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Well, who could have seen that coming? Borussia Dortmund are Champions League finalists after their 2-0 aggregate win over Paris Saint-Germain. But is their presence at Wembley the unlikeliest of the Champions League era (we're skipping over the European Cup when participation was so radically different as to open the door for all sorts of surprise finalists)? Let's find out:

5. Chelsea, 2011-12

With all due respect to the Liverpool side of 2004-05, a Steven Gerrard howitzer away from elimination, this was the English champion that really shouldn't have been. Having fumbled their way out of a fairly simple group, it was no great surprise when a side utterly at sea under Andre Villas Boas were tonked 3-1 in the round of 16 first leg against Napoli, a defeat that cost the Portuguese boss his job. Had Roman Abramovich really believed that the season could be salvaged he might not have appointed former Blue Roberto Di Matteo, whose managerial CV beforehand largely encompassed promoting and relegating West Bromwich Albion.

What happened next was utterly incredible, particularly for the young university student who offered his friend odds of 50-1 of Chelsea winning the Champions League even at the semifinal stage (Alex Kealy, I suspect I probably still owe you that £250). Branislav Ivanovic's extra-time winner downed Napoli but after beating Benfica came what seemed to be the impossible job against all-conquering Barcelona. Didier Drogba carried the Blues through the first leg but the tie seemed done when Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta netted either side of a John Terry red card in the Nou Camp. Ramires' strike on the cusp of the break gave the 10 men something to cling onto, setting the stage for that Fernando Torres goal.

Without Terry, Ramires and Ivanovic among others, while David Luiz and Gary Cahill held themselves together with sticking plasters, Bayern Munich looked like being too much for Chelsea, especially with the Allianz Arena behind them for the final. They nearly were but Drogba rose to the hour unforgettably, a team that were on the brink of a round of 16 exit crowned champions of Europe. 

4. Ajax, 1994-95

In retrospect, a team that included Edgar Davids, Edwin van der Sar, Patrick Kluivert and Marc Overmars looks every inch a potential European champion but no one saw Louis van Gaal's men as potential European champions at the start of the 1994-95 season. Then came their impressive 2-0 win over reigning champions AC Milan on matchday one. From there they never looked back, beating Fabio Capello's side again on the road before blitzing Bayern Munich in the Olympisch Stadion, Jari Litmanen netting a brilliant brace.

They weren't quite the same underdogs for their third meeting with Milan that they had been for their first but still, theirs was a side that utilized seven academy graduates in Vienna. One of those, 18-year-old Patrick Kluivert, would net the winner on a night where a youthful Ajax showed a level of composure beyond even their more garlanded opponents. 

3. Monaco and 2. Porto, 2003-04

This was the year where all the big teams rather blew each other up, though Monaco and Porto certainly offered a helping hand to those who got within reach of them on their path to Gelsenkirchen. Lyon's fine form in the group stages forced Bayern Munich into second place and a draw with Real Madrid while the awe-inspiring forward line of Inter were caught in Arsenal's comeback from the death, crashing into the UEFA Cup. What would go on to be The Invincibles probably should have gone on to win this competition but were sent crashing out on away goals by an inferior Chelsea who would be blown away by the devastating attacking tandem of Dado Prso and Fernando Morientes. He had already done for the hopes of his parent club Real Madrid in the quarterfinals in a year where away goals played an outsized role.

Eventual champions Porto will forever be remembered for Jose Mourinho's hurtling across the Old Trafford touchline after Costinha's late goal earned them a 3-2 aggregate win over another of the leading lights in the competition, Manchester United. Had AC Milan not blown a three-goal lead against Deportivo La Coruna in the quarterfinals then Kaka and company would surely have tasted glory but instead Porto got the more negotiable semifinal opponent. The fourth and so far last European Cup final not to feature a representative from England, Spain, Italy or Germany was ultimately a walkover for Porto, inspired by Deco on their way to a 3-0 win.

1. Borussia Dortmund, 2023-24

Recency bias? You betcha. Then again, the simple reality is that the 20 years since Monaco and Porto played out that underdog final have seen the richest clubs entrench themselves at the top table. The last quarter century has produced just two new winners of the Champions League: one the plaything of a Russian oligarch, the other a soft power vehicle for Abu Dhabi. Borussia Dortmund have proven to be rich pickings for those wealthier than them, invariably struggling to repeat the brilliance of the early 2010s when someone richer than them prises away, among others: Robert Lewandowski, Ilkay Gundogan, Ousmane Dembele, Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland, Jude Bellingham.

As for this season, six of their 12 games to get to Wembley have seen them pitted against clubs backed by Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds. A Dortmund side that have looked pretty ordinary in the Bundesliga quelled first Newcastle and then Paris Saint-Germain, who might have gotten the better of them in the group stage but froze in the semifinals. The rest of the fixtures weren't that easy either but Edin Terzic's men found their way past AC Milan, a frisky and fearless PSV Eindhoven and then Atletico Madrid just as the draw seemed to be opening up for Diego Simeone's side.

Dortmund were the side everyone wanted in the last eight and a fair few would have taken in the last 16 too. No wonder. They've given up an average of 1.7 non-penalty expected goals (npxG) per game while creating shots worth just 1.2 npxG. But for the brilliance of Mats Hummels and Gregor Kobel, this team of somewhat promising youngsters and second-timers at the Westfalenstadion wouldn't have gotten close to the final. It's not far short of a miracle that they have. It's certainly enough to make you believe they're going to go one step further.

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