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UEFA Champions League: Top three underdog victories

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The chills and thrills of the UEFA Champions League anthem are certain to send shivers down your spine. The excitement and the rapture that the competition brings is simply unparalleled, more so because there have been several underdog victories over the years.

While La Liga giants Real Madrid rule the Champions League province, every other season the tournament has seen its fair share of dark horses - be it Ajax from the 2018-19 season or AS Monaco from the 2016-17 campaign - rising to glory. 

Only a few underdogs, however, have gone on to defy the odds and lift the most coveted European trophy. On that note, today we take a look at three teams who made it happen on the biggest stage of all.

Borussia Dortmund (1996-97)

Borussia Dortmund had entered the 1996-97 Champions League season at the back of two consecutive Bundesliga titles, but winning Europe’s ultimate prize was still a far-fetched reality. The Die Borussen had started the campaign with a 2-1 win over Widzew Lodz, but ended the group stage a place behind leaders Atletico Madrid. They had a rather easy outing against Auxerre in the quarterfinals, but needed something special to brush aside Manchester United in the following round. A 1-0 win in both the legs meant the Germans booked their place in the final, where a mighty Juventus awaited them.

The Italian champions were clearly the favourites as their roster included the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Christian Vieri, Didier Deschamps and Alessandro Del Piero amongst others. Defying the odds, Dortmund took the lead through Karl-Heinz Reidle before the striker doubled the advantage minutes after the half-hour mark. Del Piero pulled one back in the 65th minute, but substitute Lars Ricken restored the advantage to guide the Germans to a 3-1 win over the Italians.

Manchester United (1998-99)

Manchester United’s victory over Bayern Munich in the 1998-99 Champions League final has etched its name as one of the best underdog stories of the competition. Led by Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United went against the odds not only because they went trophy-less in the season prior, but they had as many as seven players below 25 in their main roster. Be that as it may, it didn’t deteriorate their title challenge as they finished second in their group before beating Inter Milan in the quarter-finals followed by a close victory over Juventus in the semis. United had several holes to fill given the fact that they were without their captain Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, who both missed the final due to suspension.

This resulted in Ferguson making several changes in the starting XI, with Ryan Giggs missing out and a young David Beckham finding a place. Bayern Munich, captained by Oliver Kahn, got the early breakthrough through Mario Basler’s free-kick and the game was heading to a Bayern win before the miracle happened. With the game now in the added minutes, several United fans were making their way out of the Camp Nou devastated. But, little did they know that the young United brigade would turn it around in a mere three minutes. 

The Red Devils won a corner, which David Beckham fired. A muddle in the Bayern penalty area brought the ball to Giggs on the edge of the box, and with little to no space, the winger took a low hit with no real power. The only thing it needed was a little direction, which Teddy Sheringham gave to bring United on level terms. United forced another corner in the final 30 seconds and Sherringham once again played his role in laying the ball to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who tapped the ball in from three yards to make the impossible happen.

FC Porto (2003-04)

Jose Mourinho took over a struggling FC Porto team in 2002 with a promise of making them champions next year. Not only did he fulfil that promise but also guided the young Portuguese team to their first-ever UEFA Champions League title in 2003-04. Porto had dominated that particular season in almost every competition, even winning the Primeira Liga five weeks before the end of the season. While they lost Taca de Portugal to Benfica, they were rewarded with a greater prize when they defeated AS Monaco in the final.

Porto had a tough rout heading into the final. They drew one and lost their second group stage game and finished three points adrift of the group leaders Real Madrid in the table. It took plenty of hardship to get the better of Manchester United in the Round of 16, but they did it with real conviction before brushing aside Lyon and Deportivo La Coruna in the following rounds.

Up against AS Monaco, who had defeated Real Madrid and Bayern Munich en route to the final, Porto put on a dominant display right from the proceedings. They took the lead through Carlos Alberto six minutes before half-time, following which two goals in a span of four minutes in the final quarter saw Porto win the final 3-0.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Eric Cabanis

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