fair to say that Europe’s most prestigious competition has lived up to expectations.
Some teams have shone as a unit, while some individuals have single-handedly turned the tide of the match in their teams’ favor. The Ballon d’Or is undoubtedly on everyone’s mind who made the 30-man shortlist, and some are desperate to cement their place in history.
One such player, Robert Lewandowski, has been absolutely phenomenal game after game and is widely regarded as one of the favorites to win the Ballon d’Or. On Matchday 4, the Polish striker appeared in his 100th Champions League game, as Bayern Munich defeated SL Benfica 5-2.
On his special day, he accomplished a special feat, which prompted us to investigate what other renowned and successful strikers did with the same number of opportunities. So, here are the five forwards with the most goals in their first 100 Champions League appearances:
Number 5: Raul (51 goals)
Raul may not have remained the Champions League’s most spectacular goalscorer, but his name is tainted with enough history. The Spaniard had a spectacular career at Real Madrid and in the Champions League’s fifth-highest goalscorer.
Raul appeared in 142 games and scored 71 goals in the competition. The majority of those appearances were for Los Blancos, with the rest for Schalke. The Spaniard scored 51 goals in his first 100 appearances, accounting for 51% of his total.
The striker’s movement and timing were flawless in his own league, which also aided his exploits in the Champions League. Raul earned his third Champions League medal in style, becoming the first player to score in two finals.
He is now Real Madrid’s second most prolific goalscorer of all time, trailing only Cristiano Ronaldo. Raul is also the youngest player to score a hat-trick in the Champions League.
Number 4:Karim Benzema (53 goals)
Raul’s recent exploits have kept him in fifth place on the list of the Champions League’s top scorers. It is undeniable that Karim Benzema is having the time of his life in a Real Madrid shirt. Last month, in a 2-1 loss to Sheriff Tiraspol, the Frenchman surpassed Raul as the Champions League’s fourth-highest goalscorer.
In the 2-1 win over Shakhtar Donetsk, he scored Real Madrid’s 1000th Champions League goal, cementing his place in history even further. Benzema has scored 75 goals in the competition. In terms of goals scored in their first 100 Champions League appearances, Benzema narrowly trails Raul with 53.
Thierry Henry has 50 goals in the Champions League and is the only Frenchman to come close to Benzema’s total. In March 2018, Benzema made his 100th appearance against PSG in the last 16-second leg game at Parc des Princes.
So far this season, he has put in a string of spectacular performances in both La Liga and the Champions League. Benzema has 13 goals and eight assists in 14 appearances for Real Madrid.
Number 3: Cristiano Ronaldo (64 goals)
Fabrizio Romano tweeted, “Champions League means Cristiano Ronaldo, and Cristiano Ronaldo means Champions League.” Once again, the Portuguese superstar defied age and demonstrated his dominance on Europe’s biggest stage by saving Manchester United in injury time against Atalanta.
His tally in the Champions League now stands at 139 goals in 180 appearances. However, it is worth noting that the tournament’s leading scorer had 64 goals in his first 100 Champions League appearances and is only third on this list. This is understandable given that Ronaldo did not begin his career as the lethal center-forward he is today.
He was a more traditional winger who enjoyed entertaining the crowds with his many tricks and skills. As a result, when he first started, his role was more concerned with setting up those around him from the flanks.
It wasn’t until later that he began to care more about the numbers, stats, and records that shaped him into the man he is today. On April 2, 2014, Ronaldo made his 100th Champions League appearance in a Real Madrid shirt against Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of the quarter-final.
The game was won by Los Blancos 3-0. Ronaldo scored one of the goals, bringing his total in Champions League appearances to 64 in 100. He finished that season with 17 goals in the competition, helping Real Madrid win the Champions League in 2013-14.
Number 2: Lionel Messi (77 goals)
Lionel Messi trails Cristiano Ronaldo in total goals scored in the Champions League. Interestingly, the Argentine has a better track record when the two greats are compared based on their first 100 Champions League appearances.
In terms of opportunities, the former Barcelona star scored 13 more goals than his Portuguese rival. Messi had 77 Champions League appearances after 100. He achieved the feat nearly a year after Ronaldo when he faced AS Roma in a 2015-16 group stage match in September.
The Argentina international did not assist or score in the game, but he did play 90 minutes. Before reaching this milestone, he had won the Champions League four times. In fact, Barcelona was the defending champions when Messi made his 100th appearance.
Unfortunately, they were eliminated from the tournament in the quarter-finals after losing 3-2 on aggregate to Spanish rivals Atletico Madrid. Messi finished the 2015-16 Champions League season with six goals and one assist in seven appearances.
With 123 goals in 152 appearances, he is currently the tournament’s second-highest scorer. So far, the Argentine maestro has three goals in three Champions League appearances for his new club PSG.
Number 1: Robert Lewandowski (81 goals)
Robert Lewandowski is at the top of this list and, quite rightly, at the top of his career. Given that he plays in the Bundesliga, the Bayern Munich striker’s credentials as the best striker in the world have always been taken with a grain of salt.
However, the Pole’s most recent achievement was enough to silence the skeptics. Lewandowski scored a brilliant hat-trick against Benfica in his 100th Champions League appearance, breaking several records. With 81 goals in his first 100 Champions League appearances, he is now the player with the most in his first 100 Champions League appearances.
Notably, the Bayern Munich striker is the quickest to reach 80 Champions League goals. After the Ballon d’Or ceremony was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lewandowski is considered one of the favorites to win it this year.
He was the most deserving candidate for the postponed 2020 edition, and he is an equally strong contender this time. His 81 goals also place him third in the Champions League, trailing only Messi and Ronaldo.
This was his fourth hat-trick in the competition, and he has already scored eight goals in this year’s edition, even though the group stages are still ongoing. Since the beginning of the year 2020, he has been on a tear. Lewandowski has scored 101 goals since the start of last season, which is quite remarkable.