Though it might appear to be a private club at times, the sole preserve of Europe's mightiest clubs, the UEFA Champions League has thrown up some unexpected winners during the course of its 54-year history.
Formerly known as the European Champions Clubs' Cup, the competition has been dominated over the years by the likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan and Liverpool, who have won the competition nine, seven and five times respectively. Yet also figuring on the illustrious roll call of champions are a select band of one-time winners who defied the odds to land the most sought-after piece of silverware in European club football.
From Celtic and Feyenoord to Aston Villa, Hamburg, Steaua Bucharest, PSV Eindhoven, Crvena Zvezda, Olympique Marseille and Borussia Dortmund, FIFA.com pays tribute to nine clubs who have all, at one time in their respective histories, taken on the continent's finest and won.
It was the way that we won that has filled me with satisfaction. We did it by playing football. Pure, beautiful, inventive football.
In the 1966/67 season Celtic became the first non-Latin team to win the competition. Under the stewardship of the peerless Jock Stein, a side featuring ten players born within ten miles of Celtic Park belied their underdog status by defeating Helenio Herrera's fabled Inter Milan on a memorable day in Lisbon.
"There is not a prouder man on God's earth than me at this moment," was how Stein reflected on the win. "Winning was important, aye, but it was the way that we won that has filled me with satisfaction. We did it by playing football. Pure, beautiful, inventive football."
The Bhoys were back in the final for a second time three years later. It was to be a different story, though, as Feyenoord claimed the spoils in the first final between two northern European clubs. Ole Kindvall's extra-time winner heralded the beginning of a period of Dutch domination, with an Ajax Amsterdam side inspired by Johann Cruyff lifting the trophy in each of the following three seasons.
Overcoming the odds
Aston Villa surprised everyone on their debut appearance in the competition in 1981/82, outlasting compatriots and reigning champions Liverpool, who were ousted in the last eight, to reach the final. Waiting for them there were none other than Bayern Munich, boasting the likes of Paul Breitner and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in their formidable line-up and firm favourites to claim the crown for a fourth time.
The Birmingham side received an early setback when goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer was forced off with injury. Peter Withe's goal gave them the lead, however, and thanks to an inspired performance by replacement keeper Nigel Spink, playing only his second game for the club, Villa clung on for a famous win. "Everything happened so fast I didn't have time to get nervous," said the heroic Spink.
England's six-year reign was brought to an end by another newcomer 12 months later. Few people expected Hamburg to topple Giovanni Trapattoni's Juventus, especially with six newly crowned world champions in the Bianconeri ranks. Yet they reckoned without the astute tactics of the German side's wily coach Ernst Happel, and after Felix Magath had put them into an early lead, Hamburg marked Michel Platini out of the game to win the day.
Going into the 1986 final it was hard to see how Barcelona could fail to add their name to list of champions. Having disposed of Juventus and Gothenburg in impressive fashion in the earlier rounds, the Catalans were expected to brush aside the challenge of Steaua Bucharest, especially with over 50,000 of their fans cheering them on at the Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan in Seville. Undaunted by the hostile atmosphere, the Romanians stood firm over 120 goalless minutes before goalkeeper Helmut Duckadam won them the trophy with four saves in the shootout.
It was the first time that the cup had gone east and the first time that the champions had won without the support of any of their fans in the stands. "Barcelona are a great side and that makes our success even more special," said delighted Steaua coach Emerich Jenei in the post-match press conference. "This was the triumph of a humble team that made up for a lack of star names by showing its fighting spirit."
This was the triumph of a humble team that made up for a lack of star names by showing its fighting spirit.
There was another goalless draw and yet more shootout drama in 1988 when PSV Eindhoven condemned Benfica to their fourth final defeat in the competition to lift the cup and complete a famous treble. Since then, however, the Dutchmen have never progressed beyond the quarter-finals.
Penalties were the only possible conclusion of an ultra-defensive final in 1991, as Crvena Zvezda overcame Olympique Marseille from the spot to win the tournament without losing a single game. The Yugoslavians followed up with victory over Colo Colo in the Intercontinental Cup.
OM were back in the final two seasons later, by which time the competition had been renamed the UEFA Champions League. Basile Boli's goal ensured a happier ending for them on that occasion and ended AC Milan's record-breaking ten-game winning streak. Sadly for the Frenchmen, they were unable to defend the title due to their exclusion for corruption.
In 1997, with Alessandro del Piero and Zinedine Zidane in their pomp, Marcello Lippi's Juventus were widely tipped to retain the trophy they had won the previous season. Anxious to avenge their 1993 UEFA Cup final defeat, however, opponents Borussia Dortmund took the game to the Turin aristocrats and ran out 3-1 winners thanks to a Karl-Heinz Riedle brace and a memorable Lars Ricken strike.
Inspiration for the class of 2009
Hoping to chart a similar path to the intrepid nine above are this season's underdogs, some of whom are making a very decent stab at qualifying for the first knockout round. Romanian champions Unirea Urcizeni are a case in point and currently lie second in Group G behind Sevilla after inflicting a 4-1 defeat on Rangers at Ibrox two weeks ago. APEOL Nicosia have also impressed in Group D, where they lie third ahead of Atletico Madrid and still have a mathematical chance of reaching the last 16.
Perhaps the most impressive of the debutants, however, are Rubin Kazan, who pulled off the result of the competition so far when they won 2-1 at Barcelona last month. The Russians stand third in Group F, tied on four points with the defending champions and Dynamo Kiev. Propping up the section are none other than Samuel Etoo's Inter Milan, who scrambled a 1-1 draw on their visit to Russia.
"We have to be realistic as we are the smallest team in the group and we lack experience," said their Argentinian striker Alejandro Dominguez. "It's in our hands, though, and there is less pressure on us than on our rivals."
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