Defy the odds. Shock the world.
That is the main objective for countries that usually only send one or two clubs into the UEFA Champions League. Most might not win the trophy when May arrives, but winning gives the feeling of winning the league altogether. There is also a feeling that a team from Cyprus or Denmark can compete with teams from England, Spain and Germany. With that said, here is a look at the notable upsets, both in the group stages and qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League, that exemplify the meaning of upset over the past twenty years.
September 16, 1998: Brondby floors Bayern Munich in a comeback
Before famously blowing a 1-0 lead in the final against Manchester United, Bayern Munich blew a 1-0 lead against Denmark’s Brondby. The Danish club was favored to lose all six of its matches, as they were drawn with Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Barcelona. Brondby held Bayern to a scoreless draw until 15 minutes from time, when Markus Babbel scored for Bayern. But a costly error had Brondby tie the game and minutes later, a Danish player that never played for the national team Allan Ravn, scored the winning goal to send Parken Stadium into euphoria.
July 27, 2005: Slovaks sends shock waves with a thumping
Scotland’s Celtic has had panache for losing away from home. However, how they lost to a club looking to be Slovakia’s second representative in the group stage was truly humiliating. While they nearly blew the lead in the second leg, Artmedia reached the group stage and would have a hand in frustrating a former champion: on Matchday 2, Artmedia overturned a 2-0 deficit at FC Porto to win 3-2, ultimately eliminated the 2004 winners from Europe altogether.
December 6, 2005: Anderlecht halts losing streak for good
Before he captained Manchester City to a league title in 2012, Belgium’s Vincent Kompany helped Anderlecht break a 12-game losing streak and prevent the Belgium club from consecutive group stages with six losses out of six, as his lone goal was enough to defeat Spain’s Real Betis.
November 1, 2006: Greek club starts possible ascent in Europe
Before the group stage in 2006, Greece’s AEK Athens looked like to finish last in its group, considering that the club had never won a group stage game in the Champions League. In the first three games, AEK looked likely to not contend at all for the knockout stages. But a goal Nikolaos Liberopoulos was enough to snap a 22-game winless streak. AEK won that match 1-0 and kept that magical ride in its next game against AC Milan by winning by the same margin, and a unlikely chance at the knockout stage was on the cards. Yet, AEK could not get the win it needed at Anderlecht and finished third in Group H.
December 5, 2006: Moscow follows AEK’s footsteps to snap lengthy streak
If not winning has been the case for some teams, then winning no matter what can feel sweet, even if it is as something as knocking a club out of Europe before Christmas. Russia’s Spartak Moscow knew that feeling, as going into its final Group B match at Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon, victory would be the only way to continue in Europe. Six years earlier in the Champions League, Spartak Moscow won both matches against Sporting Lisbon, including a 3-0 victory in Lisbon. Goals from Roman Pavlyuchenko, Maxim Kalynychenko and Denis Boyarintsev were enough to snap a 22-game winless streak and halt the Portuguese’s attempt to play football after Christmas.
October 3, 2007: finally halts its road woes
Seventeen minutes from this match, Werder Bremen were leading Greece’s Olympiacos. The Greek club had a 31-game winless streak on the road. But three goals in 14 minutes, capped by substitute Darko Kovacevic, snapped that streak as Olympiacos tasted victory away from Athens. Over a month later, the Greek club would win on the road yet again, as those road victories proved useful in Olympiacos reaching the Round of 16 for that Champions League.
July 30, 2008: start to fly en route to Champions League
Nearly 12 years ago, Cyprus’s Anorthosis almost became Cyprus’s first representative in the group stage, until they failed to hold on to their advantage against Belgium’s Lierse. Now, the Cypriot club would make a statement with a resounding win against Austria’s Rapid Vienna. Despite struggling on the road, Anorthosis made most of its home advantage to reach the group stage and become Cyprus’s first representative at the group stage.
July 30, 2008: crashes at home by upstart BATE
BATE Borisov, who regulary won Belarus’s Premier League, was so close to reaching the group stage last year, losing out to Romania’s Steaua Bucharest. But, in a second qualifying round match against Belgium’s Anderlecht, BATE quickly responded after giving up the first goal in the second half. With two minutes left in regulation, Pavel Nekhaychik scored the winning goal to give BATE the advantage. That advantage would prove crucial as BATE became Belarus’s first ever representative at the group stage of the Champions League in the next month.
August 5, 2008: go crashing in Lithuania
Less than three months earlier, Scotland’s Rangers lost its last game in its 2007-2008 European campaign: a 2-0 loss at Manchester in the UEFA Cup final Russia’s Zenit St. Petersburg. Now, the Scottish club would crash out of Europe altogether in early August. Even at 1-1, Rangers would still advance on the away goal; but Linus Pilibaitis gave the Lithuanian club a late goal to snatch a famous victory.
September 16, 2008: Cluj turns the table to win in its first ever game
Due to its recent successes, Romania would be assured a spot in the group stage. Before the 2007-2008 season, Romania’s winners came from Bucharest. But CFR Cluj started a major upheaval in Romania to win its first title in its 101-year history. Then, in its first ever Champions League match at Roma, whose stadium would host the 2009 final, CFR Cluj came from behind thanks to two goals from Juan Culio to stun AS Roma 2-1. Although the club would draw Chelsea in its next match, CFR Cluj finished last in Group A.
September 30, 2009: Milan humbled by Zurich at San Siro
Zurich was playing in the group stage for the first time ever, defeating Maribor (Slovenia) and Ventspils (Latvia) to reach this point. After suffering a humiliating home loss against Real Madrid, Zurich would travel to AC Milan, who had won its first game at Marseille. An early strike from Hannu Tihinen was enough for a shocking 1-0 win in Italy. While the Swiss club would finish last in Group B, Zurich would frustrate AC Milan again when the teams met at Stadion Letzigrund in December with the finished 1-1.
October 20, 2009: Kazan goes into Barcelona and wins
Rubin Kazan defied all odds en route to winning its first Russian Premier League in 2008. The Russian club proved that they belonged with the European Champions, as they set the tone early with a goal from Alexander Ryanzantsev and won at Camp Nou 2-1. Despite finishing third in Group F, Rubin Kazan proved the win was no fluke as they held Barcelona to a draw two weeks later in Centralny Stadium.
August 4, 2010: Boys notch historic win in Istanbul
Switzerland’s Young Boys had not played a qualifying match in the Champions League in six years, and the club was on the verge of an early exit when they drew 2-2 to Turkey’s Fenerbahçe. However, Henri Bienvenu scored late in the first half, and despite playing with ten men in the second half, Young Boys knocked out the Turkish club and advanced to the playoff round, where they fought hard against England’s Tottenham Hotspur. However, despite winning the first leg 3-2, Young Boys crashed out with a 4-0 thumping at White Hart Lane.
September 14, 2011: Turkish club makes most of its second opportunity
Turkey’s Trabzonspor was eliminated in qualifying by Portugal’s Benfica. However, with Turkey guaranteed at least one spot in the group stage, Trabzonspor came back to the fray after league winners Fenerbahçe was removed amidst a match-fixing scandal. But, in the club’s first match at 2010 winners Inter Milan, Trabzonspor hung on for dear life and capitalized 16 minutes from time thanks to a goal from Ondrej Celustka to snatch a famous victory. That result would prove vital for the Turkish club as they would finish third in Group B.