September has been a month of upsets. On Saturday, Japan stunned two-time world champions South Africa in the ongoing Rugby World Cup in England. Japan’s 34-32 win over the Springboks has been hailed as one of the biggest wins in rugby history. The Brave Blossoms’ win over the Springboks in Brighton was their first in 18 World Cup matches. Besides Japan’s stunning win, September also saw a fairytale end to the US Open women’s singles’ championship, with unseeded Italian Roberta Vinci overcoming crowd-favourite Serena Williams to make her first final. She, however, lost to compatriot Flavia Pennetta.
Here’s a list of the greatest sporting upsets of all time:
Roberta Vinci beat Serena Williams (2015)
Earlier this month, the US Open was home to one of the greatest upsets in tennis history. World no. 1 Serena Williams, chasing a calendar slam (or Serena Slam), having already prevailed in the Australian Open, French Open and the Wimbledon this year, was looking unstoppable in her quest. Till she met unseeded Italian Roberta Vinci in the semi-final of the tournament. The 33-year old Vinci, who had previously failed to win a set against Serena, pulled off a stunning upset, as she won 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Kenya beat West Indies by 73 runs (1996)
The 1996 World Cup was well and truly underway, and Pune played host to what many thought would be a match that would see a regulation victory for the West Indies. They came up against minnows Kenya and as it turned out, fell way short. Put into bat first, Kenya could only muster a meagre 166 runs, with extras (37) being the highest scorer. However, when they came on to bowl, seamer Rajab Ali (3/17) and captain Maurice Odumbe (3/15) combined to restrict the West Indies to 93, their second lowest total in ODIs back then. The West Indies top order read: Sherwin Campbell, Richie Richardson, Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Together, they scored 36 runs.
Seven years later, in 2003, Kenya had a dream run in the World Cup again, this time making it to the semi-final before Sourav Ganguly-led Indian team ended its fairytale.
North Korea 1 - Italy 0 (1966)
No one had really heard of Pak Doo-ik before that day at the Ayresome Stadium in Riverside (Middlesbrough). The Pyongyang-born Pak scored a goal that produced one of the biggest upsets in international football, as North Korea edged out Italy in the 1966 World Cup. Pak’s goal also saw World Cup debutants North Korea qualify for the quarterfinals, where they led 3-0 within half an hour before Portugal put five past them to advance.
US defeats England (1950)
The 1950 World Cup saw the US compete in its only second appearance in the tournament (after the 1934 World Cup). Hailed by Sports Illustrated as the “Miracle on Grass”, the US national team, made up of largely amateurs, defeated the much-fancied English 1-0 at Belo Horizonte thanks to a goal scored by Haitian Joe Gaetjens. England were among the favourites to win the World Cup, rated 3-1 by bookmakers.
The final of the tournament also saw a huge upset, with Uruguay defeating Brazil at the Maracana. The match, dubbed as the “Maracanazo”, saw Uruguay come back from behind, largely thanks to Juan Schiaffino and Alberto Ghiggia.
Buster Douglas beat Mike Tyson (1990)
James “Buster” Douglas began the day as a 42-1 underdog to defeat the then “undisputed heavyweight champion”, Mike Tyson. However, he ended it by producing one of boxing’s, if not sport’s, greatest-ever upsets. In his bid for the world heavyweight championships, Douglas beat Tyson via knockout in a bout billed as “Tyson is Back” by its promoters. Douglas was ranked seventh in the world, with a mixed win-loss record. Tyson’s defeat prompted American sportscaster and international boxing hall of famer Jim Lampley to say, “Let’s go ahead and call it...the biggest upset in the history of heavyweight championship fights!” Douglas held the WBC, WBA and IBF titles for eight months and two weeks, before surrendering them to Evander Holyfield.
Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston (1964-65)
Ali wasn’t Ali back then, quite literally. He was still known as Cassius Clay, but after his bouts with the fearsome Sonny Liston, the cult and the subsequent legend of Ali just grew. Liston went into the bout as the WBA and WBC Heavyweight Champion, and Clay, nicknamed the “Louiseville Lip” back then, had an unbeaten 19-0 record. The 22-year-old Clay won the bout after Liston quit, sitting on his stool. They met again in 1965, when Clay was known as Muhammad Ali. In one of the shortest title bouts in boxing history (it lasted only 2:12 minutes), Ali defeated Liston.
Soviet Union beats US (1972)
The Rudi Sedlmayer Halle in Munich played host to one of the more controversial finals in Olympic basketball history. The invincible US team, which till then hadn’t dropped a single game since the sport’s inclusion in the 1936 games, came up against Cold War rivals Soviet Union in the final. The US were leading 50-49 till the last few seconds of the game, when Soviet star Sergei Belov scored the winning basket just as the hooter was sounded, to clinch a one-point 51-50 win. Dissatisfied with the result, the US filed a protest and their players refused their silver medals.
US beats Soviet Union (1980)
Lake Placid in New York was home to an event that has quite rightly been accorded the moniker of “Miracle on Ice” in American pop culture. In the 1980 Winter Olympics, a young US ice hockey team, made up largely of amateur and collegiate players, with a legendary coach Herb Brooks, overcame a side from the Soviet Union, which had six gold medals from previous games. The US won 4-3, with two of the four goals coming in the first period. The Americans led 4-3 in the third period and held on to the scoreline. The US went on to win the gold medal defeating Finland in the final.
Rulon Gardner beats Alexander Karelin (2000)
Gardner’s greatest moment came when he overpowered Russian Alexander Karelin in the 130kg category of the Men’s Greco-Roman Wrestling competition. Gardner went into the contest as a rank underdog, with Karelin unbeaten for 13 years, and more, yet to lose a point in six years. In the final, Gardner beat Karelin by a solitary point to clinch gold. Karelin, nicknamed “The Siberian Bear”, was a three-time Olympic gold medalist, with wins in Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996). Gardner would go on to win the World Championship in 2001.
Jack Fleck wins the US Open (1955)
A former US militaryman, Jack Fleck was a relative unknown, a rookie in sporting terms. Six months into the professional tour, in 1955, Fleck won his first tournament, the US Open, by defeating three-time champion Ben Hogan, in San Francisco. Fleck considered Hogan his idol. Besides the US Open, he managed to win two more PGA Tour titles. Fleck in 1993 sold his winners’ medal to salvage a golf course in rural Arkansas, which was affected by flooding. Fleck’s win is considered to be one of the greatest in international golf history.