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An "underdog" is a person or group in a competition, usually in sports and creative works, who is popularly expected to lose. The party, team, or individual expected to win is called the favorite or top dog. In the case where an underdog wins, the outcome is an upset. An "underdog bet" is a bet on the outsider in which odds are high.
The first recorded uses of the term occurred in the second half of the nineteenth century; its first meaning was "the beaten dog in a fight".
Perhaps the most well-known, at least in Judeo-Christian circles, underdog anecdote is that of novice Israeli solder (and future king) David, who in his first battle (c. 1000 B.C.) defeated a feared Philistine warrior named Goliath with a single strike from a slingshot.
The Battle of Saragarhi was fought during the Tirah Campaign on 12 September 1897 between twenty-one Sikhs of the 4th Battalion (then 36th Sikhs) of the Sikh Regiment of British India, defending an army post, and 10,000 Afghan and Orakzai tribesmen.
Attorney Clarence Darrow made a famous career in successfully defending several famous and disadvantaged criminal defendants in court.
The Battle of Aljubarrota that took place on August 14, 1385, 6,500 Portuguese troops defeated the invading Spanish army of 31,000 men.
The Battle of Myeongnyang that took place on October 26, 1597. With only 13 battleships, Korean general Yi Sun-Shin defeated a Japanese fleet of 133 battleships.
Conversely, in the War of 1812, the American colonies still loyal to the British crown (what would later become Canada) successfully repelled invading forces from the United States, establishing themselves as a separate entity.
On July 16, 1950, during the 1950 FIFA World Cup final in Brazil, Uruguay defeated the highest ranked team in the world and seemingly certain winners, Brazil, 2-1 to win the tournament in one of the greatest upsets ever in Brazilian football history. Another upset in the tournament was the USA victory over the highly ranked England, 1-0.
In the 1954 FIFA World Cup, Germany defeated Hungary 3-2 from 2-0 down to win the final. The amazing upset is called the Miracle of Bern. Hungary's Golden Team had dominated the sport for several years in the 1950s, including beating the Germans 8-3 in the first round of the tournament. The final was their only defeat between May 1950 and February 1956.
In 1963 lowly Newport RFC beat the All Blacks – the only defeat of their 36 match tour.
In 1980, the United States hockey team, consisting of amateurs and college players, defeated the Olympic hockey superpower, the Soviet Union. The home-country press dubbed the upset the "Miracle on Ice".
In 1992, driver/owner Alan Kulwicki was just 30 points behind points leader Davey Allison entering the 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the last race of the 1992 season. Kulwicki rallied back into contention after a crash at Dover and was 278 points behind Bill Elliott with six races to go and most likely out of the title race. With problems among the top contenders in the ladder part of the season, his Ford "Underbird" (named it because he felt like the underdog) was back in the hunt after a string of great runs, and at the finale, Kulwicki led one more lap than Elliott (103-102) to clinch the title and win it by 10 points. He was the last driver-owner to win the NASCARSprint Cup Series championship, until on November 20, 2011, Tony Stewart won the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship over Carl Edwards in similar circumstances to Kulwicki. Stewart won through a tiebreaker as points were matched, Stewart won on number of wins, Stewart's 5 to Edwards' 1. Stewart won the championship for his own team Stewart-Haas Racing making him the first driver-owner to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship since Kulwicki.
In the 1996 Cricket World Cup, Sri Lanka defeated top ranked Australia in the final in front of the sell out Lahore Crowd. Sri Lanka's game style over the course of the series revolutionized One Day International Cricket, and was characterized by highly aggressive batting in the first fifteen overs of the innings in order to take advantage of the fielding restrictions imposed during this period. This strategy has since become a hallmark of One Day International cricket. Sri Lanka is the only ICC Trophy winning team to have gone on to win the Cricket World Cup.
In the Euro 2004football competition, Greece, which some sports books gave 150-1 odds to win at the start of the tournament, defeated the hosts Portugal in their opening match, also the defending champions France, then favourites Czech Republic in the semi-finals, and Portugal again in the final, to win the trophy in probably the most unexpected victory in football history.
A clear example is Ksenia Sitnik, winner of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2005 representing Belarus. Not only her song My Vmeste wasn't popular prior to the contest: One poll even placed her last with no points. However, she got to win.
Sanjaya Malakar, a contestant on Season 6 of American Idol, received notoriety (perhaps even bordering on infamy) for, despite being one of the weakest contestants in the field, repeatedly surviving elimination. Malakar eventually finished in seventh place.