APOEL's Brazilian midfielder Gustavo Manduca (C) celebrates after scoring during the UEFA Champions League second leg quarter-final football match Real Madrid against Apoel Nicosia at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid on April 04, 2012.AFP PHOTO/ DANI POZO (Photo credit should read DANI POZO/AFP/Getty Images)

6 Trail Blazing Clubs From Smaller Nations Who Have Made a Name for Themselves in Europe

Think of European club competitions, and you'll most likely think of the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich, and understandably so, because stories so often go where the trophies are won.


But even those who lift those trophies have a long way to go to get there, and along the way they must overcome some teams, who for them, simply being in the competition is like lifting a trophy. 


Here are some clubs who have defied the odds, expectations, and reputations of the nations they are representing, to earn a headline or two of their own.

6. Astana (Kazakhstan)

Think of Kazakhstan in international football, and whether home or away a banker of a win will likely come to mind. In club competition however, that scenario is rather different. 


Prior to Thursday's narrow 3-2 defeat at home to Spanish side Villarreal in the Europa League, FC Astana had been unbeaten in 17 straight home European fixtures. That run helped them become the first Kazakh side to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League, where Iberian giants Atletico Madrid and Benfica were both held to draws in Kazakhstan.


Despite that defeat to Villarreal, Astana will become the first Kazakh side to reach the knockout stages of a European competition if they avoid defeat away to Czech side Slavia Prague in the final round of group matches.

5. Qarabag (Azerbaijan)

Qarabag's presence in this season's group stage of the Champions League marks the first time that Azerbaijan, a country ranked 44th in Europe by FIFA, has been represented at this stage of the Champions League.


That qualification was made all the more impressive by the fact that the Azeri champions had to overcome experienced European campaigners in the form of Danish side FC Copenhagen in order to qualify.


Despite thrashings home and away from English champions Chelsea, Qarabag, who are already out of the tournament with one game to spare, can still take satisfaction from their two draws with Spanish giants Atletico Madrid.

4. Skenderbeu (Albania)

Defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in the final play-off round in 2015 may have denied Skenderbeu a place in the Champions League, but their subsequent place in the Europa League marked the first ever qualification to a UEFA tournament for an Albanian side.


That group stage saw Skenderbeu suffer five defeats from six games, the sixth match however, was an emphatic 3-0 victory at home to Portuguese giants Sporting.


Having been banned from European competition last season, Skenderbeu made their return to the Europa League this season, where despite victory over Dynamo Kyiv on Thursday, results elsewhere meant that the Albanian side once again missed out on a place in the knockout stages.

3. Dundalk (Ireland)

Another side to hold the honour of being their nation's only ever representative in the group stage of a European competition, Dundalk's performances in the group stage of the 2016/17 won the Irish side plenty of admirers.


But after a 1-1 draw at Dutch side AZ was followed up with a historic and unforgettable first European group stage win 1-0 at home to Maccabi Tel Aviv in their opening two games, Dundalk lost their remaining four games. However impressively they never lost by more than one goal even when faced with a trip to former competition winners Zenit, meaning they fell agonisingly short of what would have been an unexpected place in the knockout round with a final day defeat to Maccabi in Israel.

2. Ostersund (Sweden)

Though not the first to qualify from Sweden, Ostersunds' story is one of the most unbelievable in Europe this season. When Englishman Graham Potter took over the club in 2011, they had just been relegated to the fourth tier of Swedish football.


Last season - their first in Sweden's top tier - saw them lift the Swedish Cup to earn a place in this season's Europa League qualifying round. Having then overcome both Galatasaray and PAOK on the road to the group stages, Thursday night's 2-0 win over Ukrainian side Zorya earned Ostersund a place in the knockout round of the competition, the first Swedish representatives ever to make it this far in the competition.


All that in a group that features the relative European giants of Athletic Bilbao and Hertha Berlin.

1. APOEL (Cyprus)

A regular feature in UEFA competitions, there is one campaign for Cypriot giants APOEL that stands about above all others. Starting at the second qualifying round, APOEL's 2011-12 Champions League campaign saw them make it all the way to the quarter finals.


It was a campaign that saw the Cypriots top a tough group featuring Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit St Petersburg. Following that success. APOEL's first ever Champions League knockout tie saw them beat French giants Lyon 4-3 to set up the most glamorous of ties with Real Madrid.


That would prove to be a step too far with Madrid running out 8-2 aggregate winners, but having never since made the quarter finals of UEFA competition, it is 2011/12 that is the European campaign that will live long in the APOEL memory.