After the lull of 2013,where the biggest news in sports emerged from off-the-field controversies,athletes will be bounding out of the gates in 2014 with a string of high-profile tournaments on the calendar,including the biggest of them all the FIFA World Cup. The Sunday Express looks ahead to a year that will see many more Cup contests and other big-ticket events featuring entertainers with magical skills.
Football World Cup
June 12-July 13,Brazil
Sleep will be classified a precious commodity in June and July 2014 because of a television burning bright in the stillness of the night. You probably know why but just in case your resolve threatens to waver,here are some reasons to stiffen it up.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup cant come soon enough for most especially for Brazilians. There have been mass protests against the (over)use of taxpayer money. For some though,the pain of 1950 when they lost the final at the Maracana to Uruguay is still raw,gnawing away.
The Arena de Sao Paulo in Sao Paolo will be the place to be on June 12,2014. The party kicks off and the home side will not just be under pressure to win against Croatia but play their opponents off the pitch and win the Brazilian way. Expect fireworks,if not on then definitely off the pitch.
Spain v Netherlands,Arena Fonte Nova,Salvador,June 13. Enough said. The 2010 World Cup final part deux. It is hoped the match is played in better spirit hoped. There is one certainty though. Now that Nigel de Jong is no longer in the Dutch squad,Xabi Alonso will have a smile plastered to his face instead of a boot slamming into his sternum. Yup,happiness.
Theres only one way to go. Bolt out quick,stay ahead and keep your eyes open for kung fu kicks.
Who will win the Cup within the Cup will Ronaldo score more than Messi? Who will trump in the battle between Neymar and Costa? Also,how many World Cup goals will Miroslav Klose,already on 14 and one behind Ronaldo,end up with?
Oh yes,be sure to present on Sunday,July 13,2014. Do remember this; if Brazil win at the Maracana their only match at that stadium in 2014 theres 64 years of pent up emotion in the beast that promises to unleash itself.
Stack up on the coffee. Who cares about sleep?
After the 1980 boycott denied USSR its bragging moment,Sochi 2014 will. be Russias come-out party as it hosts the Winter Olympics and welcomes the world to its Black Sea resort town. The venue sells itself on its scenic Imeretin Valley,postcard-pretty vistas of orange skies,blueberry seas and cable-stayed bridges. Even so,Russia could invite another set of boycotts with controversy breaking out over its treatment of the LGBT community and other assorted protests.
A score of narratives will play out once the Games start. There is expected to be an entire Asian charge with Chinese Wang Meng,the short-track speed-skater,who picked up 3 golds at Vancouver and later brawled with a coach,and Japanese teen Sara Takanashi in womens ski jumping,who debuts at Sochi,leading their countries. The Russians,who were lacklustre at Vancouver with just 3 golds,would want to make the most of home advantage,at Sanki,their sliding track,also the worlds longest.
Others to watch out for are Lindsey Vonn,golfer Tiger Woods champion skiing girlfriend,who crashed in training in November and is racing to recover in time,redemptive tales of speed skater Sven Kramer who was DQed of gold and Xu Mengtao who crashed in her second run in aerials (twists and somersaults on steep hills),both in Vancouver,and X-Games stunt specialist halfpiper Shaun White,with his red locks now trimmed,straddling the puritan and punk generations.
India will send 4 athletes this time Shiva Keshavan,in luge,Nadeem Iqbal in cross-country skiing,and Hira Lal and Himanshu Thakur,both in Alpine skiing,though the luger will be the centre of attention in his fifth Olympic.
July 23- August 3,Glasgow
After a hugely successful Delhi CWG where they won 100 medals (51 gold) to pip England to second place,it will be keenly observed if India can manage to match the performance at Glasgow as they build up to the Rio Olympics in mid-year. The Delhi Games were a precursor to Indias improved showing at the 2012 Olympics and the Scottish sojourn will be an effective guage of knowing whether the progress made by India owed to home advantage and if the countrys athletes can sustain their momentum.
A definite dip is expected in the medals tally,given that archery and tennis have been dropped from the 2014 program,and been replaced by the triathlon and judo. A further trimming of the shooting fixtures will affect Indias prospects as the pairs events have all but perished and there are just 19 medals on offer as against 44 earlier. Walking events in athletics,synchronised swimming and Greco-Roman wrestling are out too,while mountain biking will take in the stunning vistas of Scotland. However,Glasgow offers better shooting medal chances for women as does the addition of womens boxing. Theres easy pickings in badminton and TT,but itll be up to Indias young brigade to defend their bastions in shooting,boxing and wrestling.
September 19-October 4,Incheon
The Incheon Asian Games will perhaps be the true test of character and mental strengxth for Indian sportspersons. In 2010,the unprecedented medal haul at Delhi Commonwealth Games gave them momentum going into the Guangzhou Asiad,where India got 65 medals,including 14 golds.
