New year – same old rivalries

A preview of the 2010 sporting calendar sees the Fifa World Cup take centre stage.

Football abstract
Johannesburg’s Soccer City, built in the style of a calabash cooking pot, is the showpiece for the  first World Cup ever hosted in Africa [GALLO/GETTY]

As we approach a new decade, you can guarantee that most sporting rivalries never grow old.

Looking ahead to the coming sporting year the calendar is undoubtedly dominated by the Fifa World Cup (11 June – 11 July 2010).

This is the first World Cup to be hosted in Africa and the stage is set for the beautiful game.

Johannesburg’s Soccer City has been constructed in the style of a traditional calabash cooking pot, but the stadium has a deeper meaning to most South Africans.

It was in its previous incarnation that Nelson Mandela addressed his first rally following his release from prison in 1990, and it was also here in 1996, after years of sporting isolation, that the country lifted the Africa Cup of Nations.

The stadium will host the first and final matches of the World Cup, and the whole world will be watching.

It is not an easy path for hosts Bafana Bafana. The draw puts South Africa in the lions’ den. As one of the lowest seeds in the tournament, even before the draw, South Africa were bookmakers’ favourites not to progress from the group stage.

With Spain, Brazil and England as the favourites, there are a few difficult groups, with Brazil in the closest there is to a pool of death with Portugal, Côte d’Ivoire, and North Korea.

Les Éléphants will be hoping for more luck in the African Cup of Nations (10-31 January 2010).

Hosted by Angola the tournament sees 15 nations, who successfully advanced from the qualification process that began in October 2007 and which involved 53 African national teams, compete.

Egypt followed up victory in 2006 by defeating Cameroon to win the final in Ghana in 2008, and they will be looking to make history by being the first country to win three titles in a row which may be some consolation for missing out on qualification for the World Cup. They will be strongly challenged by Ghana, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire.

All change

Out with the old, in with the new Mancini at Manchester City [GALLO/GETTY]

Not so happy about this are managers of many English Premier League teams who could see an exodus of up to 31 African players heading to Angola in January.

Pre-season predictions for the EPL were of a five-horse title race between defending champions Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

How times have changed. 

City’s squad have still not gelled despite their big names, drawing half of their league matches. City’s owners’ patience grew thin, sacking Mark Hughes for Italian Roberto Mancini who has already set his sights on a top four finish.

Liverpool have struggled to win games and have fallen out of the Champions League to feature as an unseeded team in the Europa League.

Arsenal had been as many as 11 points behind Chelsea after losing to their London rivals but have since gone undefeated whilst Chelsea and an injury hit Manchester United have been dropping points. 

The second half of the season looks at this stage to be a three-horse race between Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United, and they will all have their eyes on the Champions League final (22 May 2010).

Who can claim Europe’s golden prize? Last year’s comprehensive win by Barcelona over English champions Manchester United in the final brought a shift in Europe’s footballing power base. So far untested this season, Barca look on course for a title defence, but who their challengers will be is not yet clear.

Barca have many weapons – including Ballon dO’r and Fifa World Player of the Year winner Lionel Messi who is in fine form so far this season and proving to perhaps be the most creative player since countryman, Maradonna.

Barcelona also look on track to secure another domestic Spanish title in the Primera Liga.

It is always likely to be a two-horse race between arch rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid and remains the case as the midway point of the season approaches. 

Barcelona are still the favourites, but with the galacticos of Real starting to gel, buoyed by Ronaldo’s recent return from injury, it looks likely to go down to the wire.

It is not all about football of course.

Ah, Canada

Early in the new year is the Winter Olympics (12-28 February 2010) in Vancouver. And if there is one place that can do winter sports, then it is surely Canada.

Vancouver and the local vacation-resort village of Whistler are a dream for outdoor enthusiasts throughout the year. The facilities at Whistler Olympic Park will allow for the first time for all the Nordic Olympic events to be staged at the same location.

The most popular ticket must surely be for men’s ice hockey. The Canadians will be favourites on home ice but will carry the heavy weight of expectations on their shoulders. They start the tournament in the same pool as arch-rivals USA and beyond the initial group stage 2006 gold medallists Sweden lie in waiting as do second-favourites Russia.

