12 Greatest Underdog Stories in World Football History

Mike Miller@mwmiller20Contributor IIIMay 10, 2013

12 Greatest Underdog Stories in World Football History

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    Everybody loves the underdog.

    That is, except in World Football as most fans throw their allegiances to the power clubs. Finding a Wigan Athletic or Queens Park Rangers fan outside of England is like tracking down Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. 

    In fact, everyone loves a winner. And every once in a while, a plucky underdog defies the odds and bookies' expectations to make a deep run at or even win a major title.

    Here are 12 of the most notable overachieving team who made history beating the big boys.

Sunderland Wins 1973 FA Cup

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    Sunderland had every right to be a major underdog entering the 1973 FA Cup Final. 

    The Black Cats needed replays against Notts County, Reading and Manchester City just to get to the quarterfinals. Sunderland, who were still in the Second Division, then managed to beat Luton Town and Arsenal to advance to the final against Leeds United.

    Leeds were the defending FA Cup champions and had finished second in the First Division the prior season. But an Ian Porterfield goal in the 31st minute was enough, along with some fine goalkeeping from Jimmy Montgomery, to give Sunderland the cup with a 1-0 victory.

    The Black Cats won the match without the help of any internationally-capped players at the time. Only two other lower division clubs have won the FA Cup since Sunderland. To this day, the 1973 FA Cup is the last major trophy win for the club.

Saints March Away with the FA Cup in 1976

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    In 1976, Manchester United wasn't quite the juggernaut that Sir Alex Ferguson would ultimately turn them in to. In fact, the Red Devils had just recently rebounded from being relegated to the Second Division in 1974.

    Tommy Docherty's side would bounce back straight away in 1975, and were still heavy favorites over Second Division Southampton, as Manchester United were on their way to a third-place finish in the First Division.

    Southampton had never won a major competition,and would finish sixth in the Second Division in 1976. Manchester United had the Saints on the back foot for the majority of the match, forcing Ian Turner into several saves.

    But Bobby Stokes would beat the Red Devil back line in the 83rd minute to give the Saints the only goal and a 1-0 victory. It is still the only major trophy Southampton have won in their history, although the Saints would have minor Wembley success winning the Johnstone's Paint Trophy in 2010.

Indomitable Lions Reach World Cup 1990 Quarterfinals

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    The opening game of the World Cup in 1990 was supposed to be a showcase and easy warm-up for defending champions Argentina.

    The stars of that game, and the tournament, turned out to be Argentina's opponents, Cameroon. Making only their second World Cup appearance, François Omam-Biyik scored with the benefit of an absolute howler from Argentinian keeper Nery Pumpido. That goal would be the only goal in an historic 1-0 upset.

    Not satisfied with just one win, Cameroon would win their group, defeating Romania before losing a meaningless game against the Soviet Union. 

    In the Round of 16, the Indomitable Lions would defeat Colombia 2-1 in extra time to set up a matchup with England. Cameroon took a 2-1 lead in the 65th minute on a Eugene Ekeke goal, but England would earn two penalties. The first tied the match in the 83rd minute. The second gave England the lead in extra time and a 3-2 victory.

Senegal Shock the World at World Cup 2002

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    Twelve years after Cameroon defeated the defending champion Argentina in the opening game of the 1990 World Cup, Senegal followed the same path to glory.

    This time it was France that was the defending champion sent to defeat by a group of African unknowns. Senegal was making their first-ever World Cup appearance. Papa Malick Diop scored in the 30th minute, and the goal would hold up for a 1-0 victory.

    Senegal would draw their other two group-stage matches with Denmark and Uruguay to advance to the Round of 16. Henri Camera would be the star to keep the dream alive as he scored both goals in the 2-1 extra time victory over Sweden.

    The run would come to an end in the quarterfinals as Senegal couldn't find a way past Turkey, another surprising squad in a World Cup full of them. The 1-0 defeat ended Senegal's only World Cup appearance to date.

Bulgaria Reach Semis of World Cup 1994

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    Prior to 1994, Bulgaria had never won a match in any of its previous World Cup appearances.

    That changed when the former Eastern Bloc county, ranked 29th in the FIFA World Ranking, defeated Greece and Argentina in the group stage to advance to the Round of 16.

    Bulgaria were just getting started. Led by the tournament's leading scorer, Hristo Stoichkov, the Bulgarians defeated Mexico in a shootout then defending World Cup champion Germany to advance to the semifinals.

    The run would go no further, as Bulgaria could not contain Roberto Baggio and Italy, losing the match 2-1. 

Club Tijuana Wins Liga MX Apertura in 2012

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    The most recent underdog story is literally for the dogs. Founded in 2007, the Xoloitzcuintlis, or Xolos of Club Tijuana are one of the youngest soccer clubs in the world.

    The Xolo is a hairless, native Mexican dogs, and one of the hardest to spell and pronounce mascots in the world. The team took three years to gain promotion to Liga MX, winning the second division Apertura in 2010.

