From Leicester City to Rumble in the Jungle… and Ajax? Sport’s greatest fairy tales

Ranieri De Ligt Ali Fairytales PS
With Ajax on the verge of a first appearance in the Champions League final since 1996, Goal looks back at some other remarkable success stories

  1. Muhammad Ali's 'Rumble in the Jungle'
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    Muhammad Ali's 'Rumble in the Jungle'

    After serving a three-year ban and being stripped of his heavyweight boxing title for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War, Muhammad Ali made history by regaining his belt in 1974 at the age of 32 by upsetting previously undefeated champion George Foreman in an epic fight in Zaire that became known as 'The Rumble in the Jungle'.

    Ali cemented his status as 'The Greatest' by successfully implementing a bold and dangerous 'rope-a-dope' strategy, which essentially involved allowing Foreman to unload on him. When Foreman tired, Ali knocked him out in the eighth round, sparking scenes of pure pandemonium in the ring, outside it and all over the world.

    Foreman later stated, "Ali is the greatest man I've ever known. Not the greatest boxer; that's too small for him. He had a gift. He's not pretty, he's beautiful. Everything America should be, Muhammad Ali is."

  2. Boris Becker at Wimbledon

    Boris Becker at Wimbledon

    The 17-year-old Boris Becker was a relative unknown going into the Wimbledon championship of 1985 and had only just claimed his first tournament win shortly beforehand, at Queen's Club.

    However, the German sensation went on to beat Kevin Curren in the final to become the youngest ever player to lift the trophy and the first non-seed to do so.

    "The plan from my parents for me was to finish school, go to university, get a proper degree and learn something respectful," he later explained. "The last thing on everyone's mind was me becoming a tennis professional."

    Instead, Wimbledon proved the first of six major titles.

  3. John Daly's US PGA title

    John Daly's US PGA title

    Finishing at 12-under, three shots better than second-placed Bruce Lietzke, John Daly incredibly claimed US PGA Championship glory in 1991 having only qualified for the tournament as the ninth alternate.

    The colourful American with the 'grip it and rip it' approach to golf didn't even have his own caddie and had driven halfway across the country the night before the opening round just to play.

    However, the then 25-year-old went on to shoot a final-day 71 to win the first of his two major titles against all odds.

  4. Denmark winning Euro '92

    Denmark winning Euro '92

    Denmark were given a little over a week's notice to participate in Euro 1992, after Yugoslavia were removed due to the country being in a state of civil war.

    The Danes, who had finished as runners-up to the Balkan nation in qualifying, reached the knockout stage by upsetting heavily fancied France in their final group game before eliminating the title holders, Netherlands, on penalties in the semi-final.

    Even then, few gave Denmark much chance of beating Germany in the final but the Scandinavians triumphed 2-0, with the goals coming courtesy of John Jensen and Kim Vilfort, whose daughter was sadly fighting a losing battle with leukemia at the time.

    "We didn't have the best players, but we had the best team," Vilfort subsequently stated.

  5. Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon

    Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon

    Goran Ivanisevic was not a complete outsider at the 2001 Wimbledon championship, having reached the final on three previous occasions. However, he had lost every time.

    What's more, the Croatian had slipped to 125 in the world rankings and was only added to the draw as a wild card.

    However, Ivanisevic upset the likes of Andy Roddick and Tim Henman on his remarkable run to the final before defeating Pat Rafter in an epic five-setter, prompting arguably the most emotional celebrations Centre Court has ever seen.

  6. Greece at Euro 2004

    Greece at Euro 2004

    Greece defied all footballing logic by claiming their first European Championship title in 2004, beating hosts Portugal in the final.

    Otto Rehhagel's side were deemed to have no chance of even getting close to winning the tournament, but, after finishing second in their group, the Greeks beat France and Czech Republic in the knockout rounds before recording a 1-0 win over the Seleccao in the tournament decider, with Angelos Charisteas netting the winner.

  7. Kaiserslautern's Bundesliga

    Kaiserslautern's Bundesliga

    Another appearance on the list for Otto Rehhagel, whose Kaiserslautern side became the first team in Bundesliga history to win the title in their first season after promotion.

