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Six modern cup miracles

Emmerson Boyce (L) and Gary Caldwell (R) of Wigan Athletic lift the FA Cup trophy
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With two of the weekend's English FA Cup, and one of the upcoming Coupe de France semi-finalists heralding from outside the top divisions, we thought we would look at six miraculous cup runs since the turn of the millennium.

Both countries have a history of producing impressive, unexpected runs from some of their less illustrious competitors, while taking their fair share of high-flying scalps on their journeys to the later rounds. This year's cup competitions feature second tier sides Wigan Athletic – who happen to be the holders – and Angers in England and France respectively, alongside Sheffield United who are currently playing their football in the third floor of English football.

With all three facing top level opponents, as Wigan square up against Arsenal, Sheffield United drawn with Hull City and Angers coupled with Rennes, there is far from any guarantee of a dream final for any of the trio. However, they could do much worse than taking some inspiration from some of their forebears from either side of the Channel, who defied the odds to prove the old adage that anything is possible in a one-off game.

Wigan, FA Cup winners 2013
While still competing in the English Premier League, Wigan had been dodging relegation for a number of yeats prior to their stunning journey to the FA Cup final, but survival proved a step too far at this time of asking. However, fans were far from left with a summer of gloom during they off-season, being able to bask in the glow of defeating the expensively-assembled Manchester City with a last-minute Ben Watson winner.

Their side was estimated to have cost a tenth of the then-reigning Premier League holders £200m side, but despite that Roberto Martinez's side stood strong in front of a packed Wembley stadium to lift the cup for the first time in their history. After the game, the breathless Spanish manager said: “We saw the underdogs play with incredible bravery, incredible belief and the defied the odds again. That's the FA Cup.”

Calais, Coupe de France runners-up 2000
Arguably France's greatest ever cup underdogs, Calais' run to the final was minutes away from becoming one of football's greatest ever Cinderella stories. With the fourth-tier side having disposed of the likes of French Ligue 2 teams such as northern neighbours Lille and Cannes in the first ten rounds, they were paired with top division opposition in Strasbourg. However, the plucky side did not wilt in front of their more illustrious challengers, defeating them 2-1, defying “the logic of football” according to vanquished coach Claude Le Roy.

Now in the semi-finals, they faced what seemed an impossible task in Bordeaux – who were then the champions of France. Even then they did not blink, seeing off the giants 3-1 after extra-time in a stunning turn up. They finally cam unstuck against Nantes in the final 2-1, despite having taken lead, with a late penalty swinging the match in favour of the top division side.

Bradford City, English League Cup runners-up 2013
When Bradford began their historic run to the final of the League Cup, which started before their first game of the fourth division season in August 2012, few – if any – would have envisaged a trip to Wembley would have been their destination. With defeats of top-flight sides such as Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa on the way, their journey becomes even more unbelievable.

Having beaten the Gunners in the quarter-finals on penalties, many thought the Bantums would come unstuck across the two-legged semis against the side from Birmingham. A 3-1 home win provided hope, before hanging on to a 2-1 defeat in the return leg, sending them through to the final. A 5-0 loss to Swansea City tainted their final a little, but their run will remain a cherished part of the Yorkshire club's history for a long time to come.

Quevilly, Coupe de France runners-up 2012
Slugging away in the bottom half of the French third tier is quite a distance from the pinnacle of the country's cup competitions, but it was a gap that Quevilly were able to admirably bridged as they fought toe-to-toe with Lyon. The final could have been an even more astounding affair as GFCO Ajaccio, who were in the same division as Quevilly, were the side Lyon defeated to reach the cup climax.

It was the Normandy side who flew the flag though, having seen off both Marseille and Rennes in the process. “Marseille tried to make the fitness of professionals pay off by getting stuck in hard from the start, but we overcame that,” Quevilly chairman Michel Mallet beamed ahead of the final. “Then Rennes tried a different approach, thinking they would wear us down by passing the ball around and keeping possession. But we overcame that too.” Unfortunately for the script-writers out there, overcoming Lyon was a step to far, as Quevilly fell to a narrow 1-0 defeat.

Wycombe Wanderers, FA Cup semi-finalists 2001
When Sheffield United step out for their semi-final they will be retracing a path most recently trodden by Wycombe Wanderers, who are the last team from England's third division to reach the final four. No side from outside the top two layers of English football have ever made it to the final, but Wycombe are up there with the closest.

Having cruised through the first round, it took replays to see them through into the round of 32 against second division side Wolverhampton Wanderers. A 2-1 win over them, followed by a penalty shootout defeat of Wimbledon, propelled Wtcombe into what is now a game etched in folklore against Premier League side Leicester City. With all their available strikers injured, manager Laurie Sanchez was forced to advertise for any available attacker to come on trial to play the game. Roy Essandoh answered the call and, with the tie level at 1-1 and deep into stoppage time, he popped up to head home the winner. A narrow 2-1 defeat to Liverpool denied them a spectacular final at Wembley, but Wycombe had done enough by then to leave an indelible mark on the competition.

Chambery, Coupe de France quarter-finalists 2011
With any competition relying on draws to decide the path you take, many a sceptic would argue that, with luck on your side, any team could coast their way through to the latter stages by means of good fortune. No one could throw that argument at amateur side Chambery, who were down on the fifth rung of the French game.

They discarded of three sides from Ligue 1 to become the first amateur side to send a trio of the country's premier clubs packing, with Monaco and Brest both beaten on penalties, before Sochaux fell 2-1 inside 90 minutes, thus eclipsing the record of two scalps by Carquefou and Blenod. “It's beautiful, amazing,” said defender Stephane Roux after the Sochaux triumph. “Tomorrow morning I will tell my boss I'm sick. It's party time.” Surprisingly it was a team from France's second division that cut the fairytale shot, as Angers beat them 3-0 in the last eight of the competition.

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