20 Most Famous Underdog Triumphs in Soccer History

Michael Cummings@MikeCummings37World Football Lead WriterJanuary 5, 2012

20 Most Famous Underdog Triumphs in Soccer History

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    Soccer is a simple game. As the famous quote goes, a bunch of players run around, some goals are scored and Germany always wins.

    Except that, sometimes, it's not like that at all. Sometimes the underdog has his day in the sun.

    This is one of those days. With this list, we're going to count down the 20 most famous underdog triumphs in soccer history.

    The thing is, though, you might not have thought that some of these underdogs were in fact underdogs.

    What do we mean? Just read on to find out.

20. Manchester United 2-3 Blackburn Rovers, December 2011

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    We could see this match going one of two ways in the historical record. It could either go down as one of the all-time upsets or we could all forget it ever happened.

    For now, though, we think it's worthy of consideration for a number of reasons.

    First, Blackburn entered the match sitting at the foot of the Premier League table. Manchester United were co-leaders with Manchester City.

    Second, it happened on Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson's 70th birthday. That seems like a day United wouldn't dare to lose a game on.

    Third, United erased a two-goal deficit and still lost. Once United pulled it back to 2-2, how many of us thought Blackburn had a chance in hell to win?

    If you're raising your hand, you're a liar.

19. Wayne Rooney 2-1 Receding Hairline

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    Never mind that he had help from modern science. Shrek has won his heroic battle with the eternal scourge of men across the world: the receding hairline.

    Rooney, who started going bald in his early 20s, underwent a hair transplant last summer. The results have been unbelievable (pictured).

    So wonderful, in fact, that Wazza is now plotting another upset in his battle with bad hairstyles.

18. Mexico 1-2 Costa Rica, 2001

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    If you don't live in North America, you might not understand the extent to which Mexico dominates its opponents at its home stadium, Mexico City's Azteca Stadium.

    This upset win by Costa Rica from 2001 should give you an idea. When the Costa Ricans won 2-1 at the Azteca, it ended a 20-year undefeated run for Mexico at that stadium.

    Costa Rica also handed Mexico its first home loss in World Cup qualifying. Ever.

17. Artmedia Petrzalka 5-0 Celtic, 2005 Champions League 2nd Qualifying Round

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    Scottish powerhouse Celtic entered the 2005 Champions League at the second qualifying round. The Hoops drew Artmedia Petrzalka, a club from Bratislava in Slovakia.

    No problem, right? Wrong.

    Celtic trailed 1-0 at halftime in Slovakia and imploded in the second half (side note: look how narrow that pitch was). When the final whistle mercifully sounded, Celtic had lost 5-0. World-renowned striker Juraj Halenar (career: three caps with Slovakia) scored a hat trick while Blazej Vascak and Martin Mikulic added single goals.

    Celtic got a measure of revenge in the return leg, but their 4-0 win wasn't enough to stop Artmedia from advancing.

    The Slovaks made the group stage, where they pulled another upset by beating Porto in Portugal.

16. Barcelona 1-2 Rubin Kazan, 2009 Champions League

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    Rubin Kazan is a Russian club based in Kazan, the eighth most populated city in Russia. In 2009, the club pulled off its most famous win, a 2-1 victory over Barcelona at the Camp Nou.

    Lest you think this was some meaningless end-of-the-group-stage throwaway match, think again. It was the third match of the group stage.

    What's more, Rubin Kazan held Barca to a scoreless draw two weeks later in Russia.

    In all fairness, Rubin Kazan won the Russian Premier League in 2009 and the CIS Cup in 2010. But Barcelona is, well, Barcelona.

    Sometimes, one team just has the other's number.

15. Maradona 5-4 Journalists

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    Argentine legend Diego Maradona took over as manager of his native country's national team in November 2008. Over the next 11 months, he engaged the big, bad press in an extended sparring match.

    Favored by odds of 5-to-2, the press took an early lead after Maradona's Argentina suffered an awful 6-1 defeat to Bolivia in the World Cup 2010 qualifying round.

    But Maradona pulled off a stunning comeback, capped by his post-match press conference in the wake of Argentina's 1-0 victory over Uruguay. The win put Argentina in the World Cup and gave Maradona the confidence he needed to pull off the upset with this unforgettably witty zinger.

    "They can suck it and carry on sucking it," Maradona said. "This is for all Argentines, minus the journalists."

    Take that, fourth estate.

    The press immediately conceded defeat and started plotting their next encounter, which would come the following spring when Maradona announced his squad for the World Cup (another Maradona win).

14. France 3-0 Brazil, 1998 World Cup Final

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    Brazil had the defending world-champion squad. France had home-field advantage but had never won the World Cup.

    But most importantly, France had a pre-headbutt, tonsure-hairdo Zinedine Zidane. Two brilliant Zidane goals and an Emmanuel Petit strike later, France had a 3-0 upset victory and its first World Cup title.

    Speaking of Zidane…

13. Zidane 2-1 Materazzi

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    In the summer of 2006, Zinedine Zidane was 34 years old. He was a good four years past his prime, and he was eight years removed from that glorious World Cup-winning display in Paris.

    At 6'1", Zidane was no slouch physically. But he was no longer in top physical condition.

    Italy's Marco Materazzi, meanwhile, was a year younger and three inches taller. The defender had managed to keep Zidane in check for much of the day, though the French legend had scored earlier with a penalty kick.

    Materazzi grabbed the equalizer with some sweet trash-talk late in the game. The exact words Materazzi used have never have been identified definitively, but they clearly did the trick.

    Unfortunately, they also fired up Zidane, who responded with the winner: a devastating headbutt to the top corner of Materazzi's chest.

    Game, set, match to Zidane. World Cup title; however, to Italy.

