15 Most Surprising Tournament Champs in World Football History
Everybody loves and underdog—unless that underdog has just beaten your team in the final of a cup competition.
From international competition and European cups to domestic small-time and tinpot trophies—there have been many a cup final upset over the years, but perhaps none more so than these.
Greece: Euro 2004
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Euro 2004 nearly ended like a fairy tale for hosts Portugal as they found themselves in the Championship final on home turf playing Greece—a team that started the competition as 150-1 outsiders that had never won a match at a major tournament.
Unfortunately for Portugal, their constant attacking couldn't break down a sturdy Greek defence and the Ethniki opened the scoring with a header from which Portugal had no response.
The unlikeliest of champions, Greece celebrated like crazy.
Liverpool: Champions League 2005
In 2005, Liverpool found themselves 3-0 down at halftime to a dominant and clinical AC Milan side in the Champions League final in Istanbul.
Many spectators had already begun to leave the stadium that hosted the event, embarrassed to call themselves supporters.
Stirring words from Rafael Benitez at halftime brought life to a dull dressing room, and the Liverpool that came out in the second half was quite different.
Three second half strikes brought the game level before Milan even realised what hit them.
Extra time and penalties ensued, and it was Liverpool who held their nerve to win the coveted trophy.
AC Milan wonder to this day how it all went wrong.
Manchester United: Champions League 1999
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When you're one nil to the good in a Champions League final for 84 minutes, you could be forgiven for thinking that you'd secured the trophy—unless you're playing Manchester United of course.
Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer broke Bayern Munich hearts in the 1999 Champions League when they scored in the 91st and 93rd minute respectively.
Mario Basler had scored for Bayern Munich after just four minutes, but it was all for nothing.
England: 1966 World Cup
England were surprise—and perhaps fortunate—winners of the 1966 World Cup after they defeated West Germany 4-2 in the final.
During the course of the game, England had a ghost goal allowed with the scores tied at 2-2.
Many fans still argue to this day whether the ball crossed the line, but England marched on and slotted a fourth just to make sure.
Denmark: Euro 1992
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Denmark hadn't even qualified for the European Championships of 1992, but Yugoslavia was a country at war and subsequently had to withdraw from the competition.
Denmark were asked to take Yugoslavia's place and the stand-in Danes managed a win, a draw and a defeat in their group stages which scraped them into the knockout rounds by virtue of finishing second.
A semifinal penalty victory over the Netherlands put Denmark into the final where they followed up with a 2-0 victory against Germany.
From unqualified wannabees to European Champions...just like that.
Chelsea: Champions League 2012
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After slumping to their worst league position in some years and having just an interim manager—Roberto Di Matteo—in charge at the time, many people wrote off Chelsea's chances of winning the 2012 Champions League when they took on Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.
Bayern Munich took the lead in the 83rd minute from a Thomas Muller goal, and many expected the result to stand at 1-0 with such a short time remaining.
Didier Drogba had other ideas though and nodded home a bullet header just five minutes later.
At 1-1, the game went to penalties and it was left to Drogba himself to dispatch the winning kick.
It was his last game for the club.
Uruguay: World Cup 1950
Back when the World Cup had a slightly different format, Uruguay and Brazil fought out a World Cup final.
Going into the 1950 match, Uruguay needed to win the game in order to claim football's greatest prize, Brazil just needed to avoid defeat.
Bearing in mind Brazil had won their prior two matches 7-1, and 6-1 respectively, nobody was expecting Uruguay to even put up a fight—especially when facing names such as Zizinho and Jair.
Put up a fight they did though, and Uruguay ended up running out 2-1 victors after going 0-1 down to a Friaca goal.
The match is referred to this day as the Maracanazo, which is essentially slang for underdog.
Wimbledon: 1988 FA Cup
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Wimbledon vs Liverpool, FA Cup final 1988.
Wimbledon—having never previously won a trophy—had finished seventh in the league that year.
