5 Unexpected Champions League Semi-finalists in recent years
The UEFA Champions League is without a doubt one of the greatest competitions in the sporting world. Since its rebranding and redesigned format in 1992 from the old European Cup, the Champions League has seen some of the greatest players, teams and managers.
But the beauty of this competition is the fact that it gives the minnows an ideal opportunity of making the name and presence of the club known to the world. We have seen great players and managers burst on to the scene in Europe's premier tournament in recent years.
But every year we have also been able to witness teams who we have never heard off, from smaller European countries. This further includes clubs who have gone on to have fairytale season by just reaching the knockout stages of the competitions, upstaging bigger teams, making improbable comebacks and finally winning the hearts and plaudits of fans from all over the world.
A recent example of the above is AS Roma from a fortnight ago. They made an unbelievable comeback from three goals down in the second leg of their quarter-final encounter against Barcelona, cancelling out a three-goal deficit from the reverse fixture, making the Catalans pay for their complacency as the Romans deservingly qualified for the last four.
So let's take a look at five of the most surprising semi-finalists in Europe in recent years:
#5 Villarreal (2005/06)
It was a remarkable 2005/06 UEFA Champions League campaign for Villarreal as they finished top of their group with 10 points registering only two wins, scoring a mere three goals and keeping five clean sheets in the six group stage matches under the management of Manuel Pellegrini.
The lineup consisted of future club greats such as Javi Venta, Diego Forlan, Marcos Senna, Joan Roman Riquelme and Santi Cazorla. Goalscoring proved to be an issue for the Spaniards throughout the competition as the back line carried the bulk of the workload in Villarreal's victories and progress in the knockout stages.
Two goals in the first leg helped the Yellow Submarines progress to the next round following a draw at home in the reverse fixture against Scottish giants Rangers. The task proved to get tougher when Villarreal were paired up against Inter Milan in the last eight.
A 2-1 loss away at Inter meant that the tie was evenly balanced with the second leg to be played at home. A solitary goal from Rodolfo Arruabarrena was enough for the Spanish club to make it to the semis as once again the defence proved to be the backbone in shutting out the Nerazzurri to qualify on away goals.
The semi-final fixture against Arsenal produced just one goal overall ensuring the Gunners passage to the final against Barcelona. Trailing by one goal from the first leg, luck ran out for Pellegrini's side as they failed to score in the return leg at El Madrigal.
Villarreal's run to the final four of Europe has got to be one of the most strange and interesting campaigns that any club has overseen in recent years. They won only one game in the entire knockouts yet still made their way through to the last four.