Soccer's 8 Greatest Cinderella Stories of All Time

Dan FitchFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2013

Soccer's 8 Greatest Cinderella Stories of All Time

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    Cinderella: The story of a poor and unfortunate young woman who overcomes her circumstances to achieve great success (admittedly this is based on the somewhat outdated assumption that getting married to someone who's really rich, qualifies as achieving great success).

    Football has its own share on Cinderella stories. We all love to see a team come from humble beginnings to defy the odds and secure a fairytale ending.

    Here are soccer's eight greatest Cinderella stories of all time.

Calais RUFC Reach the Coupe De France Final

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    The 2000 Coupe De France Final didn't quite see the happy ending that everyone apart from Nantes supporters was hoping for, but the mere fact that Calais RUFC got there in the first place was a journey worthy of the term 'fairytale.'

    Calais were a team of amateurs from the fourth-tier of French football, who made headlines across the world with their cup run in 2000. En-route to the final, Calais beat Lille and Cannes from Ligue 2, before beating Ligue 1 Strasbourg in the quarter-final and then even the reigning league champions Bordeaux in the semi-final, who they improbably defeated 3-1.

    In the Coupe De France Final, Calais met Nantes and enjoyed a dream start when Jerome Dutitre gave them a 1-0 lead which they took into half-time. Sadly, Calais didn't get to live happily ever after with the cup, as Nantes equalised and then converted a controversial last-minute penalty to win 2-1. 

    Yet the moral victory belonged to Calais. Nantes knew this too and in acknowledgment of the fact, the opposing captains went up to receive the cup together.

Aberdeen Conquer the Old Firm and Europe

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    Before Alex Ferguson became manager of Aberdeen in 1978, the club had won the league only once and the Scottish FA Cup just twice, in a football landscape dominated by the Glasgow giants Celtic and Rangers. 

    Ferguson's Aberdeen destroyed the dominance of the Old Firm. Aberdeen won the league title in 1979-80, three successive Scottish Cups between 1982 and 1984, and successive league wins in 1983-84 and 1984-85.

    Perhaps the most significant triumph for this previously unheralded Scottish club was their European Cup Winners' Cup victory in 1983. Beating Bayern Munich on their way to the final, Aberdeen shocked Real Madrid 2-1. 

    More European success was to come when Aberdeen defeated Hamburg over two legs to win the 1983 European Super Cup. Their run of domestic and European success came to an end when Alex Ferguson moved south to take over at Manchester United. I wonder what ever happened to him down there?

Greece Win Euro 2004

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    Prior to Euro 2004, Greece had only previously played in two major international tournaments, Euro 1980 and the 1994 World Cup. Furthermore, they had failed to win a game at either of these tournaments. It's fair to say that Greece didn't go into Euro 2004 as red-hot favourites... more like rank outsiders.

    The Greeks were given a tough group, containing the hosts Portugal, Spain and Russia. Greece started the tournament as they were to go on, with a shock as they beat the host nation 2-1 in the opening game. Greece would eventually qualify in second place, behind the Portuguese.

    In the quarter-final Greece knocked out the holders France, before beating the Czech Republic in the semi-final.

    The football wasn't pretty, with their German manager Otto Rehhagel having devised a pragmatic style of play that played to their defensive strengths, but by this time the Greek people didn't care how much they were boring the rest of Europe.

    In the final, Portugal had the chance to gain revenge for that opening defeat. Instead, Portugal's superstars, such as Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo could not inspire their team to breach the Greek defence. Greece would win the game 1-0 and with it the tournament, with a goal from Angelos Charisteas.

The Crazy Gang Shock Liverpool

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    Wimbledon's rise through the English league pyramid was itself something of a Cinderella story. Winning election to Division Four of the Football League in 1977, within nine years 'The Crazy Gang' had gained promotion to the First Division. 

    More was yet to come. Tipped for relegation in their first top-flight season in 1986-87, Wimbledon eventually finished sixth. They then built upon this success by reaching the FA Cup Final the following season.

    In the final, Wimbledon would play Liverpool. No one gave them a chance. Liverpool had won the league at a canter, playing some breathtaking football, but Wimbledon were not to be overawed.

    Lawrie Sanchez gave Wimbledon a shock lead when he headed home from a set-piece. Then as Liverpool pressed for an equaliser, Dave Beasant became the first goalkeeper to save a penalty in the FA Cup Final when he stopped John Aldridge's spot-kick. The Dons held on to their 1-0 lead to pull off one of the biggest ever FA Cup Final shocks.

