The Champions League is a place where Europe’s finest teams get to thrive. Taking to the pitch with the multi-million pound stars all backed by a sea of diehard fans, the teams that thrive in the competition are, without doubt, the leading lights in the game.
However, every so often the sharks take their eyes off the ball long enough to allow a minnow or two to slip through the net. Although these footballing shrimps are often snapped up on sight and don’t usually make it as far as the final, they have been known to make an impact in the latter stages of the tournament.
The Story of Two Minnows Starting with L
This season, the proverbial minnows who were gunning for a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League were Ludogorets. The Bulgarian side are barely known outside the confines of their home country, and their stadium capacity of just over 8,000 would fit snugly into one side of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
However, for all their shortcomings, Ludogorets are in the Champions League and even got their campaign underway with a well-earned draw at FC Basel. Although subsequent weeks have seen Ludogorets lose convincingly (a 6-0 loss to Arsenal was tough to stomach), they’re still fighting for pride in Group A.
Yes, they’re nine points behind Paris Saint-Germain. And, yes, the Champions League odds on them making it out of their group were never giving them a sniff, but they could still salvage some respect in their final match. Of course, if we’re really looking for Champions League minnows that could upset the odds then we need look no further than Leicester City.
After defying their 5,000/1 market price last season to win the Premier League, the English club have qualified for the Champions League knockout stage in style, topping their group without loss and with a game to spare. In fact, despite languishing in 14th place in the Premier League after 12 games, Leicester are 40/1 to win the Champions League which is actually better than previous winners Porto (150/1) and Tottenham’s conquerors Monaco (66/1).
History Has a Place for an Underdog
Now, to suggest we might see a minnow rise up and pinch the Champions League winner’s trophy from under the noses of the big boys might be a stretch. Indeed, the current dynamics and odds suggest it’s a long shot. However, as we all know, long shots are still shots, and history has told us that anything can happen.
When APOEL pulled off a shock win against Lyon in 2012 to reach the quarter-finals of the competition, their players, fans and even neutrals dared to dream. Unfortunately, as is often the case in the Champions League, things get tougher as the rounds progress and the Cypriot side eventually ran into Real Madrid. Unsurprisingly, APOEL did lose over the course of two legs, but two goals inside the Bernabeu was still something of a highlight for the club.
While a club as small in stature as APOEL has yet to win the Champions League, we did see a “minor” outfit come up trumps back in 1991. Red Star Belgrade might be the largest club in Serbia, with an estimated 48% of the country’s population supporting them, but in European terms they’re far from giants of the game. However, despite that lack of size and stature, Red Star won Europe’s premier club competition (the European Cup as it was back then) after a thrilling 5-3 penalty victory over Marseille.
Anything Can Happen in the Champions League
History has clearly shown us that smaller clubs can win the biggest competition in Europe. Similarly, the exploits of Ludogorets and Leicester in this season’s competition are a sign that this trend could continue. While it might not happen this time around, that’s not to say we won’t ever see a minnow swim to victory in the Champions League in the coming years.
The betting odds may not always reflect well on clubs that aren’t called Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich, but that doesn’t mean a surprise win wouldn’t ever happen. In fact, if you’re ever in the market for a little more excitement in the Champions League and your own team isn’t involved, there’s a lot to be said for backing a minnow to come out on top.
Daniel Smyth is a freelance writer who specializes in sports betting reports. With a career spanning seven years and covering all areas of the betting world, Daniel is now focusing his time on football, boxing and MMA previews, opinion pieces and betting guides.