5 Remarkable Cinderella Runs in Football History

Greece win Euro 2004

We all love a Cinderella story- when an unfancied team or athlete defies the odds to achieve the unthinkable.

Over the years, football has produced so many such stories, with teams rising from relative obscurity to take down perceived superpowers.

In this article, we will take a trip down memory lane and pick out the most famous Cinderella stories in the beautiful game.

5. Wigan (FA Cup, 2013)

Wigan Athletic’s run to the 2013 FA Cup final did not come as a major surprise, given that they were a Premier League club at the time, but they were definitely firm underdogs in that final against Manchester City.

The Latics had already beaten Bournemouth, Macclesfield Town, Huddersfield Town, Everton and Millwall in the preceding rounds, but they were thought to be well out of their depth in the final against an expensively-assembled Manchester City side who had won the Premier League in the previous season.

Rather than withdraw into their shells, Wigan played with plenty of verve and vigour; and got their just reward when substitute Ben Watson headed home the winner in the final minutes to give the Latics their first major trophy in their 81-year history.

Imagine putting money on Wigan to win that final on any of the online betting sites in Nigeria! Yup, would have yielded some serious returns!

It was a bitter-sweet season for the club, as Cup success was soon followed by relegation from the Premier League.

4. South Korea (World Cup, 2002)

World Cup 2002 South Korea beat Italy

Prior to 2002, the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup had been exclusively for European and South American nations. No team outside those continents had ever made it to the last four of the competition.

That changed in 2002 when South Korea launched a gripping charge to the semis.

Roared on by a passionate home crowd, Korea scored victories over Portugal and Poland to finish on top of their group, before pulling off consecutive knock-out wins over Italy and Spain to book their spot in an unlikely semi-final.

Cynics will argue that the co-hosts benefited from some favourable refereeing decisions, but no one can dispute the quality of their football, plus the heart and passion of the team.

Their run was eventually ended by Germany in the last four, with Michael Ballack scoring the solitary goal.

3. Calais (Coupe de France, 2000)

All over the world, cup competitions are renowned for producing Cinderella stories, and French side Calais served up one of the most captivating cup runs when they made the Coupe de France final in 2000.

The amateur team, comprising teachers, dock workers and office clerks sensationally took out top-flight clubs, Strasbourg and Bordeaux in the quarter-finals and semifinals respectively; and when they scored first in the final Nantes in the final, the football world held its breath in anticipation of the most inconceivable run to the title.

Calais led 1-0 at half time, but Antoine Sibierski equalized for Nantes five minutes after the restart, and converted a 90th minute penalty to give the top-flight side the win and break Calais hearts.

They didn’t quite go all the way, but Calais’ runner-up finish will forever remain one of the most memorable cup runs in football history.

2. Denmark (Euro 1992)

Denmark had initially failed to qualify for the 1992 European Championship, but they were drafted into the tournament as replacement for the then Yugoslavia, who were disqualified due to the political situation in the country.

Drawn with France, England and home nation Sweden in Group 1, Denmark weren’t expected to go beyond the group phase, but they qualified in second position, finishing above France and England. 

The Danes famously scored a 2-1 victory over France in their final group match in Malmo to confirm their spot in the last four.

The Cinderella run continued with a penalty shootout victory over defending champions, Netherlands in the semi-finals, and the unthinkable became reality when Peter Schmeichel and co. took down Germany 2-0 in the final to complete one of the most incredible fairy-tale runs in football history.

1. Greece (Euro 2004)

Greece win Euro 2004

When Greece stunned home nation Portugal in the opening match of Euro 2004, many analysts put it down as an anomaly. No one genuinely believed Otto Rehhagel’s team could go all the way.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal recovered to top the group, while Greece squeezed through in second ahead of Spain and Russia.

The Cinderella run gathered steam with a superb 1-0 victory over France in the quarter finals, and they backed that up with another gritty 1-0 win over a supremely talented Czech Republic team.

Reacquainted with old foes, Portugal in the final, Greece were again huge underdogs, with Portugal expected to exact revenge for the embarrassing loss to the same opposition on the opening day of the tournament.

The Greeks were having none of that, scoring their third consecutive 1-0 victory to complete the most unlikely European triumph.

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