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My sporting month: November 2011

November is a relatively sparse period on the calendar for me, with several of the sports I follow either drifting towards the end of the season or having ended already. The 2011 cycling season has finished, tennis and Formula 1 conclude this month and even football enters another international break to accommodate the European Championship playoffs.

Of course, there is still plenty of interesting stuff to watch – for one thing, the race for the NFL playoffs will be kicking into high gear – so here are the top events I will be watching this month.

1. UEFA Champions League: Arsenal vs Marseille (1st)

At the start of the season, many doubted whether a weakened and rebuilding Arsenal side missing the departed Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri would even qualify for the main Champions League competition. However, a repeat tonight of the 1-0 win in the reverse fixture in Marseille two weeks ago will all but secure their qualification for the knockout stages. And victory against Borussia Dortmund – also at home –  in the next round of matches would confirm Arsenal as group winners and afford them a draw against one of the other groups’ runners-up in the last 16.

Other than Lyon versus Real Madrid the matchday four games (1st/2nd) are somewhat lacking in big glamour ties, but those on the 22nd/23rd include Manchester United hosting Benfica, Manchester City travelling to Napoli and AC Milan versus Barcelona, in what is effectively a head-to-head to determine the winner of group H.

2. Euro 2012 playoffs (11th/12th & 15th)

With ten teams having already secured their places to join co-hosts Poland and Ukraine at next summer’s European Championships, eight countries now face a nerve-racking home-and-away qualifying tie to contest the final four available spots.

The Republic of Ireland have been drawn against Estonia, and will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the heartbreak which saw them eliminated at the hands (quite literally) of France in the playoffs for the 2010 World Cup. Bosnia-Herzegovina again meet Portugal after their World Cup playoff from two years ago, which the Portuguese won 2-0. Turkey play Croatia in a repeat of the Euro 2008 quarter-final, which Turkey won on penalties after both teams had scored in the final two minutes of extra time. Montenegro, the runners-up in England’s group, face the Czech Republic.

It is a mouth-watering set of ties, full of possibilities for drama and upsets. Can Ireland join England in next summer’s tournament? And will one of the big names fall by the wayside?

3. ATP World Tour Finals, London (20th-27th)

The showpiece event to end the tennis season again takes place at the O2 Arena in London (for the third year in succession), with Novak Djokovic looking to cap his incredible 2011 with one final, emphatic victory as the top eight men in the world battle it out. At the time of writing, the world number one will be joined by Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and David Ferrer, with the final three qualifying places likely to be snapped up by Tomas Berdych, Mardy Fish and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Federer won the tournament for the fifth time last year, defeating Nadal in three sets in the final, and the Swiss will be hoping to bring a positive end to a year which has seen him slide to number four in the rankings. Amazingly Nadal has never won before, leaving Djokovic as the only other previous winner who will be present. The Serb won in 2008, the year of his breakthrough maiden Grand Slam win in Australia. Victory here would be the icing on the cake at the end of a season in which he has won three of the four Grand Slam tournaments and has lost just three times in all tournaments.

4. Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix (27th)

It has been a long, hard Formula 1 season, with both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships long since decided in favour of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull. Nonetheless the circus’ arrival at Brazil’s Interlagos circuit is always a welcome one for both drivers and fans alike. The track may look old and jaded compared to the shiny new facilities in Abu Dhabi, India and South Korea which immediately precede it on the calendar, but it is redolent in history and drama. A bowl-shaped circuit provides a natural amphitheatre for some of the most passionate and knowledgeable fans anywhere in the world, on a true driver’s track where the weather can turn in an instant.

Red Bull’s Vettel (2010) and Mark Webber (2009) have claimed victory in the last two races here, although Michael Schumacher is a four-time winner and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa won on home soil in 2006 and 2008. The latter was a particularly memorable wet race which finished in near darkness. Massa took the chequered flag as race winner believing he had secured the drivers’ title, only for Lewis Hamilton to pass Toyota’s Timo Glock in the closing corners to snatch the championship by a single point.

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

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