Ten of Europe’s most unlikely league champions

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The underdogs: Can Leicester City follow suit?

Having rolled into the home of nearest rivals Manchester City on Saturday and comfortably prevailed 3-1 winners, Leicester City’s extremely unlikely title charge is showing no signs of abating.

On this day last year, Leicester sat marooned at the bottom of the Premier League table, with only 17 points. Now the Foxes now sit five points clear of Tottenham, with just 10 games to go.

As Claudio Ranieri’s men sit on the brink of one of the most unlikely league title triumphs in history, we look at some of the game’s other most surprising league champions.

Ipswich Town, 1961-62

Sir Alf Ramsey may be best remembered for winning the World Cup with England in 1966, but in many ways his First Division triumph with Ipswich Town in 1962 was even more impressive.

Ipswich were in the fourth tier in 1957, so the rise to the top of the English game was a remarkable journey for the unglamorous East Anglians.

Having guided the Tractor Boys to promotion from the second tier the previous year, Ramsey claimed the league title by three points, (back when it was two points for a win) losing only 10 of 42 games in their first ever season in the top flight.

Ipswich were swiftly relegated – in 1964 – after Ramsey left to take the national job, but the good times did return under Bobby Robson in the 1970s. However, they have never added to their sole First Division success, and have become more accustomed to life in England’s second tier.

AFC DWS, 1963-64

Having only just gained promotion to the Eredivisie from the second tier, Amsterdamsche Football Club Door Wilskracht Sterk claimed a highly unlikely league victory – finishing ahead of Dutch giants PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord, the

Having been formed in 1907, the club only became a fully-fledged professional outfit in 1954 and later merged with FC Blauw-Wit Amsterdam and De Volewijckers to form FC Amsterdam in 1974.

Following  relegation from the top flight in 1978, the club disbanded, though DWS remain in existence as an amateur club, and to this day are still the only team that has have won the Eredivisie title the season immediately after promotion to the top flight.

Nottingham Forest, 1977-78

In their first season back in England’s top tier, Brain Clough and his charges romped to the league title by seven points, at a time when only two points were awarded for a victory.

It was Forest’s first year back in the First Division since 1972, and would be the start of a golden era which saw the team win successive European Cups (1979 and 1980), a UEFA Super Cup (1979) and two League Cups (1978 and 1979).

Forest  were never able to add to their sole league title and are the only club to have won more European Cups than league titles. Since those heady days, Forest have struggled, and have spent the entirety of this century outside of England’s flight, even falling into the third tier in 2005.

Hellas Verona, 1984- 1985

Having finished sixth in 1983-84, some 11 points behind winners Juventus, nobody considered Hellas Verona credible league challengers ahead of the following season.

But spurred by the goals of Giuseppe Galderisi and Hans-Peter Briegel, who scored half of team’s league total, unfancied Verona claimed their first and only Scudetto by four points.

The 1984-85 season was the first in which referees were appointed at random to fixtures, rather than being chosen for specific games by special commissions.

Verona folded in 1991 due to financial difficulties, and were reformed as Verona FC – they revived the Hellas Verona name in 1995 – but suffered the ignominy of dropping into the third tier in 2007.

FC Kaiserslautern, 1997-98

Having only gained promotion the previous season, Kaiserslautern made it a dream return to the Bundesliga by claiming their second title.

While it may have been a shock to see the Red Devils relegated in 1996, it was even more of a shock to see them return to the top flight in such emphatic fashion.

Managed by Otto Rehhagel, who would go on to claim the Euro 2004 trophy with Greece, and with a spine consisting of Michael Ballack and Andreas Brehme, and powered by Olaf Marschall’s 21 league goals, they pipped defending champions Bayern Munich to the post by two points.

Deportivo La Coruna, 1999-2000

While La Liga has been a two-horse race through much of its 84 year history – Real Madrid and Barcelona have shared 55 of the titles – there was a flurry at the turn of the century when the league was alive with competition.

Having finished sixth the previous year, 16 points adrift of the winners, Deportivo launched an incredible title bid and duly prevailed, winning the league by five points.

Depor’s attack was filled with goalscoring threat and ingenuity as the likes of Roy Makaay, Diego Tristan, Fran and Djalminha led them to 21 victories and 69 points.

Incidentally, no team has won La Liga with such a low points tally since and Sevilla finished 5th in 2014-15 with a total of 76 points.

Boavista, 2000-01

If your name isn’t Benfica, Porto or Sporting, then chances are you’ve never had an invite to the Portuguese League winners’ party.

However, in 2001 Boavista upset the establishment by becoming the first side in 55 years – and only the second ever – outside the ‘Big Three’ to lift the crown.

The Panthers had finished fourth the previous season, 22 points behind Sporting, before flipping the table and running out one point winners the following year.

They mounted an honourable defence of their crown in the following campaign by coming second but have since been relegated twice in much less honourable circumstances. First came demotion to the second tier in 2008 after their involvement in the Apito Final scandal for corrupting referees, before the club fell into the third tier 2009 due to financial difficulties.

