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You know summer’s coming to an end when …

… The TV schedules are filled wall-to-wall with major sporting events. Everywhere you look, a major tournament is under way (or about to start).

In cricket, there is the excitement of the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup and its relentless biff-bash-bosh, thrill-a-minute format. England will go into the tournament on a high, having recorded their first major one-day series win since Lions versus Christians (possibly even longer ago than that). The talismanic Andrew Flintoff returned, just about fit – as good as we can expect these days – to take three vital wickets as England roared home on Saturday to edge the series against India 4-3. And, having invented the format, you would have to hope that we would be quite good at it. Certainly we should have a better chance to put in a good showing than in the recent ‘proper’ World Cup – not that that’s particularly difficult …

In rugby union, the World Cup got off to an attention-grabbing start as the hosts France wilted under a testing examination from Argentina‘s rugged, physical defence, crashing to a 17-12 defeat. It was a shock, and yet not a shock; it was the Pumas’ fifth win in their last six encounters with Les Bleus, although the first time they had won a match of such importance. And the rest of the opening weekend hinted at a clear North/South divide, with England, Ireland and Wales labouring against the USA, Namibia and Canada respectively, while the southern hemisphere triumvirate of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa ran up cricket scores in their respective openers.

The F1 season continues to speed towards what promises to be a thrilling climax, with Fernando Alonso leading Lewis Hamilton home in Italy, despite the British rookie executing spectacular overtaking moves on both Ferrari drivers. It was McLaren’s first ever one-two finish at Monza, made doubly sweet in the light of the continuing ‘Spygate’ scandal which threatens to engulf the sport in political acrimony. With four races remaining, Alonso has cut Hamilton’s lead to just three points. Expect more fireworks at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend, assuming the World Motor Sport Council does not decide to take drastic action against McLaren this Thursday.

Across the pond, it was the start of the new NFL season, which is particularly tantalising with the first ever regular season game in the UK coming to the new Wembley next month. Kickoff weekend didn’t disappoint, wth six games being decided by seven points or less. In New York, New England‘s Ellis Hobbs fielded a kickoff eight yards deep in his own endzone and ran it back, untouched, 108 yards for a touchdown – an NFL record. In Dallas, the Cowboys beat the New York Giants by a crazy 45-35 score. (In football terms, think of the 5-4 North London derby game from a few years back.) And in San Francisco, my beloved 49ers squeezed out a 20-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with just 26 seconds remaining, having nearly fumbled the ball away at the goalline the previous play. My heart is still recovering from that one.

The World Athletics Championships have been and gone already, but that didn’t stop Asafa Powell stealing headlines on Sunday with a searing run to shatter the 100 metres world record. In setting a new mark of 9.74 seconds, he shaved three hundredths of a second off the previous best time he had jointly held with the now-banned Justin Gatlin. A blink of an eye to some, but equivalent to a gap of nearly one-third of a metre compared to the previous record – as good as a mile in an event which frequently requires freeze-frame images to determine the winner. The only shame was that he had not produced this run on the grand stage of the World Championships only weeks previously.

And then there’s the small matter of Euro 2008 qualifying, with the home nations experiencing mixed fortunes: Wales battered by Germany, Northern Ireland losing disappointingly in Latvia, the Republic of Ireland only earning a draw in Slovakia, Scotland easing past Lithuania, and an injury-ravaged England neatly side-stepping the banana skin that was Israel at Wembley (and looking surprisingly decent in doing so). Next up is Russsia – by far the harder of the two games – tomorrow.

Last but by no means least, the women’s football World Cup kicked off in China yesterday with the defending champions Germany administering an old-fashioned shellacking – 11-0 – to Argentina. Hope Powell’s England squad, a modest 12th in the world rankings and with the misfortune to be drawn in Germany’s group, face an uphill battle to qualify for the knockout stages, but if they can beat Japan today in what is to all intents and purposes a winner-takes-all eliminator, who knows? If you’ve never watched the women’s game before, you should give it a try. You might be surprised at the level of skill and strength on show – and pleased at the lack of professional cynicism which we have come to accept as part and parcel of the men’s game.

All that in the space of a five day span, Friday to Tuesday. Not bad!

So, while it’s a shame summer is coming to an end, if you like your sports it’s really not so bad. Roll on winter!

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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