    In Mexico, like several South American leagues, there are two champions each season, the Apertura (fall) and Clausura (spring). The first tournament saw the Xolos in 15th place and put them in relegation territory. Tijuana would improve to seventh in the Clausura, solidifying their place and earning a playoff berth for the first time.

    In just their third tournament and the second year of the club's existence in the top flight, Tijuana would go on to win the 2012 Apertura title, defeating Toluca 4-1 in an aggregate two-leg final, completing a meteoric rise to the top of Mexican football.

Verona Take Serie A in 1985

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    1985 proved that there are, in fact, other soccer clubs in Italy besides Juventus, AC Milan, Inter and Roma.

    Hellas Verona had finished sixth in Serie A in 1984, and nothing more was expected of them the following season. However, Verona managed to go the entire season losing only twice en route to winning Serie A by four points over Torino.

    Some will say the additions of Hans-Peter Briegel and Preben Elkjaer were enough to give Verona its first Serie A title.

    Some cynics will say it was the method of assigning referees that helped Verona, The 1984-1985 season was the only season where referees were assigned by blind draw instead of by an assignor due to various betting scandals.

    Either way, it was the only top-flight moment of glory for a club that hasn't been in Serie A since 2002.

Greece as Good as Gold in Euro 2004

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    2004 was supposed to be the year where everything came together for Portugal.

    Portugal was the host for Euro 2004, and the "Golden Generation," featuring Luis Figo, Deco, Pauleta, Rui Costa and a young Cristiano Ronaldo had one last chance for glory.

    Someone forgot to tell the Greeks.

    Greece would actually beat Portugal twice in the tournament. The first win was a 2-1 which flattered the hosts as Ronaldo scored a consolation goal in the 93rd minute. Portugal would end up winning the group, as Greece would draw with Spain and lose to Russia, but the four points was enough to get Greece into the quarterfinals.

    In the knockout stages, Greece would defeat France 1-0 and the Czech Republic 1-0 in extra time to set up the rematch with Portugal. Surely, the Golden Generation would win the rematch?

    Nope. Greece shut down their more talented opponents again, and won the title on Angelo Christeas' 57th minute goal, showing their championship run was no fluke.

Denmark Win Euro 1992 After Previously Being Eliminated

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    As Dante Hicks from the movie Clerks might say, "Denmark weren't even supposed to be here today!"

    Denmark only qualified for Euro 1992 after Yugoslavia were banned from the tournament under a UN Security Council resolution because of the Yugoslav wars. As a result, the Yugoslav bid was given to their qualifying group's runners-up, The Danes only found out they would be participating 11 days prior to the start of the tournament.

    Denmark would finish runners-up to Sweden in their group, earning a semifinal matchup with the Netherlands. Henrik Larsen would score two goals, in a 2-2 draw. In the subsequent shootout, Denmark would convert all five kicks from the mark to advance to the final, winning the shootout 5-4.

    In the final, Denmark would upset a newly unified and World Cup 1990 Champion Germany 2-0 to win Denmark's first major international competition.

Once Caldes Beat Boca Juniors to Win Copa Libertadores in 2004

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    Colombian squads haven't had the best of luck in the Copa Libertadores over the years. Only Atletico Nacional in 1989, a squad funded by Pablo Escobar at the time, had won the competition previously.

    When Once Caldas reached the final of the Copa in 2004, their odds of winning didn't appear to be great. They were given the challenge of Boca Juniors, one of the giants of South American football, who had won the competition four times previously.

    Both legs of the two-leg final ended in draws. The first leg scoreless, the second leg 1-1. After 180 minutes, the championship would be determined by kicks from the mark.

    Amazingly, it was Boca Juniors who looked caught up in the moment. The Argentinian side would miss all four penalties to give Once Caldas their most famous victory in club history.

"The Hero of Seville" Saves Steaua Bucharest

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    The odds were certainly against Steaua Bucharest in the European Cup Final in 1986.

    First, the opponent was perennial La Liga champions Barcelona. Second, the game was being played in Barcelona's home country in Seville.

    The game itself was largely forgettable, as neither team could find the net in the first 120 minutes of action. The shootout to determine the winner, however, was completely unforgettable.

    Steaua goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam would save all four Barcelona kicks from the mark while Marius Lacatus and Gavirl Balint converted to make the Romanian side the first team from Eastern Europe to win the European Cup. For his heroics, Duckadam was given the nickname "The Hero of Seville."

Nottingham Forest Wins First Division in 1978

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    Imagine Cardiff City or Hull City winning the Premier League next season. The idea that a team just promoted into the top division of English football winning the division the next season seems ridiculous, but that's exactly what Nottingham Forest accomplished in 1978.

    Under the management of Brian Clough in 1977, Forest barely managed to be promoted into the First Division by finishing third in the Second Division over Bolton and Blackpool by just one point.

    Led by players such as Martin O'Neill, Peter Shilton, Garry Birtles, Kenny Burns and John McGovern, Forest would win the league by a comfortable seven points over second-place Liverpool. Showing their league form was no fluke, Clough's squad also won the League Cup that season.


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