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My sporting month: December 2011

December is traditionally a quiet month in the sporting calendar, with many sportspeople enjoying a well-deserved rest before their 2012 seasons kick off with a vengeance. But there is nonetheless plenty of sports-related action taking place this month, with drama assured in both the Premier League and the NFL, and the draw for Euro 2012 taking place this week (Friday).

Here are the top five events I will be looking towards to help while away the cold, dark nights in the run up to Christmas and the New Year.

1. Euro 2012 draw (2nd)

The 14 countries who have qualified for the right to join co-hosts Poland and Ukraine at next summer’s European Championships will discover their fate tomorrow afternoon (from approximately 4.30pm UK time). The 16 teams have been allocated into four pots, with each group containing one team from each. World Cup finalists Spain and Holland join the two host nations in pot one. England are in pot two alongside Italy, Germany and Russia. Pot three contains Croatia, Portugal, Greece and Sweden. And the Republic of Ireland are in pot four, along with France, Denmark and the Czech Republic.

Even though the co-hosts automatically receive a top seeding, they are actually the two worst teams in the tournament – by some distance – according to the FIFA rankings. Of the other 14 teams only Ireland (21st) and the Czech Republic (33rd) lie outside the world’s top 20, but both are still considerably higher than Ukraine (55th) and Poland (66th). In fairness, the hosts’ ranking is artificially low because they have not had to play qualifiers over the past 18 months, but the fact remains that pot one contains two extremely strong sides (Spain and Holland) and two mediocre ones. England will be hoping to avoid a potential ‘Group of Death’ which could include Spain, Portugal and Denmark, all of whom are ranked in FIFA’s top 11. Similarly, pundits will be on the lookout for a possible ‘Group of Debt’ containing four of the Eurozone’s five most financially troubled nations (which are, quite wonderfully, abbreviated by economists as ‘PIIGS’): Spain, Italy, Portugal/Greece and Ireland.

2. Davis Cup final (2nd-4th)

The final of tennis’ Davis Cup takes place in Seville between Friday and Sunday, in a repeat of the 2008 final which Spain won 3-1 in Argentina. Spain are chasing their fifth title overall, and their third in the last four years. They will be well represented in the singles by Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, the second and fifth-ranked men in the world.

Underdogs Argentina will field Juan Martin del Potro (ranked 11th) and Juan Mónaco (26th). Finalists in 1981, 2006 and 2008, they are seeking to avoid becoming the first country ever to lose four Davis Cup finals without a victory.

3. Manchester City vs Arsenal (18th)

Premier League leaders Manchester City face a pair of stern tests of their title credentials in the run-up to the holiday season. First they visit a struggling but still formidable Chelsea side on Monday 12th. Then they host Arsenal the following Sunday, less than three weeks after scraping a late 1-0 win in the Carling Cup.

Last season this fixture resulted in a 3-0 Arsenal victory, but the clubs’ fortunes have moved in opposite directions since then. To add extra spice to the game, City could feature as many as three former Arsenal players, with Gaël Clichy, Kolo Touré and Samir Nasri, the last of whom left in less than harmonious circumstances, all potential starters.

4. BBC Sports Personality of the Year (22nd)

Sports Personality of the Year, the BBC’s annual celebration of British sport, takes place later than usual this year on Thursday 22nd and will come from the corporation’s new MediaCity complex in Salford. The final selection of ten candidates was published on Monday, igniting a minor furore about the absence of any sportswomen from the shortlist.

Golf (three), cricket and athletics (two each) all boast multiple nominations, but the likelihood is the voting will be dominated by four men: golfers Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy, winners of The Open and the US Open respectively, 5,000 metres world champion Mo Farah and cycling’s sprint king Mark Cavendish, the first British rider to win the Tour de France green jersey and only the second to become world road race champion. Cavendish is the current bookies’ favourite, and it is worth noting that Britain’s only other cycling world champion, Tom Simpson in 1965, also won Sports Personality that same year. For what it’s worth, Cav will be getting my vote on the night.

5. Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (25th)

December is always an exciting month in the NFL, as the race for the playoffs nears its climax. But this year brings some special holiday cheer to sports fans with a Christmas Day cracker of a game between divisional rivals Chicago and the defending Super Bowl champions Green Bay. At the time of writing the Packers are 11-0 and just five games away from completing only the third unbeaten, untied regular season in the Super Bowl era.

Meanwhile the Bears are one of four teams with a 7-4 record, and will be hoping to secure one of the two wildcard spots in the NFC. This penultimate round match-up – a repeat of last season’s NFC Championship game – arguably represents the biggest barrier to the Packers’ chances of a ‘perfect’ season. There will be no quarter spared as two of the NFL’s oldest and most storied franchises clash on what is sure to be a bitterly cold night at Lambeau Field.

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

2 Responses to My sporting month: December 2011

  1. Luc@ says:

    Hi Tim, Italy will have to get Spain and our “friend” Trapattoni while England will face France in a classic match. The group of death featuring Holland, Germany, Portugal and Denmark, is very hard. In your opinion wich is the favourite team for the title? I think that Spain and Germany they will be the best teams like in 2008 and i’m pretty confident that Italy will have a good championship.

    • Tim says:

      I think Spain and Germany have to be considered the favourites, although so much will come down to factors such as form and fitness come June.

      But it should be an exciting Championships, perhaps the last to have so many mouth-watering matches up front before the expansion to 24 teams for 2016.

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