Our top sports stories of 2010

Spain’s victory at the World Cup was the sporting pinnacle of a year packed with big stories on and off the pitch.

Egypt won January’s Africa Cup of Nations but the tournament began with violence and death in Angola [GALLO/GETTY]

The new decade was just a week old when the horror that overshadowed elite sport in 2009 struck again.

While cricketers had been the victims the year before, January 2010 saw footballers come under fire from gunmen who ambushed the Togo national team as they arrived for the Africa Cup of Nations in the unstable Angolan territory of Cabinda.

Two members of the travelling party were killed as stars like Manchester City’s Emmanuel Adebayor desperately took cover from the bullets.

After the mentally-scarred squad withdrew from the competition, the Confederation of African Football astonishingly banned Togo from the next two editions of the competition which was eventually won by Egypt. The decision was later overturned.

The old Bill Shankly saying about football being more important than life or death may have been said with tongue in cheek, and certainly could not be uttered with any seriousness in these circumstances.

But for those of us who want sport to entertain and inspire us during our brief stay on the planet, 2010 proved to be a feast.

Here is our pick of the other top sports stories of the year.

Spain triumph after African dream ended

After reaching the Africa Cup of Nations final in January, Ghana were the only side from the continent to progress past the first round of the World Cup in South Africa before a stunning Asamoah Gyan goal knocked out the United States in the last 16.

With the score at 1-1 in the final minute of extra time against Uruguay, 20-year-old substitute Dominic Adiyiah powered a header for the goal that would have made him a national hero – had Uruguay defender Luis Suarez not deliberately handballed on the line.

Suarez was sent off, Gyan missed the spot-kick – and the match went to a penalty shootout which Uruguay won to reach the semis, with Adiyiah, heartbreakingly, missing his penalty.

The World Cup was eventually lifted by an immensely talented Spain, but Africa would continue to feel cheated by the Black Stars’ demise in a tournament that nevertheless underlined how far the continent’s teams must go to compete with the top sides.

Proud to be an Afghan

Afghanistan’s rise through years of war to compete against the very best in cricket’s World Twenty20 is one of sport’s most inspirational stories.

Few tell it better than the players themselves, whom Al Jazeera’s Andy Richardson met after they went from playing with a cloth ball in Pakistan-border refugee camps to preparing to face South Africa and India, having beaten the UAE in qualification.

The moment the Middle East found it would have a World Cup on its doorstep [GALLO/GETTY]

While they didn’t manage to get past those two giants of the sport, there was another underdog tale in waiting as England clinched their first major international trophy by beating Australia in the final.

Qatar to host World Cup 2022

When Fifa president Sepp Blatter pulled a slip of paper with ‘Qatar’ printed on it on December 3, 2010, the tiny Gulf state erupted in celebration while the rest of the world reacted in disbelief.

The build-up to the decision was marred by scandals over the governing body’s bidding process, with Australia particularly aggrieved that they had missed out to the Qataris.

With the 2018 tournament being handed to Russia on the same day, Fifa has a decade to get its house in order before the bidding process for 2026 begins – while a rapidly transforming Qatar begins preparations for the Middle East’s first World Cup.

Mourinho’s historic treble for Inter

Jose Mourinho is a man who fits most of the livelier adjectives you can come up with, but the talking he does in press conferences is nearly always backed up by his teams’ performances on the pitch.

After rocketing to fame by winning the European Champions League with tiny Porto in 2004, Mourinho spent three successful years at Chelsea before underlining his reputation as the best new coach in football at Inter Milan.

Under Mourinho, Inter beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in May to add the trophy to the Serie A championship and Coppa Italia for an historic treble – earning the Portuguese a place as coach at the world’s most glamorous club, Real Madrid.

Cricket hit by fix scandal

The whiff of match-fixing that has long lingered around world cricket threatened to become overwhelming in 2010. Three Pakistan players were suspended from all forms of the game amid claim and counter-claim over various alleged misdemeanors in their tour of England in August.

Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir have all pleaded their innocence. Recently Butt claimed suspicious cash found in his London hotel room was a fee for opening an ice-cream shop.

It was just the latest surreal installment in a tale that once again propelled Pakistan cricket into the news for all the wrong reasons.

Pakistan Test captain Salman Butt is still suspended as fixing claims are investigated [GALLO/GETTY]

The sport’s world governing body was unusually decisive in banning the trio while the matter was being investigated. The case for and against will be heard in Doha in early January, with much more than a few alleged deliberate no-balls at stake.

Saints bring cheer after Katrina

“Four years ago, who ever thought this would be happening when 85 per cent of the city was under water?”. The words of Drew Brees, quarterback of the Super Bowl-winning New Orleans Saints.

With the city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, an NFL title helped in its own way to accelerate the healing. It was the Saints’ first appearance in a Super Bowl, and few outside of Louisiana foresaw a victory.

The Indianapolis Colts were the big favourites that February day and took an early 10 point lead.

But New Orleans is all about comebacks and Brees went on to inspire his team to a 31-17 win. “We just believed in ourselves and we knew that we had an entire city and maybe an entire country behind us,” the MVP said afterwards. Super Bowl hyperbole this was not.

Heat and death at Winter Olympics

‘With glowing hearts’ was the motto for this year’s Winter Olympics. But in choosing the phrase organisers hadn’t expected higher-than-average temperatures causing a lack of snow in the build up.

Just as the final touches were being put to the opening ceremony, one Georgian athlete’s dream of competing was shattered in an instant. Nodar Kumaritashvili was making his final luge run in the mountain resort of Whistler, when the 21-year-old was thrown from his sled and hit a metal pole. The freak accident caused his death hours before the official start of competition.

Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette also faced her own personal tragedy, when her mother died of a heart attack on arriving in Vancouver to watch her daughter compete. Rochette’s brilliant performance on the ice had those watching in tears, and earned her a bronze medal in the ladies’ singles competition.

There were plenty of highlights too, including Bode Miller’s redemption as the American skier claimed three medals having come away from Torino four years earlier with nothing.

And who can forget the sideshow that was the Ghana’s first skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong – nicknamed the ‘Snow Leopard’ – finishing in a respectable 53rd place in the men’s slalom.

Worst football miss ever?

Qatar v Uzbekistan in the quarter-finals of the Asian Games is far from the biggest match in football, but this fixture in November had a huge impact on the global sports audience.

Fahad Khalfan’s extraordinary miss in extra-time for Qatar sparked millions of YouTube hits as it was replayed on news bulletins and football magazine shows across the planet.

Miss it? So did he.

Commonwealth crises

One major sporting event that made headlines for all the wrong reasons was the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

The tournament in October was meant to showcase India’s potential to host an Olympic Games in the future – but the result was a far cry from Guangzhou’s slick hosting of the far-bigger Asian Games a month later in China.

A host of problems left athletes falling sick, organisers desperately trying to get accommodation ready at the last minute, empty stadiums and a host of top-name withdrawals.

Positives were still to be found, but for India’s aspirations to host major tournaments, it was a case of back to the drawing board.

Source: Al Jazeera