The Champions League is widely regarded as the most prestigious club tournament in the world and evokes Ronaldo and Messi showcasing their ridiculous talents on the most glamourous stages around. It is a competition that openly celebrates elitism; the very best. Underdogs capable of an upset need not apply because that narrative is reserved solely for domestic fare. The very notion of a team of plumbers and plasterers holding PSG to a stalemate would be considered nothing short of gauche at UEFA headquarters.
Each year though usually sees a side competing above their pay grade, dining at the top table while looking around to see if they’re supposed to use the outside knife and fork first.
This season Astana from Kasakhstan put in an admirable debut campaign reaching the group stages and drawing four times. Albanian side Skenderbeu Korce meanwhile fell at the final hurdle defeated by Dynamo Zagreb in the play-offs.
So who might be next season’s Champions League surprise story? The four clubs below are presently in the reckoning and, to our mind, have the best possible chance of getting through the qualifiers and basking in the glow of unfamiliar glamour.
SonderjyskE Fodbold (Denmark)
Founded only 12 short years ago SonderjyskE hail from the town of Haderslev set in a beautiful southern valley that leads to the Baltic Sea.
With 11 games remaining in the Danish Superliga this small outfit are exceeding all expectations by remaining in contention for a highly improbable title while being virtually assured of recording their best ever campaign after previously finishing 6th in 2012.
From the homeland of Hans Christian Andersen there is a fairytale in the making here and though the six points they trail to Coperhagen means the odds are stacked against Jakob Michelsen’s side they have made a mockery of those odds all season long. With that in mind they more than most might appreciate Superslots which is a good way of winning popular slot games.
FC Rostov (Russia)
Proudly sitting second in the Russian Premier League and holding off Zenit, Sparktak and Locomotive for a much-coveted Champions league spot there’s no question Rostov are enjoying their best ever season.
Controversy surrounded the club last year after qualifying for the Europa League when they were initially excluded due to breached financial rules but an appeal saved the day and now the Selmashi have put that behind them with a series of outstanding results.
With a defence-first approach they won’t be the most entertaining minnows to ever grace the group stages but for diehard English supporters it will at least be a different part of Russia to explore on their travels.
FSV Mainz 05 (Germany)
While Bayern and Dortmund duke it out for the Bundesliga title below them seven clubs are embroiled in a fierce battle for the last two remaining Champions League places.
Only three points presently separate Mainz from an over-achieving CL spot and while they are hardly the unknowns of global football this would be their first appearance in the Champions League following an unremarkable singular assault on the UEFA Cup back in 2006. That came about due to topping Germany’s Fair Play League, this time it will be their open attacking football that will earn them continental recognition.
OGC Nice (France)
Predictably PSG and Monaco have wrapped up two of the three spots in Ligue 1 but beneath them a battle royal is being fought with only Lyon from the chasing group having enjoyed previous Champions League experience. Rennes would be the traditionalists’ preference but we’ve highlighted Nice, a club that has always been cast as the understudy who have pulled off a tremendous campaign so far largely due to the mercurial influence of their summer capture Hatem Ben Arfa.
Plus their ground is called Allianz Riviera and we can’t think of many better places to visit next September.