UEFA Champions League: Success, Shocks and Surprises

A look at the history of the European Cup and Champions League and major surprises that occurred in the past

Champions League: Success, Shocks and Surprises

The best teams in Europe, which are also the best in the world in most cases, compete every year in UEFA’s top tier competition: the Champions League.

For the current season, the group stage phase has been completed and 16 teams have proceeded to the knock out stage.

“All 16 clubs come from the big five European leagues. This has not happened before.”

All 16 clubs come from the big five European leagues: the Premier League, La Liga, Seria A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1. This has not happened before in the history of the Champions League since its constitution in 1992.

These include four English (Man City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea), four Spanish (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Atletico Madrid), three German (Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig), three Italian (Juventus, Atalanta, S.S.C. Napoli) and two French teams (Paris St Germain, Lyon).

The draw took place this week. You can see the match-ups below:

Dortmund (GER) v Paris (FRA)
Real Madrid (ESP) v Man. City (ENG)
Atalanta (ITA) v Valencia (ESP)
Atlético (ESP) v Liverpool (ENG)
Chelsea (ENG) v Bayern (GER)
Lyon (FRA) v Juventus (ITA)
Tottenham (ENG) v Leipzig (GER)
Napoli (ITA) v Barcelona (ESP)

History of the Competition

Prior to the official beginning of the European Cup, the name of Champions League before 1992, there were other attempts at similar tournaments. Such were the Challenge Cup (a competition between clubs in the Austro-Hungarian Empire), the Mitropa Cup (a competition between central European clubs), and the Coupe de Nations (10 champions across the continent of Europe).

However, the Campeonato Sudomericano de Campeones of 1948 which took place in South America as the first continent-wide football tournament in South America was the inspiration for a similar idea in Europe. Gabriel Hanot, a French editor of the popular sports newspaper L’Équipe, had received positive reports from his journalists over Campeonato Sudomericano de Campeones of 1948.

He then began proposing to UEFA the creation of a similar European tournament. In 1955 Hanot convinced UEFA in Paris. The first European Champions Club Cup, most commonly known as European Cup, took place during the 1955-56 season.

Champions League: Success, Shocks and Surprises

Sixteen teams participated with the final taking place at Parc de Princes in Paris between Real Madrid and Stade de Reims. In front of 38, 000 fans, the Spanish side won the game with 4-3 and lifted the trophy.

Real Madrid with Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Hector Rial and Fransisco Gento leading the way, managed to win the trophy for the next four seasons. The 1959-60 final between Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt is one of the most historic for two reasons.

“A whopping 127,000 fans attended the match.”

Firstly, it is the final with the highest score as Real Madrid won the game 7-3 (Puskas scored four goals and Di Stefano a hat trick). Secondly, it is still the final with the highest attendance. A whopping 127,000 fans attended the match which took place at Hampden Park in Glasgow.

The next two seasons were the turn of Portuguese side Benfica, under the legendary Hungarian coach Bela Guttmann, to be champions of Europe. At the 1962 final against Real Madrid, Eusebio introduced himself to European football by scoring twice in Benfica’s 5-3 victory. After being European Champion for the second time in a row, Bela Guttmann asked for an increase in his salary, however, Benfica’s board of directors denied it.

“Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champions.”

Guttmann then decided to leave Benfica, but before leaving he declared: “Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champions”. Since then Benfica have not won any European title despite participating in five European Cup finals (1963, 1965, 1968, 1988 ,1990) and three UEFA Cup/Europa League finals (1983, 2013, 2014).

Before the 1990 Vienna European Cup final, Eusebio prayed over the grave of Bela Guttmann for the curse to be broken, however, this didn’t happen. The ‘curse of Bella Guttmann’ still lives.

The competition’s most successful clubs

Real Madrid is undoubtedly the most dominant club in the competition with 13 wins. These include 6 European Cup (1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966) and 7 Champions League titles since its constitution in 1992 (1998, 2000, 2002, 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018).

Second on the list comes the Italian side AC Milan. Milan have won the trophy seven times. AC Milan was the first Italian team to become European Champions in 1963 against Eusebio’s Benfica at Wembley Stadium by winning the final with 2-1.

The following two seasons the other team of the town, Inter Milan, won the cup using the famous 3-5-2 of Helenio Herrera. AC Milan won it six more times in 1969, 1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007.

Liverpool rose to third place after winning last season’s trophy. Liverpool were not the first English team to win the trophy, however, as Manchester United’s Busby Babes did so in 1968. The game took place in Wembley, with United winning against Benfica with a 4-1 score. Bobby Charlton scored twice in front of 92,000 fans.

Despite not being the first, Liverpool are the most successful English club at the highest European level, as they’ve won the European Cup and Champions League six times (1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005, and 2019).

The 2005 final is considered by a lot of people as one of the most exciting in the history of the competition. Liverpool were down to AC Milan with 3-0 at half time and managed to equalize during the second half in a span of 16 minutes, before winning the game at penalties.

The Biggest Surprises

One of the differentiating factors of the competition, when its name changed to Champions League in 1992, was the expansion to 32 teams, where an additional group stage round was added. Before 1992, only 16 teams participated and games were taking place in the form of home and away knock out battles. This favored the chances of a surprise result and sometimes even underdogs going on to win the competition.

1967 Celtic

The first major surprise was by the Scottish side of Celtic which in 1966-1967 managed to become European Champions. The final took place in Lisbon against Inter Milan who were the favorites to win, having already done so twice in 1964 and 1965.

