Ranked! The 10 biggest surprise packages in Champions League history

Champions League
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The Champions League pits the creme de la creme of the continent against one another for the most coveted prize in club football. Yet, every once in a while, it isn't one of the elite that grabs the headlines, but a relative minnow.

Here, FFT ranks the 10 greatest underdog campaigns in the history of the Champions League. Not all of these clubs went on to win silverware, but they captured hearts and minds the world over...

10. PSV Eindhoven – 2004/05

The Dutch side were a late Massimo Ambrosini goal away from reaching the Champions League final, and denying the world the insane events of Istanbul. A talented squad that contained the likes of Mark van Bommel, Ji-Sung Park and Phillip Cocu pushed a mighty Milan side all the way in the semi final, before losing on away goals.

9. Roma – 2017/18

European comebacks

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Under novice coach Eusebio Di Francesco, Roma surpassed all expectations to reach the semi final, topping a group that contained Chelsea and Atletico Madrid before completing a memorable comeback against Barcelona in the quarter final, after being 4-1 down from the first leg, to reach the final four against Liverpool. No Italian side has got as far since.

8. Nantes – 1995/96

The French champions have only been in the competition twice, and in their first voyage they reached the semi final. In a group that included Panathinaikos, Porto and Aalborg, Nantes finished second and after seeing off Spartak Moscow, they set up a clash with Juventus. Starring a young Claude Makelele, Nantes were narrowly beaten 4-3 on aggregate by the eventual winners.

7. Villarreal – 2005/06

Like Nantes, Villarreal made it to the semi final at the first attempt. Coached by Manuel Pellegrini and with the side built around Juan Roman Riquelme at the peak of his majestically languid powers, The Yellow Submarines topped a group involving Man United, before seeing off Rangers and Inter before a semi final with Arsenal. Riquelme missed a late penalty to take the second leg to extra time, and Arsenal advanced.

6. Monaco – 1997/98

The 2004 side could’ve also made this list, but we’ve plumped for the 1998 side, which contained the likes of Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, John Collins and Fabien Barthez. Monaco saw off Man United in the quarter final before running into an Alessandro Del Piero-inspired Juve, with the No.10 scoring four of Juve’s six goals as The Old Lady reached a third consecutive final.

5. APOEL Nicosia – 2011/12

The Cypriot side were ranked 125th in UEFA’s coefficient rankings at the start of the 2011/12 campaign, and against all odds made it to the final eight and a prestigious tie against Real Madrid. APOEL won a group including Zenit, Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk, saw off Lyon on away goals before meeting Madrid, where the dream ended in a 8-2 aggregate loss.

4. Valencia – 1999/00

Champions League

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A team with players who would go on to become household names, such as Gaizka Mendieta, Claudio Lopez and Kily Gonzalez, but weren’t so at the beginning of that season. This was Valencia’s first foray in the competition, and they demolished the highly-fancied Lazio and Barcelona en route to the final, where they lost the first of two consecutive finals.

3. Leeds – 2000/01

David O’Leary’s babies caused upset after upset to reach an implausible semi final. We all know how it ended, but it doesn’t negate the fact that Leeds got out of one group containing Milan and Barcelona, and then a second with Lazio and Real Madrid, not to mention smashing Spanish champions Deportivo La Coruna at Elland Road in the quarter final, before their eventual defeat to Valencia. If you are going to have just one experience in the Champions League, make it this one.

2. Dynamo Kyiv – 1998/99

Andriy Shevchenko and Sergei Rebrov nearly powered the last great Dynamo Kiev side to a final with Man Utd, narrowly losing to Bayern Munich 4-3 in the semi final. No side from Eastern Europe will likely ever get as far again.

1. Porto - 2003/04

Champions League

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It really couldn’t be anyone else, could it? The season that put Jose Mourinho on the map. As all the traditional big guns fell, Porto just kept on going, and easily swatted Monaco aside in the showpiece final in Gelsenkirchen. Mourinho’s side are the last outside of England, Italy, Spain and Germany to win the competition, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. 

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Emmet Gates is a freelance football journalist with work published across a multitude of websites and magazines. Writing for FFT since 2016, Emmet is a disciple of the Gazzetta Football Italia years and remains a Serie A advocate. He also worships at the altar of Diego Maradona and collects '90s Serie A shirts, now a very expensive hobby.