The 10 Great Underdogs In Football (Part 2)

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Wimbledon (1988)

Wimbledon's rise to the First Division itself had been a hectic scramble. Within six years, they had risen from the fourth division to the first. Their football left much to be desired, with the beauty of the game sacrificed for results. This will have been of will concern to their fans though, and Wimbledon's journey culminated with their glorious FA Cup triumph of 1988.

The journey to the final saw them overcome West Brom, Mansfield Town, Newcastle United, Watford and Luton Town, a reasonable enough list of scalps as it is. In the final, however, they came up against the great beast of the English game, Liverpool FC who had already won six league titles and an FA Cup in the '80s alone and were looking to complete a League-Cup double here. Their starting XI featured the likes of Alan Hansen, Bruce Grobbelaar, Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge and John Barnes. If football were played on paper, it would have been a comprehensive win for Liverpool.

The game itself is the stuff of FA Cup legend, with Lawrie Sanchez handing Wimbledon the lead. In the second half, Liverpool won a penalty, and Aldridge stepped up. However, Dave Beasant stopped it, becoming the first 'keeper to save a penalty in an FA Cup Final at Wembley. Wimbledon held off more pressure from the champions to defend their lead until the final whistle, at which point, the "Crazy Gang" went wild, as against all the odds, they had overcome one of the finest sides in Europe.

Denmark (1992)

Though not quite on a par with Greece's European Championship in terms of its shock value, Denmark's victory at EURO 92 was still rather unexpected. Denmark weren't even going to be playing in the tournament, but Yugoslavia, who won Denmark's qualifying group, were banned for political reasons, and Denmark stepped in as a late replacement. After this reprieve, they began the tournament unspectacularly, drawing 0-0 with England in their opening game before losing 1-0 to hosts Sweden. They needed to win their final game against France to progress. Denmark took an early lead, but France hit back, and it looked like Denmark would be heading home. However, 12 minutes from time Lars Elstrup scored to send them through to the semifinals.

There, they faced Holland. Twice Denmark took the lead, but they were pegged back both times, Holland's second equaliser coming heartbreakingly late, in the 86th minute. The game went to penalties, and Denmark scored with all five of theirs, whilst Marco Van Basten missed for Holland to send Denmark through to a final with a newly unified Germany. The Dane's took the lead after less than 20 minutes, and with just over 10 to go, they wrapped up their victory with a Kim Vilfort goal, sealing one of the finest moments in the nation's sporting history.

Denmark was a team without any genuine star quality. The closest they had was goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and Brian Laudrup. The victory was made even more impressive by the fact that Brian's brother, Michael, the side's star playmaker, had retired from international football and didn't appear in the tournament. With the way in which they "qualified" for the tournament, their late goal against France and their penalty shoot out victory over Holland, it seems that, if a team was ever destined to win an international tournament, it was Denmark in 1992.

Greece (2004)

Always an obvious choice for any list of underdogs, Greece's triumph at the 2004 European Championships was remarkable. Grouped with Russia, hosts Portugal and their neighbours Spain, few would have even given Greece a chance of progressing beyond the group stage. But they pulled off a shock 2-1 victory over their hosts in the opening game, before drawing 1-1 with Spain. They were defeated 2-1 by Russia in the final group game but progressed ahead of Spain on virtue of goals scored.

In the knockout stage, they defeated France and the Czech Republic, both games finishing 1-0. They faced a rematch with Portugal in the final, with their hosts eager for revenge after the humiliation of the opening game. But Greece held out, and in extra time, Traianos Dellas netted the winner, stunning the footballing world. Greece's triumph was based largely on their defensive solidarity (they didn't concede a goal in the knockout stage of the tournament), and great credit must go to their experienced manager Otto Rehhagel.

Greece are occasionally condemned for the defensive style of football they played in the tournament. However, when the resources available are so limited in comparison to their opponents, that style of football was the only way in which Greece had any hope of being competitive, and their victory is a true triumph for the underdog.

Liverpool (2005)

Liverpool's Champions League triumph in 2005 has to go down as one of the greatest shocks in the competition in its more modern format - perhaps the greatest. Liverpool only finished fifth in the Premiership that season, showing the weakness of their squad. However, by a mixture of managerial brilliance, some magnificent individual performances and luck, they managed to win the tournament. Liverpool's campaign very nearly ground to a halt in the group stage, with the side needing to score three goals to progress having fallen 1-0 behind against Olympiacos. A Steven Gerrard wonder goal eventually saw them through, but thoughts of the final were nothing more than a dream for Liverpool fans.

Confidence grew as they thumped Bayer Leverkusen 6-2 on aggregate before being drawn against Italian champions Juventus. A narrow 2-1 win at Anfield led to a nervy second leg in Turin, with one goal capable of swinging the balance of the tie, but Liverpool, without Gerrard, hung on for a 0-0 draw to progress. Chelsea were next up, and once again the triumph was achieved by the narrowest of margins, a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge followed up by a 1-0 win at Anfield thanks to a controversial Luis Garcia goal, edging Liverpool through to the final.

There, they faced the might of AC Milan, a side boasting the likes of Kaka, Andriy Shevchenko, Andrea Pirlo and Paolo Maldini. Milan raced into a 3-0 lead, and at half time, it appeared that it was all over for Liverpool. An early second half header from Gerrard gave Liverpool hope, and within six minutes, they were level thanks to further strikes from Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso. The game eventually went to penalties, and Jerzy Dudek imitated former Red's 'keeper Bruce Grobbelaar's "Wobbly Legs" tactic. Dudek saved two penalties whilst Serginho blasted his over the crossbar. Shevchenko missed the vital kick, handing Liverpool the European glory and completing one of the greatest comebacks and one of the greatest underdog victories, in football history.

Luton Town (2009)

The Johnstones Paint Trophy may not be the highest profile tournament in the world, and this may stand out as a somewhat controvertial, perhaps bizarre, choice. Yet Luton's victory in the 2009 edition of the competition is admirable regardless. Though perhaps not the biggest on-pitch upset, it stands out as meaningful resistance by the club. Indeed, it could be said that it represented a victory for the club against the FA themselves.

The club had been handed a 30-point deduction after going into administration, a penalty which had, essentially, condemned the club to relegation out of the Football League. Despite this, Luton continued to battle on and reached the final of the Johnstones Paint Trophy at Wembley, where they faced Scunthorpe United, a side which would go on to win promotion to the Championship via the league one playoffs that very season.

Luton twice took the lead but were pegged back both times by Scunthorpe, with their second equaliser coming just two minutes from the end of normal time. However, Claude Gnapka scored early in extra time, and it proved to be the winner, with Luton celebrating in front of around 40,000 of their fans who had made the trip to Wembley. Just eight days later, Luton were relegated from the Football League. Luton may not be the most popular football club in England, but putting all that aside, this victory stood as a last act of defiance, almost a refusal to be beaten by whatever penalty be thrown at them.

Related Article:
The 10 Great Underdogs In Football (Part 1)

Source: FIFA, UEFA, English FA, Wikipedia

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