Sometimes, we all need those moments straight out of movies; moments that give football its charm. A team that isn’t even the best in its own city coming back from a three-goal deficit to win, a team pulling their opponents back in the final minute, a team scoring twice in injury time to overcome a one-goal deficit.
However, these moments would be more magical if the team itself has humble beginnings, not like the stellar ones recent winners have had. This edition of the Champions league too, has it’s fair share of underdogs who can give the regular big guns a run for their money. Here is a list they should probably watch out for:
5. Galatasaray S.K. (UEFA Rank: 44)
One of the qualifiers from the rather easy Group H, the Turkish outfit is undoubtedly their most successful exponent in Europe. Having started out on a bad note with back-to-back losses, Galatasaray bucked up and got it’s act together soon enough, announcing themselves as major upset causers, beating Manchester United, although United were, admittedly, not fielding a full strength team. Wins against Braga and Cluj saw this club through to the knockout stages on the basis of Head-to-Head record against Cluj, and they now plan on taking on Europe with a homegrown team.
Their team qualified for the first time in 11 seasons, coming back from 1-0 down to score two goals and beat Braga. The last time they qualified to the knockout stages was in the 2000-01 season, where they had stunned the likes of AC Milan and Real Madrid, only to go down to Real Madrid who had become more vary since their first leg loss. Lets hope they catch a few more teams unawares and go really far.
Key Players: Burak Yilmaz, Hamit Altintop, Felipe Melo
4. Schalke 04 (UEFA Rank: 15)
The German giants topped their group, beating Arsenal F.C to the punch. Emerging from Group B, they go into the knockout stages unbeaten so far, with 3 wins and 3 draws. Starting off with a win against the Greek Olympiacos, they went on to beat Arsenal at home with strikes from last seasons Bundesliga top-scorer Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Barcelona midfielder Ibrahim Afellay. Last season’s third placed Germans have a nasty goal or two in them if Huntelaar remembers to bring his shooting boots to the knockout stages, and most big clubs will be vary of them.
Their last qualification into the knockout stages occurred two editions previously, when their team had the Spanish legend Raul Gonzales. They caused upsets on their way, beating the likes of Valencia and defending champions Internazionale, only to concede defeat from eventual finalists Manchester United in the semi finals.
Key Players: Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Ibrahim Afelay
3. Malaga CF (UEFA Rank: 62)
Ranked 3rd, we have Qatari dollars working their magic at sunny Malaga. Emerging unbeaten from their group too, with 3 wins and 3 draws, Malaga have already struck the perfect balance between spending high and spending wise. Beating fellow high spenders Zenit St. Petesburg and European Big Wigs AC Milan, occupying the top position in their own group, this is the first time Malaga have qualified for the knockout stages in their history.
Key Players: Isco, Eliseu, Duda
2. Shakhtar Donetsk (UEFA Rank: 12)
Shakhtar Donetsk have the disadvantage of coming from a black horse of a football league in Ukraine, as well as being underdogs themselves. However, they can (and indeed, have) work this to their advantage. Having initially hammered group whipping boys Nordsjaelland, they held the Italian giants of the unbeaten streak and Calciopoli fame Juventus to a draw and caught defending champions Chelsea on the wrong foot. They emerged second from the group, qualifying instead of Chelsea due to superior head-to-head record.
Their last qualification into the knockout stages had arrived two years previously, when they had stunned Arsenal and Roma only to go back home following an embarrassing 6-1 routing at the hands of Barcelona. They field a much stronger side this time and even Barcelona would have a tough time trying to take on this resurgent team.
Key Players: Willian, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Fernandinho
1. Celtic F.C. (UEFA Rank: 59)
The first British team to win the Champions League trophy finds itself on the first rank on this list as well. Contesting in the knockout stages after qualifying from the group G, Celtic showed the world that the group G wasn’t a case of Barcelona and their sparring partners, when they assumed similar tactics as last year’s Chelsea to create an impenetrable brick wall that mobilized once and scored against Barcelona, giving them the solitary and all important goal of the match, beating what is considered the best team in the world.
Any team that can beat Barcelona has shown grit and determination enough to upset just about any team in the world, and Celtic F.C will be hunting for blood in Europe now, having been denied their arch-rivals Rangers in the SPL (Rangers have been relegated to the third division), and even the biggest and best of teams will be praying against these underdogs.
Key Players: Samaras, Wanyama, Mulgrew
So there you have it, the top 5 underdogs of the Champions league this season. Do tell me if my analysis has a few flaws in it, or if I have missed a few of the underdogs in the knockout stages, in the comments section. Thanks for reading!