“Celtic were the first team across the United Kingdom to win the trophy.”

Despite that, Inter Milan opened the score with a penalty kick by Mazzola in the 7th minute. Celtic subsequently scored twice (Gemmell 63rd and Chalmers 84th minute) and proudly the team who would be known as ‘the Lisbon Lions’ returned back to Glasgow as European Champions.

It is the only time in history a Scottish side won the European Cup or Champions League. However, it was historic in more than one way, as Celtic were the first team across the United Kingdom to win the trophy.

Nottingham Forest 1979 & 1980

At the city center of Nottingham, there is a statue of the ex-footballer and coach Brian Clough. Probably the best English coach that never managed the national team of England, Clough took over Derby County while they were at the bottom of the second division.

Clough led Derby County to the first division before winning the league with the team in 1972. Three years later he joined the other football club in the city: Nottingham Forest. An exceptional team was subsequently constructed by Clough.

Nottingham Forest won the European Cup in 1979 against Malmo with 1-0, with the final taking place at the Olympiastadion in Munich. Trevor Francis scored the winning goal at the last minute of the first half.

Some called it a miracle and others that it happened by accident. Nottingham Forest managed to change that public opinion by repeating the achievement at end of the next season.

At the final against Hamburger SV, held at Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, Nottingham Forest celebrated the winning of their second European Cup in a row with a 1-0 victory, with the only goal scored by Robertson at the 20th minute.

1982 Aston Villa

Another huge surprise took place in 1982 when English club Aston Villa won the European Cup against Bayern Munich. At the final at the DeKuip stadium in Rotterdam, the Germans had underestimated the Villans, who managed a win with a goal scored by Peter Withe.

1983 Hamburg

Juventus, who are the team to be defeated the most times at European Cup or Champions League finals (7), participated in another surprise result in the competition.

In 1983, with the final hosted at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, Juventus faced German side Hamburg.

The Germans, against the odds, managed to win the match with a left-foot strike from Felix Magath in the 8th minute.

1986 Steaua Bucharest

In 1986, Steaua Bucharest became the first and still only Romanian team to win the European Cup or Champions League.

Barcelona were participating for the first time in their history in a European Cup final and they were confident of becoming European champions against the underdogs of Steaua.

After a goalless draw the game would be decided by penalty kicks. The game took place in Sevilla. The stand behind the goalpost on the side where the penalties took place was filled with Barcelona fans.

“Steaua Bucharest became the first and still only Romanian team to win the European Cup.”

This, however, worked as additional motivation for the Steaua goalkeeper, Helmuth Duckadam, who saved four of Barcelona’s penalties, helping the Romanian side to the trophy.

Tragically, Duckadam had suffered an aneurism, discovered on his right arm some days after the final. As a result of that, he was forced to retire from football.


1988 PSV Eindhoven

PSV Eindhoven have won the European Cup or Champions League trophy just once.

This happened in 1988 in a final game against Benfica. Under Guus Hiddink, and with Ronald Koeman in their starting lineup, PSV went on to win the game at penalties after a goalless draw.

PSV scored all of their six penalty kicks whereas Benfica missed one, with Veloso being the player to miss it.


1991 Red Star Belgrade

In 1991, it was the turn of Red Star Belgrade to shine. Shortly before the breakup of Yugoslavia, Red Star Belgrade became the only Yugoslavian team to manage to win the European Cup.

The final was held at the Stadio San Nicola in Bari with the opposing side being the French club Marseille, who had one of the best French strikers of all time, Jean-Pierre Roger Guillaume Papin, in their starting lineup.

The result after 120 minutes played remained 0-0 and hence penalties would decide the winner.

Red Star Belgrade scored all five penalties whereas Marseille missed once, with Amoros being the unlucky player, resulting in the Yugoslavian club winning the European Cup.

1993 Marseille

What Marseille failed to manage in 1991 they did so two years later during the first Champions League final against Milan.

Boli scored the only goal of the game in the 43rd minute and Marseille won the game, which took place at the Olympiastadion in Munich. Marseille had players such as Fabian Barthez, Desailly and Deschamps in their starting lineup, whereas at Milan it was Baresi, Maldini, Rijkaard and Van Basten.

Champions League
The AC Milan squad

Despite the fact that the inventor of the European Cup competition was French, this is the only time in history that a French club won the European Cup or Champions League.

“Marseille’s status as 1993 European champions was not affected.”

Marseille and their club president Bernard Tapie would later be found to have been involved in a match-fixing scandal during the 1992–93 season (in which Marseille allegedly paid Valenciennes to lose a match), which saw them relegated to Division 2 and banned from participation in European football for the following season. However, as the scandal affected only French league matches, Marseille’s status as 1993 European champions was not affected.

2004 Porto

Porto are the last true underdog team to have won the Champions League. This happened in 2004 in the final against Monaco, where the Portuguese side won the game 3-0.

“This was the title that opened the road for Jose Mourinho to join top tier European clubs.”

Carlos Alberto, Deco and Alenichev scored the goals for the Dragons. Jose Mourinho’s side proceeded to the final after knocking Manchester United out at the round of 16, Lyon in the quarter-finals and Deportivo La Coruna in the semi-final.

This was the title that opened the road for Jose Mourinho to join top tier European clubs, as days after the final he left Porto to join Chelsea. Mourinho has since then also managed Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspurs.

by Joseph Violaris


Leave a Reply