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An upset occurs in a competition, frequently in electoral politics or sports, when the party popularly expected to win (the favorite), is defeated by an underdog whom the majority expects to lose, defying the conventional wisdom. The underdog then becomes a giant-killer.

Examples of major upsets in politics

Examples of major upsets in sports

American Football




  • 1882 - Australia had never won a test in England, where they had to face the cream of amateur players rather than professionals seeking winter employment, but at the Oval in August 1882 they beat the finest team England could put on the field. Dismissed for 63 in the first innings they made 122 in the second and England's 101 and 77 gave Australia a 7 runs victory. "The Demon" fast bowler Fred Spofforth taking 14–90 in the match. As a result the Sporting Times published a fake obituary to "English Cricket which died at the Oval on 29th August, 1882...the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia" - the origin of the Ashes.
  • 1983 - In the 1983 Cricket World Cup, newcomers Zimbabwe shocked Australia in England in their first ever ODI game, winning by 13 runs. Duncan Fletcher, the Zimbabwe captain, was man of the match.
  • 1983 - Later in the 1983 World Cup, underdogs India shocked favourites and two-time defending champions West Indies in England, winning by 43 runs; the upset was deemed as the greatest upset in cricketing history.
  • 1996 - 1996 Cricket World Cup: Kenya, playing in their first World Cup, comprehensively defeated the West Indies in the group stages, establishing Kenya's then-presence as a leading Associate nation.
  • 1999 - 1999 Cricket World Cup: Bangladesh beat tournament favourites Pakistan. This result was influential in Bangladesh achieving test status.
  • 2003 - In the 2003 Cricket World Cup, the minnow team Kenya defeated one of the top teams in the world, Sri Lanka, and, with that victory, advanced to the Semi-Finals of the tournament, becoming the first non-Test-playing nation to advance to a semi-final. Kenya beat Sri Lanka by 53 runs. This was one of the greatest cricketing upsets because of the comprehensive way in which Kenya won, with bowler Collins Obuya taking record figures 5–24 and Kennedy Obuya scoring a patient 80.
  • 2005 - Bangladesh beat Australia at Cardiff. Mohammad Ashraful, the Bangladeshimarker captain, scored his first international century to put Bangladesh on-course to defeat the reigning world champions.
  • 2007 - Cricket World Cup 2007: Ireland, playing in their first World Cup, beat top seed and world number 4 Pakistan, to advance to the Super 8 stage of the tournament. The Pakistan coach, Bob Woolmer, died after the match.
  • 2009 - World Twenty20 Championship 2009: In the opening match of the tournament, the Netherlands, playing in their first Twenty20 international tournament, defeated hosts England, by four wickets off the last ball of the match.

Football (soccer)

  • 1924 - At the Olympic games in Paris, Sweden defeated Belgium, a higher ranked team, 8–1. This is still ranked as the biggest international soccer upset ever, according to Elo ratings [95431].
  • 1950 - In the World Cup, the United States shocked England in a match considered one of the biggest surprises in World Cup history.
  • 1950 - In the same competition, Uruguay registered an upset of Brazil in the World Cup final, with the latter nation needing only a draw to win the World Cup; this game is known as the Maracanazo (or Maracanaço).
  • 1954 - In the World Cup final, underdogs West Germany came back from two goals down to defeat the heavily favoured Hungary team (who had remained unbeaten in their past 32 games, and had previously defeated the Germans 8–3 in the group stage), 3–2, in a game now known as The Miracle of Bern.
  • 1966 - North Korea upset Italy 1–0 in the 1966 FIFA World Cup.
  • 1982 - In the World Cup, newcomers Algeria registered the second victory in the tournament by an African side, when they defeated two-time world champions West Germany 2–1.
  • 1988 - 1988 FA Cup Final, arguably the greatest upset in the history of the FA cup, with unfancied Wimbledon defeating league champions Liverpool 1–0 thanks to a Lawrie Sanchez header.
  • 1990 - In the World Cup, Cameroon defeated the holding champions Argentina in the opening match 1–0, and became the first African team to reach the quarter-finals. They then lost to England 2–3 due to an extra-time penalty kick.
  • 1992 - In Euro 92, Denmark, a last-minute replacement for the Yugoslavia team banned due to sanctions resulting from the Yugoslav wars, won the title.
  • 1992 - In the FA Cup third round, defending champions Arsenal were beaten 2–1 by Wrexham, who had finished bottom of the league the previous season.
  • 1998 - In Bundesliga the newly promoted Kaiserslautern suddenly won the league
  • 2000 - In the 1999/2000 French Cup semi final, Calais RUFC, a team playing in the fourth division of the French football league (CFA), knocked out reigning French champions Girondins Bordeaux 3–1, after extra time. Calais later put in an admirable performance in the final, unluckily losing 2–1 to Nantes.
  • 2001 - In the Copa America 2001, the last minute replacement team, Honduras, defeated Brazil 2–0, in the quarter-finals.
  • 2002 - In the World Cup opening match, Senegal defeated defending champions France 1–0. The French subsequently left the competition in the first round, winless and goalless.
  • 2004 - Greece, a 150–1 long shot according to some bookmakers, won Euro 2004 by defeating hosts Portugal, twice, as well as giants France and the Czech Republic.
  • 2009 - United States beats #1 ranked Spain in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup. Prior to that, the Spaniards had not only 15-game winning streak, but a streak of 35 games without a loss.
  • In the late 2000s, Spanish superpowers Real Madrid were embarrassingly knocked out of the country's cup competition, the Copa del Rey, in successive years by third-division sides:
    • 2008 – In the round of 32, they faced Real Unión away in the first leg, losing 3–2. In their homemarker leg, Real Madrid won 4–3, with Raúl contributing a hat trick, but Unión advanced on away goals.
    • 2009 – After spending over €250 million on new players in the 2009 offseason, Real again faced a third-division side in the round of 32, this time nearby Alcorcón. As in the previous season, the first leg was at the smaller club's home ground. Although only one of Real's major summer acquisitions was in the squad (Karim Benzema), they fielded a very strong side with nine internationals in the starting 11. Alcorcón proceeded to destroy Real 4–0. Real's 1–0 win in their home leg was not enough to overcome the first-leg deficit.


