15. Celtic, 2012/13
Neil Lennon’s men forged a reputation for exceeding expectations in Europe, and their tremendous display of courage and resilience in this campaign showed exactly why. After a decent start, with four points from their first three matches, Lennon's men hosted Barcelona at Celtic Park after losing 2-1 in the Camp Nou.
Despite seeing just 16.4% possession, the Scots went ahead through Victor Wanyama before grabbing late victory via youngster Tony Watt. Lionel Messi's injury-time effort was a mere consolation; Celtic won with the lowest recorded possession figure since Opta began collecting data in 2006/07. The Bhoys went down to Benfica in their penultimate game, leaving them third on goal difference, but grafted to a 2-1 win over Lokomotiv Moscow in their final match thanks to Kris Commons' 81st-minute penalty.
14. Liverpool, 2004/05
After losing their penultimate fixture to Monaco 1-0, Liverpool needed to beat Olympiakos by two clear goals to qualify. But Rafa Benitez’s men were determined not to make things easy for themselves and went behind to a Rivaldo free-kick midway through the first half.
It teed up one of football's most dramatic comebacks. The Reds netted within two minutes of the restart via Florent Sinama-Pongolle, before Neil Mellor made things interesting in the 81st minute. Then, in the dying embers, skipper Steven Gerrard pounced on Mellor’s cushioned header and drilled a superb volley into the corner from 25 yards, sending Liverpool through and Andy Gray potty.
13. Porto, 2003/04
Nobody fancied then-UEFA Cup champions Porto going into the Champions League in 2003/04, but a young Jose Mourinho was determined to announce himself in style. Yet before he was able to sprint down the touchline at Old Trafford, the Portuguese prince had to mastermind a great escape in Group F.
After a 3-1 home defeat by Real Madrid left them on one point from two games, Porto stormed through the final four with 10 points from a possible 12. They collected wins over Didier Drogba's Marseille and then Partizan Belgrade, before drawing with Madrid at home. After that they began their successful tilt at European domination in the knockout stage.
12. Lokomotiv Moscou, 2003/04
The Russians defied the odds to qualify alongside Arsenal in 2003/04, ousting comparative heavyweights Inter and Dynamo Kiev. After earning just a point from their first two fixtures – a goalless home draw against Arsenal – Lokomotiv sat rock bottom of Group B, exactly where most presumed they'd stay.
But the capital outfit were determined to leave with more than pride. Fresh hope was discovered after taking four points off Inter, including a 3-0 hammering of the Italian giants at home, before Lokomotiv claimed a 3-2 win over Kiev in their penultimate game to finish above Inter and hang on for a place in the last 16.
11. Fiorentina, 1999/00
A pair of 0-0 draws with Arsenal and AIK, together with a comprehensive 3-0 defeat by Barcelona at the Camp Nou, left Fiorentina in need of a renaissance midway through the 1999/00 group stage.
A Gabriel Batistuta-inspired victory over AIK in gameweek four lifted La Viola level on points with the Gunners, who succumbed to Barça on the very same night.
The pair’s subsequent meeting at Wembley, where Arsenal played their home games in that year’s Champions League, was therefore something of a winner-takes-all encounter; Batistuta struck with 15 minutes left on the clock, and a 3-3 draw with Barcelona the following week sent the Italians through.
10. Arsenal, 2003/04
Despite becoming the ‘Invincibles’ in the Premier League, the Gunners were far from impenetrable in Europe, losing two of their first three group games – including a 3-0 hiding from Inter at Highbury.
But after Ashley Cole snatched a crucial 88th-minute winner in their fourth game against Dynamo Kiev, Arsenal went on to annihilate Inter 5-1 at the San Siro in arguably their most formidable European display, led by the brilliance of two-goal Thierry Henry.
Arsene Wenger’s men held their nerve to clinch a 2-0 home triumph over Lokomotiv Moscow to progress on 10 points as group winners, demonstrating the steely character that proved the bedrock of that great Gunners side.
9. Olympiakos, 2007/08
Despite being the fifth-lowest-ranked team in the competition that year, Olympiakos managed to survive a group containing Real Madrid, Werder Bremen and Lazio after winning only one of their first four games.
Despite being unanimously predicted to finish rock bottom, Takis Lemonis’s men played out of their skins to become the group stage’s surprise package, beating Lazio and Bremen to set up a last 16 clash with Chelsea.
