The underdogs emerge as the unlikely winners. The lower-seeded players beating the champions-elect. Goals scored at the dying seconds. Ah yes, do we all love to see those kinds of surprises in sports?
Unless you are living in a hilly-billy shacks somewhere, you must have heard of what happened about last two weeks in the Championships at Wimbledon. Perhaps the greatest tennis major championship, the surprises happen at an appalling rate: many higher-seeded players eliminated – or forced to withdraw – in the earlier stages of the competition. You won’t expect players like Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, or Serena Williams to be eliminated at around the third round of the competition. Yet that happened.
The world media was taken by storm, looking at the nature of their elimination. Sharapova blamed the grass. Federer and Nadal were beaten by unseeded players. Serena Williams became the victim of the ‘giant-killer’ Sabine Lisicki, who until now has beaten about three previous winners of the Roland Garros event (French Open, another major). While the winner of the men’s singles final is rather expected (the second-seeded British player Andy Murray, breaking the 77-year draught after beating world’s number one Novak Djokovic), the winner of the women’s singles final is clearly not predicted. Marion Bartoli, the French tennis player, emerged as winner.
Frankly, while many feel dissatisfied by what happened at Wimbledon, looking at the champions-elect tumbled, I actually love it. For me, that’s the romance of sports. Looking at those underdogs, previously not even considered, to emerge as winners, you can always see the emotion of the victors. It always feels amazing.
And clearly not only in tennis. One of the most potential places where it can happen is in association football, or as the American says, soccer. The world’s greatest game, by all means, the theatre of football has seen many underdogs, surprise performers, mouth-openers, those athletes who are just wonderful. See what happened to the Korea Republic national team in the 2002 FIFA World Cup (which they co-hosted), they outwitted Italy and Spain to reach the semifinal. Greece is another good example, for the EURO 2004 in Portugal, how they defied all odds and brought the trophy to the Hellenic state.
A personal favorite of mine, of course, is the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final. Bayern Munich took the lead in the eighth minute, at a match that remained unchanged until the 90th minute, only for Manchester United to take the lead to 2-1 in the three-minute stoppage time, thanks to two substitutes (!) shining at the dying seconds. I can’t forget the face of Lothar Matthaus, his mouth wide-opened in disbelief.
To close, let me show you what I consider some of the top romances of the world of sports, of course not limited to association football. What I will show is some particular matches instead of a competition upset.
1. Manchester United’s comeback, 1999 UEFA Champions League Final (Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich)
2. Liverpool’s race against AC Milan, 2005 UEFA Champions League Final (Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan, Liverpool won by penalties)
3. Greece achieved the impossible, EURO 2004 Final (Portugal 0-1 Greece)
4. The Koreans outwitted the three-time World Cup winner, Italy, 2002 FIFA World Cup Round of 16 (Korea Republic 2-1 Italy a.e.t.)
5. Japan took matter seriously by beating the favorites United States, 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup (USA 2-2 Japan, Japan won by penalties)
6. Relegation-threatened Wigan believe everything’s possible, and they got their honeymoon, 2013 FA Cup Final (Manchester City 0-1 Wigan Athletic)
7. Thank God he chooses red over blue! 2012/2013 Barclays Premier League (Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United)
8. Sabine Lisicki’s reputation as a giant killer holds true, the Championships, Wimbledon (Serena Williams 1-2 Sabine Lisicki)
9. A country torned apart by apartheid got their redemption, 1995 Rugby World Cup Final (South Africa – New Zealand)
10. Do you believe in miracle? Yes! 1980 Winter Olympics Ice Hockey Knockout (United States – Soviet Union)