Solely based on performance,India has reasons to feel optimistic for a top-five finish in the medals tally. The performances of the countrys sportspersons at the continental level have been encouraging in the last few years. In Guangzhou,India won the maximum gold medals in shooting,athletics,archery,wrestling,boxing and tennis. They look set to extend their domination in these events again next year,with the hockey team and shuttlers also looking in top shape.
Cricket tour to England
Heres a trivia question. When was the last time India played a five-match Test series anywhere in the world? Ans: In West Indies in 2002. So after a gap of a dozen years,India will travel to England for a full length Test series in July and August,2014,a reason enough to tune in for it. Also,the last time India arrived in England for a Test series,in 2011,they were not only humiliated 4-0 but also conceded their number one ranking in the format. Now on the upswing with a new look side,can MS Dhonis side turn the tide against one that seems to have lost its sheen of dominance following the Ashes thrashing Down Under?
T20 World Championship
March 16 to April 6,Bangladesh
They have won 66 per cent of their World T20 games but Sri Lanka,twice runners up,have never won the Cup.
Pakistan,with a 63.46 record,have been champions once. India have lost about 50 per cent of games but they have a formidable line-up full of IPL super-stars. With Nepal,Afghanistan,UAE and Hong Kong making the cut,the tournament will have eight teams from Asia. Can Lanka break their jinx in Bangaldesh?
U-19 Cricket World Cup
Defending champions India begin their campaign with a high profile match against two-time winners Pakistan at the Dubai International Stadium on February 15. India will have in its line-up,players who are already built a name for themselves at the national level. Captain Vijay Zol has already played a couple of First-Class seasons for Maharashtra and also has a First-Class hundred against New Zealand A. Wicketkeeper batsman Sanju Samson is also a permanant fixture in the Kerala Ranji squad and has also made a mark for the Rajasthan Royals IPL team.
International Tennis Premier League
The tournament slated for year-end will have teams of six to 10 players competing for six franchises dotted across Asia,with Mumbai and Delhi as prospective venues. Like the IPL,international players would be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to represent these city-based franchises. Stars such as Rafael Nadal,Andy Murray,Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are among those to have voiced support for the new league. It will also feature names from the past,such as Pete Sampras,Andre Agassi and Pat Rafter. Too good to be true? Well,wait and watch.
Indian Super League
The Indian Super League (ISL) promises to lure back devout fans of the beautiful game who often turn their back on the dull spectre that is Indian football. Louis Saha,Freddie Ljunberg and Robert Pires have already signed to be the marquee players whereas Kenny Dalglish,Peter Schmeichel and Marcel Desailly are three of the eight managers.
World Chess Championship
Magnus Carlsen,who became the world title-holder after beating Viswanathan Anand,will defend his crown late next year. The location of the championship and the identity of the contender will emerge over the course of the next year. Several top players,including Anand,are in the running to challenge the 22-year old Norwegian. The championship final in November 2013 generated unprecedented interest and the match next year is expected to draw in the numbers too,with many expecting Carlsen to embark on an era of dominance.
Keep an eye on them
They form the most potent team in F1 but will they be able to deliver for Ferrari?
The golden quartet of Indian track and field will return to the fold after serving doping bans. Whether Ashwini Akkunji & Co will be able to defend their CWG and Asian Games 4×400 relay crowns,remains to be seen.
After a lacklustre and underwhelming 2013,Saina Nehwal will get onto the Super Series circuit having a point to prove and save her Top 10 ranking. Its a big year with the Asian Games and World Championships where she has never performed well will be the challenges. For Sindhu,it will be interesting to see if second-season blues strike after after her breakout year featuring her World Championship bronze.
With Modi prepping to re-enter Indian cricket through RCA,the BCCI elections will see if Srinivasan will be displaced by his arch-rival.
Swarn Singh made history by qualifying for singles sculls semifinals at the World Championships. With CWG,Asian Games and World Championships (Aug 24-31) scheduled for 2014,he will have plenty of opportunities to prove his worth.
Sushil Kumar has not competed since London 2012. In 2014,he will return to action at CWG and Asian Games but in a new weight category.
Hope for hockey
Will India be able to turn its fortunes under new coach Terry Walsh and his assistants Baskaran and Kaushik? The hockey team plays five major tournaments in 2014 World League (Jan 10-18),World Cup (May 31-June 15),CWG (July 23-Aug 3),Asian Games (Sept 19-Oct 4) and Champions Trophy (Dec 13-21).
Moving up a weight category and returning from a year when he was under severe scrutiny for keeping the wrong sort of company,Vijender Singh heads into an important year attempting to redeem his reputation.
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