Atletico Madrid and 20 Other Unlikely Champions League Finalists
On Saturday evening, Atletico Madrid will face city rivals Real Madrid in the final of the Champions League. It is the last game of a quite remarkable season for Los Colchoneros, who wrapped up the Spanish title last weekend with a 1-1 draw away to Barcelona.
Few expected Diego Simeone's side to have such a successful campaign at the start of the season, with even fewer pundits putting them down to reach the final of club football's premier competition.
Here, we take a look at some other unlikely finalists and see how they got on in the end.
2013: Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund might be one of the more famous clubs in Europe, but it is worth remembering they had gone 16 years (and various financial issues) without reaching a Champions League final before they made the Wembley showpiece in 2012.
Although that run was certainly warranted, few observers had really expected it—and Dortmund certainly rode their luck along the way. After finishing top of their group (one that included Real Madrid and Manchester City) and breezing past Shakhtar Donetsk, they needed two injury-time goals to beat Malaga in the quarter-finals.
Then, in the semi-finals, they met Real Madrid again—ultimately hanging on at the Bernabeu to reach the final after winning the first leg at home 4-1.
They met Bayern Munich in the final, where unfortunately Arjen Robben's late finish denied them a fairy-tale ending to their enthralling run.
Result: Lost 2-1 to Bayern Munich
OK, so it is no surprise (and not particularly "unlikely") that Chelsea have won the Champions League in recent seasons, considering the money Roman Abramovich has invested in the club. Nevertheless, it remains somewhat unlikely that the one campaign they would be triumphant in would be 2011-12.
That season, after all, had seen Andre Villas-Boas dismissed midway through the season, with the Blues off the pace in the Premier League and 3-1 down to Napoli after the first leg of their last-16 meeting. But Roberto Di Matteo stepped in and saw his side win 4-1 (after extra time) at Stamford Bridge to progress, starting a run to the final that would see them overcome Benfica and, most memorably, Barcelona.
Even in the final they were supposed to be outmatched, facing Bayern Munich at the German club's home ground as they were. But Didier Drogba signed off in fairy-tale fashion, scoring the winning penalty as Abramovich finally fulfilled his dream of lifting the Champions League trophy.
Result: Beat Bayern Munich on penalties
2010: Inter Milan
We shouldn't be surprised when a team managed by Jose Mourinho reaches the Champions League final. Then again, he has only done it twice.
In 2010, Inter Milan scrapped and scraped their way to the final, edging out Barcelona (in controversial circumstances) and Mourinho's old club, Chelsea, along the way.
In the final they met Bayern Munich, who had stumbled through what looked to be a much easier run to the Santiago Bernabeu. Not expected to be there, but by now the favourites, Inter duly delivered—Diego Milito scoring twice as the club completed the treble.
Result: Beat Bayern Munich 2-0
Liverpool finished fifth in the Premier League in the 2004-05 season, an indication of their quality relative to seasons past.
They were a different animal in Europe, however, although on that front they also stuttered more than they might have. After edging through qualification against Austrian side Grazer AK, they needed a famous last-minute goal against Olympiakos to qualify for the knockout stages at the Greek side's expense.
From that point they hammered Bayer Leverkusen before squeezing past Juventus, eventually beating Chelsea, thanks to Luis Garcia's (in)famous goal to reach an Istanbul final few ever expected them to grace.
Lucky they did, though, as they more than played their part in one of the most memorable finals in recent times.
Result: Beat AC Milan (on penalties)
2004: Monaco and Porto
Will we ever see a final like 2004 again? Few pundits surely managed to predict one of the eventual finalists that season, let alone both of them.
In the end it was Porto and Monaco who contested the final in Gelsenkircken...somehow. The draw was occasionally kind on both sides but both had their battles to overcome—Porto edging Manchester United in the last-16 and Monaco seeing off both Real Madrid and Chelsea.
There was only one winner in the final, however, as Mourinho's side blew away their French opponents to seal an unexpected triumph that would send the Portuguese's managerial career into the stratosphere.
Result: Porto won 3-0
2002: Bayer Leverkusen
Everyone thought the stage was set for Sir Alex Ferguson to lead out Manchester United in a Champions League final in his home city of Glasgow, instead Bayer Leverkusen spoiled the party and booked their place instead.
The German side, anchored by Michael Ballack, Lucio and Carsten Ramelow, beat Liverpool and United on the way to the final—where they faced the mighty Real Madrid.
They equalised early on to counter Raul's opener, but Zinedine Zidane's breathtaking finish prevented a shock upset at Hampden Park—and left Real just one European title away from La Decima.
Result: Lost 2-1 to Real Madrid
Valencia have been to exactly two European Cup finals, and this was the first of them. A year later, when they lost to Bayern Munich on penalties, they were not such a surprise package, but in 2000 they caught most of Europe by surprise.
Perhaps they should not have: A team managed by Rafa Benitez and comprising players of the talent of Santiago Canizares, Gaizka Mendieta and Claudio Lopez was always going to comprise a real threat. Valencia won their group (edging Bayern) and then finished second in the second group stage, before seeing off Lazio and Barcelona, thanks to emphatic home victories and narrow away defeats.
That earned them a final meeting with Real Madrid. Valencia actually finished above Real in La Liga that season, but they were no match for Los Blancos on the night, as they were denied a remarkable triumph.
Result: Lost 3-0 to Real Madrid
One of the most remembered and revered Champions League winning sides, Ajax stormed to European glory on the back of a prodigiously gifted group of academy graduates.
