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My sporting month: April 2012

There’s plenty of sporting action to look forward to in April, with the race for league titles and both domestic and European cup competitions in football, the first of golf’s majors, the conclusion to what has been a pretty dismal pair of winter tours for England’s cricket team, and action of both the four and two-wheeled variety, including cycling’s Track World Championships from Melbourne.

It promises to be a busy, varied and exciting month. Here are five of the best which will be occupying my attention this month.

1. AFL – West Coast Eagles vs Western Bulldogs (1st)

The protracted opening round of the Aussie Rules season concludes with its final two games today, including a 2012 bow for my team, the West Coast Eagles, who travel to the Western Bulldogs hoping to consolidate their remarkable turnaround of last year. Having missed the playoff finals series for the third straight season in 2010, winning just four of 22 games to finish 16th and bottom of the ladder, they improved to 17-5 last year to finish fourth overall. Sadly, they fell to eventual champions Geelong in a one-sided preliminary final (effectively the semi-final round), but still had a lot to be proud of.

It’s easy to mock Aussie Rules as a poor man’s cross between rugby and Friday night pub-brawling, but followers of the sport will appreciate the skill, strength and stamina of its participants (who can regularly land 50-metre kicks on a sixpence) and its no-nonsense approach. You won’t see any of the histrionics or cheating which have become part and parcel of football in recent years, that’s for sure.

2. The Masters (5th-8th)

The Augusta National course, golf’s equivalent of a gladiatorial arena, rarely disappoints – and it surpassed itself last year. South African Charl Schwartzel claimed his maiden PGA Tour victory and his first major with a stunning final round 66. But he would never have had a sniff at the title had Rory McIlroy not self-destructed in spectacular fashion at the same time. Having led after each of the first three rounds and started the final 18 holes with a four-shot lead, the young Northern Irishman unravelled on the back nine, taking a triple-bogey on the 10th hole and then four-putting his way to a double-bogey on the 12th as he finished ten shots behind the winner.

The collapse would have destroyed a lesser man than McIlroy. Instead he went on to capture the US Open two months later and briefly claim the world number one ranking earlier this year. Schwartzel also proved he was no flash in the pan, with top-12 finishes at both the US Open and US PGA. If we have a finish half as dramatic this year, we will be in for a treat.

3. Paris-Roubaix (8th)

April is Spring Classics month in the cycling world, taking in several of the biggest one-day races on the cycling calendar. It is a month of cobbles and hills and sometimes cobbled hills, which is tailor-made for the all-round hard men of the sport – pure sprinters and climbers need not apply – riders such as Fabian Cancellara, Philippe Gilbert and Tom Boonen. From the Tour of Flanders (1st) to Liege-Bastogne-Liege (22nd), this three-week period invariably throws up some of the best racing of the year, cementing reputations and creating new legends.

Paris-Roubaix is many fans’ favourite – it is not affectionately called the ‘Hell of the North’ without good reason. A 258km route through northern France contains 27 sections of bone-jarring cobbled roads which provide the perfect platform for bold attacks, race-killing punctures and high drama. It is a gruelling, punishing race – others are longer, but none is tougher. Boonen is a three-time winner here, while Cancellara has won twice. Last year Cancellara was marked out of contention by his main rivals – he still finished second – as Garmin-Cervelo’s Johan Vansummeren escaped alone up the road to score a breakthrough win. Expect similar drama this year.

4. F1 Chinese GP (15th)

The third race of the 2012 Formula 1 season takes the grid to Shanghai for the ninth running of the Chinese Grand Prix. After Jenson Button’s season-opening win in Australia, Fernando Alonso took his Ferrari – which this year is more of a dog than a prancing horse – to victory in a rain-affected Malaysian GP. The Spaniard leads the standings with 35 points, five ahead of Lewis Hamilton and ten ahaed of Button, with reigning double world champion Sebastian Vettel languishing in sixth as he struggles to get the maximum out of his new Red Bull.

Hamilton won last year’s race to become the first two-time winner in China, but previous race winners include Button, Vettel, Alonso, Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen, all of whom will line up on the grid again this year.

5. Champions League semi-finals (17th-25th)

Chelsea are the Premier League’s sole representative in the quarter-finals, whose second legs take place on the 3rd and 4th, and look well placed to progress after their 1-0 away win at Benfica last week. However, most people ‘s attention will be on Barcelona ahead of the semi-finals, which will be played on consecutive mid-weeks later in the month.

With Real Madrid already 3-0 up from the away leg of their tie with Apoel Nicosia and Bayern Munich taking a 2-0 away victory into their second leg against Marseille, it is the defending champions whose status remains in the most doubt. A 0-0 draw away at AC Milan was not a bad result, but nonetheless they have minimal margin for error if they want to keep hopes of an all-La Liga final alive. As an aside, all four seeded teams kept clean sheets in the away legs of their quarter-finals, a remarkable achievement.

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My sporting month: March 2012

The football season will be gearing up for its home stretch in March, as the Premier League season enters its final third and we have the quarter-finals of both the FA Cup and the Champions League to look forward to. Similarly the Six Nations reaches its climax this month with a potential Grand Slam showdown to look forward to. And the England cricket team embark on the final leg of their winter tours.

But for many other sports their year is only just beginning, or at least getting into their stride. As winter turns to spring, here are five of the key sporting events I’ll be watching this month.

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My sporting month: February 2012

February sees major sporting events all over the globe, from the NFL’s Super Bowl in Indianapolis to a glut of events in the Middle East: Test cricket in Dubai, and cycling in Qatar and Oman. Closer to home football’s Champions League enters its knockout phase, with eight first-leg matches including tricky assignments for the Premier League’s two survivors, Arsenal and Chelsea. And that is just the first of a series of challenging fixtures for the misfiring Gunners, who face a horrendous run of games in a short spell. But it will certainly be an exciting month, and here are five of the key events I will be following in February.

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My sporting month: January 2012

A new year brings with it the start of the season for many sports which have been in hibernation over the past couple of months. For winter sports, it sees the competition hotting up as their calendars pass the midway point or, in some cases, the road to the end-of-season playoffs.

With both the London Olympics and football’s European Championships upcoming this summer, 2012 looks set to be a bumper year for all sports fans. And January gets things off to a fast start with a post-Christmas cracker of a schedule. Here is a personal list of my top five events for the coming month.

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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.

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