Four of the Biggest Underdog Winners of the UEFA Champions League
The UEFA Champions League is the pinnacle of European football. Some iconic teams have lifted the trophy while superstar players have become synonymous with stellar performances on the grandest stage. But sometimes, the heavyweights falter and an underdog manages to navigate the road to victory.
Prior to the tournament becoming a one-knockout-round competition back in 2004 there were plenty of shock winners. Red Star Belgrade powered their way to the trophy in 1991 and the team they defeated, French outfit Marseille, put that defeat behind them and won it all two years later. Lars Ricken’s wondergoal helped Borussia Dortmund to stop Juventus from successfully defending the trophy in 1997.
But since the tournament was revamped in 2004, there have been a number of teams that lifted the famed ‘Big-Eared’ trophy. And with the competition undergoing another transformation next year, we may never see an underdog winner again.
Real Madrid – 2021/22
We know what you’re thinking, “Real Madrid is a giant, how could they be underdogs?” It’s true that Los Blancos are the most successful club in the history of the Champions League with a mighty 14 trophies to their name. The latest soccer betting odds expect them to be contenders once more this season, making them the +650 second favorites. But, in the 2021/22 season, nobody expected them to go the distance and they proved everyone wrong with a fated run to old Big Ears.
Gone were the days of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane. Instead, a veteran Karim Benzema was the sole remaining galactico, supported by young Brazilian upstart Vinicus Jr. And they didn’t disappoint.
Their iconic French striker netted back-to-back hat tricks in the victories against favourites Paris Saint-Germain and holders Chelsea in the last 16 and quarter-finals. he then scored three goals in the two legs of the semifinals against Manchester City, a tie in which the record champions scored two goals in the final 60 seconds to send the tie to extra time.
In all three of those games, Real had to come back from the dead and they were underdogs in the final against Liverpool. But a man-of-the-match display from Thibaut Courtois and a second-half winner from Vinicius was enough to secure the victory and a record-extending 14th crown.
Chelsea – 2011/12
In the 2011/12 season, Chelsea was far from the favourites, especially considering their tumultuous season and managerial changes. Newly appointed manager Andre Villas-Boas was relieved of his duties after just seven months at the helm and replaced with former player Roberto Di Matteo on an interim basis. But the Italian brought veterans Frank Lampard, John Terry and Didier Drogba back into the fold after being exiled by their former manager, and his decision transformed the club’s fortunes.
The Blues managed to overturn a two-goal deficit to knockout Napoli in the last 16. In the semifinals, a backs-to-the-wall defensive display saw them defeat the heavily favoured Barcelona to reach the final, with Fernando Torres’ last-gasp strike that sealed the victory becoming one of the most iconic goals of the 21st century. In the final, they would have to face Bayern Munich in their own backyard, but more defensive heroics saw them win the trophy for the first time in their history after a penalty shootout victory.
Inter Milan – 2009/10
Inter Milan’s win in the 2009/10 season was a triumph of tactical genius. They had finished second in their group, but they eliminated the reigning champions, Barcelona, in the semi-finals. Jose Mourinho will always be remembered for his celebration after the final whistle blew at the Nou Camp, running onto the field with his arms raised high as if he were being crowned king in the stadium whose fans hated him the most.
In the final, they faced Bayern Munich in the Santiago Bernabeu and won 2-0 thanks to a brace from Argentine striker Diego Milito. But the Special One wouldn’t head back to Milan with his team. Instead, he remained in the Spanish capital and took over as manager of Real Madrid, leading Los Blancos to a record-breaking domestic campaign and chasing Pep Guardiola out of Catalonia.
Liverpool – 2004/05
In 2004/05, Liverpool was a long way from the team they are today. They had finished fifth in the Premier League and didn’t win a single away game in the group stages of the Champions League. But, somehow, they managed to defeat Italian champions Juventus and would-be English champions Chelsea en route to the Istanbul final.
Their miraculous comeback to overcome AC Milan in the final is a story that still baffles. It seemed like an easy win for the Rossoneri after a goal inside 60 seconds from Paolo Maldini as well as a brace from Hernan Crespo gave them a 3-0 halftime lead. But Liverpool had other ideas. Captain Steven Gerrard rallied The Reds who scored three goals in six chaotic minutes shortly after the break to level the score. Then, they clinched an unlikely win in the penalty shootout thanks to Jerzy Dudek’s heroics.