Greece are the reigning European champions. Artmedia Petrzalka and Thun are competing in the Champions' League. Once Caldas won the Copa Libertadores last year. Hello!? Where is soccer going? But, upsets are nothing new.
There have been quite a few in history: Denmark won a European championships without even qualifying. Italy lost to Korea. North Korea. Albania stopped Germany. Steaua beat Barcelona in Seville by 2-0 and that was on penalties. Mechelen won a Cup Winners' Cup. Here comes the ultimate selection of the biggest upsets since the Second World War, according to the Soccerphile's jury!
It's been 16 months since the event and many still cannot believe how such an utter underdog carried away one of the biggest prizes in the world of sports. Without a single international star, with several good club players in Haristeas, Zagorakis, Yannakopoulos, Basinas, Karagounis and an extraordinary coach in Otto Rehhagel, the Greeks succeeded on the basis of tactical discipline, fanatical commitment and supreme fitness. At the final tournament they beat Portugal twice, and France and the Czech Republic between the two wins over the hosts. It was a miracle of miracles, but a deserved one.
Italy needed a point to reach the quarterfinals of the 1966 World Cup in England, but the Koreans, whose tallest player measured about 169 cm, won their only World Cup game at Ayresome Park in Middlesbrough. Pak Doo Ik was the guy who scored the winner and he got an automobile for that from the North Korean government. The Italian squad on their return to Rome met with a shower of tomatoes and eggs.
England faced a US team at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. Had it been a World Cup in basketball, well, the US would have been expected to win big. It was soccer though and an English walkover was in order. But, a group of eleven guys from the States defeated eleven top professionals from the cradle of soccer. Gaetjens scored the winner in the 38th minute. Borghi even saved a second half penalty from Stan Mortensen. However, only a few Americans know of this game, despite the movie, The Game of Their Lives. Too bad for them.
It isn't that Denmark were bad, not at all. But, they were far from the best team in the final stage in Sweden and no-one counted on them in the first place because they had not qualified. Yugoslavia finished ahead of them. After the qualifiers, Yugoslavia fell apart and its remains, Serbia and Montenegro, earned themselves severe UN sanctions over the war in Bosnia. UEFA was forced to follow suit kicking out the rump-Yugoslavia and bringing in Denmark instead. With a week's worth of preparations, without their top player Michael Laudrup at odds with coach Möller-Nielsen, the Danes started poorly, but picked up and went on to beat France, Holland and finally the world champions Germany.
Maybe Uruguay would have been the favourites on their soil, but not at a Brazilian World Cup. During the tournament, Brazil had been running riot (4-0 against Mexico, 6-1 against Spain, 7-1 against Sweden) while Uruguay were barely scraping through. In the decider the hosts, with 200,000 fans behind them, needed just a point to finish as winners. They were even 1-0 up midway through the second half. But, the visitors turned the things around to 1-2 causing a ghastly silence at Maracaná.
In the qualifiers for Euro 1967 West Germany, World Cup runners-up, had to beat Albania in Tirana to qualify ahead of Yugoslavia. They had already beaten the Albanians 6-0 so there was no question how the game would end. Amazingly, Albania held on to a 0-0 draw playing for mere prestige, unless then friendly neighbouring socialist countries had arranged a bonus or something.
* Boca Juniors play Once Caldas in the Copa Libertadores finals.
* On-ce Cal-das.
* Ok. Let us know by how many goals Boca won, because Boca are five times South American champions, and we don't know about Once Caldas.
* So, what was the score?
* Once Caldas won.
* On-ce Cal-das, of Colombia.
* But it's unbelievable!
* So it is.
Artmedia Petrzalka. Slovakian champions. The Scots must have been laughing their heads off when they drew this team in the second preliminary round of the 2005/06 Champions League. Then they lost to them in Bratislava by five goals to nil. Artmedia later knocked out Partizan Belgrade and went on to beat Porto by 3-2 away from home. Their future wins will not cause any more surprise, but that 5-0 against Celtic was the big summer story of 2005.
Barcelona had never been European champions but surely they were going to be now. The finals was played in Seville and the 60,000 crowd at Sanchez Pizjuan stood firmly behind Barcelona. But, the arrogant Spaniards underestimated the Romanian army team, backed by Valentin Ceausescu, the more normal of dictator Nicolae's two sons. Steaua played it safe for 120 minutes waiting for the penalty shootout, where Helmut Duckadam performed some magic tricks by stopping all four Barça's penalties. The final result was 2-0 for Steaua and Bucharest saw the biggest celebrations until the 1989 revolution.
