Will Leicester City be spoken of as another European success story come the end of the season?
Leicester City are embarking on a their first European journey following their unprecedented league title triumph last season. Claudio Ranieri’s men are taking steps into the unknown but they can take solace and inspiration from those who have gone before them.
They are not the first underdogs to have entered the competition with big dreams, and the likes Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy will be praying they can add another impressive piece of silverware to the trophy cabinet come May.
Such is the unpredictability of the Champions League, there have been a number of unexpected fairytale stories, with unknown quantities sneaking their way to the final.
Take a look at five of the best Champions League underdog stories to date:
1978/1979 – Nottingham Forest
When Leicester romped to the league title last season, they were likened to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest whose ascent to power was of a similarly incredible nature.
Following Clough’s appointment in 1975, with the club in the Second Division, they went on the gain promotion and subsequently stun the country with a title win at the first attempt.
While their domestic dream had been achieved, the European fairytale had only just begun as they knocked out holders Liverpool in the first round. Wins over AEK Athens, Grasshoppers and Koln followed before the English champions recorded a 1-0 victory over Swedish outfit Malmo in the Munich final.
As if that triumph wasn’t enough, they would go on to record a successive European Cup win the following campaign – an achievement only AC Milan have managed since.
2003/2004 – FC Porto
Jose Mourinho had made a minor dent on the European stage in lifting the UEFA Cup the previous May, but it was in Gelsenkirchen where he truly announced himself.
The Champions League final pairing of FC Porto and AS Monaco was one that nobody would have predicted at the start of the season, but both sides deserved their places.
The Portuguese outfit had advanced from a group containing Real Madrid, Marseille and Partizan Belgrade before famously knocking out Manchester United in the next round. They would defeat both Lyon and Deportivo La Coruna in the next two stages before dispatching of Monaco in what turned out to be a one-sided final.
Goals from Carlos Alberto, Deco and Dmitri Alenichev secured the club’s first ever Champions League. Mourinho would be appointed as Chelsea coach the following week, and Porto have since failed to make it past the quarter-finals of the competition.
2004/2005 – Liverpool
The Champions League proved to be a saving grace for Rafa Benitez in his first season as Liverpool boss. A poor domestic showing saw the club finish behind Everton in the league, three points outside the top four, but all was quickly forgotten once Steven Gerrard hoisted aloft the club’s fifth European Cup.
Having snuck into the competition via a qualifier, Liverpool unconvincingly qualified from their group, needing a dramatic long-range effort from Steven Gerrard in their final game against Olympiakos to assure progress.
They adopted a steelier resolve in the knock-out rounds, grinding out hard-fought wins against Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus and Chelsea before setting up a meeting with star-studded opponents AC Milan in the Istanbul final.
Despite trailing by three goals at the break, Rafa Benitez’ side roared back on level terms in six manic minutes before dramatically lifting the cup on penalties. It has gone down as arguably the greatest night in the club’s history, and certainly one of the most dramatic European Cup finals of all time.
1981/1982 – Aston Villa
Aston Villa had never played in the European Cup before the 81/82 season, when Tony Barton’s side defeated Dynamo Berlin, Dynamo Kiev and Anderlecht en route to the final.
Bayern Munich were the formidable opponents, boasting a side containing the likes of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Klaus Augenthaler. Despite being outplayed for much of the game, the English side kept the scores level before Peter Withe bagged the match-winner to seal the club’s first and only European Cup triumph.
1966/1967 – Celtic
Jock Stein’s Celtic were lauded during the 66/67 season for their attacking style, and it paid off with a ticket to a first ever European Cup final.
Defeating FC Zurich, Nantes and Vojvodina on their journey, the Scottish champions saw them lock horns with Internazionale, who were competing in their second European Cup final in three years. Helenio Herrara’s defensive-minded ‘cattenacio’ brand of football had served as a brick wall for much of the tournament, but had received much criticism.
Stein’s side offered a refreshing approach as they attacked from the off. They would overturn Sandro Mazzola’s early penalty via second-half goals from Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers, securing the club’s first and only European Cup final.
‘The Lisbon Lions’ are considered to be the greatest side in the club’s history.