The Rundown

Magnificent seven: Sport’s most glorious failures

The Rundown

Rarely has a football team gone into a second leg with so little hope as Arsenal did against AC Milan on Tuesday night; and almost never has a team in that position acquitted themselves as brilliantly as Arsene Wenger's men did at The Emirates.

The Gunners were heroic as they turned a 4-0 aggregate scoreline into 4-3 by half-time of their Champions League last-16 clash against the Italian side; sadly, however, the miracle was not to be as they ended up falling just short.

Yet the side that played in a chilly north London will go down in the sporting history books as one of the most glorious failures ever seen. We pay tribute to that achievement by putting their display in context alongside other nearly-men: the mice who roared, the Davids who were swiped to their doom by Goliaths at the last minute, the lost causes which were so nearly won… and the champions who were stitched up by inept officials and administrative cock-ups .

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Derek Redmond finishes thanks to his Dad's help at the 1992 Olympics

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The British 400m runner was an athlete of genuine quality, the British 400m record holder for five years, and a member of the unstoppable 4x400m - along with Roger Black, Kriss Akabusi and John Regis - that won World Championship gold in 1991 against the highly-fancied American squad.

Yet he was also one of the unluckiest athletes in sporting history, being plagued by injuries that often kept him out of major championships, and seeing him in surgery repeatedly.

That all looked like changing at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona when he turned up in superb form, and stormed to victory in his heat and quarter-final.

In the semi-finals, it all went horribly wrong. His hamstring snapped on the back straight, prompting his father to barge past the security guards and help him hobble across the line in what remains one of the most enduring images ever seen at the Olympics.

It's a sad indictment of the modern world that if the same thing happened in London this August, Special Branch's snipers would take out the athlete's dad before he made it two steps onto the track.

Bernard Freyberg fails to swim the English channel in the final 500 yards

The legendary soldier and swimmer was born in the London suburb of Richmond, but moved to New Zealand when he was two and subsequently became the kiwis' national 100m champion - though it was back in his native England where he became truly famous for his swimming.

During the First World War he served at Gallipoli, and had won a medal for an astonishing action which involved him swimming to-and-from shore from a ship two miles out to sea while towing rafts carrying oil flares and calcium lights with which to scout enemy positions.

Despite nearly drowning, his exploits clearly whetted his appetite for swimming, and in 1925 and 1926 he made repeated attempts to swim across the English channel.

Yet he never made it across. The closest he ever came was in August 1925, when having braved appalling conditions from Cap Gris Nez, he got to within 500 yards of Dover. Utterly shattered, he paused for a break while well-wishers in boats cheered him on - but he was never able to get going again and had to be hauled into a boat and taken to shore.

"The Channel has won again," read the report in The Times, "but seldom, by those whom it has conquered, was victory so nearly snatched from its grasp."

Chesterfield's FA Cup semi-final defeat by Middlesbrough

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No team from England's third tier has reached an FA Cup final, but had it not been for a controversial penalty decision from David Ellery then Chesterfield surely would have made it in 1997 - and their heroic run made them, briefly, the second-favourite team of every football fan in the country.

Led by a young Kevin Davies up front, Chesterfield took an unlikely 2-0 lead at Old Trafford over a Middlesbrough team containing the likes of Juninho, Emerson and Fabrizio Ravanelli. Italian striker Ravanelli got one back for Boro, but then came the key moment of the match as Jonathan Howard smashed a shot off the underside of the bar that dropped over the line. Replays showed it was a clear goal but referee Ellery refused to give it.

Middlesbrough were also down to 10 men at that stage and a 3-1 deficit would surely have been too much. Yet as it was Craig Hignett levelled for Boro to send the match into extra-time and Gianluca Festa then gave the Premier League side the lead in the extra 30 minutes. A late equaliser from Jamie Hewitt did at least earn Chesterfield a replay, but their chance had gone and Boro eased to a 3-0 win.

