Football's 7 Greatest Cinderella Stories of All Time

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2014

Football's 7 Greatest Cinderella Stories of All Time

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    Rags to riches, anonymity to fame, mere existence to glory.

    Football has had plenty of Cinderella stories over time, with tales of plucky underdogs succeeding against all the odds being passed down from generation to generation.

    These aren't the sort of amazing comeback victories such as Liverpool's 2005 Champions League triumph or Manchester United's victory in the same competition in 1999, but rather longer stories of pluck, determination and glory in one way or another.

    They don't always end up with a trophy―or indeed a glass slipper―at the end, but all are tales which warm the heart.

    Here are seven of the best:

Zambia Win the 2012 African Nations Cup

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    In 1993, a Zambian Air Force plane carrying the nation's football team to a World Cup qualifier in Senegal crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 25 passengers and five crew on board.

    The crash site was around 500 metres offshore from Libreville, Gabon, and so when the African Nations Cup was held in the same country in 2012, Zambian thoughts were inevitably with their fallen compatriots.

    Managed by the charismatic French coach Herve Renard, an unheralded Zambian team topped their group before seeing off Sudan and Ghana without conceding a goal to reach the final.

    There, in Libreville, they took on the much-fancied Ivory Coast.

    Didier Drogba missed a penalty in normal time for the Elephants, and after the match went to a penalty shootout, misses from Kolo Toure and Gervinho handed a first ever international tournament to Zambia, whose celebrations were hugely emotional and included Kalusha Bwalya. He is considered to be the best Zambian player of all time and only spared death in the plane crash because he played for PSV Eindhoven, so had been making his own route to Senegal back in 1993.

Wigan Beat Manchester City to Win the 2013 FA Cup

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    Wimbledon's victory over Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final has long been considered the greatest shock in the history of the competition, but that was outdone by Wigan 25 years later.

    The Latics' run to the Wembley showpiece included a quarter-final victory at Everton which included three goals in three first-half minutes, but they were given absolutely no chance by pretty much everyone when they lined up against Manchester City in the final.

    City's millions and players such as Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany were expected to sweep to victory, but on the day Wigan gave as good as they got.

    Battling relegation from the Premier League, eventually unsuccessfully, the Wigan side were marshalled by impressive Spanish boss Roberto Martinez, who refused to allow his team to be overawed at Wembley.

    They matched City stride for stride, and after Roberto Mancini's men had Pablo Zabaleta sent off six minutes from time, late Wigan substitute Ben Watson headed home the winner in the 91st minute to spark delirious celebrations.

Denmark Win Euro 92 Despite Not Qualifying

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    Yugoslavia were supposed to be at the European Championships in 1992, but the outbreak of war and subsequent breakup of the country meant that they couldn't attend the finals in Sweden.

    In their place came Denmark, who had finished second in their qualifying group and were given just 11 days notice before entering the tournament.

    Given little chance by many, Richard Moller Nielsen's side beat a French team containing Jean-Pierre Papin and Eric Cantona in their final group match to reach the semi-finals, where they beat the Netherlands on penalties after a 2-2 draw.

    Pitched into the final against world champions Germany in Gothenburg, the Danes were now on a roll and determined to shock the favourites.

    John Jensen fired them in front early on, with Kim Vilfort's strike 12 minutes from time all but securing the most remarkable of successes.

Tahiti Score Against Nigeria at the 2013 Confederations Cup

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    Tahiti's team of amateurs found themselves in the Confederations Cup in 2013, with the eyes of the world on the South Pacific islanders in a tournament acting as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup.

    Having become the champions of Oceania in 2012 largely thanks to Australia switching confederations, the Tahitians, ranked 138 in the world at the time, were thrown into a group with Nigeria, Spain and Uruguay, and took on the Nigerians, ranked 31st, in Belo Horizonte.

    The script was being followed pretty closely as Nigeria went 3-0 up, but Tahiti weren't embarrassing themselves and got their reward for determined effort nine minutes into the second half when defender Jonathan Tehau rose above Efe Ambrose to head in from a corner.