Hellas Verona Top Serie A

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    If you take a scan at the list of Serie A winners from the last 30 years, there's one team that stands out. In 1985 Serie A was won by Hellas Verona. How on earth did that happen?

    Having been promoted to Serie A in 1982, Hellas Verona surprised everyone by finishing fourth and reaching the final of the Italian Cup, losing to Juventus. The next season they reached the cup final again, only to this time lose to Roma.

    Hellas Verona might have been a steadily improving team, but to say that no one expected them to challenge for the title in 1984-85 is an understatement. These were the peak years of Serie A. Michel Platin was at Juventus, Falacao at Roma, while Inter had just signed Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

    Even when considering the up-and-coming teams, Napoli's signing of a certain Diego Maradona had somewhat eclipsed Hellas Verona's purchase of the Danish international Preben Elkjaer and West Germany's Hans-Peter Briegel.

    Yet it was Hellas Verona who were the early pacemakers in Serie A and they somehow managed to shake off the challenge from the equally unfancied Torino and win the title.

    This shock win was not to herald a new era in Italian football, however. Over the next couple of seasons, Hellas Verona's best players were gradually picked off by bigger teams and the club was inevitably relegated in 1990.

Nottingham Forest Conquer Europe Twice

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    When Brian Clough took over at Nottingham Forest, he was a man in a hurry. He had won the league title at unfashionable Derby County, but had fallen short in pursuit of the European Cup and then suffered a disastrous spell in charge at Leeds United.

    When Clough took over at Nottingham Forest in 1975 they were 13th in Division Two. In 1977 they were promoted to Division One and the following season they beat Liverpool in the League Cup final and won the first league title in the club's history.

    In 1978-79, Clough had another crack at the European Cup. Forest beat Liverpool on their way to the final, where they defeated Malmo 1-0. The following season, Clough and Forest shocked Europe again, as they retained the European Cup by beating Kevin Keegan's Hamburg 1-0.

    To put this achievement into perspective, at this stage in football history the European Cup had only ever been won by Real Madrid, Benfica, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Celtic, Manchester United, Feyenoord, Ajax, Bayern Munich and Liverpool.

    Nottingham Forest had come from absolutely nowhere to gatecrash a party where previously only the giants of European football were allowed to play.

Denmark Win Euro 92 Despite Not Even Qualifying

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    Denmark were not even meant to be playing at Euro 92. The Danes had finished second behind Yugoslavia in their qualifying group, only to be given a place in the finals 11 days before the tournament started, as a result of the breakup and warfare raging through Yugoslavia.

    Richard Moller Nielsen's unprepared side found themselves in a tough group with France, England and their local rivals and tournament hosts, Sweden. Denmark drew with England in their opening game, then lost to Sweden, before beating France to qualify for the semi-finals in second place.

    Their Denmark found the holders Holland waiting for them, but upset the odds by twice going ahead in a game that finished 2-2, before triumphing 5-4 on penalties. 

    Waiting in the final were the newly united Germany, boasting the likes of Andreas Brehme, Stefan Effenburg and Jurgen Klinsmann. Yet it was Denmark who would defy logic to win the tournament.

    John Jensen put them 1-0 up early in the first half (and Arsenal fans will know how rare a goal from him was), before Kim Vilfort scored after the break to seal a famous victory.

The Busby Babes

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    In 1956 and 1957, Matt Busby's Manchester United side won back-to-back league titles despite the fact that the team had an average age of just 22. The media dubbed the young team as "The Busby Babes."

    In 1958, Busby and his team were travelling back from a European Cup quarter-final victory over Red Star Belgrade. The plane carrying the Manchester United players, officials and travelling journalists crashed as it attempted to take off having stopped to refuel in Munich.

    Twenty-three people died, including eight members of the Manchester United team: Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Billy Whelan, while Jackie Blanchflower and Johnny Berry would not recover from their injuries to play again.

    A makeshift team reached the FA Cup Final that same season, before losing to Bolton. Busby then managed to miraculously rebuild his team.

    They won the FA Cup and the League title in 1965 and '67. Then, just 10 years after almost an entire team were wiped out in pursuit of the European Cup, Manchester United became champions of Europe, defeating Benfica 4-1 in the 1968 final.