Ajax won the Dutch Cup in 1970 after having lost in the round of 16 to AZ '67. Since by that stage only 14 teams actually were in the competition, one of the 7 defeated teams was drawn as lucky losers into the quarterfinal. Ajax won that draw and then the Cup. The rule was abolished.
August First won the 1990 China Cup after losing in the second round (contested by six clubs) 1-2 against Beijing by progressing a 'best' losers. They went on to defeat both Shandong (in the semifinals) and Dalian (in the final, after Dalian had eliminated Beijing in the semifinals) on penalties.
Jeunesse Sportive de Pobè, a second division club, won the Coupe de Bénin 2002 in spite of having lost a penalty shoot-out to Réquins de l'Atlantique in the quarter-finals. As only six teams had reached that stage, one of the three quarterfinal losers progressed as lucky losers, and JS Pobè not only had that luck but played their previous conquerors, Réquins, again in the semifinals. It again went to a shoot-out, after a 0-0 draw, and this time Pobè won to reach the final against Mogas '90 - whom they also beat, following a replay and another penalty shoot-out. Following this success, they went on to win the Super Cup, still a second division side, by beating champions Dragons FC de l'Ouémé - after a replay, though not penalties.
Gor Mahia lost 9-10 on penalties against Congo United in the second round of the FKL Cup 2011, but played off, together with three other "best losers", for two additional places in the round of 16. In that play-off, they overcame Kapenguria Heroes 6-2 before defeating West Kenya Sugar (in the round of 16), Finlays Horticulture (in the quarterfinals) and AFC Leopards (in the semifinals) to reach the final, in which they won 1-0 against Sofapaka.
Topping the 'achievements' of Ajax, August First, JS Pobè and Gor Mahia, the football team of the Université National de Bénin won the Coupe de l'Indépendence 2004 (a league cup style tournament) after having lost a knock-out tie in two successive rounds! In round 1, which was disputed by just ten top level sides, they lost 1-2 to 2002 winners JS Pobè (see above). However, they remained in the competition along with the five first round winners as lucky losers (not as the best, as Postel had lost to ASJA only after a penalty shoot-out). In round two, played by six teams, UNB FC lost again: after a spectacular 4-4 draw (after extra time) with ASJA FC they succumbed 4-5 in the penalty shoot-out. However, again they were lucky, unlike their first round opponents JS Pobè who also lost after a penalty shoot-out to Dragons. Along with the three winning teams in round two, UNB entered the semi-finals as lucky losers. There they beat Soleil FC 2-1 after extra time, and met ASJA again, who had eliminated Dragons after a penalty shoot-out (incidentally, their third consecutive penalty shoot-out win in the competition!). And in spite of having lost two of their three previous ties, UNB beat ASJA by a single goal to lift the trophy as the luckiest losers ever...
Less lucky were Águila in the Copa Presidente 2005 in El Salvador: like UNB, they twice progressed as lucky losers, in the quarterfinals of the Zona Oriental in which they had lost 0-1 to Municipal Limeńo and again (after beating Vista Hermosa 5-1 in the zonal semifinals) after the final of the Zona Oriental which they lost 0-2 to Atlético Balboa; as there were only three zones, the 'best' losers also qualified for the national semifinals, in which Águila again played Atlético Balboa - and again lost, this time by 1-3.
At the main Dutch pre-season tournament during the amateur era, the Zilveren Bal in Rotterdam, two lucky losers reached and lost the final (Haarlem in 1908 and H.B.S. in 1910) before Sparta won the tournament in 1923 after having lost their first round tie (on lots) to Bredania, who subsequently withdrew from the tournament to leave the hosts in contention.
Motagua won the Apertura 1997/98 in Honduras after having lost their quarterfinal on the away goal rule to Real España; as 'best losers' (among the three losing quarterfinalists) they progressed into the semis, and met Real España again in the final - winning 5-1 on aggregate. By also winning the Clausura (for which Real España did not qualify) Motagua won the league title.
Universidad de Chile won the Clausura 2004 tournament in Chile after having lost their first round tie against Unión Española (losing 1-3 away and drawing 1-1 at home). As second-best losers (behind Deportes Temuco) they nevertheless progressed to the quarterfinals as the first round had consisted of twelve clubs only. In the quarterfinals they eliminated Universidad de Concepción in sudden death extra time (they had won 1-0 at home in the first leg and lost 0-2 away in the return match, but as aggregate goals were irrelevant, golden goal extra time was played nevertheless) and then got the better of Santiago Wanderers (who had eliminated Unión Española) in the semis. In the final, they played two draws with Cobreloa before grabbing the title by virtue of winning the penalty shoot-out.
