Unless you have been in hiding for the last month, you will have noted what was described as one of the darkest moments and greatest shocks in English sporting history. Yes England, despite all the preparation and billing as potential tournament winners, became the first ever host nation to crash out of their own World Cup at the group stage. As isolated events, the respective defeats to Wales and Australia that sent them packing with a game still to spare were not huge shocks yet their consequences certainly were. If you’re still reeling from England’s premature exit, console yourself in some of the other major sporting shocks that have occurred so far this century…
The (very) Brave Blossoms
This was undoubtedly the biggest shock a Rugby World Cup has ever seen, even if it was one of the opening group games and even if South Africa ended up qualifying and Japan went out (whilst still winning 3 of their 4 games). It wasn’t just the fact it was a minnow conquering a giant against all pre-match expectations. It wasn’t even because of the fact it was Japan’s first ever World Cup win. No, what captured the imagination of rugby and sports fans across the globe the most was the way they went about it – bravely kicking into the corner to try and get a match-winning try in their final attack, rather than going for the penalty to secure what would have still been an astonishing last-minute draw. We love an underdog shaking up the powers of the game but we adore one who exhibits no fear and is richly rewarded for their courage and class. Eddie Jones’s men played rugby of the highest quality in a stunning 32-34 win. It is some achievement that the efforts of the Brave Blossoms in their 4 matches will provide the abiding memories for many of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. This will rightly be remembered as the game of the tournament.
Slamming Serena’s Slam
Another shock from recent months showed us that no matter how certain something may seem things are rarely a foregone conclusion in sport. Serena Williams, despite the odd scare along the way, was seemingly cruising towards a famous calendar Grand Slam – winning all four Grand Slams in one season, something achieved by only 6 people in history. The 21-time major winner had won 26 consecutive major matches and by the last 4 of the US Open it looked like no one had the capacity to stop her. Then came the Italian Roberta Vici, who had never even got past the 4th round. The diminutive 32-year old won in three sets. Cue complete amazement throughout the game and a combination of joy for someone originally seen as nothing but another step to glory for her opponent and despair for the great champion who fell merely two games short of what would have been the finest achievement of an already stunning career.
Not quite a Greek tragedy
It is not an exaggeration to say that this was one of the biggest shocks in football history. Portugal, at their home tournament, were the overwhelming favourites to win the Euro 2004 final against Greece. One had an abundance of attacking flair and creative talent, the other was far more reliant on a dogged defence, shape and hard work. Angelos Charisteas scored from the Greeks' first corner after 57 minutes and from then on the Portuguese, with a side including the likes of Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo and a home support despairingly urging them on, could not find a way through. It may not have been pretty but few could begrudge Greece their finest moment in the game. Their admirable belief, organisation and ability to show the necessary quality when it counted most took them through each game and all the way to the Championship itself. At the start of the tournament no one could have foreseen Theo Zagorakis lifting the trophy; in fact the Greek captain summed up exactly what this enormous upset meant, ‘We have given the Greek people a great pride which they will be able to carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Before continuing let’s put this into perspective – going into the 2004 Athens Olympics the United States basketball team had won gold at every Games since and including 1992, when NBA players started competing. They weren’t just expected to win in 2004 but to destroy their opposition. No one gave Argentina a hope against the US in the semi-finals. Argentina managed to earn a 43-38 half-time lead and never surrendered their advantage as the Americans tried desperately to get back into the game. They won 89-81 – pure and unexpected joy for Argentina, complete embarrassment for the so called ‘dream team’ from the US. It was one of those matches that can occur for any side irrespective of their talent, confidence and habit of winning; no matter how hard they tried they just could not pull together the class needed to secure the win. In sport at any given time the form book can be thrown straight out of the window.
Just like watching…Germany
There will never be another World Cup game quite like this one. In the semi-final of their own World Cup and with the hopes of a nation on their shoulders, Brazil didn’t just lose but completely and comprehensively disintegrated. Brazil 1 v 7 Germany. Even now saying that scoreline leaves you perplexed. Fans around the world were left stunned as Germany scored 5 goals inside the first 30 minutes. An atmosphere of excitement and hope turned into a nightmare of tears and sorrow. The Germans were simply brilliant and fully deserving of their win yet the genius of their attacking play was aided by a Brazilian defence that acted as if it was setting foot on a football pitch for the first time. Their first competitive home defeat in 39 years was their biggest ever in a World Cup. The scale of the humiliation and brutality of this defeat is unlikely to ever be replicated.
Not just the luck of the Irish
Probably one of the biggest ICC Cricket World Cup shocks just had to involve England didn’t it? England compiled 327 for eight after winning the toss and opting to bat first in their group game against Ireland. Their opponents then found themselves at 111 for 5 in response. Enter Kevin O'Brien. The all-rounder changed the momentum and made history by scoring the tournament’s fastest century in just 50 balls. Even though O’Brien was eventually sent back to the pavilion, Ireland still secured the win in the final over – it was the highest successful run chase seen in a World Cup. A giant killing of epic proportions.