Tiny Faroe Islands played their first competitive game on September 12th 1990 against Austria. They received the Austrians in Landskrona, Sweden, as there were no playable pitches in the Faroe Islands. The best known man in their national team was the Dane Alan Simonsen, 1977 Golden Ball winner. The Faroes beat Austria by 1-0, although Simonsen was just the coach.
Sunderland, a 250-1 pre-tournament underdog, pulled off the biggest upset in FA Cup history by coming out of the Second Division to beat the defending champions Leeds United 1-0. Sunderland were the first Second Division team to win the trophy for 42 years and their achievement was all the greater for being achieved against a terrific, all-conquering Don Revie's side containing 11 internationals.
In the mid-eighties tycoon John Cordier took over this small Belgian provincial side, injecting several dozen million dollars into the team. It was wonderful because Mechelen recruited internationals from all over the place and went straight to the top of Belgian and European soccer. In their first ever appearance, they won the trophy without a defeat, beating Ajax in the finals 1-0. Soon the European Supercup followed to the small stadium romantically named Behind the Barracks. A few years later Cordier decided the deal was not paying off. Today, Mechelen are a respectable third-division side.
Turkish grounds are hot and the red-and-yellow stripes on Galatasaray's shirts reflect the fire burning in fans' hearts on Ali Sami Yen stadium. Still, "Gala" did not look like a cup-winning material when Chelsea beat them 5-0 away early in the season. Worse, Milan were winning by 2-1 in the decisive game for a UEFA Cup place with ten minutes to go. Then "Gala" sensationally turned the score to 3-2 to stay in Europe and stage a magnificent upset in spring. Sükür and Hagi led Galatasaray in the finals in Copenhagen where Arsenal were beaten 4-1 on penalties.
France came to Japan and Korea carrying three trophies: World Cup, European Championship and Confederations Cup. However, they were stunned on their debut by Senegal, whose midfielder Pape Bouba Diop scored the only goal after 30 minutes. The French were also unlucky; Trezeguet hit a post while it was 0-0, and Zidane limped off early with an injury.
Slovakia had another Artmedia in the late sixties. In fact, two Artmedias, because Spartak Trnava made it to the Champions' Cup semifinals in 1968/69. But, Slovan of Bratislava went all the way in the Cup Winners' Cup. In the finals, they shocked Barcelona (and everyone else) in a magnificent display in Basle. These were the beautiful times of equality in European soccer.
Inter, Milan, Juventus, Torino, Fiorentina, Napoli. These were the big Italian clubs of the eighties. But, in 1984/85 the League title went to aclub from a deep footballing province: Hellas Verona! The romantic city from the north saw its second great love story. Unlike the one about Romeo and Juliet, this one had a happy ending.
Ah, the mighty Videoton! Few people had heard of them before that magical season, but the Hungarian provincials had a special inspiration. They felled Paris SG, Partizan Belgrade and Manchester United before reaching the finals against Real Madrid. The Spaniards duly won the first leg in Szekesfehervar by 3-0 but the Hungarians struck back by 1-0 at Bernabeu, saying goodbye to Europe on a high note. Before returning to utter anonimity.
The creation of the big Olympique Lyon was nearing completion and a place in the Champions' League was expected as early as the autumn of 1999. But, the Lions were perhaps confused by the Slovenes' defeat to Ajax by 9-1 just two years earlier. It must have been terrible for the future kings of French soccer to lose to the Slovenian minnows twice, 0-1 at Gerland and 0-2 in the second leg in Maribor.
Nobody feared Panathinaikos in 1970/71. To be the champions of Greece meant little to the European continent. The team coached by mythical Ferenc Puskas took advantage of their rivals' arrogance, knocking out one after another: Slovan Bratislava, Everton and Red Star Belgrade. Particularly shocking was the semifinal clash against Red Star who had travelled to Athens with a 4-1 advantage, only to lose out on the away goals rule. In the finals at Wembley, Ajax fulfilled the expectations coming out winners by a deserving 2-0.
Argentina were the world champions from Mexico, Cameroon just a likeable African squad. At the 1990 World Cup opening at San Siro, the play did not reflect the huge difference in the teams' reputations. Omam-Biyik staggered Argentina and the world with a goal in the 67th minute, inflicting a shameful defeat on the champs. Later, wily Argentinians, albeit struggling, soldiered on and reached the finals, while Cameroon were to lose in the quarterfinals in that gigantic game with England.