    After beating defending champions Bayern Munich in their first game of the 1996-97 campaign, Kaiserslautern went on to finish two points clear of Bayer Leverkusen at the top.

  8. Niki Lauda's F1 return

    Niki Lauda's F1 return

    Though already a proven Formula 1 star, the story of Niki Lauda's title triumph in 1977 is remarkable.

    The Austrian suffered horrific burns to his face after being trapped in the smouldering wreckage of his car during the 1976 season, only to return to the race track just six weeks after being given his Last Rites.

    Lauda went on to miss out on the F1 championship by just a point that year but won the title 12 months later.

  9. Ranieri's Leicester City triumph

    Ranieri's Leicester City triumph

    The most remarkable title triumph in football history, without question.

    Leicester City, a 5000-1 shot with some bookmakers at the start of the season, stunned the entire sporting world by winning the Premier League in 2016.

    "It’s an amazing feeling and I’m so happy for everyone," gushed manager Claudio Ranieri, who had been written off by many fans even before taking charge of his first game. "I never expected this when I arrived.”

    In truth, nobody did. It was truly unbelievable and incredibly heartwarming.

  10. Manchester United's first European Cup

    Manchester United's first European Cup

    Just 10 years after the Munich air disaster that claimed the lives of eight members of the 'Busby Babes', Sir Matt Busby guided Manchester United to European Cup glory for the first time in their history.

    After beating Real Madrid over two legs in the semi-final, United triumphed 4-1 over Benfica in the final at Wembley, with crash survivor Sir Bobby Charlton scoring twice, to lift the famous trophy.

  11. Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest

    Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest

    Before Leicester, arguably the most fantastical footballing success story in England football history.

    Taking over with the club low in Division 2, the outspoken managerial genius Brian Clough led Nottingham Forest to promotion in 1976-77 and then, incredibly, won the First Division title at his first attempt.

    The following season, they won the European Cup and even retained their continental crown in 1980. Truly, the stuff of dreams.

  12. USA's 'Miracle on Ice'

    USA's 'Miracle on Ice'

    A USA team made up of amateur and collegiate players performed what has been dubbed the 'Miracle on Ice' to defeat the Soviet Union in the Ice Hockey final at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Prior to the games, the Soviets had won four ice hockey gold medals in a row spanning 16 years.

    Ranked the seventh-best team, and having trailed 3-2 going into the final period of the gold medal clash, team USA rallied as Mark Johnson and Mike Eruzione found the net to help secure a dramatic 4-3 victory.

  13. Verona's impossible Scudetto

    Verona's impossible Scudetto

    In a year when referees were randomly assigned matches for the only time, following reforms after a match-fixing scandal, unfashionable Hellas Verona claimed their one and only Scudetto.

    Despite competition from a number of star-studded rivals – Michel Platini top-scored for Juventus, Socrates was lining out for Fiorentina, Zico was starring at Udinese, while Diego Maradona had rocked up at Napoli  – Verona finished top of the pile.

    Their defence had been decisive in their surprise success - with Verona conceding just 19 goals in 30 games - while Danish striker Preben Elkjaer emerged as a star.

  14. Tiger Woods roars again

    Tiger Woods roars again

    Two years after telling close friends "I'm done", the injury-plagued Tiger Woods won golf's prestigious Masters tournament in April 2019.

    It was the American's 15th 'Major' but his first in 11 years.

    "It will be up there with one of the hardest I've had to win because of what has transpired in the last couple of years," he admitted amid wild scenes of celebration at Augusta.

  15. Zambia's AFCON

    Zambia's AFCON

    Huge outsiders Zambia won their first ever Africa Cup of Nations title in 2012, coming out on top in a penalty shootout with tournament favourites Ivory Coast in the final.

    Herve Renard's side topped Group A with two wins from three matches before beating Sudan and Ghana in the quarters and semi-final, respectively.

    After drawing 0-0 with Ivory Coast after 120 minutes of the final, Gervinho missed the decisive spot-kick in the shootout to hand Zambia the win – a victory that was inspired by the loss of the 1993 Zambian team after a horrific plane crash.