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City, Brazil and Bolt to light up new year
2:00pm Tuesday 31st December 2013 in Sport By Steve Carley - Midlands Sports Journalist of the Year 2013, @stevecarleyWN
IN just a few short hours, 2014 will be upon us and another sporting year will dawn.
With that in mind, here’s my thoughts on the 12 months ahead.
This certainly looks like being the most open and intriguing title race for years with a clutch of teams genuinely in with a chance come May.
Arsenal lead the way at the moment, with Manchester City hot on their heels, closely followed by Chelsea.
Both Merseyside clubs are putting up a fight and defending champions Manchester United are just about hanging in there.
But, on the evidence so far, I’m going for Manchester City to finish top of the pile, despite their average away record. Manuel Pellegrini has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal compared to his rivals and a strength in depth that will hold them in good stead, particularly as they are chasing four trophies.
Chelsea should run them close, certainly if they add a striker during the transfer window, and I expect Arsenal and Liverpool, as long as Luiz Suarez stays fit, to complete the top four.
As for United, they have improved of late but still, by their standards, look nothing more than an average side. Never mind Champions League qualification, they might even miss out on the Europa League!
Without doubt, this is the big one. Football’s main event played in its spiritual homeland, Brazil.
For that reason, even at this early stage, it is very difficult to look past the hosts and the other South American teams doing extremely well.
Not a particularly ground-breaking statement but, even with the weight of expectation on their shoulders, the Samba Boys should reach the semi-finals at least, along with Spain and Germany.
Argentina and Uruguay should also do well amid the climate and hostile atmospheres they will be used to. That, of course, is bad news for England who come up against Uruguay in their second Group ‘D’ match.
As much as I want Roy Hodgson’s side to succeed, getting to the knock-out stages would be an achievement in itself.
We have a decent squad but not a great one and our strike-force simply doesn’t compare to the Uruguay trio of Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan.
Like England, Italy qualified without losing, so the opening match in Manaus will be pivotal, even more so given that we face the Uruguayans next before the relatively unknown quantity of Costa Rica.
I think four points would be a good return from our three fixtures but I’m not sure it would be enough to see us through?
Elsewhere, when it comes to outside bets, Belgium have some hugely talented individuals and could be a threat if they can get it together as a team.
This may sound a simplistic view but being able to take Glasgow’s summer showpiece seriously depends on one man — Usain Bolt.
The Jamaican sprinter has yet to decide if he will compete and it is crucial that he does because without him the event loses its credibility.
For an iconic figure like Bolt to say no would be a major snub and send out a message that the Commonwealth Games don’t really matter.
Which, of course, they do, to so many people.
Now that Andy Murray has finally won the thing, the annual fortnight discussion at SW19 will switch to whether he can win it again.
Can he elevate himself into the pantheon of players to have won the famous trophy more than once?
To repeat such a feat would be remarkable but who’s to say he can’t do it? We hadn’t won the Tour de France before Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012, and Chris Froome followed suit this year.
The Miracle at Medinah in 2012 will go down in sporting folklore. Europe’s stunning fightback from 10-4 to triumph 14½-13½ against the Americans sparked scenes never to be forgotten.
Back on home soil in September at Gleneagles, where it all began in 1921, promises yet more drama.
Paul McGinley, as Europe’s captain, will evoke memories of his putt to win the trophy at The Belfry in 2002.
He will be looking to inspire his players to a hat-trick of victories and a sixth success out of seven.
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