Liverpool had won the title comfortably and were subsequently heavy favourites going into the game.
Dave Beasant became the first goalkeeper to ever save a penalty in an FA Cup final, and Peter Beardsley had a goal disallowed as Lawrie Sanchez' 37th minute strike won it for the Crazy Gang.
Chicago Fire: Major League Soccer Cup 1998
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Chicago Fire were enjoying their debut season as an MLS soccer team under then-coach Bob Bradley. They faced D.C. United in the MLS Soccer Cup in 1998—the same D.C.United who had won the cup the two seasons prior.
Nobody gave the debutantes a chance, but they proved the doubters wrong with a 2-0 victory.
Birmingham: Carling Cup 2011
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After Arsenal had done the double over them during the regular Premier League season, relegation scrappers Birmingham were essentially written off as Carling Cup contenders going into their 2011 final against the Gunners.
After Birmingham took the lead through Nikola Zigic in the 28th minute, Arsenal struck back via Robin van Persie just 11 minutes later.
With extra-time looming, Obafemi Martins came off the bench and struck an 89th minute winner for Birmingham—causing more time to be added to Arsenal's trophy drought period.
West Germany: World Cup 1954
This match is forever remembered as The Miracle of Bern, or, Das Wunder von Bern if you prefer.
The miracle of course was West Germany's comeback from being two goals down to Hungary after just eight minutes.
Hungary fielded the legendary Ferenc Puskas—who opened the scoring—and could be confident of the fact that they had already beaten the German's 8-3 earlier on in the competition.
West Germany fielded a very different starting XI to their original team though, and managed to limp into halftime with the scores at 2-2.
With six minutes to go in the second half, Helmut Rahn pounced to give Germany a 3-2 victory and break Hungary's 31 match unbeaten run.
AC Milan: Champions League 1994
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In 1994, AC Milan found themselves in the Champions League final facing the mighty Barcelona.
Barcelona had just won La Liga, and had won the Champions League two years prior. Milan on the otherhand were missing some key players in Marco Van Basten, Gianluigi Lentini, Alessandro Costacurta, Franco Baresi, Jean-Pierre Papin and Brian Laudrup.
Whilst it may have been unsurprising to some that Milan came out on top, surely no-one expected them to run out 4-0 victors.
Liverpool: UEFA Cup 2001
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Perhaps Liverpool's victory over Alaves in the 2001 UEFA Cup Final was expected, but their path to the final is what was really impressive.
Liverpool managed to negotiate their way past Olympiacos, Roma, FC Porto and Barcelona before reaching the final—four games that many wouldn't have been shocked to see them lose.
Real Zaragoza: Copa Del Rey 2004
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The 2004 Copa Del Rey final featured the mighty Galacticos of Real Madrid versus lowly 12th place league finishers Real Zaragoza—it was a foregone conclusion wasn't?
Zaragoza showed no signs of fear and managed to finish normal time with the scores tied at 2-2.
In the 112th minute, Luciano Galletti popped up to score the winner and give Zaragoza a night to remember.
The game featured 14 yellow cards and two reds.
Parma: Coppa Italia 2002
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Let me set the scene. Parma sold their two star defensive players—Gianluigi Buffon and Lillian Thuram—at the beginning of the season to Juventus.
Juventus went and won the Serie A title, whilst Parma saved themselves from relegation by the skin of their teeth with a good run of results towards the end of the season.
On that evidence, it should have been an easy Coppa Italia Final in 2002 for Juventus—particularly after taking a 2-1 lead in the first leg.
Parma clearly thought otherwise though, and managed to carve out a 1-0 victory in the second leg of the final—an amazing defensive achievement considering the standard of players they had sold earlier.
The result meant a 2-2 draw on aggregate, but a win for Parma on away goals.
Buffon didn't play a minute of the final, whereas Thuram was dropped to the bench for the second leg.
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