The remarkable story of Football’s underdogs

As Leicester City continue their march towards the Premier League title, Ed Wade looks into footballing underdogs of the past.

By Ed Wade.

As Leicester City charge towards the Premier League title, only seven games remains before they pull off one of the most incredible stories in footballing history. But will it be the biggest?

Here are some other teams that achieved incredible feats, despite having the odds stacked against them.

The Danes go for glory

International football tournaments have seen some of the greatest shocks of all time. With tournaments being less frequent, and played on an even bigger stage, shock victories can be all the more dramatic.

Denmark caused shockwaves across European football in 1992 when they claimed the top prize at the European Championships. The Danes had not even qualified for the tournament after finishing second to Yugoslavia in their qualifying group.

However, Yugoslavia were disqualified prior to the tournament because of their involvement in the Bosnia war.

With only a week of preparation before the tournament kicked off, Denmark were barely given a chance. Their star player Michael Laudrup had fallen out with coach Moller-Nielsen and didn’t even think it was worth showing up for the Danes.

After a slow start drawing against England and losing against Sweden, the Danes picked up their form and beat France before dispatching the defending champions The Netherlands. They then pulled off the biggest shock, beating reigning world champions Germany in the final.

It was a team which had no real individual star players. They relied on a stalwart defence, with inspirational goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel in-between the sticks. Kim Vilfort who played in midfield for the Danes said ‘We didn’t have the best players, but we had the best team.

The win remains Denmark’s only major international honour and they have since failed to make an impact at a tournament. However, it still remains one of the biggest upsets in international football.


Uruguay upset a Footballing nation

In 1950, Brazil had the privilege of hosting their first World Cup and as a football-mad nation they were favourites to claim the title. But they didn’t count on South American rivals Uruguay upstaging them.

Uruguay were a top national team at the time and would have been one of the favourites had it been on home soil. Nevertheless, Brazil had been unstoppable; they beat Mexico 4-0, Spain 6-1 and Sweden 7-1.

With the tournament being a round robin group, with points awarded, they went into the decider against Brazil only needing a draw. The hosts even went into half time 1-0 up, before one of the greatest comebacks saw Uruguay come out winners despite the home nation having 200,000 fans behind them.

Despite the defeat on home soil, Brazil went on to become the most successful World Cup nation by winning the title five times. The Canarinho have been fortunate to see some of the greatest footballers to ever grace the planet put on the yellow shirt.


Second Division Sunderland upset the odds

At 250-1 pre-tournament, Sunderland were huge outsiders but caused one of the biggest upsets by beating the all-conquering Leeds United 1-0 in the 1973 FA Cup final at Wembley.

Sunderland were a Second Division side at the time and were the first team in 42 years to win the FA Cup that didn’t participate in the First Division.

Ian Porterfield claimed the winner from a Dave Watson corner, but it was goalkeeper Jim Montgomery who was the standout player. He made a string of remarkable saves, including a sensational double save to firstly deny Trevor Cherry and then a Peter Lorimer shot which was turned onto the crossbar.

Sunderland became the first team to win the FA Cup without fielding a single international player, in grave comparison to Leeds, who subsequently had 11.


Steaua Bucharest go for European glory

Although Barcelona are currently the all-conquering force in football, this hasn’t always been the case. In 1986, the Catalonians were going for European glory and were hot favourites to claim the title over Romanian rivals Steaua Bucharest.

Although Barcelona had not won a European Cup at that point, they had knocked out Juventus, the tournament favourites and current holders, at the Quarter Final stage.

With the mercurial talents of Francisco Carrasco, Barcelona thought the game would be a walk over, but Bucharest had other ideas. The Romanians set up very defensively and simply looked to be going for a clean sheet.

After 120 minutes, the score was still at 0-0 and the game went to penalties. Up stepped Helmuth Duckadam who saved four Barca spot-kicks and was dubbed the ‘hero of Seville.’

One of Eastern Europe’s greatest triumphs in football. It is hard to see another team replicating that incredible victory.


In a time when football shocks are fewer and harder to come by, will Leicester City’s be the biggest ever? Despite being in the ascendancy, they should take heart from the famous underdogs stories of the past and believe they can achieve one of the greatest feats of the modern footballing day.


Author: Ed Wade

A sports writer from London, who's weekly 6-page love letter to Man United always goes woefully unreported by the mainstream press.

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