Category Archives: General Sport

5 Sporting Events to Look Forward to in 2012

I’ll start with an apology. My suggestions last year were, frankly, dreadful. The Cricket and Rugby Union World Cups were dreadfully dull, the South American teams forgot how to score in the Copa America and Haye v. Klitschko was quite the one-sided affair. Even the Masters, won by Charl Schwartzel, will only be remembered for Rory McIlroy’s spectacular collapse in his final round.

So I’ve told myself to be better this year. Have a finer judgement, be more original, everyone knows about the Olympics, and to be honest, the only thing about that I’m looking forward to is the Closing Ceremony.

Speedway: New Zealand Grand Prix – 31 March

I’ve said it many times previously, but speedway is having a torrid time of it. The domestic scene in the UK is frankly a shambles, the rules in Poland exclude some of the very best from driving in the best league, and the only thing that isn’t going horribly wrong is their showpiece events. On the contrary from the rest of the speedway world, the Speedway Grand Prix is looking good. Especially with the introduction of the race in New Zealand, at the Western Springs Stadium near Auckland.

After Greg Hancock’s World Championship win at the young age of 41, he’s hoping to defend his title, and start by doing so with a win in New Zealand. On the face of it, it is difficult to predict who is going to win the title overall. Runner-up in 2011. Andreas Jonsson, is prone to starting his season slowly, Jason Crump and Tomasz Gollob seem to be on the decline, and the likes of Emil Sayfutdinov have so far failed to continue living up to expectations.

This could be the time for Chris Holder to step up. The Australian is still young, and has shown more than enough times he is capable to challenge at least the podium. Two wins are already under his belt, including the massive British Grand Prix. Failing that, Jaroslaw Hampel has been knocking on the door for two years now, meaning this could be the year he manages to break in.

Formula 1: Bahrain Grand Prix – 22 April

sam14032010000395

Putting this under ‘events to look forward to’ isn’t probably the right option, but ‘events which will be very interesting’ will certainly feature this. In 2011, despite the constant reports of violence against protestors in Bahrain, forming a small part of the Arab Spring, it was decided by the FIA that the race would go ahead. After some pressure though, it was eventually cancelled for the second time, but strangely placed back on the 2012 calendar.

So far, I’ve been surprised with the lack of anger against this. To the best of my knowledge, their is still protests going on, and those protests are being crushed on by the government. With only four months now until the Bahrain Grand Prix, this one may not actually happen, but it will no doubt continue to make the news.

The race itself is nowhere near being any good, with constant dullness since 2004 (apart from when Robert Kubica got pole, of course, but then I am heavily biased). The cancellation of it in 2011 spared us of another waste of 90 minutes, but the effects of the race on the actions of the protestors, governments, and the bottle of the fractured teams and governing bodies, will be highly interesting to follow.

Rugby League: Super League Magic Weekend – 26/27 May

Sometime next year, the world will be descending on the United Kingdom (and Ireland… and France…and probably half of the rest of the northern hemisphere) for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. International strength was shown in the recent Four Nations, with Wembley and Elland Road both being used to boost the game and attendances, and it worked. Even if Australia decided they fancied winning again.

This year, while the international scene rests with no World Cup or Four Nations, its crucial that the domestic game is given a bigger stage to stand on. The second biggest selling point of the Super League season is the Magic Weekend, which is very much similar to a model strutting down the catwalk showing how good their costume is. It’s Richard Scudamore’s 39th game proposal, but without the excessive travelling.

For a change though, the sport isn’t trying to venture outside its comfort zones. Previous weekends in Cardiff and Edinburgh had seen the sport go into the unknown, and seemingly work, with the first Welsh club in the Super League coming soon after (albeit they have now lost their licence). This year though, its in Manchester and the Etihad Stadium, and a lower train fare for fans of the twelve of the fourteen clubs (I guess its always long for the Catalan Dragons, and to be honest, I’m sure Harlequins changed their name to the London Broncos so I’d remember they were there).

