The 3 Most Unlikely European Champions in Modern History

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This season’s Champions League has gotten underway with a genuine bang, with last years’ finalists thumped 4-1 by Napoli and Chelsea’s surprise defeat to Dinamo Zagreb triggering the shock dismissal of manager Thomas Tuchel. 

The opening round of fixtures has seen Manchester City and PSG installed as outright favourites in the eyes of sportsbooks, while Reds’ fans may want to cash in on the BC Game bonus code to back their side to win at extended odds of 8/1.

While the Champions League has largely been dominated by Europe’s elite sides since the change in format in 1992, the European Cup that preceded it saw some genuinely unlikely winners. This was largely due to the straight knockout format deployed, which created a more even playing field for competing sides.

But who are the least likely European champions in modern history (including the UCL)? Let’s find out!

#3. Liverpool (2004/05)

Liverpool’s unlikely UCL win in 2005 came during an indifferent season for the Reds, who lifted the biggest trophy in club football despite only finishing fifth in the Premier League.

Their Champions League campaign was fraught with tension and dramatic comebacks too, with the side claiming just four points from their opening three group stage matches. They also needed to win their final group match against Olympiakos at Anfield, before coming from a goal behind to win 3-1 and seal their place in the last 16.

Subsequent victories followed against Bayer Leverkusen and Juventus, before Luis Garcia’s so-called “ghost goal” sealed a 1-0 aggregate win against Chelsea a place in Istanbul.

In one of the Champions League’s most iconic finals, a brilliant and Kaka-inspired AC Milan side roared into a 3-0 lead at half-time. However, Steven Gerrard’s spectacular header pulled a goal back, before further strikes by Vladimir Smicer and Xavi Alonso clawed back the deficit completely.

Liverpool subsequently won a tense penalty shootout, as Jerzy Dudek made a decisive save from Andriy Shevchenko to secure the Reds’ fifth UCL crown.

#2. Nottingham Forest (1979/80)

Nottingham Forest started the 1976/77 season in the old Second Division, but manager Brian Clough’s decision to revamp a tired squad saw the side finish third and return to the top flight.

Incredibly, Clough’s cheaply-assembled squad then swept to the First Division title at the first attempt, overcoming Liverpool and making history in the process.

As if this wasn’t enough, Forest then achieved the feat of winning the European Cup in 1978/79, before incredibly retaining their title with a 1-0 win over Hamburg at the Bernabeu in the final.

John Roberston scored the decisive goal in Spain, while this indefatigable Forest side became just the seventh side to retain their European crown (and second English team after Liverpool).

#1. Steaua Bucharest (1985/86)

In the UCL era, it’s hard to imagine an unfancied Eastern European side even making a run into the latter stages of the tournament, let alone emerging victorious and lifting the trophy.

However, the Romanian side Steaua Bucharest became the first side from the East to achieve this feat in the 1985/86 season, overcoming Spanish giants Barcelona on foreign territory in the final in Seville.

Bucharest were organised and resilient throughout, with the game tied at 0-0 after both regulation and extra-time.

However, Steaua keeper Helmuth Duckadam was the hero during the subsequent penalty shootout, saving all four Barca penalties as the Romanians won 2-0 and carved out their own slice of history.