Roy Jones Jr at the 1988 Olympics

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In 1988 Roy Jones Jr came to the Seoul Olympics as one of the USA's top medal hopes in boxing and cruised through to the gold medal bout without losing a single round. Once there he had Korean opponent Park Si-Hun on the ropes throughout, landing a total of 86 punches to Park's 32 during an absurdly one-sided bout. Unbelievably, however, the judges decided that the local man had done enough to win the bout and awarded Park the gold. The decision caused widespread astonishment and outrage - but not to the judges or Korean officials who had wined and dined them.

One of the judges admitted that a mistake had been made, Park even reportedly apologised to Jones and a new scoring system was instigated following the outrageous corrupt decision. The IOC refuses to acknowledge that anything untoward took place, however, and the decision still stands - despite the fact Jones won the Val Barker trophy in 1988, awarded to the best overall boxer of the Games. Jones went on to become one of the best pound-for-pound boxers the sport has seen and was named 'fighter of the decade' for the 1990s by the American boxing writers' association, but his gold medal still rankles and he remains hopeful that the decision will one day be overturned.

Ireland's Parisian miracle that never was

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Giovanni Trappatoni's Ireland team were given no hope whatsoever of making it through the second leg of their World Cup play-off against France. Having lost the first leg in Dublin it seemed inconceivable that they could turn over Les Bleus on home turf. But Ireland were in it from the off, and Robbie Keane's 32nd minute goal suddenly gave them both hope and belief that they could pull off the incredible feat of knocking the 2006 World Cup finalists out before the 2010 tournament started.

Yet Thierry Henry's double handball in extra time allowed the Arsenal legend to put in a cross that gave William Gallas a tap-in to deny the plucky Irish. The scandal had the whole world talking, with everyone from Padraig Harrington to Bono to the French education minister chucking in their two pennies' worth.

The outraged Irish FA attempted everything to redress the injustice, including pleas from captain Robbie Keane and chief executive John Delaney to replay the match, before they finally requested to be included in the finals as an extra team. All the requests were denied. The only small measure of revenge for Ireland came as they watched the French manage just one point from their three matches as their scandal-hit side failed to make it through the group stage.

Roberto De Vicenzo fails to win the 1968 Masters

Mark Roe's famous scorecard mix-up cost him a shot at the 2003 Open Championship when he accidentally switched cards with Jesper Parnevik, and was therefore disqualified for signing for the wrong score. But that was nothing on Roberto de Vicenzo's blunder 35 years beforehand.

When Argentine star and reigning Open champion De Vicenzo birdied the 17th hole at the 1968 Masters he looked likely to win the tournament, and was guaranteed to at least make a play-off.

Sadly, playing partner Tommy Aaron had failed to notice his birdie, and marked him down for a four. De Vicenzo didn't check his card properly, and signed for a 66 instead of the 65 he should have had - and when Bob Goalby made a birdie elsewhere, De Vicenzo missed out on the play-off chance he had earned.

Scotland go out on a high from the 1978 World Cup

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After losing to Peru and being held to a draw by Iran in their opening two matches, the Scots were totally written off before their third and final group stage match against Holland at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. The Dutch were widely regarded as the best side in the world at the time, and the underdogs needed an unthinkable three-goal victory to go through to the next phase.

Rob Rensenbrink's 34th minute penalty for the Dutch made that win seem all the more unlikely, but Kenny Dalglish equalised just before half-time and Archie Gemmill then put the Scots ahead from the spot straight after the break.

Scotland, now throwing everything at their opponents, then went 3-1 up with one of the most famous goals in World Cup history: Gemmill made an astonishing run up the right, beating three men before chipping an exquisite finish over Jan Jongbloed.

This was it, surely, Ally MacLeod's men seemed destined to score again and cause one of the great upsets … sadly, reality stepped in to intrude as Dutch star Johnny Rep unleashed a 30-yard rocket that made it 3-2. Scotland won and went home, but the victory - and particularly Gemmill's magical goal - made it as glorious a failure as has ever been seen in the game.

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