[v., adj. uhp-set; n. uhp-set]

An upset occurs in a competition, frequently in electoral politics or sports, when the party popularly expected to win (the favourite), is defeated by an underdog who the majority expects to lose, defying the conventional wisdom. The underdog then becomes a giant-killer.

Examples of major upsets in politics

Examples of major upsets in sports

American Football




  • 1983 - In the 1983 Cricket World Cup, newcomers Zimbabwe shocked Australia in England in their first ever ODI game, winning by 13 runs, the upset amongst the greatest-ever upsets in cricket. Duncan Fletcher, the Zimbabwe captain, was man of the match.
  • 1983 - Later in the 1983 World Cup, underdogs India shocked favourites and two-time defending champions West Indies in England, winning by 43 runs; the upset was deemed as the greatest upset in cricketing history, and is cited as a reason why so many Indians love cricket.
  • 2003 - In the 2003 Cricket World Cup, the minnow team Kenya defeated one of the top teams in the world, Sri Lanka, and, with that victory, advanced to the Semi-Finals of the tournament, becoming the first non-Test-playing nation to advance to a semi-final. Kenya beat Sri Lanka by 53 runs. This was one of the greatest cricketing upsets because of the comprehensive way in which Kenya won, with bowler Collins Obuya taking record figures 5-24 and Kennedy Obuya scoring a patient 80. The victory put Kenya on the cricketing map.
  • 2004 - Bangladesh beat Australia at Cardiff. Mohammad Ashraful, the Bangladeshi captain, scored his first international century to put Bangladesh in a good position and, from there, they beat Australia.
  • 2007 - Cricket World Cup 2007: Ireland beat top seed and world number 4 Pakistan, to advance to the Super 8 stage. This match was considered as one of the greatest sporting upsets ever, and the Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer was found dead after the match.

Football (soccer)

  • 1924 - At the Olympic games in Paris, Sweden defeated Belgium, a higher ranked team, 8-1. This is still ranked as the biggest international soccer upset ever, according to Elo ratings
  • 1950 - In the World Cup, the United States shocked England in a match considered one of the biggest surprises in World Cup history.
  • 1950 - In the same competition, Uruguay registered an upset of Brazil in the World Cup final, with the latter nation needing only a draw to win the World Cup; this game is known as the Maracanazo (or Maracanaço).
  • 1954 - In the World Cup final, underdogs West Germany came back from two goals down to defeat the heavily favoured Hungary team (who had remained unbeaten in their past 32 games, and had previously defeated the Germans 8-3 in the group stage), 3-2, in a game now known as The Miracle of Bern.
  • 1966 - North Korea upset Italy 1-0 in the 1966 FIFA World Cup.
  • 1982 - In the World Cup, newcomers Algeria registered the second victory in the tournament by an African side, when they defeated two-time world champions West Germany 2-1.
  • 1988 - 1988 FA Cup Final, argueably the greatest upset in the history of the FA cup, with unfancied Wimbledon defeating league champions Liverpool 1-0 thanks to a Lawrie Sanchez header.
  • 1990 - In the World Cup, Cameroon defeated the holding champions Argentina in the opening match 1-0, and became the first African team to reach the quarter-finals. They then lost to England 2-3 due to an extra-time penalty kick.
  • 1992 - In Euro 92, Denmark, a last-minute replacement for the Yugoslavia team banned due to sanctions resulting from the Yugoslav wars, won the title.
  • 1992 - In the FA Cup third round, defending champions Arsenal were beaten 2-1 by Wrexham, who had finished bottom of the league the previous season.
  • 2000 - In the 1999-2000 French Cup semi final, Calais RUFC, a team playing in the fourth division of the French football league (CFA), knocked out reigning French champions Girondins Bordeaux 3-1, after extra time. Calais later put in an admirable performance in the final, unluckily losing 2-1 to Nantes.
  • 2001 - In the Copa America 2001, the last minute replacement team, Honduras, defeated Brazil 2-0, in the quarter-finals.
  • 2002 - In the World Cup opening match, Senegal defeated defending champions France 1-0. The French subsequently left the competition in the first round, winless and scoreless.
  • 2004 - Greece, a 150-1 long shot according to some bookmakers, won Euro 2004 by defeating hosts Portugal, twice, as well as giants France and the Czech Republic.


Ice Hockey


Other major upsets

Although upsets usually occur in both politics and sports, there was one particular upset that caused an outcry on a monumental scale. On December 15, 2007, in the finale of the British television series, The X Factor (UK series 4), Scottish singer Leon Jackson won the series, with the heavily favoured Welsh tenor, Rhydian Roberts as runner-up. The result shocked, angered, saddened, outraged, and disgusted many fans of both Rhydian and the show in general. Even X Factor creator, Simon Cowell, was outraged by the result. One interesting aspect was while Leon had the most votes in the series, he had the least betting odds before the finale. Because of that, the outcome was so controversial the it has been dubbed as "The biggest shock in reality show history". It caused inconceivable despair for the Rhydian fanbase.

There have been rumours that the finale was set up for Leon to win due to the phone lines being deliberately engaged for Rhydian, but that obviously wasn't the case. Coincidentelly, the phone lines became faulty and voting for the contestants was difficult. ITV denied that the show was fixed, and said that Leon won fair and square, beating Rhydian's 10% of the vote. However, even if the phone lines were perfectly normal, Leon would still have won, because he was ahead of Rhydian for several weeks. After Leon's single was released, Welsh radio stations refused to play it, as they assumed the show was fixed.

Although there have been similar upsets in shows like American Idol, when Ruben Studdard beat Clay Aiken in series 2, and when David Cook beat David Archuleta in series 7, the runner-ups were expected to win because they were more popular, while Studdard and Cook won because they had the more acclaimed voices. This result, on the other hand, defied all of that. Not only did many people think that Rhydian was the best contestant in the series, but they also thought that he was one of the most valuable contestants, if not the most valuable, in all the four seasons, making it a historic event if he had won.

As of October, the result continues to haunt Rhydian fans.

In 2005, CRASH was chosen over Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture at the Oscars, after most experts believed Brokeback Mountain would win.

In FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman Willie and Briget built a simple ramp that they nailed to a ladder in witch they called the "Bowlinator". With the Bowlinator Willie and Briget went on to defy all odds and logic by upsetting The 8 ton bowling champion Throbot. They were awarded 15 points for it.


In 2002, George Thompson, a lexicographic researcher, used the full-text online search capabilities of the New York Times databases to trace the usage of the verb to upset and the noun upset. The latter was seen in usage as early as 1877.

The actual origin of the term is unknown.

Man o' War and Upset

Previously, the common belief was that the term "upset" derived from a horse of the same name. In the 1919 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, 7-2 longshot Upset handed favorite Man o' War, one of the greatest racehorses in history, the only loss of the stallion's career.


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