Saturday, 6 October 2012

The Best Comeback Since...

Europe’s dramatic comeback in last weekend’s Ryder Cup has has the sporting commentariat reaching for the superlatives.  One of them was the claim that this was one of the biggest comebacks in sporting history.  Big claim.

Luke Donald tee's off as that fightback is about to start...

In truth, Europe’s fightback was always a distinct possibility, given that the European golfers had not performed to their own high standards during the Foursomes & Fourballs.  What was a surprise was how much certain members of the US team crumbled, in the same way that the European golfers crumbled in 1999 at the infamous Brookline Ryder Cup.

So, if the “Miracle of Medenah” is not the most remarkable comeback in sport, then what is?  Liverpool’s own Miracle in Istanbul is often touted as one of the great fightbacks, often overshadowing one from Manchester United’s back catalogue.  In the European Cup semi final in 1999 they had drawn 1-1 in the home leg against Juventus.  At the Stadio Dele Alpe Juventus went 2-0 up very early on in the second leg and were looking to be in the ominous form that they were in when they won this competition three years earlier.  Manchester Utd clawed their way back into the game and nabbed a vital away goal through a Roy Keane header.  This broke the Juventus spell as the began to fade out of the game as Manchester Utd took more of a grip, levelling the game with a Yorke goal 11 minutes before half time and then going on to get a winner with 6 minutes left through Cole.

The Autumn of 1999 saw another, much more improbable fightback when France came from 24-10 to beat New Zealand 43-31 and reach the Fourth Rugby World Cup final.  New Zealand were heavy favourites for this tournament, including most of the side that lost to South Africa in 1995, including Lomu and Mertens, as well as new find Christian Cullen.  However France turned things around early in the second half to not only beat New Zealand but also sowed some seeds of doubt in the minds of New Zealand rugby players – it was a hex that was only banished with last years win.

Snooker has seen two monumental comebacks that should be considered.  Stephen Hendry’s comeback from 14-8 down to win 18-14 in the 1992 World Championships is considered one of the great comebacks, but overshadows another.  People forget that in the famous “Black Ball final” of 1985, Steve Davis whitewashed Denis Taylor in the afternoon session on the first day 8-0 before Taylor took 7 out of the 8 frames in the evening session.

The granddaddy of comebacks has to be the Rumble In The Jungle, the legendary boxing fight between George Foreman & Muhammed Ali that took place in Kinshasa, Zaire in October 1974.  Ali had come back from his ban and lost to Joe Frazer in 1971.  Frazer then lost to George Foreman, who then demolished Ken Norton.  Ali and Foreman agreed to the fight, with Foreman the strong favourite.  As early as the second round, Alli resorted to his “rope a dope” tactics – designed to tire Foreman.  To the watching media, this looked like madness, but as the fight entered the fourth round Foreman began to look tired.  Ali pounced in the eighth round to set the seal on a remarkable comeback.

Europe’s comeback last week was not in the same league because the Ryder Cup was generally though to be nip and tuck anyway, and that Europe could not possibly have played as badly again as they had done over the first two days.  That’s not to take anything away from a huge achievement, especially on enemy territory.

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