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The biggest upsets in sports history

Everyone loves the underdog. Partly because they know that they’re likely to lose, but also because they know it would be an amazing story if they won. Sport has delivered some truly memorable upsets throughout history.

Sports betting fans will also know that underdog victories can have a profound personal impact as well. These days online casinos run odds on almost any sport available. Now you can play online casino games and predict the winners in your favourite sports leagues.

In the modern day of televised sports, the gravity of historic upsets can be experienced across the world. For fans and neutrals alike, this has brought lifelong memories for those present on the day and those watching afterwards. In chronological order, here are some of the biggest upsets in sports history.

USA beating USSR in the 1980 Winter Olympics

In the height of the Cold War, this game already held a heavy pressure for both teams. Going into the game, the US were overwhelming underdogs. The USSR had an established team of professionals and had won gold at six of the previous seven Winter Olympics. The US, on the other hand, had a team which included amateur players.

The two teams met in the medal round on 22 February 1980. In the first period, both teams scored twice, in the second period the USSR took the lead at 3-2, and in the third period the miracle happened. The US scored twice to win the game 4-3. The commentator famously said, “Do you believe in Miracles?” Yes!”. The game has since been dubbed the ‘Miracle on Ice’.

USA would go on to take gold, with several players signing up for NHL franchises. The USSR would remain dominant until they disbanded in 1991. For many, this is one of the greatest sporting upsets of all time.

Buster Douglas KOs Mike Tyson

When it comes to upsets, boxing has had its fair share — but one match stands out in history as the greatest upset of all time. On 11 February 1990, James ‘Buster’ Douglas took on the great Mike Tyson for the undisputed heavyweight titles (WBA, WBC, IBF). The sports betting odds on Douglas winning were 42:1. The match was staged in Tokyo, Japan and it was largely billed around Tyson.

From the start of the fight, it was clear that Douglas wasn’t afraid of Tyson. He was fast, aggressive and accurate. In the 8th round, Tyson landed a punch that sent Douglas to the mat. Douglas just made it up on the 9th count. Don King would later contest, unsuccessfully, that the count was slow.

In the 10th round, the magic happened. Douglas landed a great uppercut, followed by four punches to send Tyson to the mat for the first time in his career. Tyson fumbled for his mouthpiece before attempting to stand and recover. He didn’t make it in time, and Douglas won by knock-out.

Ivanisevic winning Wimbledon

Goran Ivanisevic had seemingly had his opportunities to win Wimbledon. He made the final in 1992, 1994 and 1998, losing on all three occasions. By 2001 he had fallen down the rankings significantly, qualifying for Wimbledon as a wildcard that year.

The sports betting odds on Ivanisevic to win Wimbledon were 150:1. To put in context, no wildcard entrant had ever won Wimbledon before. Ivanisevic’s previous final opponents, Sampras and Agassi, were knocked out. Sampras lost to a 19-year old Roger Federer and Agassi lost in a dramatic semi-final to Pat Rafter.

Ivanisevic beat Tim Henman to meet Rafter in the final. In a classic final, Ivanisevic finally won after five sets 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7. Ivanisevic was the first unseeded player to win Wimbledon since Boris Becker, and the first wildcard to win it.

Greece winning Euro 2004

Greek football national team, circa 2004 printed on a stamp
Greece’s achievement is still regarded as one of the biggest upsets in football. Starting the tournament, online sports betting odds for Greece to win the tournament ranged from 150:1 to 80:1.

In their first game, they achieved the first of several upsets by beating Portugal in the group stage. They would then go on to defeat the defending champions, France, in the quarter-finals, Czech Republic in the semis and Portugal again in the final.

Greece were as worthy winners as anyone before them, and the football world was left stunned as to how they managed to go all the way. Sports betting providers were even more thrilled by the result, since they made a lot of money from all of the other teams falling short.

Giants beating the Patriots at the Super Bowl XLII.

The build-up to Super Bowl XLII in 2008 was all about the Patriots. They had won all of their games leading up to the Super Bowl. This was the first perfect season since the Miami Dolphins in 1972. The Giants went into the final +14 on most online sports betting sites.

