The Dark Horses Ride To Glory: The European Championship’s Unlikely Winners

January 27, 2016

- Grant Whittington

This summer 24 teams will enter the European Championships for the very first time, adding an extra eight from the previous 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine. And it’s caused quite the controversy.

For some it’s great, an extra eight teams playing in one of the most exciting tournaments in world football. For others they don’t see the need of extra teams, with no chance of winning, just turning up to make up the numbers.

But that isn’t always the case. Over the years we’ve seen winners come from the most unlikely of sources, defeating the big boys, and proving why the smaller nations deserve their place.

Both Northern Ireland and Wales will make their debut in the tournament this summer, and they’ll certainly be taking inspiration from these guys…


No we aren’t talking about their 2008 and 2012 victories, they were somewhat predictable, what with an in-form Fernando Torres, Iniesta, Xavi, and the rest, but in fact the 1964 team which beat the Soviet Union 2-1 in the final.

Then known as the European Nations’ Cup, Spain raised the trophy in front of 80,000 cheering fans at the Bernabeu in the most unlikely of circumstances.

At the time the team were relatively inexperienced and had failed to qualify for the 1954 and ’58 World Cups as well as failing to get out of the Group Stage at the 1962 tournament in Chile. In their home country however, it was a different story.

The Soviet Union were the defending champions and were strong in the Semi Final, beating Denmark 3-0, whilst the Spanish needed extra time to beat the Hungarians. It was looking that way again in the Final until Marcelino popped up to score in the final 10 minutes to seal the most unlikely of victories.


The Danish may have had the likes of Peter Schmeichel and Brian Laudrup in their side, but nobody expected Denmark to win Euro 92, particularly as they had actually failed to qualify!

After Yugoslavia’s disqualification from the tournament, the Scandinavian nation were given a reprieve and such was the unlikelihood of them winning, Michael Laudrup refused to even play in the tournament.

However, the side managed to get scrape through the Group Stage thanks to a win over France in the final game going on to beat the Netherlands in the Semi Final on penalties, with an inspired Peter Schmeichel saving the great Marco Van Basten’s penalty.

In the Final, Denmark amazingly came out on top, beating names such as Sammer, Effenburg, Riedle, and Klinsmann to win the nation’s only ever major honour and place themselves well and truly in Danish sporting history.


Perhaps one of the biggest shocks in football history was when Greece lifted the trophy a little over a decade ago.

The team had never won a major tournament before, in fact they’d never won a game in one too. They were a team making up the numbers, like Wales will be, like Northern Ireland, like Iceland and, well, actually England.

Before the tournament the Greek’s were 250/1 to win the tournament and odds on to go out in the Group Stage. In the opening game they caused a huge upset by beating hosts Portugal and earning a draw against Spain to take them through on goals scored.

The Quarter Final saw them beat a French side with Zidane, Pires, Henry, and Makelele in the ranks before an extra time Semi Final win took them to the Final and head-to-head once again with Portugal.

In front of 63,000, most of whom were cheering on Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Deco, the Greeks did something extraordinary. With a strong defensive line they held the attacking prowess of the Portuguese at bay, winning a corner in the 57th minute which would become one of the biggest moments of the decade. Whipped in, Angelos Charisteas charged towards the ball, heading past an ailing Ricardo.

The Portuguese were shocked. The world was shocked. Greece, against the odds, were European Champions.

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