A Peter Withe goal gave them a narrow, yet glorious win in the Rotterdam showpiece, belying their mediocre mid-table placing at home.
When Arsenal faced Birmingham City in the 2011 League Cup final, many people felt it was a forgone conclusion that they would end their six-year trophy drought and were shocked when Blues emerged with the silverware. The Reds found their form in the knockout stages, just edging Chelsea 1-0 over two legs of the semi final, despite finishing 37 points behind the Blues in the Premier League. In 1969, Arsenal had gone 16 years without winning a trophy and were even bigger favourites to lift the cup, facing Third Division Swindon Town in the final. After drawing level, they somehow held on for a penalty shoot-out victory against all the odds, but were only able to defend their trophy after UEFA agreed to let them join the next season’s preliminary stages, having failed to finish in the Premier League’s top four.
In 2011 Leeds Rhinos became the first rugby league team to finish fifth in Super League’s regular season, then go on to be crowned Grand Final winners. The only thing they were favourites for was to finish bottom of a tough group containing hosts Portugal, Spain (ranked third in the world) and Russia (two places above Greece at 31). Villa had edged past Icelandic minnows Valur in the first round, then Eastern European opposition Dynamo Berlin on away goals, before knocking out Dynamo Kiev and squeaking past Anderlecht in the semi final with a single strike from Tony Morley early in the first leg. Under the management of German Otto Rehhagel, the Greek’s dour defensive tactics were enough to see off Czech Republic en route to a final rematch with hosts Portugal. The Greeks proceeded to stun the rest of Europe by beating hosts Portugal in the opening game and then drawing against Spain. St Helens lay in wait for the Rhinos, as the two went head-to-head in a Grand Final for the fourth time in five seasons. In the final Rafa Benitez’s team were taken apart by AC Milan, trailing 3-0 at half-time, before pulling off one of the all-time great comebacks, scoring three in just six second half minutes. Having scraped past Austrian side Grazer AK, losing the second leg 1-0 at Anfield for a narrow 2-1 aggregate win, the Reds squeezed through on goal difference in the group stages after losing twice, away to Monaco and Olympiacos. Like the previous three meetings, Leeds emerged triumphant, while the two best teams from the regular season, Warrington and Wigan, could only look on in envy.
LEEDS RHINOS, 2011 SUPER LEAGUE WINNERS
GREECE, EURO 2004 WINNERS
Norwich CITY, 1985 LEAGUE CUP WINNERS
Not all champion teams look like odds on winners, however, as talkSPORT recalls
Greece started the European Championships in 2004 as 150/1 rank outsiders to win their first ever major competition. Again, the Greeks kept a clean sheet to stun the Portuguese with a 1-0 win, confounding once again their status as 13th seeds in a 16-team tournament.
Swindon Town, 1969 LEAGUE CUP WINNERS
Having surprised everyone by winning the First Division title in 1981, Aston Villa won the European Cup at the first attempt, sneaking past favourites Bayern Munich in the final. LIVERPOOL, 2005 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS
After being thrashed by New Zealand and losing to Tonga in the pool stages, nearly blowing a 16-point lead against a poor England team, then only just crawling over the line against a 14-man Wales side in the semi final, France have been labelled as the worst team to reach a Rugby World Cup final.
Despite winning one of the most dramatic finals in football history, Liverpool were arguably the worst team to be crowned European champions. Mind you, at least they had some silverware to console them, unlike the team they beat to lift the cup losing finalists Sunderland were also relegated from the top flight that season.. In the semis Leeds faced regular season champions Warrington, who had finished 13 points clear of them, but were powerless to stop the Rhinos edging a tight clash 26-24. Defeat to Russia was compensated by qualification for the last eight, in which Greece managed to defeat the defending champions and tournament favourites in a shock 1-0 win. They only qualified for the tournament after finishing fourth in the Premier League the previous season, 30 points behind champions Arsenal and 15 behind third-placed Man United (by contrast, Liverpool were 15 points above 14th place). In doing so, Villa became the worst team to win a European Cup when taking into account where they finished domestically, having ended that year’s First Division season in 11th place, having lost as many games (15) as they won. While the Robins finished second in Division Three that season, Arsenal were going great guns near the top of Division One and were stunned to lose 3-1 in extra time to the lowest-placed team to win the League Cup.
ASTON Villa, 1982 EUROPEAN CUP WINNERS
The last team to achieve the unwanted distinction of winning a major trophy and being relegated from the top flight before Birmingham City (2011 Carling Cup/Premier League relegation) was Norwich City, who followed up their 1985 League Cup success at Wembley by being relegated from the old First Division. After losing 11 of their 27 regular season games, the Rhinos were forced to enter the play offs at the qualifying and elimination round,beating Hull FC to earn a place in the preliminary play off, where they overcame a Huddersfield team, that had finished a place above them