    Tehau, one of four members of the same family in the squad, and teammates celebrated by pretending to paddle a boat in honour of Tahiti's national sport, with all neutrals watching on and cheering.

    Things later turned sour for Tehau as he scored an own goal on the way to Tahiti's 6-1 loss, whilst they were later beaten 10-0 by Spain and 8-0 by Uruguay. No matter though, they had achieved their memorable moment, with coach Eddy Etaeta saying of the Nigeria game:

    I was deeply moved, almost crying. We watch World Cups on TV. Today we were actors. Tahiti was watching. Our President sent us a message and suspended a cabinet meeting for it.

    (Quotes via BBC)

Fourth-Tier Calais RUFC Reach the French Cup Final in 2000

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    Calais RUFC shocked France and the rest of the football-watching world when they made it all the way to the Coupe De France final in 2000.

    The team of teachers, dock workers and office clerks from the fourth-tier of the French league system found themselves in the quarter-finals when they beat the likes of Lille and Cannes, and then their run continued when they beat Ligue 1 side Strasbourg 2-1 in the last eight.

    The run seemed certain to end when they took on Bordeaux, the previous year's league champions, in the semi-final in Lens, yet they improbably beat them 3-1 after extra-time.

    And when they took the lead in the final against Nantes through Jerome Dutitre, people actually started to believe that they could win the tournament, but Antoine Sibierski equalised for their Ligue 1 opponents and then stroked home a debatable penalty in the final minute to break the hearts of Calais and plenty of football romantics.

    To their credit though, Nantes insisted that their beaten opponents should lift the cup with them, with Calais skipper Reginald Becque holding aloft the trophy alongside Nantes' captain and future French international goalkeeper Mickael Landreau.

Greece Win Euro 2004

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    A triumph for organisation and determination over flair and fantasy, Greece's shock Euro 2004 win still feels scarcely believable 10 years on.

    Going into the the tournament, the Greeks had only ever appeared at two major international competitions before, whilst their surprise win over hosts Portugal in the opening match was their first ever at a tournament. It was to prove an omen.

    After drawing with Spain and losing to Russia, they scraped past the Spaniards to qualify from their group on goals scored, before stunning France in the quarter-final to win 1-0, courtesy of an Angelos Charisteas goal.

    The much-fancied Czechs were next in the semi-final in Porto, but defender Traianos Dellas did for them when he scored a silver goal―the only ever one in a major competitive match―in the final minute of the first half of extra-time.

    Portugal were then hotly-tipped to beat the Greeks in the final and achieve glory in their home country, only for Charisteas' 57th minute header to earn the Greeks glory in Lisbon as the rest of Europe rubbed their eyes in disbelief.

Manchester United's Busby Babes Win the 1968 European Cup

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    The horror of the Munich air disaster on February 6th 1958, which killed eight members of Manchester United's back-to-back league championship winning team, leaving two others with injuries which meant they couldn't play again, is something that is written large in the history of English football and is still keenly felt at Old Trafford.

    The young team managed by Matt Busby had been dubbed "the Busby Babes" in the media, with football left in mourning as the plane carrying United back from a European Cup quarter-final against Red Star Belgrade crashed having stopped to refuel in Munich, killing 23 people.

    Busby himself had suffered life-threatening injuries, but he was determined to carry on and rebuild his team, even taking them to the FA Cup final that season.

    Eventually United somehow recovered, winning the FA Cup in 1963 and then the league title in 1965 and 1967, before Busby's greatest ever achievement of leading them to the European Cup in 1968, 10 years after the deaths of talented, largely young players Duncan Edwards (21), Geoff Bent (25), Roger Byrne (28), Eddie Colman (21), Mark Jones (24), David Pegg (22), Tommy Taylor (26) and Liam "Billy" Whelan (22).

    Munich survivors Bill Foulkes and the team's captain, Bobby Charlton, who scored twice, were both in the team which beat Benfica 4-1 after extra-time at Wembley in 1968, sealing United's first European Cup a decade after their lowest ebb. 


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