10 Huge Sporting Upsets

A punter's dream and a bookie's nightmare...

Sport is many things – good, bad, ugly and today far too money centric. But whichever era you look at, an upset is received with such joy, such fist-pumping delirium and such hearty, infectious cheering it makes you realise how much fun and how important sport remains. It enriches our lives and lets us all believe that the impossible is possible. Here are 10 of the biggest shocks.

Greece winning Euro 2004

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Going into the Euros, the omens weren’t looking good for the Greeks. They’d only played in two major tournaments before, failing to win a match, and were given odds of 150-1 to win the whole thing. Their tactics may have resembled the appearance of a heavily frosted freezer (solid at the back) but they proved to be a masterstroke. Coach Otto Rehhagel decided to soak up pressure from their more attacking opponents and edge games by a goal or two via counter attacking or from set pieces. The side raised an eyebrow or two from onlookers as they beat the hosts Portugal, who had the likes of Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo in the side, but they sent them skyrocketing after they qualified from their group, beat the highly-fancied French and the Czech Republic and defeated Portugal again in the final. They didn’t even concede a single goal in the knockout stages.

Rulon Gardner defeats Alexander Karelin

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To give this a bit of context, unless you’re a die-hard fan of Greco-Roman wrestling, Karelin was considered unbeatable. He’d hadn’t yielded a single point in over 10 years and hadn’t lost a match in 15. His honours included three consecutive Olympic golds and seven consecutive world titles. He was even called ‘Alexander the Great’ and would regularly demonstrate seemingly superhuman strength, which included once carrying a fridge up seven flights of stairs. His opponent in the 2000 Olympic final was Rulon Garner – a man who had the best finish in an international competition of fifth and had lost emphatically 5-0 to Karelin when they last met. There was only going to be one outcome… right? Wrong! The gold medal match wasn’t one of the purists, with Gardner eking out a point to cling on for a 1-0 win, but the stunned reaction as he took the win more than made up for it as the arena erupted in a deafening roar to one of sport’s biggest turn-up for the books.

Bangladesh beat against Australia in an ODI

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In 2005, lowly Bangladesh had lost every previous meeting against the mighty Australians. The Baggy Greens also boasted some of the finest players ever to play the game, including captain Ricky Pointing, Adam Gilchrist and Glenn McGrath. Add that to the fact Bangladesh held the record for most consecutive losses in ODI history, a whopping 23, and once went five years without a win, it’s easy to see why most were expecting a mauling from the Aussies. But, with just the second ball, you got the sense this match would be different. Gilchrist was trapped plumb LBW, Ponting followed soon after and, incredibly, Australia found themselves at 9 for 2. They rallied to a total of 249 – pretty underwhelming, but with a fearsome bowling attack at their disposal it would be too much for the Bangladeshis. How wrong we were. A magnificent century from Mohammad Ashraful gave The Tigers a sniff of victory and with one over remaining they needed seven runs to win. A huge six over midwicket from Aftab Ahmed of the first ball made it all but a formality and they won with four balls and five wickets to spare. Perhaps the biggest upset in One-day cricket history.

Super Bowl XLII

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Up against the New York Giants, it wasn’t hard to see why the New England Patriots were firm favourites in the 2008 Super Bowl. They’d already become the first team to complete a perfect regular season since the Miami Dolphins in 1972 and the only one since the league expanded to a 16 game regular season schedule in 1978. The Giants, meanwhile, had only finished the regular season with a 10–6 record and hadn’t won the Super Bowl for 17 years. In the history of the completion, no NFC wild card team had ever won it either. The Patriots had a galaxy of stars, led by quarterback Tom Brady who was in scintillating form. He’d won his first NFL MVP and NFL Offensive MVP award, thrown a career-high 4,806 yards, achieved an NFL record 50 touchdowns and had just eight interceptions. Sure enough, it all looked to be going to plan as The Patriots led with less than a minute to play, but the Giants’ David Tyree pulled off a magical, improbable catch to deliver a 17-14 victory.

Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson

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The unfancied Douglas went into the fight as a 42-1 underdog and was considered as nothing more than a tune-up for Tyson before an expected fight with Evander Holyfield. Tyson was not only the champion, he was undefeated in all of his previous 37 fights and had 33 knockouts, with more than half coming the first round. He may have unknowingly begun his downward spiral after the death of his guardian and trainer, Cus D’Amato, but take nothing away from the challenger; Douglas’ emotions were running high after the death of his mother, a mere 23 days before the bout, and fought the fight of his life. He kept the proclaimed ‘baddest man on the planet’ at bay with his jab, cutting his eye so badly it closed up, and recovered from a knockdown to unleash a flurry of punches in the 10th round that sent Tyson crashing to the canvas and his first ever professional defeat.

Upset upsets Man o’War

A confusing title perhaps, but no one was more bewildered and stunned than those who watched this horse race at the Sanford Memorial in 1919. The overwhelming favourite was Man o’ War who’d never lost a race in his career and is still considered today one of the best Thoroughbred race horses of all time. Victory it seemed was all but a given. Instead the unfancied Upset, even with odds of 100-1, crossed the line in first place – taking the win by a nose. Punters won a packet, the form book was torn up and Upset lived up to his name. He may not be as renowned as the likes of fellow horses Frankel, Seabiscuit and the aforementioned Man o’ War, but he remains at the pinnacle of appropriate naming – unless you know a billionaire called Iona Fortune.

The Miracle on Ice

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The name given to the medal-round men’s ice hockey game during the 1980 Winter Olympics, mainly still considerate it unfathomable how the USA team managed to beat the Soviet Union. Quite simply, it was a group of amateur and college players against an outfit who’d won gold in six of the previous seven Olympic Games. The Soviets were known to be some of the best in the world and had crushed the United States 10-3 the last time they met – just a week before the start of the Olympics. Yet, despite all this, somehow the USA players took Lake Placid by storm and defeated them 4-3, before going on to beat Finland to claim gold. Chosen by the International Ice Hockey Federation as the greatest game of the 20th century, the shock result was immortalised by commentator Al Michaels’ now iconic cry of: “Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

Goran Ivanisevic wins Wimbledon

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After seeing his ranking fall to 125 in the world, Goran Ivanisevic had to rely on a wildcard entry to play in the 2001 Wimbledon Championships. His poor form mainly attributable to his body rebelling, his powerful service game left neutered by a succession of shoulder injuries. But after beating the likes of Andy Roddick, Greg Rusedski and Marat Safin, the Big Croat faced perpetual British hope Tim Henman in the semi-finals. It looked like the dream had to come to end after losing the third set 6-0, but the rain gods had other ideas. Heavy showers meant the match was halted until the next day. Upon resuming, Henman looked shot and Ivanisevic took advantage. In the final he faced last year’s runner-up, and former world number 1, the Australian serve and volley specialist Pat Rafter. The match was an epic, going the full five sets and lasting over three hours. Swinging one way then the other, fittingly (certainly painfully) it would be Goran’s serve that proved crucial. He held his nerve, just, to serve out and win 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7. Today, he remains the only wildcard entry in history to win Wimbledon. And no, the Paul Bettany film doesn’t count.

Wildcats stun Georgetown

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Heading into the 1985 NCAA Champions game, the Georgetown Hoyas were arguably the most feared time in the country. They were on a 17 game winning streak and were the current title holders. Talent-wise, the Villanova Wildcats were vastly inferior to such an extent it made David and Goliath look like they were on a level playing field. Whilst they didn’t bring a slingshot with them, they did come to play though – and not just for pride, but to win. Astonishingly, they shot 78% from the field and better than 90% in the second half to win 66-64. It remains the second biggest point-spread upset in Championship Game history, with the Wildcats still the lowest seeded team ever to win the tournament.

Japan beating South Africa in the 2015 Rugby World Cup

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It’s expected at every Rugby World Cup for the lesser teams to turn up, enjoy the occasion, get thrashed and head home after a patronising pat on the back. Japan’s win against South Africa didn’t just change the Rugby landscape, it nuked it. Pundits were doubtful the Japanese would even score a try against the Spring Boks. Even whispering the chance of a win and there would’ve been calls for a straightjacket. But so it came to be that a team that only ever won one a single World Cup match spanning 28 years beat the two-time winners South Africa – who had 851 caps between them and had only ever lost in the tournament to previous winners Australia, New Zealand and England. Expecting a comfortable victory, instead the Cherry Blossoms stood toe to toe with them, showing that if the minnows hit the big boys hard enough they will eventually fall.

What are your biggest sporting upsets? Let us know below.

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