An EFL Championship club right now once retained the trophy in style.
Formerly known as the European Cup, the UEFA Champions League was first established in 1955 where all the winning teams of their respective leagues from Europea were invited to play in the competition. Rebranded as the ‘UEFA Champions League’ in 1992, the competition has become a top priority for the richest and most aspiring teams in Europe.
So much so, for teams like FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich among others, managerial appointments are made according to the team’s performance in the Champions League, rather than the success achieved in the domestic front.
Champions League has attained the ‘holy grail’ status in club football and is the highest honour. However, once in a blue moon comes an underdog who blows away all the heavyweights. A team that nobody backs or expects to make any real challenge for the title somehow manages to turn the herculean odds in their favour.
Once in a while, a team comes forth and performs like true champions and runs away with the trophy and the hearts of football fans all around the world. We look back and shift our focus to those underdogs, those dark horses that have won the UEFA Champions League when not a soul had predicted them to.
Chelsea is a giant club and is unlikely to feature in a list which talks about underdogs. In all fairness, they have attained a big status and nothing short of winning a competition is satisfactory for their fans.
However, the 2011-12 season was a strange one for Chelsea with many negatives like their lowest league finish of sixth since 2001-02 along with the departure of the then manager, André Villas-Boas, who failed to make an impact on the team’s performances. There was no European football in store for the next season at Stamford Bridge unless they did the unthinkable, win the Champions League!!
Facing the German giants Bayern Munich in the final in the latter’s own backyard, the Allianz Arena. Chelsea’s side was up against the toughest odds which heavily favoured the in-form Bayern to lift the trophy. Chelsea won one corner against Bayern’s twenty and as the fates had it, that solitary corner led to the equalizer from Drogba’s head in the 88th minute after Bayern had shot into the lead owing to Muller’s 83rd-minute goal.
Chelsea won the penalty shoot-out 4-3 and thus became the first London club ever to lift the UCL. A gloomy season suddenly became one for the history books and the FA Cup victory made it a cup double season. The team had also eliminated the defending champions FC Barcelona on their way to the final under the leadership of now forgotten, Roberto DI Matteo. Remember him?
FC Porto (2004)
FC Porto came into the tournament as not only the domestic champions but also the UEFA Cup(Europa Cup) winners. They were a joy to watch on the field under the charismatic leadership of the then manager, Jose Mourinho. It is safe to say that Jose had announced his arrival on the big stage after this season and the rest is, as they say, history. The 2004 season is forever etched in the memory of every Porto fan as they went onto win the UEFA Champions League by emerging 3-0 winners in the final against AS Monaco, who were also touted as the underdogs.
The stadium in Gelsenkirchen housed over 53 thousand spectators who witnessed a true underdog story as Porto was the first side outside of the top four big leagues in Europe (England, Spain, Italy and Germany) to lift the UCL since 1993.
The 50th edition of the UEFA Champions League saw Liverpool emerge as the champions, defeating the mighty A.C. Milan on penalties in a tie that is to this day hailed as one of the best comebacks ever in UCL history, if not the best. The final will forever be remembered for Liverpool’s incredible comeback from being 3-0 down at halftime to being victorious in the penalties against all odds.
Liverpool were truly the underdogs in the final against the mighty A.C. Milan who had the likes of Cafu, Kaká, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Shevchenko, Clarence Seedorf and Hernan Crespo among others playing for them. Many believe that those were the golden years for the Rossoneri, who were a powerhouse in world football and were featuring in their second final in the last three years.
Liverpool took only six minutes at the beginning of the second half to bring the match to level after being down by three goals at halftime. The legendary Liverpool captain and also a scorer in the final, Steven Gerrard was adjudged as the man of the match and also the UEFA Player of the Year in the process. This match stands as a testimony to the unpredictable nature of football where anything is possible before the final whistle.
Nottingham Forrest (1978/79 and 1979/80)
Nottingham Forrest took the world by storm by not only winning the European Cup in 1978/79 but also retaining their title the next year. They also hold the record for winning two titles with only 20 games played overall. Their achievement seems even more incredible and maddening considering their present fortunes.
Languishing in the second tier of the English football league, it is hard to digest that once European champions for two consecutive editions now lie in a forgotten place where fans of this generation have no recollection of their grandeur apart from the history books. They defeated Malmö FF 1-0 in their first triumph and defeated Hamburg by the same scoreline in their second triumph.
Champions League is undoubtedly the pinnacle of club football. Every year, millions are spent by the big clubs to have a better squad and a better chance at winning it. Recent domination by Real Madrid has raised a few eyebrows since they have won the last two competitions and is now appearing in their third consecutive final hoping to complete a hat-trick. They face Liverpool, a side which is having a breakthrough of a season due to the world-class performances of their attack led by the PFA Player of the Year, Mohammed Salah. Liverpool is the dark horse of this year’s competition and the odds are stacked against them. Is another underdog story in store for the fans? Only time will tell.
Ajax has been competing with PSV for the title of the best club in the Netherlands for some years now. However, both Dutch giants have underperformed in Europe and falls short when it comes to competing with the top teams.
In the 1994-95 season, however, Ajax achieved a milestone. They won the UEFA Champions League and became the best team in Europe. They even did it in style by staying undefeated the whole tournament. They last won the premier European competition back in 1973. Jari Litmanen was the second on the list of top goal scorers for Ajax with six goals, one behind the iconic George Weah.
They defeated the Italian giants in the final, AC Milan, by a solitary goal scored after 85 minutes by Patrick Kluivert. The Ajax squad was full of young talented players who outperformed the Italian side. AC Milan had been dominating the recent additions, since this was their third consecutive final but were on the receiving end of a huge upset. This was also the last time a Dutch club won the Champions League, and to this day the drought continues.