With hindsight they perhaps should have always been considered contenders (they returned to the final a year later), but it was nevertheless the first time in 22 years the Dutch club had made it to the final.
The route there was impressive—they went undefeated to top a group that included AC Milan, before conceding just two goals in four games against Hajduk Split and Bayern Munich to ease into the final.
There they met AC Milan again, where Patrick Kluivert's goal cemented their place in sporting immortality.
Result: Beat AC Milan 1-0
This was back in the era where only the champions of domestic leagues qualified to take part (what a remarkable idea!), and knockout games were played before the group stages.
Sampdoria used that system to their advantage, beating Honved and Rosenberg to reach the final group stages, where they seemed to avoid many of the competition's strongest sides. They overcame Red Star Belgrade, Panathinaikos and Anderlecht to top the group and reach the final, where they met Barcelona.
The Italians—who featured Gianluca Pagliuca, Attilio Lombardo and Gianluca Vialli, among others—put up a strong fight at Wembley, but they were eventually felled by Ronald Koeman's extra-time strike.
Result: Lost 1-0 to Barcelona (after extra time)
1986: Steaua Bucharest
Barcelona fans still shudder at the memory of this traumatic defeat on home turf. Worse still that it came against the deeply unfancied Steaua Bucharest.
The Romanian club—indeed, any Romanian club—had never reached a European Cup final before (Steaua would do it again three years later), but Steaua managed it, thanks to a great side and a relatively kind draw.
They beat Danish side Vejle, Hungarian side Honved, Finnish club Lahti and Bayern Munich to reach the final, winning clearly on aggregated on each occasion.
Barcelona, meanwhile, struggled to reach the showpiece (needing away goals twice to progress and penalties in the semi-final) but were nonetheless considered favourites for the victory in the end. Steaua, however, had different ideas.
Result: Beat Barcelona on penalties
1982: Aston Villa
A lot of people probably expected an English club to reach the final of the European Cup in 1982 (one had in each of the five seasons prior, after all)... just not the one that eventually did.
Holders Liverpool would have been expected by many to reach their fourth final in six seasons, but instead they were knocked out by CSKA September Flag (now CSKA Sofia) in the quarter-finals.
That left Aston Villa, the previous year's English champions, to make their run to the final, beating Bayern Munich in memorable fashion.
Result: Beat Bayern Munich 1-0
The only Swedish side to ever reach the final, Malmo were unable to defeat Nottingham Forest, despite making the most of a relatively helpful draw in order to reach the showpiece.
Result: Lost 1-0 to Nottingham Forest
1978: Club Brugge
Belgium's finest performance ever in the competition came in 1978, as Club Brugge met the mighty Liverpool in the final.
The unlikely side beat Panathinaikos, Atletico Madrid and Juventus to reach the final, but they were unable to take that last, most important step.
Result: Lost 1-0 to Liverpool
1976: Saint Etienne
Saint Etienne capped a period of dominance in domestic football by reaching the final of the European Cup in 1976, where they went down to Bayern Munich.
Again, the draw was something of an enabler, as Les Verts rolled on, the French side beating the likes of Dynamo Kiev, Rangers and PSV Eindhoven on the way to the final.
Result: Lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich
1974: Atletico Madrid
It's hardly a warm memory for Atletico Madrid fans. The last time their club reached the final of Europe's best-club competition, they were thumped 4-0 by Bayern Munich in a replay.
They were the first Spanish side not called Real Madrid or Barcelona to reach that stage, only Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck's 120th-minute equaliser in the initial final prevented Los Colchoneros from grabbing a remarkable title.
Result: Lost 4-0 to Bayern Munich (after a replay)
Panathinaikos edged Jeunesse Esch, Slovan Bratislava, Everton and Red Star Belgrade to reach the final, thanks primarily to the goals of Antonis Antoniadis, who ended as the tournament's top scorer.
In the process, they became the first (and so far only) Greek side to reach the final. They could not stop Johan Cruyff and Ajax, however, as they started off a run of three successive European crowns.
Result: Lost 2-0 to Ajax
The second Dutch side to reach the final of the competition (Ajax were runners-up a year earlier), Feyenoord beat Celtic to win the European title, sparking wild celebrations upon their return to Netherlands.
It was certainly deserved, however, as they stunned holders AC Milan and edged Legia Warsaw on the way to the final at San Siro.
Result: Beat Celtic 2-1
1968: Manchester United
They were the first English side to reach the final of the European Cup and the first side to win it.
Ten years on from the Munich Air Disaster, United beat Real Madrid in the semi-finals and then finished strongly to beat Benfica at Wembley, thanks in part to goals from Bobby Charlton and George Best.
Result: Beat Benfica 4-1 after extra time
A Scottish side winning the European Cup before an English side, who would have thought it? But that was exactly what happened just one year after England had won the World Cup.
The famous Lisbon Lions were the heroes of the hour, a squad where almost every player was born within 10 miles of the club's home ground. An attacking, inventive side, they proved too much for the more defensive-minded approach of Inter Milan in the final.
They remain the only Scottish club to reach the competition's final.
Result: Celtic defeated Inter 2-1
1966: Partizan Belgrade
Nantes, Werder Bremen, Sparta Prague and Manchester United were among the victims as Partizan Belgrade reached the European Cup final in 1966.
Partizan even took the lead in the final, but they eventually lost, thanks to two Real Madrid goals in six minutes.
Result: Lost 2-1 to Real Madrid