Football: Euro 2012 – 8 June to 1 July

Germany v Spain UEFA EURO 2008 Final 0fg76OSb_Lil

There are two major football championships coming up in 2012. The African Cup of Nations is being hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in January, and usually it comes up with fireworks. This year, the fireworks sadly probably happened in the qualifiers, with the likes of current champions Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa all failing to make it to the finals.

For me though, there is one international tournament that is worth watching, that being the European Championships held in Poland and Ukraine. The Euros, for me, always tend to be an exciting occasion. Though sadly, I fear this could be the last time I feel this way, with the expansion to 24 teams in 2016 probably going to ruin the competition.

The groups themselves are tasty, with the group of death featuring Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal, and even the group of… un-death, with hosts Poland, Russia, Czech Republic and Greece, which is bizarrely, looking very interesting to watch.

Despite my positivity, I can’t see a final four, right now, that doesn’t feature Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Italy (I lack any hope for those who qualify from groups A and D), those are the four best in Europe right now and well, I’d love to see the matchups between them too. Can Spain be the first team to win to win back to back Euros? There’s a good chance, but my money, is as always, on the Germans.

Golf: Ryder Cup – 28 to 30 September

I tried watching the Presidents Cup, and I really, really wanted to get into it. But it didn’t work out. Because, for me, and for many others, their is only one team event worth watching in golf.

In 2010, Celtic Manor played host to one of the most dramatic Ryder Cup’s in memory, with the schedule being ripped up because of the rather unsurprising early-autumn weather in Wales. It went down to the final game between Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan, which went to the wire and was effectively won by McDowell on the 16th, which his incredible, unforgettable putt, that rolled in to the cheers of the thousands huddling the green.

2012 should be once again enthralling, lets be honest, when does the Ryder Cup disappoint? The ever popular Jose Maria Olazabal will captain the Europeans, while Davis Love III captains the Americans. With the strength of European golf at the moment, it is difficult to see any other result at the Medinah Country Club, but it would be foolish to suggest what could happen come September.

And with any luck, the whole summer won’t be full of stories with the words ‘Tiger’, ‘Woods’ and ‘Captain’s pick’.

Advertisements

5 Sporting Events to Look Forward to in 2011

Exactly one year ago I wrote about my five sporting events that I was looking forward to in 2010, and four out of five of them were highly enjoyable (damn that World Cup). But 2011 has no luxurious offers like that, so here is what I am looking forward to, sporting wise, in the year 2011.

19th February – 2nd April : Cricket World Cup

I am not a cricket fan. And frankly the last World Cup seemingly went on longer than Uranus orbiting the Sun, and was more confusing than the MLS Draft. I was even considering not bothering with it at all.

Then I hear England might have a chance. Back off their Ashes slaughtering of the Australians, they are now saying that a win is possible. Well hello, I like to hear that. After the success of the Twenty20 World Cup last year, England have every chance in the slightly longer version in Asia, hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Of course the team everyone has to beat is Australia who have won the last three versions. But then there are the likes of India and South Africa, I presume, because they always seem to be good.

Winners Prediction: England.

7th April – 10th April : The Masters

There are so many top golfers in the world right now, it is almost impossible to even consider who might win. European heroes Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy. Don’t forget the holder of the Masters Phil Mickleson who won in emotional circumstances. And Tiger Woods, don’t ever write him off.

It is so close to call, it just makes it all the more exciting. Who can take that step and be the best in the first Major championship of the year. I almost am too excited about it. And as long as it doesn’t have a Louis Oosthuizen style walk over about it, it should be a cracking and tense four days of golf.

1st July – 24th July : Copa América

Copa América, the European Championships of South America, bringing the flair, the glamour of the ten South American teams (and two other, less sexy ones), with their slick passing, entertaining football, beautiful weather and quality players.