12. Senegal 1-0 France, 2002 World Cup Group Stage

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    Four years after winning their first World Cup and two years after taking Euro 2000, France entered the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea with high hopes.

    Those hopes evaporated quickly with a 1-0 loss to unheralded Senegal in the tournament's first game. France really hasn't been the same since that day, and you could argue that their comedy of errors at the 2010 World Cup was a direct result of that day in May 2002.

11. Spain 0-1 Northern Ireland

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    Before they were the conquistadores of world football, Spain were world football's premier choke artists.

    Their choke job in the 1982 World Cup, on home soil, served as perhaps the pick of their bad bunch.

    In the group stage that summer, the hosts lost 0-1 to Northern Ireland, who were making their first appearance in the tournament since 1958.

10. Jay Bothroyd 1-1 George Clooney

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    So, it's not a win. But in the case of George Clooney and this guy, a draw is definitely more favorable for one party than the other.

    How did the two men draw? Well, they both dated this woman.

    George Clooney, of course, is a world-famous actor who appears in blockbuster after blockbuster while dating hot chick after hot chick.

    This guy was rejected by Arsenal as a school boy after he threw his shirt at a coach.

9. Steaua Bucharest 0-0 Barcelona (Steaua Win 2-0 on Penalties)

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    You know which club won a European Cup title before Barcelona?

    FC Steaua Bucharest, that's which one.

    Seriously. And the two went head-to-head in the 1986 European Cup final in Seville. The match ended in a scoreless draw before Steaua won 2-0 on penalties.

    During the shootout, Steaua goalie Helmuth Duckadam saved all four of Barca's spot kicks.

    Barcelona won its first European Cup in 1992.

8. Sunderland 1-0 Leeds United, 1973 FA Cup Final

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    Back in the 1960s and '70s, Leeds United was the biggest, baddest club in England. If you're interested in them, you should read about their exploits in the book The Damned United.

    One of the only things that went wrong for Leeds during that time was this match, the 1973 FA Cup final. Leeds had won the trophy in 1972 and had a squad that boasted 11 internationals.

    Sunderland played in the second tier of English football, the old Second Division.

    But Sunderland won, 1-0, in one of the most famous upsets in English football history.

    (Is it just us, or was it a bad idea for Leeds to have the 5'5" Billy Bremner manning the post on corner kicks? Okay, never mind.)

7. North Korea 1-0 Italy, 1966 World Cup

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    The 1966 World Cup is famous for being the only World Cup won by England, the inventors of the game.

    But it's also famous for this upset. In the group stages, North Korea—which was then just as closed off as a country and as useless a football team as it is now—somehow beat two-time champion Italy.

    Don't ask us how. No one has been able to figure it out, even to this day.

6. Argentina 0-1 Cameroon, 1990 World Cup

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    Argentina reached the final of the 1990 World Cup, losing to West Germany in a rematch of the 1986 final.

    But before that, the powerful Argentines lost to Cameroon in the group stages. The result signaled a shift in world football, with African countries emerging as contenders.

    Cameroon won the group ahead of Argentina and the USSR, which had finished second at Euro 88. The Indomitable Lions advanced to the quarterfinals, a feat that has since been matched by Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

5. West Germany 1-2 Algeria, 1982 World Cup

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    We've already mentioned Spain's choke job in the 1982 World Cup, but that wasn't even the biggest upset of that year's tournament.

    The biggest upset was Algeria's 2-1 win over West Germany, the reigning European champions. West Germany went on to finish as runners-up, but not before an ugly event in the final group match.

4. Hookers 1-1 Ronaldo

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    In April 2008, Brazilian legend Ronaldo found himself embroiled in a prostitution scandal. We won't recount all the gory details, but you can find them easily if you look hard enough.

    Anyway, the prostitutes took the lead in this matchup when Ronaldo's fiancée broke off their engagement due to, uh, infidelities.

    But Ronaldo—who earlier in his career pulled off a few upsets of his own by getting himself romantically involved with her, her and her—rescued the draw by somehow convincing his fiancée to take him back.

    Still, the hookers score an upset.

3. USA 1-0 England

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    You've heard all the stories before.

    Some papers apparently thought the score was actually 10-0 or 10-1 in favor of England. The United States had a team full of part-timers and questionable citizens.

    Team USA's 1-0 victory lives on today in books and films as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.

2. Brazil 1-2 Uruguay, 1950 World Cup

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    Contrary to popular opinion, this upset didn't happen in the World Cup final. There was no such thing as the 1950 World Cup final.

    Instead, the 1950 World Cup decided its champion with a round-robin competition featuring the winners of the four groups in preliminary play. Heading into the final match of the final round, Brazil (the host country) needed only a draw to clinch the title.

    Uruguay wasn't ready to oblige. Despite trailing 1-0 in the second half, Uruguay won 2-1 in front of more than 200,000 Brazilian fans in one of the most famous upsets of all time.

    As legend has it, Pele promised to win a World Cup after seeing his father cry after this match. Apparently, he kept his promise.

1. Portugal 0-1 Greece, Euro 2004 Final

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    It's not that Greece's 1-0 victory over Portugal in the Euro 2004 final was a huge upset in and of itself. The Greeks had already beaten Portugal 2-1 in the group stages.

    The real upset is that Greece won Euro 2004 at all. Because, in all honesty, the Greeks were probably the least convincing major tournament champions of all time.

    In the group stages, Greece won once, lost once and drew once, scoring four goals and conceding four. In the knockout stages, they beat France 1-0, the Czech Republic 1-0 after extra time and Portugal 1-0.

    What the Greeks did well was grind opponents into submission. An impenetrable formation and dour tactics limited what their opponents could do.

    And timely scoring—all of Greece's goals in the knockout stages came after halftime—secured narrow win after narrow win.

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