Football

Against All the Odds: Unfancied Teams that made Champions League History

With unfancied AS Monaco battling their way into the Champions League semi-finals against all expectations, we walk down the memory lane and pick out the four teams who fought their way into the last four and one of them even defied all the odds to claim European glory:

 

DYNAMO KIEV (1998/99)

The 1998/99 season of the Champions League is always remembered for the injury time heroics that helped Manchester United snatch away the title from the jaws of defeat but it might have been a completely different scenario had Ukraine's most successful got their way. Managed by the legendary Valeriy Lobanovskyi who was in his third spell with the club and inspired by another Ukraine great Andriy Shevchenko on the pitch, Kiev took the competition by storm. Dynamo Kiev had to go through the two qualifying rounds which saw them thrash Welsh champions Barry Town and edge Czech champions Sparta Prague on penalties to reach the group stage. The capital outfit topped their group ahead of Arsenal and booked a quarter-final showdown against reigning champions Real Madrid.

 

 

After playing a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu, a Shevchenko brace in the return leg condemned the Los Blancos to a shock exit. In the semis, Dynamo squared off with Bayern Munich — a team they defeated to lift the UEFA Super Cup back in 1975. Shevchenko was at it again with a brace and Dynamo led the first-leg 3-1 with 12 minutes remaining. However, the Bavarians mounted a comeback out of nothing with goals from Stefan Effenburg and Carsten Jancker restoring parity. The recovery was completed in the return leg at the Olympiastadion where Mario Basler's 35th-minute strike was enough to send the Germans into the final. To date, Dynamo Kiev remains the last Ukrainian side to reach so far in Europe's elite club competition. Andriy Shevchenko finished the European campaign as the joint top-scorer alongside Dwight Yorke with 8 goals.

 

 

LEEDS UNITED (2000/01)

Leeds United have been struggling to make inroads into the Premier League for well over a decade now but at the turn of the century, they were a force to reckon with. Boasting the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Mark Viduka, Lucas Radebe at their disposal, the Elland Road outfit had the youthful exuberance which had the potential to make the club go places. The David O'Leary managed side had a pretty successful European outing in the previous season when they reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup only to be knocked out by the eventual winners Galatasaray and continued from where they left off in the Champions League. The Whites entered the competition in the third qualifying round where they pipped 1860 Munich to secure a group stage berth.

Leeds were allocated a nightmare first group stage draw when they were drawn alongside heavyweights AC Milan and Barcelona. But against all the odds, they progressed as runners-up to the second group stage at the expense of Barcelona and in the process, recorded famous wins over AC Milan (1-0) and Besiktas (6-0) at Elland Road. The second group stage saw them share the stage with defending champions Real Madrid, Italian side Lazio and Belgian champions Anderlecht. Once again, the Whites defied the odds to advance to the quarter-finals where they met another underdog in Deportivo La Coruña. 

 

 

Leeds held their nerves to topple the Spanish side 3-2 on aggregate and advance to the semis where they crossed swords with their fourth Spanish opponent of the campaign — Valencia. After playing out a goalless stalemate at Elland Road, Valencia turned on the heat at Mestalla as they ran out 3-0 winners to advance to their second consecutive Champions League final. Leeds felled a step short of forcing a repeat of the 1975 final against Bayern Munich who were the eventual winners of the tournament. This was their final hurrah in the competition before dropping down into the second division three years later. Lee Bowyer was their highest scorer in the competition with 6 goals.

 

 

BAYER LEVERKUSEN (2001/02)

Leverkusen looks all set to miss out on Champions League football next season for the first time in five years. However, 15-years ago, they did once come within a whisker of lifting the most coveted honour in European club football. Die Werkself were then managed by Klaus Toppmöller who was in his first season in-charge at the club. Bayer had some top quality players like Michael Ballack, Lucio and Oliver Neuville at their disposal and this trio, a year later, played a key role in leading their respective national teams to the FIFA World Cup final. The Red and Blacks began their European venture in the third qualifying round where they comfortably defeated Red Star Belgrade en route to ensuring a group stage spot. The first group stage saw them finish second behind Barcelona and even defeated the Catalans at the BayArena. 

In the second group stage, they were drawn in the 'group of death' alongside giants like Arsenal, Juventus and Deportivo La Coruña. However, not only did Leverkusen qualify but they also topped the group ahead of the two overwhelming favourites in the Gunners and Bianconeri with neither club able to make it to the quarter-finals, where they took on the reigning UEFA Cup and Super Cup champions Liverpool in an exhilarating tie. After losing 1-0 at Anfield in the first-leg, a frantic last 26 minutes at the BayArena saw Lucio strike gold by heading in the tie-clinching goal six minutes from time as Bayer Leverkusen forced their way into the semi-finals with a 4-3 aggregate win.

 

 

The German didn't stop there as it was the turn of yet another English side in Manchester United to face the music. Leverkusen edge the Red Devils via away goals with the tie ending 3-3 after 180 minutes of play and in the process, secured their first-ever Champions League final appearance. Unfortunately, the dream run came to an end in Glasgow as Zinedine Zidane's masterful volley helped reclaim their lost crown at the expense of Die Werkself. This agonising defeat capped off the season as a 'Treble horror' as Bayer Leverkusen became the first club ever to finish runner-up in both the Champions League and domestic league and cup competitions in the same season. Michael Ballack was the club's top-scorer with 6 goals in the competition.

 

 

FC PORTO (2003/04)

The 2003/04 season marked the watershed moment in Jose Mourinho's promising managerial career as he led Porto to back-to-back European titles. The Dragons were given a competitive group which comprised the likes of the star-studded Real Madrid and Olympique Marseille but they expertly navigated through it with the only blip coming at home against Los Blancos. Handed a fascinating two-legged Round of 16 tie against Manchester United, this was where Mourinho and Porto began their rise to overnight stardom. A Benni McCarthy brace inspired Porto to a 2-1 win at the Dragão after being a goal down.

Paul Scholes' glanced headed strike 32 minutes into the return leg seemed enough to seal the tie on away goals for the English champions but just when it looked like all but over, Costinha pounced on to a rebound in the 90th-minute to send shock waves across Old Trafford. The Blue and Whites, defying all the odds, progressed into the quarter-finals to face Olympique Lyonnais. The Portuguese outfit fended off the French challenge with ease winning 4-2 on aggregate and secured a first semi-final spot in nearly two decades.

 

 

Jose Mourinho's men then squared off against another underdog in Deportivo La Coruña, who were brimming with confidence coming into the match following their remarkable comeback to oust the defending champions AC Milan. The hard-fought battle was decided by a Derlei spot-kick at the Riazor which proved enough for Porto to contest just their second final in the history of the competition. And the Dragons certainly preserved their best for the last, dismantling AS Monaco 3-0 to become the first non-top-four European league team in 12 years to lift the coveted title. No Portuguese club since then has gone on to reach the semi-finals of the competition let alone win it.

Though Porto couldn't complete an elusive treble as they lost out to arch-rivals Benfica in the Portuguese Cup final in the days leading to the Champions League final in Gelsenkirchen, the triumphant campaign provided the launchpad to many members of that squad including the manager himself. Benni McCarthy was the surprisingly the top-scorer in the competition for Porto with just 4 goals but Deco was the joint-highest assist-maker of the tournament with 6 which shows how much of a team effort it was leading to success.

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