Obviously, the Argentines and the Brazilians will go into this as the favourites, but still not having the best World Cups on their backs. Though, times have changed for the both of them, new managers, new style of play. But the stars remain, Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Neymar, I can go on.

And then there is my favourite international team (aside from England), Chile. I love their attacking football in the World Cup, and despite them being dumped early by Brazil, I loved the football. The innovative 3-1-3-3 formation was successful, they finished one point behind Brazil in the qualifiers remember. Sadly, the manager is now gone, but their play has stuck by me, I’d love them to do well.

Don’t forget Uruguay as well, fourth in the World Cup. Quality strikers in Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani.

Oooh, I’ve had quite the love in with South American football here. Sadly, the awkward number of just ten teams means for it to work well, two non-South American nations are involved, namely Mexico and Japan. The same Mexico murdered by Argentina 4-0, and Japan, who lost to Paraguay 0-0 on penalties.

I can’t wait, I mean, the 2007 Copa América only averaged 3.31 goals per game. This will be quite the show.

Winners: Argentina

9th September – 23rd October : Rugby World Cup

I am much more of a Rugby League man myself, but, it is hard not to get a tad excited when the other egg-chasing, Rugby League wannabe, Rugby Union gets together the 20 best teams in the world and says, “Hey, you produce a rather good month of rugby why don’t ya.”

And they occasionally do. This time out, its in New Zealand, so, not ideal for the old English supporter (not that it ever stopped them during the Ashes).  England themselves always seem to peak in the World Cup, winning it in 2003 and finishing as runners up in 2007. Probably 3rd this year then.

New Zealand as hosts always seem to be the best team in the world, but never perform on the big stage. Could this be the time they change that, in front of their own fans, time will tell.

And of course, will there be any shocks? Who can tell. Argentina stormed there way through to third in 2007, can they pull it off again?

There are a lot of questions because I genuinely don’t know much about it. Other than the Newcastle Falcons aren’t that good.

Winners: South Africa

Someday: David Haye v Wladimir Klitschko

Oh come on, it is going to happen. When it will, who knows, July, August, September, whenever. Haye will fight a Klitschko at least, no doubt one of them being Wladimir. Who has just said he expects a fight.

And it is what we all want. Haye’s last fight, that farce against Harrison, is hardly something you’d want to gloat about, you want to beat the best. And that is just what the Klitschko’s are, the best.

Yet Haye is a handy customer himself, he can sure talk the talk, and so far has certainly walked the walk. His performance against the giant Nikolai Valuev was outstanding. But can he transfer it to the bigger stage, the big fight. They want it, we want it. It’s just a matter of when.

Hopefully soon, though.

Winner: Klitschko

Highlights of the Year #1: McDowell at the Ryder Cup

Ryder Cup 2010

Monday 4th October. The 16th at Celtic Manor. 13.5 points to Europe, 13.5 points to the USA. Every game has finished bar one, Graeme McDowell v Hunter Mahan. McDowell was leading by one, with a 15ft putt to win the hole.

Tension was in the air, if America were to just tie the hole, they would keep the Ryder Cup, Europe had to win. McDowell had to win.

On the green. Surrounded by thousands of fans watching just that one hole. Just those two players. He bends down, surveying the turf. Shots of his team mates, Rory McIlroy, fearing the worst And walks up to the ball, the pressure of an entire continent resting on his shoulders.

Three practice putts and then McDowell lines it up. Swings back and forth, releasing energy onto the ball. Off it goes, movement left and right, slowly heading to the hole in the ground. He moves the club to his left hand as the ball reaches the left hand side of the hole.

And drops.

Pandemonium. Sheer delight, McDowell raises his hands and punches the air, screaming “Come on.”. Europe 2 up with two to play, they couldn’t lose it now, surely.

Hunter Mahan would go on to concede the 17th hole, making McDowell the winner of the match and handing back the Ryder Cup to the thankful arms of Team Europe. After the disaster in 2008 it was good to see Colin Montgomerie lead the team back to the winning ways it was used to in the early part of the decade.

