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Sides for whom winning was not everything

FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk have won fewer than half their games this season but reached the final; UEFA.com meets other teams who took a scenic route to success.

PSV's Edward Linskens, Ronald Koeman, Jan Heintze, Eric Gerets and Wim Kieft celebrate in 1988
PSV's Edward Linskens, Ronald Koeman, Jan Heintze, Eric Gerets and Wim Kieft celebrate in 1988 ©Getty Images

We have all heard it. Usually uninvited and with an arm draped over our shuddering shoulders, amid the bitter tears and nausea that accompany defeat: 'Winning isn't everything.' It jars, and Bill Shankly would certainly disagree, but FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk have shown that there is more than one way to reach a final in this season's UEFA Europa League, taking their place in the Warsaw decider despite winning fewer than half of their 16 games since the start of the play-offs (W7 D5 L4).

As we discover, though, not winning is not necessarily an impediment to winning ...

Club Atlético de Madrid, 2009/10 UEFA Europa League
W3 D8 L4 – champions

The Rojiblancos were not obvious candidates when they transferred from the UEFA Champions League after managing just three group stage points. Still, Diego Forlán's 90th-minute winner took them past Galatasaray AŞ in the last 32, and Atleti then overcame Sporting Clube de Portugal, Valencia CF and Liverpool FC on away goals. That was not an option in the final but Atlético did the next best thing, Forlán scoring deep into extra time to see off Fulham FC and end a 14-year wait for silverware.

PSV Eindoven, 1987/88 European Cup
W3 D5 L1 –
Extra time was too soon for PSV. Guus Hiddink's Dutch double winners mustered victories against Galatasaray and SK Rapid Wien (twice), but none after the second round. They beat FC Girondins de Bordeaux and Real Madrid CF on away goals after 1-1 draws in France and Spain, then outlasted SL Benfica in a goalless final. Inevitably it went to penalties and even then to sudden death. António Veloso (father of Miguel) missed and the Netherlands' golden summer began.

Denmark, 1964 UEFA European Championship
W4 D2 L3 – fourth

Many forget, but Denmark had reached the EURO semi-finals twice before their 1992 triumph. From afar, with the football landscape having shifted so much, the 1964 campaign does not appear auspicious. They swept past Malta, exchanged wins against Albania (4-1 on aggregate) before a head-to-head with the Netherlands' vanquishers: Luxembourg. Denmark needed a replay to advance at the Red Lions' expense, Ole Madsen getting the only goal in Amsterdam. The USSR and Hungary proved too strong in the four-team finals.

Villarreal celebrate Riquelme's penalty v Benfica
Villarreal celebrate Riquelme's penalty v Benfica©Getty Images

Villarreal CF, 2005/06 UEFA Champions League
W3 D7 L2 – semi-finalists

"This Villarreal team is pretty unique," said Roberto Mancini. "They defend cleverly and enjoy doing it." Manuel Pellegrini's unheralded side scored three and conceded one as they topped their group, and while they opened up a little in the knockout rounds the Yellow Submarine still kept things watertight at the back. Rangers FC and Mancini's FC Internazionale Milano were eliminated on away goals; had Juan Riquelme converted a late penalty against Arsenal FC, they may have got to the final.

Russia, 2013 UEFA European Under-17 Championship
W1 D4 – champions
Russia registered a solitary victory but four draws and their deadly accuracy from the penalty spot saw Dmitri Khomukha's men through in Slovakia. Having beaten Ukraine 3-0 on the opening day, Russia scored just once more, in a draw with Italy that sealed pole position in their group. They drew the semi-final and final 0-0 before showing their class from the spot to down Sweden (10-9) and Italy (5-4) respectively. "I'm lost for words," said defender Dzhamaldin Khodzhaniyazov. He was not the only one.

Can you find or recall any more? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook using #PlayTheLongGame. We will add the best ones here.

*Statistics are for the group stage onwards

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