Ice hockey


  • 1919 - 2-year-old Phenomenon Man o' War loses his first race to the coincidentally named Upset. In theory, this coined the term "Pulled an Upset".
  • 1967 - Foinavon became an unlikely winner of the Grand National horse race when a pile-up at the smallest fence on the course allowed it to come from the back of the field and pass 17 other horses on the way to winning the race.
  • 1975 - In the open section of the World Open chess tournament, expert Alan Trefler (Elo rating 2075, 125 points below the lowest master rating), and ranked 115th in the tournament, scores 8–1 to tie for first with International Grandmaster Pal Benko, rated 2504, ahead of Grandmasters Nicholas Rossolimo and Walter Browne.
  • 1978 - Rugby unionMunster beat the All Blacks 12–0. Munster are the only Irish side ever to have beaten New Zealand, including the Irish national side. More than 100,000 people claim to have been there on the day it happened, despite Limerick's groundmarker holding only around 12,000 at that time. The game is immortalized by the stage play Alone it Stands, and the book Stand Up.
  • 1986 - Snooker - Joe Johnson, who began that year's World Snooker Championship as a 150–1 underdog, reached the final and defeated World number 1 Steve Davis 18 frames to 12, to win the title.
  • 1990 - Boxing - James "Buster" Douglas knocked out then-undefeated Mike Tyson in 10 rounds.
  • 2000 - Olympic wrestling - American Rulon Gardner defeated Russian Alexander Karelin at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Prior to the match, Karelin was undefeated in 13 years without having given up a single point in six years, and had previously defeated Gardner in 1997.
  • 2002 – Olympic short track speed skating: Australian Steven Bradbury, considered a longshot to medal in the 1000 metres, becomes the first Winter Olympics gold medalist from any Southern Hemisphere country after the following events:
    • He finished third in his qualifying heat, outside the qualifying places, but was elevated to second with the disqualification of Canada's Marc Gagnon.
    • In his semifinal, he was in last place on the final lap, only to have three of the other four competitors crash out, allowing him to advance as the second-place finisher.
    • In the final, he was well back from the field on the final lap, but all four other competitors crashed on the final turn, allowing him to cross the line first.
  • 2004 - Tennis - Unseeded Gastón Gaudio recovered from two sets down to defeat #3 seed Guillermo Coria in the final of the French Openmarker, saving two match points in the process.
  • 2005 - Formula One - Fernando Alonso and his team Renault F1marker unexpectedly defeated seven time champion Michael Schumacher and his team Scuderia Ferrari, for both drivers and constructor's championship, while Ferrari struggled all year with a poor car and crippling tyre rule changes.
  • 2007 - Mixed martial arts - UFC - At UFC 69: Shootout, Matt Serra defeated heavily favored Georges St. Pierre via TKO at 3:25 in the 1st round.
  • 2007 - ICC World Twenty20 Zimababwe beat Champions Australia in their first match ever in the World Twenty20. Brendan Taylor mastered the upset with a patient half century.
  • 2008 - In the 2008 Summer Olympics, Japan defeated the United States in the final of women's softball, who seemed unbeatable. It was their first loss since 2000.
  • 2009 - Formula One - Brawn GPmarker With Drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello score a 1-2 finish in their first ever race the 2009 Australian Grand Prix with Button winning again the next week in Malaysia to put himself and Barrichello 1-2 in Drivers Standings and Brawn GP on top of the Constructors standings. Button then won the Bahrain Grand Prixmarker.
  • 2009 - Tennis - Robin Söderling dethroned the 'King of Clay', Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of Roland Garros in four sets, who beforehand, seemed unbeatable at this Grand Slam. This ended Nadal's amazing streak of 31 matches at this tournament dating back to 2005, when he made his debut. Therefore, it was Nadal's first ever loss in this tournament, and notably, being knocked out so early in the tournament.

Other major upsets

Although upsets usually occur in both politics and sports, there was one particular upset that caused an outcry on a monumental scale. On December 15, 2007, in the finale of the British television series, The X Factor , Scottish singer Leon Jackson won the series, with the heavily favoured Welsh tenor, Rhydian Roberts as runner-up. One interesting aspect was while Leon had the most votes in the series, he had the least betting odds before the finale.

Although there have been similar upsets in shows like American Idol, when Ruben Studdard beat Clay Aiken in season 2, and when David Cook beat David Archuleta in season 7, the runner-ups were expected to win because they were more popular, while Studdard and Cook won because they had the more acclaimed voices. This result, on the other hand, defied all of that. Not only did many people think that Rhydian was the best contestant in the series, but they also thought that he was one of the most valuable contestants, if not the most valuable, in all the four seasons, making it a historic event if he had won.

In 2005, Crash was chosen over Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture at the Oscars, after most experts believed Brokeback Mountain would win.


In 2002, George Thompson, a lexicographic researcher, used the full-text online search capabilities of the New York Times databases to trace the usage of the verb to upset and the noun upset. The latter was seen in usage as early as 1877. [95432] Thompson's research debunked one popular theory of the term's origin, namely that it was first used after the Thoroughbred racehorse Upset became the only horse to defeat the legendary Man o' War in 1919. The actual origin remains unknown.


See also

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