In a way, Europe were lucky. The heavy rain changed everything and one session would become so influential to European victory. Session 3 was changed to include two foursome matches and four fourballs. The session would see Europe pick up a massive 5.5 points compared to the USA’s 0.5. This would be the only session the Europeans would go onto win, with USA on top in the other three. But the weather was taken advantage of by one team, and they made the team that didn’t pay severely.

Take nothing of the performance of Graeme McDowell on the 16th hole. Despite it being won on the 17th, it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for one of the most memorable putts in golfing history. Everything was perfect, and with so many people watching, both at Celtic Manor and at home in front of a TV, he got it so right at the moment he needed to do that.

It capped off an exceptionally good year for McDowell, who also became the first British golfer since Paul Lawrie in 1999 to win a major championship, by winning the US Open. Add this to Martin Kaymer’s success at the USPGA and Lee Westwood becoming the world number 1, everything really did make this a golfing year for Europe to remember.

It didn’t just end there of course, the success of McDowell and Westwood over the year has seen them nominated for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year. And while I feel Westwood hasn’t done enough to deserve it, my vote may just be heading to the Northern Irishman.

Battle at the Manor

European Ryder Cup player Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits off the tenth tee during practice ahead of the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Newport, south Wales September 29, 2010.   REUTERS/Kieran Doherty (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF)

You can have your World Cup’s with the Argentina’s, Brazil’s and Uruguay’s. You can have your Formula 1 expanding into Asia. You can have your Olympic games with pretty much everyone.

But you know what, this weekend at least, I only care about one thing. Two teams. Rivals. Europe united, America determined. It can only mean the best team event in the world, the 2010 Ryder Cup.

The build-up started two years ago, after the USA regained the Ryder Cup after six years of European glory. A pretty flawless display, especially in the singles, saw them win 16 1/2 to 11 1/2. And all of this, without the then saint of the sport, Tiger Woods.

Things change, Woods is back. No longer a saint but a sinner. Jibed at by rookie Rory McIlroy, but don’t underestimate him. He isn’t a team player, the last time USA won with Woods in the team was at The Country Club in the controversial 1999 Ryder Cup. The crowd will be on his back for all 18 holes and more, his opening pairing against Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher will be lively. The big question for him is simple. Can he put it all behind him and help his team. He’s shown he can play well individually (as well as shockingly bad) this season, who is going to turn up?

The crowd will play a massive factor, Team Europe, all of them behind the twelve players. All of them against the other twelve. The noise will be crazy, and all behind what I think is one of the strongest European side in years.

Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington. All major winners, and two of them a winner in this current year. Sure, Harrington was a controversial selection, people saying he isn’t as good as he used to be, he’s not the right man when we have the likes of Paul Casey are missing out on the action. But I’m with Colin Montgomerie on this one, I’d have picked him as well. I have faith in him. Like with the selection of Ian Poulter in 2008, critisced left right and centre and turned out to be the best European golfer. Harrington has five Ryder Cups under his belt. He can give the boost to the young lads, give them the experience, and under pressure, on the final day, he has been there before. I don’t think I’d want anyone else.

Then there are my two favourite golfing brothers, Edoardo and Francesco Molinari. World Cup winners in 2009 for Italy and I must admit, I’m surprised Montgomerie won’t be using them for all four team events. There is that much faith in them as a team, they know each other inside out. What more can you ask for?

And then there are the many other rookies, the simply brilliant Rory McIlroy who’s 80 during The Open ruined his chance of winning it, and that has been his only fault all year. Ross Fisher and Peter Hanson are all solid golfers, perhaps not exceptional, but a welcome addition to the European team.

And the experienced. 46 year old Miguel Angel Jimenez, who has earned the right to be here and can give the experience. Lee Westwood, his seventh Ryder Cup, he’s seen it all before. Ian Poulter and Luke Donald also seeing a little return to form.

Twelve players I trust to help get Europe back into glory. And captained by Colin Montgomerie, excellent. Bring it on.

