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Biggest upset in major sports history?

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It’s too bad not many Americans care about soccer, because what happened at the Confederations Cup yesterday might well have been the longest shot to ever come through in the sport’s history.

First, the US had to beat Egypt by three goals. The US never beats anyone by three goals in a major international competition. That’s a blowout at this level. But beyond that Egypt had just beaten Italy and was unlucky to lose to Brazil — two teams that had just routed the US. On top of that, Egypt knew that in all likelihood all they had to do to advance was not get routed by the US. So the US had the extra disadvantage of having to blow out a team that could go through simply by playing a hyper-conservative style.

Add that all up and the pre-game odds of the US winning by three must have been 50-1, at least.

But that’s only half of it, since winning by three wouldn’t help unless Brazil beat Italy by either exactly 3-0 or by at least four goals (4-1, 5-2, etc. would have put Italy through since it would have pushed things to the fourth tiebreaker, which was head to head results).

Now Italy is old and not playing well, but they lose 3-0 or by at least four when scoring in a big tournament about once every 20 years, plus this is a far from overwhelming Brazilian team. So the odds of that were hardly better than the odds of the US beating Egypt by three.

Add it up and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that from a ex ante perspective it was literally looking like a 1000-1 shot for the US to go through.

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