Five times an underdog has defied the odds

Most of us love a good David vs Goliath underdog story. You can see some of them in Jack Whitehall's Sporting Nation on BBC One and iPlayer this summer.

But not every underdog story is a sporting one. Tales of when a longshot has achieved much more than what was expected extend to all walks of life.

We look back at some underdog stories to brighten your day - and, maybe, give you that motivation to persevere and succeed.

Greece’s unimaginable victory in Portugal

We start with a nation famous for its mythology, but this story is so impressive that it may be referred to as myth-like itself. It’s June 2004 and football’s European Championships are about to start with Portugal as potential favourites to win. Among some of the game’s superpowers was Greece, a nation who, at that point, was without a single win, or even goal in a major tournament. Greece did not have a chance of winning… that was on paper, at least.

Greece didn’t start the Euros badly, but they didn’t set the competition on fire either. They finished their group in second on the same points as Spain, and only progressed by scoring more goals. Their tactics of frustrating opponents and defending with discipline seemed to work, as they edged defending Champions France 1-0 in the quarter-finals. The same thing happened against Czech Republic in the semi-finals - though it could be argued that they were helped by a controversial silver goal rule that was scrapped shortly after the championships. The silver goal rule meant the half of extra time in which a team scored would be played to a conclusion.

Greek defender Takis Fyssas was due to get married just a few days after the tournament. Even he wasn’t expecting to get so far
Greece were 100-1 outsiders to win the trophy

In the final, Greece were up against the hosts, Portugal - a star-studded side, which featured a young Cristiano Ronaldo. Greece kept their trusty tactics and, in the 57th minute, it paid off. Striker Andreas Charisteas headed in from a corner, and the unthinkable happened. Against long odds and with a team of mostly unrecognisable names, Greece held on to become European Champions. A remarkable underdog story for the history books.

Portugal’s 53-year wait for Eurovision glory

So Portugal lost to Greece in the Euro 2004 final, but they do have one underdog story to be proud of. We’re not talking football, we’re talking… Eurovision! Debuting in 1964, Portugal tried to take the Eurovision crown almost every year without success - their best result was 6th place in 1996. The long wait made victory even sweeter for the Iberian nation when ballad singer Salvador Sobral won the hearts of millions in 2017.

Salvador Sobral won Eurovision for Portugal for the first time in 53 years

Sobral’s personal story adds to this momentous underdog victory. He was marred by health problems and had to miss the first set of rehearsals, with his sister Luisa stepping in until just before the semi-finals. Most bookmakers had Italy as the favourites to win, but Sobral and Portugal were victorious with a love ballad called Amar Pelos Dois. Portugal didn’t just win - they won by the highest score ever at 758 points. That victory does appear to be short lived, as they came last in the final the following year when they were hosts, and didn’t make it out of the semi-final stage in 2019.

Oscar blunder leads to underdog win

The 89th Academy Awards ceremony - or as most people know it, the Oscars - is remembered by many for the best picture blooper, but this blunder holds an interesting tale of an underdog. La La Land, which boasted some Hollywood A-listers, was favourite to win the prestigious best picture award. Prominent stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were the lead roles in a film that was the highest grossing of the year. That’s not to mention that they already had the best director award in the bag. Of the last 30 years, 22 films that won best director went on to win best picture, so surely that was in the bag as well, wasn’t it?

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway named La La Land as the winners before it was corrected

As it turned out… it wasn’t! One of the Oscars’ most dramatic events unfolded with La La Land originally being announced as the winner, only for that to be a mistake and Moonlight announced as the true winner. With a small budget of around $5m (£4m), Moonlight was filmed in 25 days, which is not long at all for a feature film.

Moonlight’s low budget and short turnaround isn’t the only thing that makes it a memorable underdog story. The drama broke new ground for Oscar winners, as it became the first film casted almost completely by black actors.

England netball take Commonwealth gold

Before the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Australia and New Zealand had dominated women’s netball since the sport was founded in 1963. They were the only nations to have won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, and either had won every World Cup to date. There was simply no room for anybody else to get in on the action. But that was about to change.

Helen Housby (centre - looking at camera) scored the winner to give England gold

At the 2018 games, England were the outsiders. They started the competition off strong, topping the group and beating New Zealand in the process. However, with Australia and Jamaica looking strong in the other group, there was still work to be done. In the semi-final, England were six goals down at half-time, but staged a dramatic comeback with Jo Harten scoring in the last second to take them through to their first ever final against Australia.

The final against the defending champions turned out to be a dramatic case of deja vu. England fell to four goals behind in the fourth quarter, but they came back, and Helen Housby scored in the last second of the game to give the Roses a 52-51 win and their first Commonwealth gold. It was only the sixth time England had beaten Australia, and the first time at a major tournament - and what a time to do it.

Relegation favourites win the league

Our list of underdog stories ends with a tale that most of us know and love, a tale of arguably the biggest upset in sports history. We’re of course referring to the tale… of Leicester City. In 2009, Leicester City were in the third tier of English football and managed to get all the way up to the Premier League for the 2014-2015 season. However, things looked bleak with Leicester at the foot of the table. With seven points away from safety and 10 games remaining, they were sure to be relegated, weren’t they? The Foxes defied belief as they won seven out of nine games to finish 14th and escape relegation. An underdog story for the ages… but it doesn’t end there.

After miraculously escaping relegation, they were tipped by many as favourites to go down for the following 2015-16 season. To win the league would be almost impossible and bookmakers agreed, with some giving odds of 5000-1 for the Foxes to come out on top.

Leicester City defied the odds again and again to become the champions of England

Leicester started the season with impressive form that few expected. By Christmas, they only had one loss on their record. Many fans and pundits expected them to drop down the table in the New Year, but Leicester weren’t going anywhere. To the surprise of the football world, they held on to win the title in magnificent style, 10 points ahead of their closest competitor. Now that is an underdog story for the ages.

Find out more about Jack Whitehall's Sporting Nation, including how to watch it on iPlayer, here.

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