Euro 2024: How Underdogs Have Fared in Previous Tournaments Ahead of Germany Edition

Euro 2024: How Underdogs Have Fared in Previous Tournaments Ahead of Germany Edition

Isaac Darko
updated at June 14, 2024 at 9:42 AM
In this article:
UEFA European Championship logo
Portugal logo
Turkey logo
Russia logo
Czech logo
Czech Republic
Denmark logo
  • The UEFA European Championships have delivered a few fairy-tale moments in its history
  • The upcoming 17th edition is scheduled to take place in Germany from June 14 to July 14
  • Here are some of the underdog stories in the history of the competition since its inception

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When David beats Goliath, it's the moment when the plucky underdog prevails, often igniting a major tournament.

One of the enduring charms of the UEFA European Championship is the phenomenon of underdog victories.

In the early years, the Euro tournament was largely controlled by dominant teams such as Germany, Spain, and France, who secured multiple championships.

Greece, Portugal, Euro 2004, Angelos Charisteas, Cristiano Ronaldo, underdogs, Luis Figo, Lisbon.
Greek players and staff members pose for photographers at Stadio da Luz in Lisbon after beating Portugal to win the Euro title on July 4, 2004. Photo by Francois Xavier Marit.
Source: Getty Images

However, the competition has also seen underdog nations rise to the occasion, surpassing expectations and making their mark on soccer history.

Despite facing seemingly insurmountable odds, teams like Greece in 2004 and Denmark in 1992 defied expectations to claim the title, captivating the world with their tenacity and resilience.

Sports Brief examines a variety of underdogs who have achieved legendary feats against the odds at the UEFA European Championship.

Euro's most memorable underdog stories

Turkey, Russia advance to the semi-finals in Euro 2008

In the 2008 edition, Turkey and Russia entered the tournament ranked 15th and 16th, respectively. Despite these underdog positions, both teams embarked on remarkable journeys to the semi-finals, per Eurosport.

Their accomplishments were particularly impressive given their rocky starts. Turkey suffered a 2-0 defeat to Portugal, while Russia faced a crushing 4-1 loss to eventual champions, Spain.

However, a string of victories in their final group matches turned the tide. Turkey triumphed over Switzerland and the Czech Republic, while Russia defeated Greece and Sweden, securing second place in their groups and a spot in the quarter-finals.

In the quarter-finals, Turkey defeated Croatia with a last-minute equaliser from Semih Senturk, eventually winning on penalties. Meanwhile, Russia thumped the Netherlands 3-1 in extra time, courtesy of goals from Dmitri Torbinski and Andrey Arshavin.

Although both teams were eventually eliminated by Germany and Spain in the semi-finals, their remarkable performances demonstrated that even the lowest-ranked teams were capable of making deep runs in the tournament.

Czechoslovakia clinch Euro 1976

In 1976, the Euros featured only four teams, all of whom had to earn their spot after enduring a rigorous qualification process involving 32 teams. Despite this, Czechoslovakia's victory may seem unexpected when considering the circumstances.

Remarkably, the tournament was so tightly contested that all four matches in the tournament were decided in extra time or on penalties, highlighting the fierce competition among the teams.

Yet, the condensed format of the tournament only served to amplify the Czechs' achievements. Despite lacking star players, they managed to overcome esteemed opponents, showcasing their resilience and determination.

Their journey began with a victory over the Netherlands, who were undergoing a revolution inspired by Total Football. In the semi-finals, they secured a 3-1 win with two goals in the second half of extra time.

In the final, they faced West Germany, a team considered one of the greatest in history after winning Euro 1972 and the World Cup in 1974. Despite setbacks, including conceding a late equaliser, the Czechs emerged victorious, winning the first-ever penalty shootout in a major international tournament.

Antonin Panenka's iconic chip from the penalty spot sealed their triumph, a moment still remembered to this day.

Czech Republic make wonders in debut tournament

Czech Republic's journey began on a shaky note with a loss to Germany in their opening match.

However, they bounced back with a surprise 2-1 victory over Italy, capitalising on Arrigo Sacchi's decision to field a weakened team. A 3-3 draw with Russia was enough to eliminate Italy in the group stage.

The Czechs faced tough challenges throughout the tournament. They defeated Portugal 1-0 in the quarter-finals, courtesy of Karol Poborsky's remarkable lob. In the semi-finals, they edged past France in a penalty shootout that went to sudden death.

In the final against Germany, the Czech Republic took a second-half lead but ultimately fell short, conceding two goals to Oliver Bierhoff.

Despite their squad lacking star power before the tournament, the performances of young talents like Pavel Nedved, Karol Poborsky, and Patrik Berger earned them moves to top European clubs and cult-hero status.

Most importantly, they established the newly-independent nation as a credible force in international football once again.

Denmark seizes late opportunity, wins Euro 1992

Surprisingly, eventual champions Denmark didn't officially qualify for Euro 1992. They were only invited to participate after Yugoslavia, whom they had finished second behind in the group stage, got disqualified due to the civil war unfolding in the country amid its breakup.

Despite having only a week's notice to prepare for the eight-team tournament, the Danish team, featuring 10 players from the Brondby squad that reached the UEFA Cup semi-finals the previous year, immediately found their rhythm.

A goalless draw against England and a 2-1 victory over France, sandwiched between a 1-0 loss to hosts, Sweden, secured them a spot in the semi-finals against the Netherlands, who had topped the other group.

In the semi-final clash, Denmark twice took the lead, but it was goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel's heroics, including saving Marco van Basten's penalty in the shootout, that sealed their victory.

Schmeichel continued his stellar performance in the final, making crucial saves to thwart a dominant Germany in the early stages. John Jensen, who had only scored one goal in his previous 48 internationals, broke the deadlock with a strike from the edge of the box in the 18th minute.

Kim Vilfort added a second with 12 minutes remaining, sealing the most improbable of tales with a perfect conclusion.

Greece twice upset Portugal to win Euro 2004.

Placed in a group alongside hosts Portugal and Spain, Greece - with only two major tournament appearances in their history - faced slim odds of progressing to the knockout stages of Euro 2004, let alone winning the tournament.

Ranked 19th in the world at the start of the event, the Greeks were considered less likely than even Latvia to lift the trophy.

Under the guidance of the pragmatic former German international Otto Rehhagel, Greece showcased their potential by beating Portugal with a 2-1 victory in the opening match, per the New York Times.

Following a commendable 1-1 draw against Spain, Greece secured a quarter-final berth with four points, with a 2-1 loss to Russia in their final group match having little impact as Spain fell to defeat against Portugal.

Greece continued their remarkable journey by eliminating defending champions France in the quarter-finals, and a crucial set-piece goal by Traianos Dellas in extra time sealed a narrow triumph over the Czech Republic in the semis.

In the final, Angelos Charisteas' header from a corner maintained their trend of 1-0 victories in the knockout stages, ensuring they ended the tournament as they had started, by defeating the hosts.

While their playing style may have leaned towards efficiency rather than excitement, Greece's underdog story remains one of the most captivating narratives in football history.

10 most controversial moments from Euros

Despite the Euros coming nearly 30 years after the first World Cup, the competition still has some interesting memories etched in fans’ minds.

These recollections are not always positive though, and Sports Brief reported on the most controversial moments in Euro history over the past years.

Isaac Darko photo
Isaac Darko
Isaac Darko is a La Liga, Ligue 1 and Bundesliga editor at Sports Brief with a Degree in Journalism and Communications from Ghana Institute of Journalism (2010)