Thursday 18 January 2018

When underdogs toppled the giants

Dave Devereux

Japan celebrate their stunning World Cup win over South Africa
Japan celebrate their stunning World Cup win over South Africa

Having caught the first-half of the Ireland match against Canada and being secure in the knowledge that a comfortable victory was definitely on the cards, I had to head off on reporting duties so I missed the South Africa versus Japan clash, which wasn't a big deal because it could surely only go one way.

After a few hours standing on a sideline I got the chance to take a sneaky peak at my phone and discovered that the men from the Land of the Rising Sun had incredibly pulled off the greatest shock since Ian Rush shaved off his moustache.

With my Facebook feed jam-packed with excitable posts about what a thrilling encounter it had been, I made it a priority to catch the highlights later that night and it sure as hell didn't disappoint.

Even though I already knew the result, the heart was palpitating as The Brave Blossoms, as they are aptly named, turned down a simple penalty that would earn them a noble draw and valiantly went in search of the winning try with the game in injury time.

And what joyous scenes when Japan, who had only won one match in the finals previously, got over the line.

What should have been a colossal mismatch against the two-times champions from South Africa ended in one of the greatest shocks ever in any sport.

It's wonderful when the underdogs have their day so now is as good a time as any to have a look at some of the biggest bombshells in sporting history.

Certainly for me Greece winning Euro 2004 would have to go down as the most mammoth miracle, mainly due to the fact that the 150-1 outsiders achieved their fantastic feat over the course of a tournament rather than in a one-off game. When you consider that Greece had only ever qualified for two major tournaments previously, the 1980 European Championship and the 1994 World Cup, where they failed to win a single match, it illustrates just what a turn-up it was.

What the Greeks did that summer is the equivalent of Ireland winning one of world's greatest soccer prizes, which is about as likely as Jose Mourinho blaming himself for a Chelsea defeat, rather than the referee, physio or ball boy.

Similarly when Denmark won the 1992 Euros it was a seismic shock. The Danes only qualified for the tournament at the eleventh hour due to the bitter break-up of Yugoslavia and managed to beat holders The Netherlands in the semi-final before overcoming Germany in the final.

Maybe not quite as big a shock as the Greeks though, given that only eight teams competed in the finals in those days in comparison to 16 in 2004 when Greece stunned the football world.

There has also been a few massive upsets closer to home, with Clare stunning football aristocrats Kerry to win the 1992 Munster final being one that immediately springs to mind, when the poor cows of the Banner County apparently had to go without milking after the remarkable 2-10 to 0-11 success.

Antrim beating Offaly 4-15 to 1-15 in the All-Ireland hurling championship semi-final of 1989 has to be the biggest surprise in the small ball code.

The Irish cricket team are other outsiders that are capable of ruffling a few feathers from time to time and their win over Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup should rightfully take its place among any list of upsets.

Switching to the boxing ring, when Mike Tyson was put on his rear end by the unheralded Buster Douglas it sent shock waves through the sport.

Ahead of the 1990 fight in Tokyo, Tyson was the undefeated and undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and the bout was seen as a warm-up before facing number one contender Evander Holyfield.

However, Douglas hadn't read the script and knocked Tyson to the floor in the tenth round, spawning the memorable scene when Tyson fumbled for his mouthpiece on the canvas before sticking one end in his mouth with the other end hanging out.

When the unseeded, fresh-faced 17-year-old German Boris Becker won the Wimbledon crown in 1985 it also turned quite a few heads, while Joe Johnson, rated a 150-1 shot at the outset, winning the World Snooker Championship in 1986 certainly surprised many, most likely himself included.

The 33-year-old father of six had never previously won a game at the championships but defied the odds to land the title, beating Steve Davis in the final.

When underdogs like Johnson show their bite and punch above their weight it captures the imagination and, to be honest, it's always nice to see a cocky favourite being brought down a peg or two.

Wexford People

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