8. Bayern Munich, 2009/10
The German heavyweights had been less than impressive in Europe after winning just four points from as many games, including back-to-back defeats against Bordeaux. Louis van Gaal's job was under intense scrutiny, and the Dutchman needed big results fast: four points behind Juventus in third place, Bayern had to win their final two games while hoping other results went their way.
Yet incredibly they managed both, after a 1-0 home win against Maccabi Haifa and 4-1 crushing of Juve in Turin saw them qualify ahead of the Bianconeri. With spirits high following their unlikely escape, Bayern went all the way to the final but lost out to Jose Mourinho’s Inter at the final hurdle.
7. Rosenborg, 1996/97
Rosenborg got their Champions League campaign off to a perfect start in 1996/97, edging a five-goal thriller away at IFK Goteborg. A 4-1 thrashing by Milan followed, however, and their hopes of advancing to the next round were left hanging by a thread after successive setbacks in a double-header with Porto.
A 1-0 triumph over Goteborg took it down to the final day, when Rosenborg stunned Milan at the San Siro; goals from Harald Brattbakk and future Liverpool man Vegard Heggem sealed a 2-1 away win to send the Norwegians through and the Rossoneri packing.
6. Arsenal, 2015/16
Being drawn alongside familiar foes Bayern Munich in the group stage meant top spot was always going to be a big ask for Arsenal in 2015/16, but they were still expected to qualify for the knockout phase with a relative degree of comfort.
Yet things are seldom easy for the Gunners, who proceeded to lose their first two games to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos. A shock 2-0 defeat of Bayern gave them hope, but the Bavarians quickly extinguished that with a 5-1 thumping back in Munich.
Arsenal thus found themselves on the brink, but back-to-back wins against the Croatians and Greeks squeezed them through in second.
5. Man City, 2014/15
Having fallen at the group stage in two of their three previous Champions League campaigns, there was a sense of history repeating itself after Manchester City failed to win any of their first four games in 2014.
They then trailed Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich 2-1 at home with five minutes left, before Sergio Aguero struck two late goals to complete his hat-trick and seal a priceless win. Roma and CSKA's draw that same night still had the Italians ahead of City on goal difference going into their final game in Rome, where Manuel Pellegrini’s men held their nerve to triumph 2-0.
4. Dynamo Kiev, 1999/00
Andriy Shevchenko was the competition’s joint-top scorer as Dynamo Kiev reached the Champions League semi-finals in 1998/99, only to narrowly lose 4-3 on aggregate to Bayern Munich. Going one better was always going to be difficult the following season – Shevchenko was one of several players sold in the summer – but it was still a surprise to see the Ukrainians accumulate just one point from the first nine available in the group stage.
Valeriy Lobanovskiy’s side weren’t done there, however. Dynamo rallied to beat Bayer Leverkusen and Maribor in their next two encounters, and although they lost to Lazio on matchday six, second place in Group A was theirs.
3. Werder Bremen, 2005/06
After collecting just four points from five games, Bremen were in need of a minor miracle going into their final game against Panathinaikos. Level on points with the Greeks and needing Barcelona to beat Udinese, victory themselves and a four-goal swing between the two games, the odds were stacked firmly against Thomas Schaaf's side.
But the Bundesliga club produced a thrilling finale to their group stage adventure by smashing Panathinaikos 5-1. It looked as though their five-star display would be in vain, though, until their Catalan friends produced a late show of their own, scoring twice in the last five minutes to knock Udinese out.
2. Liverpool, 2007/08
Finding themselves in a dire situation, the 2005 champions needed to summon their powers of recovery to scrape through the group stage after collecting just one point from three games against Marseille, Porto and Besiktas.
The Reds eventually got going, though, smashing a record-breaking eight goals past Besiktas at Anfield and thumping Porto 4-1. Level with the Portuguese side going into the final match, the Reds faced the unenviable task of becoming the first English side to win at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille. But a convincing and clinical performance gave them a memorable 4-0 victory and passage through to the knockout phase.
1. Newcastle, 2002/03
Sir Bobby Robson’s Newcastle were flying high in the Premier League but had struggled to mix it with Europe's best, losing their first three group games to Dynamo Kiev, Feyenoord and Juventus without even scoring. But the Magpies didn't give up. Hosting a Juve side including Edgar Davids and Alessandro Del Piero at St. James’ Park, one moment was enough for Newcastle to kick-start their campaign.
Andy Griffin rushed onto a quickly taken free-kick and skipped past a challenge, before seeing his cross-cum-shot turned home by Gianluigi Buffon. Robson's men then managed to pull off victories over Dynamo Kiev and Feyenoord, becoming the first side to lose their first three games and qualify for the knockouts.