But despite all this bigging up, come on Europe and all that malarky. The USA will still want to retain what they hold, they don’t want to give the Ryder Cup back into the expecting arms of the Europeans. They’ve got a handy squad as well.

Along with the temperamental Tiger, there is the World number 2 and Masters winner Phil Mickleson, who has had about a dozen attempts to become the world number 1 and not taken one of them. Jim Furyk and Stewart Cink will also be there bringing in the experience.

There are a few rookies too, some that are still fairly unknown on the European scene, especially in the youngsters of Jeff Overton, Dustin Johnson and my personal favourite Rickie Fowler. With his, unusual, dress sense, especially with his favourite orange outfit and a too big for his head cap. I think he is a talented golfer as well, certainly capable of causing some big problems for Europe.

And it all starts tomorrow, 7:45 with Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer against Phil Mickleson and Dustin Johnson at the gorgeous Celtic Manor in Newport, Wales. First time the Cup has ever visited the land of the Dragons and all that. Are Newport ready? Probably not. But the golf course and that is, it looks stunning. The rain might put a damper on events (that was a pun, you can applaud that if you like) but this should be some event to watch.

Come on Europe, bring back the Ryder Cup. This might not be war, but its pretty close.

The One They All Want to Win

ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND - JULY 14: Thomas Bjorn of Denmark hits a shot during practice for the 139th Open Championship on the Old Course, St Andrews on July 14, 2010 in St Andrews, Scotland. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

It was so very close. The lovable Tom Watson just one putt away from being the most popular winner of the Open Championship. It was achievable, it was possible. And yet, it went wide, a playoff with Stewart Cink in which he lost. It was heartbreaking.

The miss can be shared in the same light as several other famous Open Championship moments, including the conclusion of the 1999 Open at Carnoustie. Jean van de Velde was five shots clear at the end of the third round and a three shot lead going into the 18th, the final hole. A series of bad luck, a shot into the rough, a shot that hit the grandstand into deep rough, a shot that went into the water, a drop shot, a shot that went into the bunker, a shot that went out of the bunker and a putt to finish the hole in seven. Forcing a play off with Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie, local hero Lawrie went onto win.

The moments of tension, drama sum up the Open Championship brilliantly. There simply isn’t another tournament like it in golf, guaranteed to keep you hooked till the very last shot on the 18th.

The 18th at St. Andrews, the oldest golf course in the world. The home of golf.

There simply can be no substitutes, this is the best in the world. Everyone who has ever played golf will have wanted to win at this course in the Open, no matter who they are or where they come from. Famous holes, the 17th, over the railway sheds, trying to avoid the road hole bunkers. Fantastic.

Troubled Tiger Woods has won the last two at St. Andrews, a course he has described as his favourite. It is easy to see why, winning by eight at –19 under par in 2000 and in 2005 he was equally supreme, winning by five at –14. He was never off the top of the board. Before him was the also troubled John Daly in 1995 and Sir Nick Faldo in 1990, the last British born golfer to win the Open at St. Andrews.

It is a hot topic as the British golfers have especially underperformed in the major championships inside the last few decades, with only one winner from the British Isles since the victory of Paul Lawrie in 1999, that being Graeme McDowell in the US Open just last month. Despite some quality golfers in that period, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, the likes just haven’t performed when it has come to the majors.

Recently it has been Lee Westwood who has found form, he came so very close to winning the Masters at Augusta, eventually falling to Phil Mickleson towards the end of the final round. His chance at winning a major is at its peak, having not performed this well since the turn of the millennium. He finished 3rd at the Open in 2009, his time is going to come soon without a doubt, and for me he is favourite to win the Open.

Yet it would be ridiculous to write off Tiger Woods (which I may have done for this years Masters, before he tied 4th). Despite all the issues and an inconsistent year so far, he loves St. Andres and when it comes the the majors so far in 2010 he has performed. Two tied 4th places in the Masters and US Open. Not bad form at all. I’ve learnt my lesson from writing him off and he could be a strong bet.

