2010: Five sporting wishes for the year ahead
As 2010 begins to creak into gear (outside of the frostbitten UK that is), The Sport Review makes five wishes for the year ahead.
1. An African Team makes the semi-finals of the World Cup
It may have been overshadowed for the moment by the horrific scenes in Angola, but 2010 is the year that African football really comes of age. And what better way to celebrate the realisation of Sepp Blater’s dream to bring the World Cup to as many continents as possible, than for an African side to go further than ever before.
The mass Europeanization of African players over the past decade has provided a global platform for players from the continent and sides such as the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria can call upon the likes of Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Samuel Eto’o.
The Ivory Coast, led by Drogba are the side of whom the most is expected and a performance to match that of South Korea, who reached the semi-finals on home soil in the first ever Asian World Cup, would constitute progress. Winning the tournament however, appears to remain a step too far, particularly since the scheduling, which places the tournament in the middle of the South African winter, suggests a European champion.
2. Justine Henin wins a Grand Slam on her return to Tennis
Women’s tennis has taken a fearsome battering over the last few years, in more ways than one. The dominance of Ã¢â‚¬Ëœpower-hitters,’ spearheaded by likes of the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova and Darina Safina, has made the women’s game a much less attractive spectacle, particularly in comparison to the blooming men’s game.
Henin, who retired in 2008 with seven grand-slam titles to her name, possesses arguably the most graceful shot in the game in her one-handed backhand and many tennis aesthetes will be willing her on against the swathe of less cultured opponents who have dominated the game of late.
3. A good Six Nations Championships
If any game needs an image boost it is Rugby Union. The experimental law variations, along with Ã¢â‚¬Ëœbloodgate,’ and the damp squib that was the autumn internationals, have combined to form a thoroughly morose prognosis for Rugby.
The IRB, who decided in a moment of infinite stupidity that the game was too loaded in favour of the attacking side, altered the rules so that the breakdown has become a baffling myriad of confusion from where penalties are apparently awarded at random, often to the defending team.
The result is that teams too frightened to run the ball from their own half return it via the boot and anyone who has watched a game of rugby in the last year knows what happens next; that’s right, its kick tennis time. With the IRB confirming they will not make any further rule alterations before the 2011 World Cup, it is now up to the players and referees to ensure the Six Nations doesn’t go the same way as the Autumn series. We live in hope.
4. Pakistan make England their home from home
Now this wish is something of a double edged sword. With International cricket rendered impossible in the midst of the internal chaos crippling Pakistan, they will host Australia in a two-match Test series starting at Lords in July before facing England in a four match series.
Of course, I have absolutely no desire to see England loose but Pakistan cricket is floundering and some success would be a welcome sight. Cricket needs Pakistan. They produce magnificent cricketers of the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammed Yousef and new teen sensation Mohammed Aamer. Their T20 victory last summer was a glimpse of what they still have to offer but success at Test level has proven much more elusive. Let’s hope they can begin their resurgence on these shores.
5. A triumphant Tiger return
Yes, we all know he’s been a naughty boy and yes, his attitude on the course over the last year or so has been somewhat… tetchy, but can you remember what Golf was like before Tiger Woods? A bunch of middle-aged, overweight men with all the sex appeal of, well, Colin Montgomery.
Then along came Tiger to change things forever. Not having him around might make things a bit more competitive for a while but any Major Championship played without Tiger in the field, there will forever be an asterisk next to the winner’s name. He may not be welcome in his own house any more but we’ll take him back on the Golf course any day.