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Everybody loves the underdog. We, as a society, have always had a deep sense of reverence towards stories of people overcoming great obstacles to come out victorious in their life goals. Part of what makes sports what it is today is the possibility of lesser-known sporting Davids upsetting the Goliaths of the sporting world; giving lovers of sports all over the world an interesting battle instead of a tame bulldozing that one might expect.
Everybody loves a good underdog story, because not only does it provide a whole different level of entertainment than what was being expected, it gives spectators hopes that they too can slay giants overcome impossible odds in their lives through sheer will. Spanning over many decades, the world of football, as we have come to love it, is littered with stories of small teams overcoming giant odds and coming out in triumph over bigger adversaries. Here are some of the most memorable ones.
1. Mighty Liverpool Fall To The Crazy Gang.
Liverpool Football Club has gone over two decades now without a Premier League title to boast of, making them the butt of several jokes from opposition fans despite their considerable success in other competitions in the same period of time; cup competitions and the memorable 2005 Champions League triumph. However, before they entered this domestic rut, they were the most dominant team of English football in the ‘80s, cleaning up trophies with unchecked ease; and 1988 was no different.
Before Wimbledon Football Club became Milton Keynes Dons in 2004, they had been a non-League team for most of their history. After their quick accent from the country’s Fourth Division, Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang was promoted to the First Division in 1986. Two years later, they pulled off one of the most surprising shocks in English football.
Liverpool had won the league in 1988, and only Wimbledon was standing in their way of becoming the first English team to win a domestic double for the second time. Liverpool were the favourites going into the final match of the 1988 FA Cup; Wimbledon were the unfancied punching bags; or so it seemed. The match didn’t go as expected, Wimbledon, tagged as the “Crazy Gang” defeated Liverpool 1-0 through a Lawrie Sanchez goal. Goalkeeper, Dave Beasant also saved a dubious penalty kick awarded to Liverpool to become the first goalkeeper to save a penalty in a Wembley FA Cup final, as well as the first goalkeeper to captain his team to FA Cup glory. Nobody saw it coming.
2. Senegal vs. France.
Heading into the 2002 World Cup in Korea-Japan, France were reigning World Cup and European Championship champions. They had also won the Confederations Cup to boot. It was no surprise then that they were considered to be strong favourites to lift the ultimate football prize again. Heading into the tournament, Senegal might have carved a name for themselves on the African continent, but the 2002 World Cup was their first time on the world stage, and they didn’t disappoint.
Papa Bouba Diop scored the solitary goal of the game on the half-hour mark and the African team staunchly protected their lead as the world watched on in admiration. France never recovered from the humiliation as they finished bottom of Group A that also consisted Denmark and Uruguay. Senegal finished second in the group and progressed to the quarter finals of the tournament. Definitely not bad for a first-timer.
3. Another World Champion; Unfancied African Team.
France was not the only World Cup holder that got scalped by an overachieving African team at a World Cup game. In fact, before the 2002 giant-killing happened, Cameroon had done the same to Argentina 12 years back. Cameroon was another unfancied team that was unproven on the world stage going into the 1990 World Cup in Italy. The squad was largely filled with players plying their trade in the European lower leagues while Argentina were a solid team led by a certain Diego Maradona, one of the greatest players to have ever graced the sport.
Francois Omam-Biyik stunned the South American giants with a goal in the 67th minute and the African team held on to their famous win, which they were made to work for as they ended the match with nine-men after the referee frowned on their robust challenges with two red cards. This didn’t take anything away from their heroics as Diego Maradona said after the game, “I don’t think they had any intentions to beat us up to win the game.I cannot argue, and I cannot make excuses. If Cameroon won, it was because they were the better side.”
Cameroon’s performance at the tournament changed a few wrong impressions that the world had about African football at the time, as they progressed to the quarter-finals where they were narrowly beaten 3-2 by England; missing out on a potential rematch with Argentina.
4. Greece vs The Rest of Europe
In what is considered as one of the most shocking and impressive feats ever pulled off in football, Greece shook up Europe and the world of football by winning the 2004 European Championship in Portugal. Otto Rehhagel’s pragmatic team played with grit, discipline and determination to grind out win after win in the tournament until they worked their way to the biggest European prize.
The Greek side, without any recognizable star players in their ranks, beat hosts, Portugal, 2-1 in the opening game in what was a taste of things to come. They proceeded to the quarter finals to beat European heavyweights France 1-0, and then Czech Republic (widely regarded as the best team of the tournament) 1-0, before they had to face hosts, Portugal, in the final of the showpiece, again.With legendary Luis Figo and a blossoming Cristiano Ronaldo marked out of the game, Otto Rehhagel masterminded a tactical victory that will always be remembered by the history books as his team came out on top, winning 1-0.
What makes the Greek’s exploits one of the most interesting was because they did it over the stretch of an entire tournament that they eventually won. They played to their strengths and frustrated their opponents to gain the upper hand.
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