I'm sure there's a more specific word/phrase for moments like in a soccer match when the loser team which is, say, two scores behind, scores 3 points in the last ten minutes to turn an almost certain defeat into a great victory to everyone's surprise.

PS: An alternative context can be a legal dispute or even a military battle.

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    Related: "Beetlebomb" may be of interest :-). Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 13:03
  • In Football the team that seems to be loosing is not the “loosing team” if it eventually wins or draws. It can be two “goals” behind, but never two scores and can only score goals, not points.
    – David
    Commented Oct 29, 2019 at 20:29

10 Answers 10


Turning the tide is already idiomatic, but another common phrase is "to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat". Here, defeat is pictured as a monster threatening to eat you.

Definition of the jaws of defeat

: the position of being close to losing
// The team was able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by scoring in the final seconds of the game.

(source: Merriam-Webster)

An example of a single word is "comeback", but that can also be used for a career, not just something that's happening in a single game.

A comeback (or come-from-behind) is an occurrence of an athlete or sports team engaged in a competition overcoming a substantial disadvantage in points or position, particularly if this results in the disadvantaged team winning.

(source: Wikipedia)

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    The phrase suggested here is widely used in politics. You could probably find an example of a lawyer snatching victory from the jaws of defeat
    – Chris H
    Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 19:53
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    Exactly the idiom I thought of. It's also very amusing to reverse it: when I grew up the England cricket team was famous for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory... ;)
    – AndyT
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 9:14
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    Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat is something you do to yourself. It's not something you do to a rival as the question requests.
    – Rupe
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 15:59
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    Definitely comeback, not jaws whatever... Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 2:41
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    @Rupe: If the rivalry is one where one's victory inherently means their rival's defeat, snatching victory and defeating your rival are synonymous. If you win, you therefore make your rival lose. One simultaneously leads to the other.
    – Flater
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 13:46

A team that comes from behind to win has turned it around. Merriam-Webster:

transitive verb : to change for the better | turned her life around

If it happens at the last minute, it occurs in the nick of time. Cambridge Dictionary:

In the last possible moment

Indeed, these phrases have occurred together before:

They turned it around in the nick of time winning the final three games of the series to advance to the conference final. (Bleacher Report)

Fusco turned it around in the nick of time, with seven seconds left for the 3-1 championship victory and second consecutive Section II title. (Community News)

World No.1 Karolina Pliskova struggled for the second consecutive match at the 2017 US Open -- and, once again, she turned it around in the nick of time. (WTA)

But Wawrinka turned it around in the nick of time, holding for 4-4, and broke down Kohlschreiber in an eight-minute game of five deuces, eventually converting his sixth break point, 6-4. (The Sport Review)

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    Another good option in this context for 'nick of time' would be 'at the 11th hour'.
    – Alex M
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 19:40

When a competitor is beaten by a small margin and at the last moment they have been pipped at the post.

There's a question specifically about this phrase: What is the origin of "Pipped at the post"?


Alternatively to Glorfindel's answer, from the losing team's point of view it could be described as a throw, which means "to intentionally lose a game" (Wiktionary) but used colloquially means to play so badly as to be almost indistinguishable from purposely losing. Also consider upset, which means "an unexpected victory of a competitor or candidate that was not favored to win" (Wiktionary) but is more typically used when the winning team was already favored to lose prior to the game.

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    I have never heard of "throw" being used in this sense in American English (that is, in any sense other than intentional). In this context I'd suggest "choke" in its place.
    – Alex M
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 19:37
  • That's a fitting term too. It's very common in esports to say a team or player threw when they had a large advantage at one point but still lost i.e. threw their lead.
    – Dapianoman
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 19:42
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    Very interesting, yet another realm in which esports is pushing boundaries of our prior experience, I suppose
    – Alex M
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 19:47
  • To "throw" or "throwing" is attributed to when players take an action that is very risky and often is done in a way that typically is very obviously a mistake, such as in a 5v5 game like League of Legends, a player who is very ahead might try to fight the entire enemy team alone, and as a result, if there are players on that team who might not do a lot of damage but can keep the 1 player from being able to act then they can all work together to defeat what would have been an unstoppable opponent.
    – Hail
    Commented Apr 22 at 12:24

You could also use “to pull (something) out of the bag” to signify the sudden and unexpected turn of events that led to the victory.

Definition: to do something unexpected that suddenly improves a bad situation

The Free Dictionary uses this idiom in a very similar example to the one you used:

Down by three goals with only 10 minutes to go, the home team somehow managed to pull an amazing come-from-behind victory out of the bag.


In baseball, a comeback in the last half-inning is called a walkoff because the game ends immediately after the go-ahead run is scored. Different sports may have specific names for this situation.

  • You beat me to it! "Walkoff" is a great word to use when describing a goal that guaranteed victory right at the end of a game. Strangely, the OED doesn't have a definition (maybe because baseball isn't popular in England). Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 12:37
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    Good idiom, but OP didn't ask about a specifically game-ending event.
    – Alex M
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 19:39

You can call that a Hail Mary Pass especially when the odds of a successful outcome is really slim:

The term "Hail Mary pass" has become generalized to refer to any last-ditch effort with little chance of success

It's in more common use in the U.S though.

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    More specifically, this is associated with American Football. It's occasionally used in other sports (or even outside of sports), but mostly just by association with football. Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 17:46
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    Hail Mary specifically connotes a maneuver that has little chance of success but is one's only hope to succeed.
    – Alex M
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 19:38

A "clutch" victory is another phrase common to U.S. English. The antithesis would be the losing team having "choked".

While not directly addressing the specifics of the OP's scenario (last moments of competition) you can certainly say that the winning play, was a "clutch play".


  • Can you elaborate on your suggestion to explain how it matches what OP's looking for, and support it by citing evidence (e.g. a dictionary definition)?
    – V2Blast
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 10:18


Is the only word that occurs to me.

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    Can you elaborate on your suggestion to explain how it matches what OP's looking for, and support it by citing evidence (e.g. a dictionary definition)?
    – V2Blast
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 10:17

You can say they

Turned the Tables

A phrase which means to transform a losing or disadvantageous position into a winning or advantageous one.

Here is the Merriam-Webster definition

turn the tables : to bring about a reversal of the relative conditions or fortunes of two contending parties

  • 1
    Hi Alex. That's a good suggestion. You could make it more helpful by mentioning that we usually turn the tables ON someone. It's often a good idea to add a link to a dictionary definition too. (And 'disadvantages' should be 'disadvantageous'. An adjective is needed here, not a plural.) Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 23:45

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