In the Copa Simon Bolívar 1998 (Bolivia's tournament to decide promotion to the national league), Enrique Happ qualified for both the second and the third round as best losers; in the third round they lost 3-9 on aggregate to Unión Central.
Atlético Pompeya won the Copa Simon Bolívar 1999 after losing to provincial rivals Universitario (Beni) in the third round on penalties. As best losers they entered the semifinals nonetheless and earned promotion after beating two teams from La Paz (Litoral in the semi and Mariscal Braun, who had eliminated Univeritario, in the final).
No fewer than five teams have won the European Cup Winners' Cup in spite of not being domestic cup holders at the time.
Fiorentina won the inaugural edition of the "Cup Winners' Cup" in 1960/61 in spite of having lost the Italian Cup Final in 1960 to double winners Juventus.
Rangers were the second team to achieve this, winning the 1971/72 edition after having lost the 1970/71 Scottish Cup Final to champions Celtic after a replay. In the second round of their Cup Winners' Cup campaign, they lost a penalty shoot-out 0-3 at Sporting CP in Lisbon; however, this was staged erroneously by the referee who had failed to take the goal Rangers had scored in extra time into account for the away goals rule (both teams had won 3-2 at home, and extra time in Lisbon had finished 4-3).
Likewise, Anderlecht won the 1977/78 edition of the "Cup Winners' Cup" for which they qualified by virtue of losing the Belgian Cup Final in 1977 to champions FC Brugge. That was, by the way, the third time in succession that Anderlecht made the final of the CWC: they also won it in 1976, and in 1977 they fell to the CWC Jinx.
Then, Dynamo Tbilisi won the 1980/81 edition although they had lost the Soviet Union Cup Final of 1979/80 to Shakhter Donetsk. The reason here: the final was played after the deadline UEFA had set for registration; since both clubs were eligible for the UEFA Cup (based on the final table of the 1979 season, in which Shakhter had come 2nd and Dynamo Tbilisi 4th), they were simply "distributed" over the two cups before the final had been played; in the end, the final result (Shakhter 2-1 Dynamo) belied that distribution.
Finally, Barcelona won the 1996/97 edition after losing the 1996 Copa del Rey against Atlético de Madrid, who took the Spanish double that season.
Anderlecht and Barcelona then also won the Supercup in 1978 and 1997, respectively.
Atlético de Madrid won the Intercontinental Club Cup in 1975 against 1974 Copa Libertadores winners Independiente although they had not won the European Champions Cup (and never did to date); they were allowed to represent Europe after Champions Cup winners Bayern München had declined to enter.
In the Copa Libertadores 1988, Newell's Old Boys lost the quarterfinal against Nacional (Montevideo), but progressed as 'best' losers; after beating San Lorenzo in the semis they met Nacional again in the final - and lost once more.
Mamelodi Sundowns were eliminated on the away goal rule (0-1 loss away,
2-1 win at home) by AS Vita Club from Kinshasa in the final qualifying round for the
group stage of the 2016 African Champions League.
They were thus "relegated" to the final qualifying round for the group stage of
the 2016 CAF Confederation Cup, and
again fell victim to the away goal rule, against Medeama SC (a 3-1 home win
followed by a 0-2 loss in Ghana). So, by the end of May 2016, Sundowns had been
eliminated from both CAF club competitions for the season.
However, it then turned out that AS Vita Club had fielded a suspended player against Zanzibar side Mafunzo in February, three (!) months earlier, in a preliminary round for the Champions League. Apart from what this suggests about the administration of CAF, the subsequent disciplinary measures were puzzling to say the least. While AS Vita Club were, understandably, thrown out of the competition, this did not in any way profit the wronged side, Mafunzo.
Instead, CAF regulations stated that the disqualified club were to be replaced by the last club that played (and had been eliminated by) them. After having dispatched Mafunzo (4-0 on aggregate), Vita Club had played Ferroviário de Maputo (who should have been playing Mafunzo!) and eliminated them by the odd goal in three before meeting Mamelodi Sundowns in their last knock-out fixture. Thus, Mamelodi, who had been beaten fair and square by the Congolese, suddenly found themselves in the group stage of the CAF Champions League, after suffering two eliminations!
