Five glorious teams the football world fell in love with
With Valentine’s Day just across the corner, the Ladbrokes News team have gotten all dewy-eyed about their greatest loves, footballing loves, of course.
The great thing about sport is that though more often than not it’ll go to form, sometimes a team can do what everybody says they couldn’t.
David sometimes beats Goliath.
And for all of football’s bad press – and there’s quite a lot of it let’s be honest – now and then a team will come around who reminds you exactly why you fell in love with the sport in the first place.
So to celebrate all things Valentine, we’ve put together a little trip down memory lane on five teams who truly captured our hearts…
What can be said about Leicester City that hasn’t been uttered already?
Bottom of the table as Cupid fired his arrow this time last year, the Foxes now sit top of the Premier League, having been 5,000/1 shots at the start of the season.
Claudio Ranieri has led a team of underdogs and week after week they’ve beaten all comers, playing some stunning football and netting hatfuls of wonderful goals.
The east midlands team has stolen everyone’s hearts, and there’s barely a soul in the land who doesn’t want them to win the Premier League and complete the most romantic football story ever told.
Fulham were playing in Europe for just the second season in their history as they entered the Europa League qualifiers in July 2009, but when Roy Hodgson’s Cottagers headed to Lithuania to play Vetra, little did they know the journey they were about to embark on.
Over 19 games the west Londoners would play teams from eight countries, taking on European veterans like CSKA Sofia, Roma and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Even Italian giants Juventus were defeated in one of Craven Cottage’s greatest nights, while Wolfsburg and Hamburg were swept aside.
The fairytale didn’t get the ending we all hoped for as Atletico Madrid needed Diego Forlan at his peak – just weeks before becoming the top scorer at World Cup 2010 – to net an extra time winner.
The journey had taken over nine months and tens of thousands of miles, but for one little season, everybody was a Fulham fan.
It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t that exciting, but Greece defied all the odds in Portugal.
Only Latvia were seen as less likely to win the tournament, but the 250-1 shot Greeks hinted at what was to come with an opening-game victory over Cristiano Ronaldo’s hosts – their first ever European Championship win.
The 2-1 success was the only time Greece would score more than once in a game, but a resolute back-line and expert marshalling from Theo Zakorakis made sure that one goal was enough every time.
France were ousted in the quarter-finals, then the Czech Republic in extra-time put them into the final to face, yep, Portugal, in Lisbon. Having already seen off the hosts in the groups, Angelos Charisteas thrust himself and his team into Greek folklore with a 57th-minute winner.
It was a team built on grit rather than flair by wily coach Otto Rehhagel , but much like you love your old and naggy great aunt, we all came to kind of accept our unlikely heroes.
South Korea 2002
Having never won a World Cup finals match before, hopes weren’t too high for co-hosts South Korea in 2002.
Opening with a 2-0 win over Poland began a remarkable journey however which saw Guus Hiddink’s side knock fancied Portugal out in the group stage.
It got so much better in the second round as Ahn Jung-hwan’s Golden Goal knocked out an Italy side which had reached the Euro 2000 final.
The story didn’t end there as Spain were dumped out on penalties in the last eight.
A late Michael Ballack strike for Germany ended the South Korean dream in the semi-finals, but it remains one of football’s great underdog stories. And we love it now just as much as we did then.
Argentina’s 1996 Olympic squad included Javier Zanetti, Hernan Crespo and Diego Simeone, France featured Claude Makelele, Robert Pires and Vincent Candala, and Spain could count on Raul, Gaizka Mendieta and Fernando Morientes.
Even Italy were contenders with Fabio Cannavaro, Gigi Buffon and Marco Delvecchio. In short, Nigeria had no chance.
Especially as Brazil’s squad included the original Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo and Juninho. Seriously, Nigeria were no-hopers.
But a team which brought us Jay-Jay Okocha, Kanu, Celestine Babayaro and of course Taribo West, got through their group before seeing off Mexico in the last eight.
Having already lost to the Brazilians in the group stage, Nigeria’s time looked up in the semi-final, and it looked absolutely over when the half-time score read 3-1 to the World Cup legends.
Viktor Ikpeba pulled one back inside the final 15 minutes before Kanu levelled it at the death. The then-Ajax man was in no mood to hang around and scored the Golden Goal just four minutes into extra-time.
As Brazil sought vengeance in a 5-0 win for the Bronze medal over Portugal, the Nigerians just kept on going, and after being 1-0 and 2-1 down against Argentina, Daniel Amakochi levelled before Emmanuel Amunike scored in the 90th minute to claim the most unlikely gold medal.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.