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Five of sport's greatest ever underdogs

  • Story Highlights
  • Europe's Ryder Cup team has often beaten the U.S. despite lower profile players
  • America's ice hockey win against the Soviets is known as the "Miracle on Ice"
  • Wimbledon's defeat of Liverpool in the FA Cup was considered a major upset
  • New York Jets Superbowl win in 1969 was inspired by quarterback Joe Namath
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By Paul Willis
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- In sport, being the best is not just about the having the greatest players. Here are five teams that have gone from zeroes to heroes, and in the process left their mark on sporting history.

1. The European Ryder Cup team

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The 1980 U.S. hockey team's 'Miracle on Ice' against the Soviet Union.

Europe's Ryder Cup team has become renowned for upsetting the form book, frequently triumphing against higher ranked American opposition.

Since European players were first allowed to join the British and Irish team for the famous golf tournament (to improve the level of competition) in 1979, the U.S. has won six times; Europe seven; and the teams have tied once. The slight edge enjoyed by Europe, however, belies the lowly status of their players in world golf.

For the last tournament two years ago in Ireland, for example, the Americans boasted 68.4 world-ranking points and the top three players, including world number one, Tiger Woods. Compare this with just 47.8 ranking points for the Europeans.

Even so Europe went on to achieve a record third consecutive win. The key to this success has been the camaraderie and teamwork exhibited by the Europeans.

Their players have consistently rallied around their position as underdog, managing to achieve a level of togetherness made all the more surprising since the team is made up of a collection of nationalities that are better known for falling out with each other.

2. The 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team

A famous victory against a seemingly invincible Soviet Union side propelled this team of college players and amateurs to the level of national heroes.

Although the U.S. team went on to win the gold medal by defeating Finland at the Winter Olympics, it was the earlier match against the Soviets that captured the popular imagination.

Classed as amateurs, the Soviet players were essentially professional, and were provided with different job titles by the communist government to allow them to compete. Many of their players were considered legends of world ice hockey at the time.

The U.S. team coached by Herb Brooks was, by contrast, genuinely amateur and came into the tournament in Lake Placid, New York, as rank outsiders. Their youthfulness and tenacity combined with patriotic home support saw them upset predictions, defeating the Soviets 4-3 in a match that became known as the "Miracle on Ice."

The win over their Cold War enemies seized the imagination of the U.S. public -- it inspired two films and was voted the greatest sporting moment of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated. Dave Ogrean, former executive director of USA Hockey, called the victory "the most transcending moment in the history of our sport in this country."

3. The 'Crazy Gang' defeat Liverpool in the FA Cup

Nobody expected lowly Wimbledon Football Club to do anything other than turn up when they played Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium.

Dubbed the 'Crazy Gang' by British media because of the eccentric antics of their players and staff, who included future film actor Vinnie Jones, the team was outclassed on every front.

At the time Liverpool were the dominant force in English football, having won the league title that year for the seventh time in a decade. Managed by former player Kenny Dalglish and boasting a host of stars, the team was expected to cruise past Wimbledon, who had little resources and were considered something of a joke.

Under the chairmanship of Lebanese businessman Samir "Sam" Hammam, Wimbledon earned a reputation for bizarre behaviour, with players setting fire to new signings football kits, and Hammam once offering to buy a camel for the team's striker if he scored 20 goals in a season.

The practical jokes helped to foster an extraordinarily strong team spirit, however, which saw them topple Liverpool 1-0, with Wimbledon captain Dave Beasant the hero of the hour after he saved a penalty.

4. Joe's Jets win the Superbowl

When the New York Jets took on the Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Superbowl, it was the team from Baltimore that was strong favorites.

The Colts had stormed the National Football League (NFL) championship, considered at the time a much stronger competition than the American Football League (AFL), headed that year by the Jets.

This news, however, seemed to have escaped Joe Namath, the Jets' charismatic quarterback, who gave a "guarantee" a few days earlier at a news conference in Miami -- where the Superbowl was being staged -- that his team would win.

True to his predictions, the Jets came out on top with Namath taking all the plaudits (Sports Illustrated described him as a "folk hero of the new generation") after a blistering performance that saw his team triumph 16-7.

5. The Magical Magyars

The legendary Hungarian national football team of the 1950s is still considered one of the greatest teams in the history of sport.

Although many of its players -- most notably striker Ferenc Puskas, who eventually moved to Real Madrid -- went on to play in the West, during its heyday the majority of the team was drawn from the Honved club in Budapest.

The Magyars remained unbeaten for an unprecedented 33 consecutive matches (a record that still stands today) finally losing out in the 1954 World Cup Final to Germany. This golden age of Hungarian football was brought to an abrupt end in 1956 by the events of the Hungarian Revolution. Puskas and some of his team mates opted to defect to Western Europe, and never played for their country again.

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