If Vancouver’s preparations are looking impressive, then it is a different story for New Delhi who are hosting the Commonwealth Games (3-14 October 2010).

It has been a roller-coaster year for the Indian capital city.

Charged with lapsed construction deadlines, slow preparations and insufficient infrastructure, it has nine months in which to prepare for the first Games in India.

Will the lightening bolt strike New Delhi? [AFP]

The men’s 100m track final could be one of the highlights of the year if Usain Bolt, Asfa Powell and their Jamaican team mates grace the stage with their presence, but doubt continues to grow that triple Olympic gold medallist Bolt will not attend.

There will no doubt be a big focus on security, particularly following the Mumbai attacks and the attacks in Pakistan on the Sri Lankan cricketers last year.

International cricket could return to Pakistan within a year if security conditions improve, following last March’s attacks on the Sri Lanka team bus, in which gunmen wounded several players and killed six policemen and a driver.

The International Cricket Council moved the Champions Trophy from Pakistan to South Africa and stripped Pakistan of their role as one of the four co-hosts of the 2011 World Cup.

Talking of cricket – love it or hate it, the Twenty20 World Cup (30 April – 16 May) in the Caribbean next year beckons with Pakistan bidding to defend their title.

Twenty20 appears to have a foothold in the cricketing calendar, despite being a bit of a lottery. Hard to pick a winner this year. 

The Indian Premier League (12 March – 25 April 2010) enters its third year, and continues to attract glitz and glamour with Bollywood stars and cheerleaders completing the all-star line-ups. The IPL has even made it to the fourth spot of the Forbes list of the world’s hottest sporting properties. The competition returns to India in March 2010 after its South African safari last year.

And of course, at the end of the year, England return to Australia in an attempt to retain The Ashes on Australian soil (25 November 2010 – 7 January 2011) in one of cricket’s longest running rivalries.

Game on

Contador, left, and Armstrong will provide a thrilling rivalry this year [AFP]

Talking of rivalries, Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador will continue theirs in the Tour de France (3-25 July 2010).

Three weeks of gruelling challenges through spectacular countryside is the highlight in the cycling calendar.

And this year will be no different with the added bonus of Lance Armstrong’s new team Radioshack and his continued rivalry with Alberto Contador’s struggling Kazakh outfit Astana.

Stepping out of retirement last year, seven-time winner Armstrong was forced into the shadow of Spaniard Contador, but has thrown down the gauntlet to his detractors this year, returning back to typical form under the steady hand of long-time friend and manager Johan Bruyneel.

Love him, or hate him, Armstrong has brought the passion back to cycling. Loved and loathed by the French media the Texan brings that steely determination to regain his number one spot after all these years.

If you prefer cars to bikes then Formula One will be an exciting 2010 season.

Britain’s Jenson Button is the world champion, and if you needed any further proof of his reputation, the McLaren contract says it all. There are some exciting combinations – Button and Hamilton at McLaren,  Fernando Alonso joining Felipe Massa at Ferrari and Michael Schumacher joining Nico Rosberg at Mercedes GP. They will all be set to challenge the British duo.

Also fighting for his number one spot in 2010 will be Swiss champion Roger Federer.

Federer completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open at Roland Garros before capturing his record 15th major title at Wimbledon in 2009.

But there are many challengers to his throne. Can Nadal overcome ongoing injury or is the young Spaniard’s playing style too physically demanding to sustain?

Challengers this year are Djokovic, Del Potro, Davydenko – who walked away with the ATP season-ender – and potentially Scotland’s Andy Murray.

Women’s tennis looks set to have an exciting year with the welcome return of Justine Henin and the US Open champion Kim Clijsters bringing some class and consistency back to the women’s game.

And if that is not enough, the America’s Cup sailing (8 February 2010), World Indoor Athletics (12-14 March 2010), the Ryder Cup (27 September – 3 October 2010) and the Asian Games (12-27 November 2010) should be enough to keep the armchair sports enthusiast busy.

Source: Al Jazeera

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