On paper though, those are the two favourites, but it is never that simple. Who last year would have thought Stewart Cink and Tom Watson would be fighting in a playoff to win the Claret Jug. Based on the horrific weather seen in the practice sessions, as well as the predicted rain and windy conditions coming up, it could prove to be one of the events when the stars fall and new faces rise up the ranks.

Two players in the recent times have come back into form, Ernie Els and Darren Clarke. Els has won two tournaments so far this year and came close in the US Open. He also loves the Open Championship, winning it in 2003 and has the most top 10 finishes in the last 10 years. Winning it at St. Andrews must be a gift from the gods. Darren Clarke had an exceptionally good Scottish Open in horrific conditions too, he likes the rough conditions that is expected to come this weekend.

Speaking of rough conditions, two time Open winner Padraig Harrington must be in contention. After struggling during the 2009 season he seems to have found his impressive form once again and loves these conditions, especially enduring them in 2008 to win his second Open Championship.

There are several British born competitors that could perform excellently around St. Andrews. The favourite after Lee Westwood must be Rory McIlroy, the Northern Irish boy wonder who won his first event on the European Tour at the age of 19. He has been talked up by pretty much everyone in golf. There is also Justin Rose, a man who has also won recently as well as Graeme McDowell, the winner of the US Open. Former amateur champion Chris Wood always seems to perform at the Open Championship as well.

Sadly I don’t see much hope for the hero of last year Tom Watson. I don’t think he is going to suit the conditions or the St. Andrews course. He’s admitted as well that its unlikely to replicate his success. The same with 2010 Masters winner Phil Mickleson, despite his success in that, he’s had a poor season in my eyes. Stewart Cink has also been fairly indifferent since his Open success.

Despite me picking half the field as potential challengers for the Claret Jug it is a realistic possibility. The 150th year of the Open Championship is the one most likely to see a British winner, no matter if it comes from Westwood, McIlroy etc. No matter who goes on to win though I predict it will be unpredictable. The weather is going to be a major factor in especially determining who makes the cut, there could well be a few big names fail, and a few small names succeed.

St. Andrews. The perfect place to win the Open Championship.

No Introduction Needed

The Masters - Preview Day 2

The Augusta Masters are going to an exciting four days of golf.

Fair enough, exciting and golf don’t tend to be placed in the same sentence. But who can refuse to watch the trials of Tiger Woods as he returns to the one thing he is good at, golf.

The best news isn’t the fact that those pathetic excuses of an attempt to say sorry in the press conferences (we don’t care anymore Tiger). But the fact he will be playing golf at the highest level for the first time in six months.

But he will need to get back on form if he is to beat the likes of Phil Mickleson, Paul Casey and reigning winnier Angel Cabrera. And personally, I can’t see it happening. He is almost certainly going to be rusty after a long time without playing golf. Of course he has played a few rounds in the days leading up the the Masters, but that probably will not affect anything.

If Tiger Woods does go on and win it. Then I will be shocked, I can see him behind solid, making the cut and all that. But if he gets even inside the top 5 I will be impressed. I know he is the greatest golfer in a very long time, but you can’t just come straight back in 6 months out without behind very shaky.

The one player I do like the look of is the Italian amateur Matteo Manassero. In The Open last year, not only did he make the cut, but he finished tied 13th along with the likes of Ross Fisher, Henrik Stenson and everybody’s favourite Boo Weekley. Even more amazing is that he is only 16. He tees off along with Lee Westwood and Mike Weir. I like the look of him, and he may not win this years Masters, I can see him winning a Major in the future.

But the whole tournament will be about how Tiger will do, and while I seem to be in the minority of saying he will be rubbish, I must admit it is about time he gets back and everyone shuts up about his private life.

If you want a tip from me, I’m going to turn to you and say Martin Kaymer and just walk away.