The game would be a tight scoring match. Going into the final two minutes, the Giants were trailing 10-14. With just over a minute left, at 3rd and 5th, the Giants managed a scrappy but iconic play. Eli Manning somehow evaded his tacklers and launched a 32 yard pass to David Tyree, who caught the ball between his hand and his helmet, somehow hanging on. Finally, with 35 seconds left, Manning threw a 13 yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Buress. Lawrence Tynes converted the kick and the Giants won 17-14. This is still considered one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.

Many bettors lost money on this Super Bowl. Public sentiment seemed firmly in the Giants’ corner and they had many bets placed on them to win.

Netherlands beating England at the 2009 ICC World Twenty20

Cricket batsman hitting a ball shot from below against a blue sky
Cricket, like rugby, has a few second tier sides. For most fans, they only see them play at world cup tournaments. In 2009, the Netherlands made a case for greater inclusion of the second tier sides.

The Netherlands performed one of the biggest upsets in cricket by beating England on 5 June 2009, at Lords. England batted first, scoring 162/5. The Netherlands performed strongly with the bat and needed 2 runs off the last ball of the match. Ryan ten Doeschate was on strike and hit the ball straight back to bowler Stuart Broad. As the batsmen ran, Broad threw at the stumps but missed. The batsmen ran the second run as a result of the overthrow.

It was an unbelievable upset, that the Netherlands would repeat in the 2014 ICC World Twenty20. The second time round the betting odds for the Netherlands were 11:2. You can imagine how the odds shifted as the match progressed.

The second loss would be a turning point for England who began rebuilding their side. This rebuild ultimately bore fruit when they won the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup.

Brawn’s F1 double championship

In 2009, Jenson Button won the Formula 1 Championship for Brawn. Brawn would also win the Constructors Championship that year. It was a remarkable double for Brawn, who hadn’t existed before, and wouldn’t exist the year after.

In 2008, Honda withdrew from F1 and Ross Brawn bought out the management team. He renamed the team as Brawn GP and retained drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello. Brawn purchased engines from Mercedes Benz. This was the perfect match and influenced the reintroduction of turbocharged engines to F1.

The constructors and drivers championship was decided in the second last race of the season, in Brazil. Jenson managed to finish the race in 5th place, clinching the championship ahead of Sebastian Vettel. Less than a week after the season ended, Brawn GP sold 72% to Mercedes Benz who rebranded them as Mercedes GP.

It was a remarkable championship for Brawn, who were written off by most media outlets in March. Some casinos had odds of 80:1 for the constructors championship. With minimal pre-season testing and an engine built for another car, not many would have taken a punt.

Japan beating South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup

On 19 September 2015, two-time world champions, South Africa, squared up against Japan. Japan were widely considered a second-tier side and had only won one game in eight World Cups. The Japanese were 80:1 to win the game.

The game was a classic for the neutral, the beginning of the upturn for Japan’s rugby and an indicator that Heyneke Meyer’s days as Springbok coach were numbered. With 80 minutes played, the Japanese were on the South African tryline. The score was 32-29, and Japan had two consecutive opportunities to kick a penalty that would have tied the game. Instead the Japanese went for the win.

With the Springboks down to 14 men, the Japanese continued to run at the South African defence, passing the ball out wide to score a try and winning the game at 34-32. It was a turning point for Japanese rugby and they made the quarter-final of the 2019 World Cup just four years later, sadly enough losing to South Africa.

Leicester winning the Premier League

Leicester city fan out on the streets tonight celebrating the premier league title
Leicester city completed one of the most remarkable feats by winning the 2015-2016 Premier League. At the start of the season, you could find odds of up to 500:1 at your local sports betting casino. The goals at the start of the season were to avoid relegation. Instead they stunned the world by winning the Premier League on 2 May 2016.

For Claudio Ranieri, it delivered a special moment in a widely respected managerial career. For the players, it cemented their place in history, and for the fans it was a season beyond belief. The fans who had taken out bets at their local casino for Leicester to go all the way had an even bigger celebration. Many online sports betting sites tried to pay them out before they were crowned champions. It played out like a live casino, as the local media would check in on who was still holding their bets. Ultimately, those who held their nerve received a payout worthy of a once in a lifetime moment.

Predicting an upset

It’s almost impossible to know when the underdog will defy the odds. If you play online casino games and take the riskiest option, you’ll lose your money fairly quickly. The same thing applies to sports betting. Make sure you do your homework before placing your bets.


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