Defeating a team richer and with better players than yours is easy to do in a match-off, but even if you do that, that doesn’t assure you any success in the long term. We have seen plenty and plenty of upsets throughout football history and that won’t chance never, but teams that defeated all the odds and won championships beating bigger squads in the process? That is completely different.
Although squads with a lot of money tend to win every competition they play, there have been cases of teams that with nothing but order, hard work and a clear idea of how to play made the impossible and won trophies when anybody thought they were even good to play in a certain tournament or against certain rival.
This is football and anything can happen here, as these teams are proof of that. Pulling off those feats are anything but easy, so here are 10 title winners that shocked the world.
Honorable Mention: Montpellier (2011/12 Ligue 1)
10. Boavista (2000/01 Primeira Liga)
We start off the list with the magical history –like all the ones we have here- of Boavista, a club that upset the status quo of the Primeira Liga during the first years of the new millennium. Led by Joao de Loureiro as chairman and Porto ex-midfielder Jaime Pacheco, Boavista started a revolution in Portugal that ended up with the winning the title.
With the dominance of Porto, Benfica and Sporting Club at his peak, nobody could tell these two guys and a bunch of young players were able to do anything against the Big Three. Well, history proved everybody wrong, as they won the Primeira Liga back in 2001, displaying a game based on pace and order. They were the best defense of the tournament with 21 goals conceded and the second best in goals scored with 63 –only behind city neighbors Porto.
Boavista made sure to tell everybody they were there to take it all; they had very good performances in Europe and were set to keep things like that. They did in fact, but things went wrong when they were involved in a scandal that sent them to the 2nd tier.
9. Denmark (1992 UEFA Euro)
Perhaps this happened in a continental tournament, but it still was shocking for the entire world, since a team that failed to qualify to the cup ended up winning it. Euro has a lot of these stories and this might be the beginning of that. After finishing as runners-up to Yugoslavia, Denmark players were thinking of vacation more than anything else and with more than one week, they were notified to have a team ready to play for the Euro ‘92.
Denmark landed in a group with hosts Sweden, France, and England. They faced two big favorites and the home team and still, they managed to qualify to the next phase. Later Denmark went on to play against current holders, Netherlands, in arguably the best game of the tournament. They won the penalty shoot-out after tying 2-2 in extra time.
The final was here and after playing against France, England, and the Netherlands, Denmark had to take on Germany, a much favorite team. Thanks to goals from John Jensen and Kim Vilfort, respectively, the Danish took the W and the trophy home, as their fairytale was complete.
8. Steaua Bucuresti (1986 European Cup)
Steaua became the first European Cup champion from Eastern Europe in 1986 where they clashed with none other than Barcelona. They had everything against them, as not only they were facing that impressive rival, but the game was played in Sevilla, so Barcelona didn’t need much to win on the preview. The difference of quality of both teams and the quality of the teams each one faced in the prior rounds made this game look like it was finished before the beginning.
After 120 scoreless minutes, the winner of the game and the tournament had to be decided via a penalty shoot-out and that was where the Rumanian stood up and said they had what it takes to defeat the Spanish giants and took the cup back home. Steaua’s goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam saved every single one spot-kick from Barcelona and gave his team a title that nobody will forget.
7. KV Mechelen (1988 European Cup Winners’ Cup)
Back in a long time, before all those teams that have a big budget thanks to eccentric owners, the Belgian team KV Mechelen was doing the exact same thing. During the 80s, Belgian electronic mogul John Cordier decided it was time for him to become president of a football team and so he did.
Under his leadership and thanks to his financial support, Mechelen considerably improved its game, what took them to play in the Cup Winners Cup, win it and undefeated throughout the entire tournament. They counted with impressive players like Leo Clijster and winger Eli Ohana back in the time, names that served them to win the continental tournament during his first European campaign.
They defeated Ajax by 1-0 in the final; a team which had future legends like Danny Blind and Dennis Bergkamp in its ranks. Mechelen remains as the only team from Belgium to ever win a European title.
6. Nottingham Forest (1978/79, 1979/80 European Cup)
The legendary English club reached the glory not once, but twice during the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s. Bryan Clough and Peter Taylor worked together to make a team who wasn’t used to have many glories into one that knew how to win and did it consistently. That’s Nottingham Forest, a little team that became big in the span of four years.
