Top 10: Sporting moments of 2105
It’s been a great year of sport. From the triumphant return of Usain Bolt to the very public downfall of Sepp Blatter, 2015 has seen plenty of unique, exciting and shocking moments from the worlds of kicking, running, catching and money laundering.
So to celebrate, we’ve gone through the archives from the past 12 months to bring you our favourite sporting moments (in no particular order):
Suarez and co. sink Madrid
In front of a sell-out Bernabéu crowd of 81,044 and an estimated viewership of 400 million, the imperious, swashbuckling, incisive and devastating Barcelona performed the football equivalent of pulling someone’s shorts down, pushing them into a puddle and then kicking them in the head against their arch nemesis Real Madrid.
With Messi unable to start world football’s biggest fixture due to injury, (although he did appear in the second half) it was down to the superlative talents of Luis Suarez, Neymar and Andres Iniesta to inflict a 4-0 drubbing in front of a baying Madrid crowd.
Ronaldo pouted, Bale looked like a lost duckling and the ominpotent Madrid puppeteer, Florentino Perez, glared down from the stands, perhaps weighing up how much a hit on Rafa Benitez might cost.
The gulf in class between the two sides was typified by Barca’s second goal, where after a 24 pass move in which every away team player touched the ball, Luis Suarez lashed the ball past Keylor Navas, wheeling away in ecstasy as a stunned home crowd were silenced.
As wave after wave of Barcelona blaugrana continued to crash against Madrid’s houses built of sand over 90 ruthless minutes, it was hard to think of a more imperious team performance in recent memory.
The return of The Bolt
Picture the scene: a hero, injured, lies in exile, alienated from the kingdom he made his own. In his place stands an impostor, twice banished, but now back and stronger than ever. That was the backdrop against which this year’s World Athletics Championships were played out. Usain Bolt was returning from an injury-plagued 2014, there were murmurs amongst the press and public that he was past it, finished, over the hill and that nothing could stop the savage ascendancy of America’s Justin Gatlin, the fastest man on earth for much of the year and at the curious age of 33.
But all the doubts were obliterated in 9.79 seconds under the artificial glare of the Bird’s Nest, as Bolt muscled past Gatlin by 0.1 seconds and took both gold and glory in Beijing. The camera (not the same cameraman who later ran Bolt over) panned straight to Gatlin, a look of abject bewilderment plastered across his face. He’d blown it and he knew it and he suddenly looked like a very tired man indeed.
The Brave Blossoms are born
What was initially billed as a cursory 80 minute run around for the mighty Springboks, soon developed into one of the most fiercely contested dog fights in both Rugby World Cup and sporting history. Twice South Africa looked like they had avoided an almighty scare, but the aptly named Brave Blossoms refused to die, flinging themselves against the crumbling bodies in green and gold, desperate for a chance at glory.
Then, with 86 minutes played and the score at 29-32, Japan were awarded a penalty in front of the posts. Did they kick it? No! The ball was flung wide, surely this is it, the dream is over, well done boys, but fairy-tales don’t exist in sport anymore. Except they do! Because as the rugby world held its collective breath, the suspiciously-named Karne Hesketh found the ball in his hands and plunged over the dead ball line to sink South Africa and send the Aviva stadium and indeed every champion of the underdog into raptures.
Sepp Blatter gets rained on
One of the most intriguing and pertinent narratives of this sporting year has been the gradual uncovering of the rampant and deep-rooted corruption within FIFA, world football’s governing body. The defining image of a 2015 chasing crooks was FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who had been under incessant pressure to step down, being showered with fake money as comedian Simon Brodkin shouted, “This is for North Korea 2026!” – a play on the shady circumstances in which Qatar were awarded the rights to host the 2020 tournament.
As the fake ‘benjamins’ fell gently on football’s septuagenarian overlord, so dissipated the final tatters of the orginisation’s reputation. FIFA had been transformed from a joke into a circus in the space of a minute-long publicity stunt.
The rise and rise of Conor McGregor
As boxing lumbers into the dark ages, one creaking Ukranian at a time, UFC continues a bright and brutal rise, its rapid spike in popularity predominantly down to a brash Irishman with a penchant for gaudy suits and trash talking.
Before 2015, few had heard of Conor Mcgregor outside of niche MMA circles; a man who once trained as a plumber before turning his fists to becoming the most marketable fighter on earth, thanks to a potent combination of unquestionable arrogance only matched by an equally unquestionable level of speed and ferocity inside the octagon.
July was to be the month that McGregor finally got the chance to put his money where his mouth was, by taking on Brazil’s Jose Aldo for the featherweight world championship. But Aldo pulled out (due to a rib injury) and in stepped American Chad Mendes, who McGregor dutifully dispatched via a technical knockout in the second round.
As Mendes slumped to the canvas after a rattle snake-quick left hook, McGregor sauntered to the cameras, knowing that he had just cemented his status as MMA’s hottest ticket.
