Some of the most memorable moments when it comes to sports are the upsets that rarely happen in big games. In the majority of cases, the strongest team takes away the prize, but there are rare moments in which underdogs rise to the occasion and achieve the impossible. These special teams and athletes pull off surprising feats. If you like rooting for the underdogs, you’ll enjoy these 10 greatest upsets in the history of sports.
1. In the 1950 FIFA World Cup final, Brazil was so sure they would beat Uruguay that the media hailed them as “future champions” even before the match. The authorities also made 22 gold medals with the names of Brazilian players and the trophy in Brazil’s name. To everyone’s astonishment, Uruguay won the game 2-1, and there was not even a trophy for them.
It was the final of the 1950 FIFA World Cup. On one side was Brazil with 200,000 supporters and playing in their home country. All they needed was a tie to win the cup. They had made a record of 40+ goals in the tournament and were clearly everyone’s favorite. Celebrations, songs, trophies, and parades – all have been designed assuming that Brazil would surely win. Even the local media published the news hailing Brazil as the “future champion.”
Facing Brazil was Uruguay, a country with a tiny population but a large heart for football. The team was having problems in the tournament, and very few people were supporting them to win. When the match started, Brazil jumped into the lead by one point. But after halftime, everything changed. Juan Alberto Schiaffino scored a goal and tied the score. Now, all Brazil needed was to maintain the tie and win the tournament. But with 11 minutes remaining in the game, Alcides Ghiggia scored the goal that led to the greatest upset in the history of sports!
Uruguay won the match. “Maracanazo” – that translates to “the agony of Maracanã” became synonymous with that particular game played in the Maracanã Stadium. Ghiggia was the last surviving player from that historic match. He breathed his last in 2015, exactly 65 years after scoring the winning goal. (source)
2. Australian speed skater Steven Bradbury knew that he was the slowest competitor, so he prepared a strategy to just cruise behind all the other competitors and simply avoid any group crashes. His strategy worked both in the semi-final and final and resulted in him winning gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Steven Bradbury’s gold was one of the most unexpected golds in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Ann Zhang was the national coach for Bradbury. After consulting with his coach, Bradbury devised a strategy that in the semi-final he would just cruise behind the other contestants and try to avoid crashing. He believed that the other contestants would take risks and ultimately collide. He actually hoped that they would crash and make the skaters behind to fall as well clearing the way for the remaining skaters and himself! He knew he was the slowest, and this strategy was the only way he would be able to win.
In the semi-final, Bradbury was in the last place. Nobody was rooting for him. But suddenly, the defending champion from South Korea, Kim Dong-sung; the Olympic medallist from China, Li Jiajun; and Canadian skater Mathieu Turcotte all crashed. This cleared the way for Bradbury, and he took the first place to enter the finals!
Bradbury continued with his strategy in the finals too. Four of the competitors in the final crashed again paving the way for Bradbury to win the gold medal. When the skaters crashed, Bradbury was around 15 meters behind them and had 50 meters more to the finish line. He avoided the pile-up and won the gold. He was the first person to win a Winter Olympic event from a country in the Southern Hemisphere.
Bradbury said in an interview, “Obviously, I wasn’t the fastest skater. I don’t think I’ll take the medal as the minute-and-a-half of the race I actually won. I’ll take it as the last decade of the hard slog I put in.” The win made him a folk hero. (source)
3. Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed a victory in Super Bowl III in 1969 over the Baltimore Colts. But, of course, no one was counting on him. To everyone’s disbelief, the Jets scored 16 unanswered points at the start of the game and put to bed speculations that they were inferior to the Colts.
The Jets, who were earlier called the “Titans,” were part of the AFL (American Football League) franchise. On the other hand, the Baltimore Colts belonged to the NFL (National Football League) franchise. Most sports writers and fans believed that the teams in the AFL were less talented than the NFL teams. So, when the Jets and the Baltimore Colts were to face each other, nobody gave much of a chance to the Jets.
Three days before the Super Bowl, Joe Namath, the quarterback for the Jets, made a special appearance and personally guaranteed the victory of his team over the Colts. During the game, his team helped him keep the promise. The Jets controlled most of the game and quickly built a 16-0 lead at the start of the game with a touchdown run by Matt Snell.
Upon victory, the Jets became the only winning team to win by scoring just a single touchdown. Namath completed 17 out of his 28 passes for 206 yards and was named as the Most Valuable Player (MVP) at the event. He became the first player to be declared MVP without personally throwing a touchdown. (source)
4. Greece went to Euro 2004 without a single star player and with the odds of winning set at 150-1. Surprising, they beat the defending champions France and the Czech Republic in the knockout stages, and then beat the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo in the final. That year, the football tournament saw an unexpected win.
In the UEFA Euro 2004, Greece was in nobody’s win books. Before this tournament, Greece had qualified only for two other major tournaments, the UEFA Euro 1980 and the 1994 FIFA World Cup. They did not win even a single match in both these tournaments, so nobody expected them to win this time either.
Right from the beginning of the event, the Greeks stunned everybody. In the Group A opening match, Greece beat the hosts, Portugal, 2-1. The final was a repeat of this opening game. Portugal was hoping to finally take revenge for the opening game, but Greece had a great defense strategy. They were able to avert all the furious attacks of the Portuguese team. But a few minutes before the hour mark, Greece earned a corner kick, and Angelos Charisteas scored a goal. Portugal tried their best and kept pressing after the goal, but with just five minutes of stoppage time, they were not able to score.
Greece won the match by a goal and became the champions of the tournament. The odds were 150-1 of Greece’s winning. The amazing part was that Greece did not have any star player, and yet they stood up to the celebrated athletes Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo. (source)
5. Rulon Gardner was facing the best wrestler in the history of the sport, Aleksandr Karelin, who hadn’t lost a match in 13 years in the 2000 Summer Olympics. Gardner scored a single point in the second round and held on by not allowing Karlein to go for his famous reverse-lift technique. He won and Karelin retired from the sport that day.
Being a dairy farmer from Wyoming, Rulon Gardner was the ultimate underdog in the history of the super-heavyweight division. In the 2000 Summer Olympics, Gardner took on Aleksandr Karelin, a man who had reigned supreme in the game for 13 years! Prior to the match, Aleksandr Karelin’s career record consisted of 888 matches with 887 wins and one loss. Nobody had been able to beat him in more than a decade. So naturally, not one spectator thought that Gardner could take the medal home that night.
When the match started, it didn’t take long for Karelin to launch his reverse-lift attack on Gardner. But Gardner was too heavy for Karelin – he was unable to lift him off the floor. The score remained 0-0 at the end of the first round. The second round started with a scuffle between the players, and in the middle of it, Karelin made a mistake of releasing his hold. According to the new rules in the game, Gardner got a point! Even then, the US supporters were not getting excited as the fear of Karelin winning was still in the air.
In the third round, the Russian wrestler tried his famous reverse-lift technique again but in vain. Gardner didn’t even budge. Commentators said that for the first time in 13 years, Karelin looked tired and human. Karelin gave up in the last four seconds of the match, with Gardner emerging as the winner!
Aleksandr Karelin departed the stage that day by leaving his shoes on the mat as a sign of his immediate retirement from the sport. He retired with a lifetime record of 887 wins and 2 losses. (source)