The Champions League has never had a repeat winner – this lends us to believe that it is a competition that is utterly unpredictable. However, given the nature of modern football, it’s actually a shock to see sides other than the Barcelonas, Bayern Munichs and Real Madrids of the world make a significant dent in the Champions League proper.
However, knockout football remains a great leveller and there have been lesser lights that have traversed deep into the Champions League, with some even shocking the footballing universe by going all the way. Everyone loves an underdog story, and the annual Champions League drama usually provides us one with quite some regularity.
Here are 7 of the most shocking Champions League runs
1) Nantes 95/96
Nantes’ inclusion in the list of surprising Champions League runs is a bit of a misnomer. Le Canaris were champions of France in the 1994/95 season, and are generally considered to be one of the biggest clubs in France. However, the 1995/96 vintage of the club from Brittany were a special lot, and narrowly missed out on making the Champions League final, going down to eventual champions Juventus.
Nantes’ defensive platform was placed around a very familiar name, Claude Makelele. The Frenchman’s talents were already acknowledged in his native land, but Europe was only just waking up to his undoubted defensive skills. Makelele shrugged off the semifinal loss to Juventus to later win the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid at the turn of the millennium.
Boasting talented youngsters like Japhet N’Doram, Patrice Loko, Reynald Pedros and Nicolas Ouedec, the Jean-Claude Suadeau managed side finished 2nd in the group stages that involved Panathinaikos, AaB and Porto. The Canaries then defeated Russian champs Spartak Moscow 4-2 on aggregate, to earn a semifinal showdown with Juventus.
Having lost the first leg at the Stadio Delle Alpi 2-0, and trailing 2-1 in the 50th minute of the second leg, Juventus seemed comfortably placed. However, goals from N’Doram and Franc Renou set the cat among the pigeons, as the Bianconeri nervously held off a late charge from the French side to ultimately triumph 4-3 on aggregate, and make the finals where they defeated Ajax on penalties.
What’s rather tragic is that one of France’s most successful clubs went downhill rather quickly, as Nantes were relegated to Ligue 2, and only earned promotion in the 2013/14 season. Things are looking up though for the club that produced Marcel Desailly, Didier Deschamps, Mickael Landreau, Jeremy Toulalan et al, as the Canaries are 6th in Ligue 1 standings, just 3 points off a return to Europe.