Then 12 December brought the most rabidly hyped UFC matchup in its short history, the rematch with Aldo, undefeated in 10 years and the only featherweight champion the UFC had known; an opponent that McGregor had been gunning for for months; heckling, baiting and goading the Brazilian at every given opportunity.
McGregor boasted that he was going to win via knockout in the first round, a claim that many viewed as a delusion, but when Saturday night arrived and the eyes and camera lenses of the world were trained on the Dubliner, he made good of his lofty prediction, unleashing a lightning strike left fist that had Aldo sprawled on the deck after only 13 seconds.
After the fight McGregor said: “It may have only been 13 seconds, but it’s taken a lifetime to reach those 13 seconds.”
While some viewers find his aggresive self obsession grating, there’s something undeinably impressive about a fighter whose bite continues to be even mightier than his considerable bark.
UAE’s remarkable Asia Cup run
Late nights and early wake-ups are par for the course when it comes to watching football here in the Gulf. But although this is normally reserved for World Cups and Champions League, in January this year people all over the UAE were setting their clocks to ridiculous o’clock to see whether The Whites (Al-Abyad) could continue their fairy-tale run at the Asia Cup in Australia. Their brand of slick, direct football had surprised their group stage opponents and won over many neutral fans, who had no doubt been wooed by the supreme talents of their midfield superstar Omar Abudulrahman.
The quarter-final defeat of defending champions Japan on penalties, raised the very real possibility that we could be witnessing history as Madhi Ali’s team got set to play the host nation, Australia, in the semi-finals. A picture of the afro-wearing Abdulrahman covered the back pages of Australia’s newspapers that day, but despite his efforts the tiny UAE lost the match, but left behind a serious note to the state of the game in the Emirates.
England’s Stuart Broad embarrasses Australia
The 2015 Ashes were a peculiar affair, with both the England and Australian teams appearing to enjoy taking it in turns getting roundly thumped by the other, but it was the fourth test at Nottingham’s Trent Bridge that sent the 69th edition of the contest into the territory of high farce.
Stuart Broad, who was previously assumed to be a 12-year-old whose dad happened to be an England selector or something, inexplicably morphed into a bowling titan, dismissing eight Aussie batsman to the pavillion with a performance that even he couldn’t believe was quite possible. As each wicket fell, he clutched his face like a man who had suddenly found out who put the ‘bomp’ in the bomp shu bomp shu bomp.
Australia were sent packing with just 60 runs on the day, the least amount ever in a test’s first innings, while some say Broad is still holding his face to this very day.
Leicester City and Jamie Vardy
If you had said this time last year, when Leicester City were rock bottom of the Barclays Premier League, that in December 2015 the Foxes would be sat deservedly at the peak of the table and that the orchestrator, executioner and talisman of such a rise would be ex-Fleetwood Town attacker Jamie Vardy, well, we’d have laughed.
He may look like a man in possesion of a life-time ban from any Greggs in the vicinity of Lancaster, but the 28-year-old, who rose from non-league football to the upper echelons of the elite, is now the Premier League’s top scorer and a Guinness World Record holder after scoring in 11 consecutive Premier League games.
That record was previously held by former Manchester United, striker Ruud Van Nistlerooy, but was snatched in a delicious twist of irony by Vardy, when he rifled in the opener against United at Old Trafford on 28 Novemeber.
Dan Carter and his magic foot
While many storylines were played out beneath pale British skies at this year’s Rugby World Cup, one of the most pleasing was that of Dan Carter.
Cruelly denied an appearance in the previous two World Cups due to injury, New Zealand’s fly half pin-up was facing mounting pressure to be dropped for 2015, in order to introduce some fresh legs to the squad.
Fortunately, All Blacks coach Steve Francis backed the likeable 33-year-old and was repaid with 109 individual points and an ice cold performance at 10 that kept the mighty NZ juggernaut rumbling on.
Carter’s mastery of the position was epitomised in the final, when an unexpected Australian comeback was mercilessly thwarted by a thumping Carter drop kick. New Zealand then slapped on 10 additional points to compound Aussie woe and send the Canterbury golden boy beaming into international retirement.
Jordan Spieth misses out on a hattrick
‘Remarkable’ and ‘extraordinary’ are overused words in sport, but Jordan Spieth’s emergence – and dominance – of golf has deserved every superlative.
At just 21, he led from start to finish at the US Masters, breaking pretty much every record along the way and confirming him as one of the most watchable and likable players on tour in the process.
A one-off? Anything but. He won the season’s second major, the US Open, just a couple of months later, becoming only the sixth player in history to win them back to back.
Could he do the impossible and win three in a row? The odds of history and circumstance were stacked against him as he went into the British Open at St Andrews having only played one practice round there before. No chance.
Incredibly, he (nearly) did it again. This putt on the 16th hole of the final round gave him a share of the lead with just a couple of holes to play, and one of modern sport’s greatest achievements looked not just possible but likely.
As it turned out, he then bogeyed the 17th, putting him just one shot off a tie and play-off. But this moment on 16 will linger long in the memory, if only for reminding us what might have been.