Our sporting highlights of 2011

A few of our favourite moments from an action-packed 12 months of titles, trophies and record breakers.

Lionel Messi scooped both Spanish and European titles with Catalan giants Barcelona this year, and is up for a third consecutive Ballon d’Or award. Not a bad year for the best footballer of his generation [GALLO/GETTY]

It is hard to chose a favourite moment from such an exciting year of sport.

From India’s triumph at the Cricket World Cup in front of an audience of hundreds of millions of home fans, to New Zealand ending a 24-year wait for the William Webb Ellis Cup or Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel becoming the youngest back-to-back F1 world champion, there are lots of sporting spectaculars to choose from.

Here are a few of our favourite moments from the Al Jazeera sports team.

Lee Wellings – Correspondent

It may take time for the achievements of Barcelona as a team and Novak Djokovic to be fully appreciated.

Remarkable talent and a joy to watch such talent being applied.

But my favourite moment of the sporting year came just a few weeks ago when Test cricket showed why it needs to be protected and treasured.

A fortnight after an incredible drawn game in between India and the West Indies in Mumbai – when the scores finished level – came Australia v New Zealand in Hobart.

The Australians may have fallen from grace but they looked certain to have the beating of New Zealand to secure victory in the two-Test series.

Chasing 241 to win they were cruising at 159-2. Cue unheralded seamer Doug Bracewell in only his third Test with a deadly spell of bowling.

He finished with 6-40 to leave Australia seven runs short. The almost unbearable tension as the Aussies closed in on their target was the essence of Test cricket, always ready to surprise and to confound expectations.

A good year for NZ sports teams with a first Test win over Australia in 26 years and a Rugby World Cup title after 24 years [GALLO/GETTY]

When Bracewell bowled Nathan Lyon the relief of the New Zealand team were unconfined and infectious. Lyon had put on 34 for the last wicket with partner David Warner.

That’s the same Warner who is known as one-day big hitter, not a Test player. Part of a new generation of Twenty20 specialists. 

Yet when he reached his Test century in Hobart it meant more than any giant six could. And finishing on 123 not out and still losing will surely stay with him longer than any 20-over slog.

I love Twenty20 and 50-over cricket but the allocation of all formats in the calendar has to be done sensibly with the right balance. A deciding third Test in Australia would have been nice.

But New Zealand could at least celebrate a first Test win over their close rivals for 26 years.

And having extensively covered the jailing of three cricketers for corruption this year, I know how much this sport needs the boost of matches like this.

Anton Sensky – Producer

Unstoppable: Djokovic enjoys his phenomenal win over Federer at the US Open [GALLO/GETTY]

My greatest sporting moment of 2011 was Novak Djokovic coming from two sets down and saving two match points to beat Roger Federer in the semi-final of the US Open.

I am a massive fan of Federer but to have the strength, resolve and self-belief to never accept defeat is the mark of another great tennis champion.

Fate dictated he would go on to beat Rafael Nadal in the final after that.

Hats off to Novak for an incredible year.

Joanna Tilley – Web Journalist

My sporting highlight of the year was watching Jenson Button win “the best race of his life” and “the best race of the 2011 F1 season” at the Canadian Grand Prix.

This race had it all – crashes between team-mates, torrential rain, five safety cars, drive-through penalties and one heck of a dramatic finish.

After a two hour break spent listening to Martin Brundle talk about the different variety of Canadian bird – who were busy cavorting in the rain – the race was restarted until Button collided with the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and the safety car reappeared once more.

Button and teammate Lewis Hamilton had already crashed earlier on. “What is he doing?!” was Button’s reaction to Hamilton’s attempt to pass his rival in dangerous conditions.

The race also saw Button make five pit stops as well as an enforced visit to the pits for a drive through penalty for speeding under the safety car. 

Button was last when the race was restarted once more on lap 40 but due to choosing the right tyres at the right time he zoomed through the field with some of the best overtaking of his career. When he entered the final lap only F1 champ Sebastian Vettel was in front of him.

Button had driven like a demon possessed but surely Vettel wouldn’t make a mistake on the last lap of the race. He never does … but this time, he did!

As the Red Bull uncharacteristically slipped off the racing line, Button pounced to claim victory in one of the most extraordinary of races.

Rahul Pathak – Presenter

My sporting highlight had to be the Cricket World Cup. I spent much of it in Sri Lanka covering the quarter finals and semis. 

The Sri Lankans were fantastic hosts, their World Cup was a much more relaxed and chilled out affair than the one being co-hosted by India. 

Once we arrived in Mumbai for the final it could not have been more different.  More people, more noise, more policemen and more Sachin, much more.

He was on TV, on billboards, in fact the one place I did not see him was on the cricket pitch … not until the final itself. 

As it turned out Tendulkar played a bit part, the final was dominated by a Jayawardene innings that resulted in a standing ovation in the press box, and the mother of all captain’s performances by MS Dhoni. An unbeaten 91, a six to win the match, not too shabby!

It prompted the mother of all celebration parties which resulted and my cameraman and I taking about six hours to get back to our hotel. Cheers MS!

Paul Rhys – Producer

New Zealand celebrates the Rugby World Cup [AFP]

My highlight was spending two months covering the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

The group stages in Dunedin were incredible, I spent a lot of time with England players, met the legendary Kees Meeuws, and got to see the incredible South island in between.

I then travelled up country and was at the final in Auckland, and was the first to buttonhole a bruised and bloody Richie McCaw at the victory parade.

Too many great experiences to recount.

Second place? Going to Heinz Field for Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens in November.

Sana Hamouche – Presenter

Just when you thought El Clasico could not get more exciting, this year’s Spanish Super Cup was the highlight of the sporting year all for the wrong reasons.

Barcelona won the deciding leg 3-2 over rivals Real Madrid at Camp Nou with Lionel Messi working his magic.

In the dying moments of the game a fight broke out between the two teams.

Real manager Jose Mourinho – who has had Barca tunnel vision since he took over the club – decided to put his finger into the eye of Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova. Jose poked him in the eye!

Diana Worman – Web Journalist

Ever the fan of an underdog, my sporting highlight involves a football player by the name of Torres. No, not Chelsea’s $50 million signing Fernando Torres, but Sergio Torres of English non-league side Crawley Town.

Midfielder Torres, who hails from Argentina, scored the injury-time winner that put his side through to the fourth round of the FA Cup, dashing the hopes of Championship side Derby County. Following a further victory over Torquay in the next round Crawley were drawn against giants Manchester United at Old Trafford where they lost 1-0.

Torres originally worked in a brick factory in Argentina before moving to England and stacking shelves while he searched for a contract. His winner at Derby was just good old-fashioned humble and exciting FA Cup football.

You’ve read our favourites. What are your sporting highlights?

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Source : Al Jazeera

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