When Clough and Taylor landed in the team, the Reds ranked 13th in division two, but that didn’t stop them to create something from anything. During the 1978/79 season, they had to beat current European Cup champions Liverpool and German champions FC Koln on their journey to the final. In the big game hosted in Munich, they defeated Malmo thanks to Trevor Francis’ header that sealed final for the English side.
If that wasn’t enough, they did the same the following year, when they beat Hamburg to 1-0, becoming the first club to have more European Cup championships than domestic league’s.
5. Hellas Verona (1984/85 Serie A)
Hellas Verona set an example for Leicester City, as the provincial team won the Serie A in a time where the league was considered the best in the world and counted with many legends in its teams; this remains as one of the biggest feats ever achieved by any team.
You had Napoli of Diego Maradona, Michel Platini’s Juventus, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s Internazionale, Roma with Falcao, and Zico in Udinese. None of them could do anything in front of manager Osvaldo Bagnoli and star Antonio de Gennaro’s team. All those squads were defeated in their quest for the Scudetto by the regional side, that had a marvelous season and shocked own and strange by winning the Serie A title.
4. West Germany (1954 FIFA World Cup)
The 1954 FIFA World Cup final is the prime example of a team that shows heart and takes advantage of the chances your rival gives you. This is what happened in this game, where a team full of amateur players with no experience had to face not only the best team of that time but the entire history of football.
That’s right; this game is considered a miracle by many people since the national team of West Germany was full of players with no professional experience but a lot of heart. They had to face the Hungary national team that counted with some of the best players in the world at that time, including Real Madrid legend Ferenc Puskas among others.
With two goals within the first 10 minutes of the game, the Hungarian players decided to relax while the Germans kept looking for the game. They surprisingly tied the game and with only six minutes remaining, Helmut Rahn put the definite score that gave Germany its first World Cup title and marked the Miracle of Bern.
3. Porto (2003/04 UEFA Champions League)
Even though Porto won the European tournament a few decades earlier, this title came as a total surprise even for the most optimistic fan of the Dragons. Jose Mourinho led a team that confirmed what they had done in the UEFA Cup the prior season, defeating great rivals, with authority, in the process.
For instance, the Portuguese had to face Real Madrid and even if they couldn’t defeat the Spanish side, that had to serve for the next challenges to come. Porto clashed with Manchester United in the round of 16 and it looked like that was it for Mourinho’s guys, but Costinha had the last word when he eliminated the Red Devils. Following that their path was easier, eliminating Lyon with relative ease and fighting with another surprise, Deportivo La Coruña, for a spot in the final.
Curiously, the final was the easiest game for the team, as they destroyed French revelation Monaco by 3-0 in a magical night in Gelsenkirchen that was the definite introduction of the Special One to football elite.
2. Leicester City (2015/16 Premier League)
This has been the more recent episode of these cases where a Cinderella team manages to beat the odds and the rivals in order to get to the highest spot of the leaderboard. Similar to what happened to Hellas Verona more than 30 years ago, Leicester had to face fierce competition in England and even though at the end they fought they title only with Tottenham, the Foxes had to face and defeat the so-called top-six clubs of England.
Luckily for Claudio Ranieri’s boys, the miracle happened and Leicester shocked and made the world happy by becoming Premier League champions in a league with some of the best clubs and players in the entire continent. That season was magical for everybody in the organization and after three years of the event, many people remember that as a very magical moment in football. Players like Jamie Vardy or Riyad Mahrez saw how their careers changed after that campaign.
1. Greece (2004 UEFA Euro)
Greece warned us all what they were going to do in the very first game of the tournament when they upset host team –and one of the favorites for the title- Portugal by 2-1. They went to tied with Spain in the second game, eliminating the Iberian and inscribing their name in the next stage of the tournament. Just when everybody thought that was it for them, they said different and continue their path of upsets.
Greece faced current holders France in quarter-finals and even though Zidane and co. made them live a nightmare, they knew how to overcome that. Then in semis, they faced the other surprise of the tournament and one of the funniest teams this tournament has seen recently the Czech Republic. Another hard time for the Greeks, but they managed to beat Milan Baros and his teammates in extra time.
It was the same history in the final, with Portugal again trailing against Greece. The Lusitanians tried and tried but Antonios Nikopolidis and his defense did everything to stop those attempts until Angelos Charisteas scored the only goal of the final that made Greece one the most surprising champion we’ve seen in football.