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Spanish FA was right to fire Lopetegui


How Panama made World Cup dream a reality

 By Nick Miller

Forest, Ipswich, AZ and Atletico Madrid in top 10 title winning shocks

With Leicester's remarkable title bid looking more and more likely, we look at 10 other surprising sides who have won the league in Europe...

10. Atletico Madrid, 2014

Diego Simeone's Atleti saw off Barcelona and Real Madrid, the juggernauts of Spanish football who had won 10 of the previous 11 titles between them. In that time they had grown so powerful that they looked unbeatable, so even in the final weeks of the campaign, as glory loomed, many still doubted Atletico would actually do it. But do it they did, securing a 1-1 draw at the Nou Camp on the final day to win their first Liga title since 1996, made all the more remarkable given that they had sold Radamel Falcao without buying a replacement the previous summer. "This is not just a league. What this triumph transmits is much more important than that. If you believe and if you work, you can do it," Simeone said.

9. Aston Villa, 1981

Villa only used 14 players throughout their title-winning season and seven of them played in all 42 matches. Under Ron Saunders, Villa started the season strongly, losing just two of their first 17 games, reaching top spot by October and barely relinquishing it for the remainder of the season. Perhaps the key result came in January, when they beat Liverpool 2-0 in a top two clash that was the beginning of the end for Bob Paisley's side who eventually finished fifth.

8. Rapid Vienna, 1941

By 1941, Rapid Vienna already had 12 Austrian league titles to their name, so it perhaps isn't a surprise that they won another championship in 1941. What is a little more eyebrow-raising is that it was the German title, after Austrian clubs were brought into the country's football system following the Anschluss. At the time the German championship was structured as a tournament with a final, which two Vienna clubs, First and Admira, had already reached by the time Rapid faced five-time champions Schalke in 1941. Schalke were 3-0 up by the hour mark, but four rapid Rapid goals clinched the title, the first and only to be won by a non-German side.

7. AZ Alkmaar, 2009

When Louis van Gaal was winning titles with Ajax and Barcelona, he probably didn't imagine he'd one day end up at AZ Alkmaar, a provincial club who had won the Dutch league just once before, in 1981. He arrived in 2005, yet by 2008 when AZ had finished a distant and disappointing 11th, Van Gaal was ready to quit, but was persuaded to stay for one last campaign by his squad. His decision paid off handsomely. AZ lost the first two games of the season but then went 28 unbeaten, and had the chance to clinch the title in a home game against Vitesse, only to lose 2-1. Not that it mattered too much, as second-placed Ajax were hammered 6-2 by PSV Eindhoven, giving the title to Van Gaal and AZ. "The other clubs; Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord, have a much higher budget. We've had to make-do with lesser players and lesser means," said Van Gaal, neatly (and perhaps justifiably) handing the credit to himself. "This is great for the players. For me, personally, this championship will be my greatest little masterpiece."

Louis van Gaal won the Eredivisie with AZ Alkmaar the season after his side finished 11th in the table.

6. Boavista, 2001

Only twice in history have teams from outside the "big three" in Portugal -- Porto, Benfica and Sporting -- won the league title. The first was Belenenses in 1946 and the second was Boavista in 2001. Led by former Porto and Sporting player Jaime Pacheco, Boavista lost just three times (once against Porto, on the final day when the league was already won) as they managed to hold off the traditional giants without any real stars in their squad. Bolivian midfielder Edwin Sanchez, defender Litos Magalhaes and goalkeeper Ricardo (who you'll remember from saving England penalties while bare-handed at Euro 2004) were key, but Pacheco put together a side worth more than the sum of its parts, who took advantage of an off-season for the big boys.

5. Montpellier, 2012

Many top leagues in Europe are relatively uncompetitive, but surely none can be as straightforward for their dominant team than Ligue 1, where PSG have won the last three titles and are, at the time of writing, an absurd 24 points clear of their nearest rivals. It wasn't always this way, though, and in the five years before their dominance began, five different teams won the league. The most unlikely of those was Montpellier in 2012, the middling club on the south coast who had never previously won the title, and whose trophy cabinet had only been troubled by two Coupe de France wins, in 1929 and 1990. Under Rene Girard and with Olivier Giroud leading the attack supported by Younes Belhanda and Remy Cabella, Montpellier held off PSG, who had been taken over the previous summer but hadn't yet felt the full benefit of Qatar Sports Investments' money.

4. Nottingham Forest, 1978

It's a slight curiosity in this context that Nottingham Forest winning the First Division in 1978, in their first season back in the top flight after only just scraping promotion, was just the start of their achievements, given they would go on to win the European Cup twice. Still, this was an extraordinary feat, perhaps not even quite so much that Brian Clough's side won the league a season after promotion (and a scraped promotion too), but that it was done against a previously dominant Liverpool team. Forest didn't lose a game after November, and the league was won with a 0-0 draw against Coventry, but the point at which a possibility became tangible was probably a 4-0 win at Manchester United in December.

Brian Clough masterminded Nottingham Forest's rise to the kings of England and Europe.

3. Halmstads, 1976

A few years ago, Roy Hodgson was asked what his greatest achievement in his managerial career was, and he ignored taking Switzerland to the 1994 World Cup and the near-miraculous escape from relegation with Fulham in 2008, instead choosing his exploits at Halmstads. Having been recommended by Malmo boss Bob Houghton, Hodgson took over at the Swedish club in 1976 and was tasked with improving a team that had only survived on goal difference the previous season. They weren't expected to do much better after he arrived, but he took them to their first ever league title.

2. Hellas Verona, 1985

Napoli had Diego Maradona, Roma had Falcao, Juventus had Michel Platini, Inter had Karl-Heinze Rummenigge and AC Milan had, erm, Mark Hateley. Verona, though, had Preben Elkjaer, the brilliant Danish forward signed after an outstanding Euro '84, and as it turned out he would outshine all the other superstars Serie A had to offer, leading them to perhaps the most unlikely title in Italian history. With fluid tactics from manager Osvaldo Bagnoli and just enough individual brilliance to make a difference, Verona upset the established order from the very first game, when they spoiled Maradona's debut with a win over Napoli. They lost only twice, right through to the day they clinched the prize, with a game to spare. "Football is a simple game," said Bagnoli, "I trained players that deserved the scudetto without being Machiavellian, without any secrets, without inventing any new tactics."

1. Ipswich Town, 1962

Should Leicester win the title this season, it will surely be the most impressive achievement in English domestic football, given the context of their opponents, since Ipswich in 1962. Not only did Alf Ramsey's side win the First Division in their first season after winning promotion, but this was their first ever season in the top flight. This Ipswich team was a prototype for the "wingless wonders" with which Ramsey would win the World Cup four years later, a 4-3-3 formation with centre-forward Ray Crawford providing the bulk of the goals. This was an extraordinary victory, never achieved before or since. Ramsey departed for England the next year and Ipswich finished 18th before they were relegated a season after.

Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.


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