FC Twente, 2009-10

Bobby Robson paved the way for English managers in the Netherlands by winning two Eredivisie crowns in the early 1990s, and Steve (or Shteeve as he’d become known, for his faux Dutch accent) McClaren followed in those footsteps almost 20 years later.

The former England manger led Twente to second place the previous season, but they still fell some 11 points short of eventual winners AZ Alkmaar.

The 2009-10 campaign was different however, McClaren’s men winning 16 of their 17 home fixtures to clinch the title, the first in the club’s history,.

The triumph is all the more remarkable given that the club was declared bankrupt at the end of the 2002-03 season, just seven years before they won the Eredivisie title.

Montpellier, 2012-13

While PSG have come to dominate Ligue 1 in recent seasons, it wasn’t always the way; there was a period between 2008 and 2012 when five different clubs ruled the league.

The most surprising of all of these was Montpellier, who were the last team of the pre-PSG era to lift the crown.

Having finished 14th the year before, Rene Girard led a team comprising of Olivier Giroud, Younes Belhanda, Remy Cabella and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa to a first ever league triumph.

Montpellier have finished 9th, 15th and 7th in the years since they won the trophy.

Atletico Madrid, 2013-14

A look at Atletico Madrid’s squad from the 2013-14 season would suggest this was a team more than capable of winning a domestic league title, however the presence of Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga render every other club’s dreams of success virtually impossible.

Atletico finished 3rd in 2012-13, but nine points adrift of second-placed Real and an astonishing 24 in arrears of champions Barcelona.

However, led by Diego Simeone’s mean-spirited defence – which only conceded 26 goals – and with Diego Costa in prolific form up front, Atletico defied the odds and prevailed in the title race by 3 points.

Los Colchoneros even had the audacity to clinch the title at Camp Nou on the final day of the season, sealing a 10th La Liga crown in their history and a first in 18 seasons.

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Dubai cop jailed for posting Barcelona’s Lionel Messi’s passport on social media

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Passport drama: Lionel Messi in Dubai.

A Dubai court sentenced a policeman to one month in prison on Monday for posting a video showing Argentine football superstar Lionel Messi’s passport on social media, local media reported.

The Gulf News daily reported on its website that the policeman, identified only by his initials J.J., was criticised in particular for having “abused the telecommunications system”.

The policeman pleaded guilty and admitted he was wrong to have uploaded the post of Messi’s passport to Snapchat via his smartphone.

The incident occurred in December at Dubai airport, where Messi had landed to attend the Globe Soccer Awards, at which he received the best player award.

The Emirati policeman wanted a photo of himself with the footballer, but was told the star was tired from the flight, The National daily reported last month.

“I then went to the passport control desk and noticed that Messi’s passport had been left there, so I picked it up and shot a video of myself while holding it,” it quoted the policeman as saying.

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Barcelona’s Lionel Messi seeks to meet Afghan boy in plastic jersey

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Real fan: Afghan boy Murtaza Ahmadi.

Barcelona star Lionel Messi is hoping to arrange a meeting with an Afghan boy who shot to fame after pictures of him dressed in a striped plastic bag jersey went viral, Kabul’s football federation said on Monday.

Five-year-old Murtaza Ahmadi idolises the Argentine soccer star but a jersey of his favourite player is beyond the means of his poor family in the volatile province of Ghazni near Kabul.

His elder brother Homayoun, 15, made him the blue-and-white-striped plastic shirt with Messi’s named scrawled in marker pen and posted the photos of Murtaza wearing it on Facebook in mid-January.

Jorge Messi, Lionel’s father, told AFP on Saturday that the footballer was aware of the photos that made waves on social media and “wants to do something” for his young fan.

The Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF) on Monday said Messi was keen to meet Murtaza as soon as possible, though no date or venue has so far been finalised.

“Messi has been in communication with the federation to set up a meeting with the young boy,” AFF spokesman Sayed Ali Kazemi told AFP.

“We are working to see whether Messi will come to Afghanistan or the five-year-old will travel to Spain or they will meet in a third country.”

There was no immediate comment from FC Barcelona.

Setting up a meeting in Afghanistan, in the grip of a fierce Taliban insurgency, is fraught with security challenges.

The Spanish embassy in Kabul told AFP it would do whatever possible to facilitate a meeting in a European destination.

Murtaza’s father, a poor farmer in Ghazni’s Jaghori district, admitted he could not afford to buy him a replica jersey, adding that Murtaza only had a punctured ball to play with.

Photos of the boy wearing the improvised Messi jersey — made from grocery bags discarded by their neighbour — has touched a chord with football fans around the world.

Sport was rarely played under Taliban rule, and the football stadium in Kabul was a notorious venue for executions, stonings and mutilations.

Football and cricket are the two most popular sports in the war-ravaged country.

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