Japan 34 South Africa 32: Five other shocks that rocked the sporting world

After Japan's rugby heroics, we look at five other sporting upsets over the years


It was instantly apparent that Japan’s victory over South Africa on Saturday evening was destined to enter the canon of sport’s great upsets. Like all seismic sporting shocks, Saturday’s match in Brighton was equal parts thrilling, romantic and implausible.

Here we pick five of our favourite sporting shocks on the biggest stages, from boxing to cricket, and an Irish contribution to rugby folklore.

Mike Tyson v ‘Buster’ Douglas

World heavyweight championship, 1990, Tokyo

Aged 24, with 37 wins and 33 knockouts, Mike Tyson’s ferocious brand of fighting had made him the youngest undisputed heavyweight champion in history, and given him an aura of invincibility so potent that challengers almost seemed to plead for clemency through haunted eyes before the opening bell.

The fight with James ‘Buster’ Douglas in Tokyo was due to be another sub three minute clip for the Tyson show reel. Bookies wouldn’t take bets and Douglas didn’t have a hope.

But beneath the indomitable veneer Tyson was ill-prepared and not even particularly preoccupied with the challenge of Douglas. Arriving in Tokyo a princely 30 pounds too heavy and declining to train, Tyson walked blindly into the sport’s greatest ever shock.

Eschewing any hint of epiphany while on the canvas in the tenth round, Tyson’s blindness to his own all-too-human vulnerability remained.

“I just lay on my bed and thought that I had become so big that God was jealous of me,” he would later write.

The Miracle on Ice USA 4-3 Soviet Union

1980 Winter Olympics, Lake Placid

All great sporting stories have a narrative grander than the event itself. And there are few more cinematic than the tale of the United States’ 1980 Winter Olympics ice hockey victory over the Soviet Union.

The Cold War writ small and a side of amateur college kids versus the hope-sappingly dominant Soviet hockey machine. As a Hollywood script it might be considered short on credibility.

The Soviet Union had been Olympic champions since 1964 - dominance to make Brian Cody blush. All that stood between them and humiliating their nation’s ideological enemies on American soil was an amateur side with an average age of 21.

As the New York crowd chanted the clock down to 0 with the USA 4-3 ahead, commentator Al Michaels asked the watching nation: “Do you believe in miracles?”

The USA went on to win gold.

Cameroon 1-0 Argentina

World Cup first round, 1990, Milan

François Omam-Biyik’s goal isn’t the memory that floats to the surface when recalling this game. That honour is reserved for the altogether more brutal attempts of the Cameroon defenders to bring down Argentina’s Claudio Cannigia as he bore down on goal in the 90th minute. But Cameroon were not talentless hatchet men, they outplayed the world champions in the opening game and went on to narrowly lose a quarter final against England.

Just 16 years on from Zaire’s iconic misinterpretation of the free-kick rule at the 1974 World Cup, African football was suddenly a serious prospect, with Cameroon’s victory over Diego Maradona’s side a potent symbol of the continent’s new standing.

Ireland v Pakistan

2007 Cricket World Cup, Kingston, Jamaica

For Irish cricket it was undeniably the start of a new age of credibility abroad and popularity at home. For Pakistan it veered dangerously close to the realm of national disaster.

The sides met on St Patrick ‘s Day in Kingston, with Pakistan 1/20 to win.

Ireland were largely an amateur side with little pedigree, but a Niall O’Brien 72 led the way to a three wicket win and what the BBC would label “one of the greatest victories in cricket’s rich history.”

Pakistan were on the way home and Ireland went to their first ever World Cup knockout round.

Munster 12-0 New Zealand

1978, Thomond Park, Limerick

A result so preposterous that none of Irish rugby’s glories since that Halloween afternoon could dim its glow.

After 10 minutes Jimmy Bowen caught a bouncing ball inside the Munster half, slid beyond two All Black defenders before feeding it to Christie Cantillon who went under the posts and set Munster on the road to history.

Munster survived a relentless All Blacks onslaught in the second half to emerge, immortalised, with a 12-0 victory.

A match minutes that has become enshrined in sporting and cultural memory - a play and book since written in its honour - 37 years on, Ireland awaits the sequel.

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