Once there, the South Africans didn't look back, winning their group ahead of Zamalek (whom they beat home and away) before overcoming neighbours Zesco United from Ndola (in Zambia) by the odd goal in five in the semifinals and then besting Zamalek again in the two-legged final, claiming the home leg 3-0 before conceding a 0-1 defeat in Egypt. They thus qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup 2016, but could not distinguish themselves there, losing their first match 0-2 to hosts Kashima Antlers and their second 1-4 to Asian Champions League winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to finish sixth.
Pohang Steelers qualified for the 1996/97 Asian Champions' Cup as runners-up of the Korean League in 1995; champions Ilhwa Chunma already qualified as holders. Pohang went on to win the 1996/97 Champions' Cup, qualify for the 1997/98 edition as holders, and win that as well.
CSA entered the Copa Conmebol 1999 in spite of having finished fourth in the Copa Nordeste 1999, the winners of which were to qualify for the Copa Conmebol. Since all of the first three teams declined the berth, it was taken by CSA, who went all the way to the final where they lost 4-5 on aggregate (by a last minute goal) to Talleres. Talleres themselves had only entered the tournament after Gimnasia y Esgrima (La Plata) had forfeited their place. The Copa Conmebol has not been staged since.
Al Mokaoulun qualified for the 1982 African Cup Winners Cup as losers of the Egyptian Cup Final 1980/81 (against champions Al Ahly); they went on to win the tournament, qualify for the 1983 edition as holders, and win that as well.
Lokomotive Leipzig won the Intertoto Cup 1965/66 although they had only finished second in the qualifying group (under their previous name of SC Leipzig) behind Zeljeznicar Sarajevo. They only entered the quarterfinals following a ban by the Yugoslav FA on Zeljeznicar, and then beat Örgryte, local rivals Chemie Leipzig and IFK Norrköping to win the trophy.
Paris Saint-Germain reached the 2001/02 UEFA Cup by winning one of the three finals of the 2001 UEFA Intertoto Cup - a competition for which they had not qualified, but entered thanks to the withdrawals of all Spanish clubs. Even then, they would not have been entitled to participation in the UEFA Cup, had it not been for owners Canal+'s decision to sell their majority interest in Servette FC from Genève, who had qualified directly. Eventually, PSG reached the third round of the UEFA Cup where they played out two goalless draws with Rangers before losing on penalties.
Villarreal CF finished only 15th in the Spanish league 2002/03 but entered the 2003 UEFA Intertoto Cup 3rd round because few other Spanish teams showed any interest; they proceeded to qualify for the UEFA Cup through that tournament and reached the semi-finals against regional rivals Valencia CF in the 2003/04 UEFA Cup, losing by the only goal in two legs.
Flamengo qualified for the Copa de Oro 1996 as runners-up of the Supercopa 1995; winners Independiente apparently were not interested. After beating Rosario Central in the semifinal and São Paulo in the final, Flamengo took the cup.
Nacional of Aruba won the Kopa ABC 2019 in spite of losing 1-2 to Real Rincon in the first round; they progressed as best losers and defeated RCA (on penalties) and Vesta (after extra time) to win the tournament.
Denmark won the European Championship 1992 although they had been eliminated by Yugoslavia in the qualifying stage: following the UN boycott of Yugoslavia, UEFA admitted Denmark to the final competition instead. The rest is history.
That was not a first though, and an even more striking example exists at world (youth) level. West Germany had finished 9th in the 1980 European U-18 championship, from which the top-6 (England, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Romania) qualified for the World Youth Cup 1981 in Australia. However, the Dutch FA declined to enter a team and eventually West Germany travelled instead - and won the title... (it is not clear why Portugal or East Germany, who had finished 7th and 8th at the European tournament, did not replace the Netherlands; possibly those federations also declined).
Lesotho reached the final of the Cosafa Cup 2000 although they had lost 2-1 against Zimbabwe in the first round; they got through as best losers (Mozambique, who had also lost 2-1 in Malawi, having a worse disciplinary record), and after eliminating Zambia and Angola faced Zimbabwe again in the final. This time, Zimbabwe won more convincingly than in the first round, winning both legs 3-0.
Wales were eliminated in the European qualifying section for the World Cup 1958, but because of the withdrawals surrounding the participation of Israel, a second-placed European team was drawn to play Israel (as qualification without playing was against the rules). Wales were the lucky ones, duly beat Israel, and progressed to the quarterfinals of the final tournament, where they gave Brazil their hardest game on the way to the title.
With thanks to Jean-Pierre Caillault, Frédéric Pauron, José Luis Pierrend and David Tuci for additions
Prepared and maintained by Karel Stokkermans for the Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation
Author: Karel Stokkermans
Last updated: 16 Apr 2020
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