The 5 most unlikely victories in football

After Portugal’s stunning victory in the Euro 2016 final, here are five unlikely and impressive comebacks from the football world


Team Portugal posing with the trophy on the pitch after they won the Euro 2016 final football match between Portugal and France at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Paris, on 10 July, 2016. Photo: AFP
Team Portugal posing with the trophy on the pitch after they won the Euro 2016 final football match between Portugal and France at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Paris, on 10 July, 2016. Photo: AFP

American novelist Anne Lamott put it perfectly. She writes, “There is nothing as sweet as a comeback, when you are down and out, about to lose, and out of time.” It doesn’t take a genius to see how this quote is apt for football too. Everyone loves an underdog, and watching a side stand up against expectations and rise to the circumstances makes their victory all the more precious. When Portugal barely snuck its way past the group stages of the Euros, most critics had already written them off. It was these assumptions that made their surprising success at the Euros all the more special. Here are five similarly impressive matches that encapsulate the spirit of unlikely triumph.

Portugal- North Korea- 5-3 (1966)

It was the eighth showing of the FIFA World Cup, and the North Korean football team took the world by storm. After having sent the Italians back home in the group of 16 round already, the North Koreans even managed to take a three goal lead over football giants Portugal.Pak Seung-Jin opened their account in the first minute itself, with Lee Dong-Woon and Yang Seung-Kook adding to their total. What makes this comeback so impressive is that it was orchestrated almost single-handedly. Portuguese player Eusébio Ferreira, nicknamed “the Black Panther”, scored the next four goals, pretty much sealing the game. José Augusto’s header for Portugal was the last nail in the North Korean coffin.

Arsenal- Reading- 7-5 (2012)

A more recent match, this has already gone down as one of the all-time legendary football comebacks. With Arsenal playing away from home, down 4-0 in the 37th minute, not much hope was left. However, the game took an unexpected turn when Theo Walcott knocked one in toward the end of the first half. Olivier Giroud scored one more in the second half, but things were very heated as the final whistle neared at 4-2. Laurent Koscielny who’d scored an own-goal in the first half, repaid his team by slotting one in with a minute to spare. Walcott’s all important equalizer, which kept Arsenal in the game, came with just seconds of injury time left. The next two goals were scored, but it was Walcott’s hat-trick making finish that pushed Arsenal back ahead. Marouane Chamakh came in clutch with Arsenal’s seventh.

Newcastle-Arsenal- 4-4 (2011)

This time around, it was Arsenal that were left looking like idiots, after they were up 3-0 in the first ten minutes of the game, thanks to strikes from Theo Walcott, Robin Van Persie and a Johan Djourou header . Van Persie slotted in Arsenal’s fourth a little later but Newcastle earned a penalty for a sloppy strike by Abou Diaby. Joey Barton scored the penalty, and scored another one after a goal from Leon Best, to put Newcastle just one goal shy of Arsenal. Arsenal’s victory lasted till nearly the end of the match. With just three minutes left on the clock, Newcastle’s Cheick Tioté launched a long-range volley to equalize. Out of all these comebacks, this goal was probably the best one, and left everyone in St. James’ Park ecstatic.

Manchester United-Bayern Munich- 2-1 (1999)

The unforgettable 1999 UEFA Champions League Final between these giants of European football took place in Camp Nou. Mario Basler put Munich ahead of the Red Devils in the first six minutes of the game with a free kick. Bayern even hit the woodwork twice in the second half of the match as United held on. Their victory came in the form of two surprising injury time strikes by Manchester United substitutes Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær. United’s extremely improbably win sealed their treble-winning season and simultaneously denied Bayern its trouble.

Sweden- Germany- 4-4 (2012)

In what was by far the most entertaining match in the 2012 World cup qualifiers, Joachim Löw’s men were denied an assured victory by a spirited Swedish team in the second half. Miroslav Klose slotted an easy double in the first 15 minutes of the game. After this was followed up with goals from Per Mertesacker and Mesut Özil, the match looked all but finished in the first half itself. The Swedes weren’t done yet, staging a brilliant comeback. Manager Erik Hamrén’s half-time substitutions were well timed, and had a hand in all the goals. While Zlatan Ibrahimović, Michael Lustig and Johan Elmander scored in regulation time, it was Rasmus Elm’s brilliant stoppage time strike that completed Sweden’s recovery.

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