Ten things we learned about sport in 2018, from England fans falling back in love with the national football team to golf’s latest gimmick dividing the opinion of fans.
England fans are back in love with their national team
Football may not have come home but supporters of the Three Lions enjoyed a summer to remember as Gareth Southgate’s side reached the World Cup semi-finals in Russia. Aided by blistering weather, the feel-good factor around the national team reached levels that had not been seen on the streets of England since 1996.
Defeat to Croatia in the last four may have ended all the talk of a second World Cup win but the players did enough to reconnect with the bulk of fans, who then stayed on for the next chapter…
The Nations League is actually pretty good
After the euphoria of securing a semi-final berth in Russia, England could easily have reverted back to type and lost all of their goodwill by playing a series of friendly matches to end 2018.
Instead the inaugural Nations League tournament allowed Southgate and his players to continue their love affair as they recovered from Wembley defeat to Spain to reach next summer’s finals.
England would draw 0-0 in a behind-closed-doors game in Croatia before a memorable performance led to a 3-2 victory over Spain, with a 2-1 comeback win over their World Cup semi-final conquerors enough to top Group A4 of a competition many derided before a ball had been kicked and set up a clash with Holland in the 2019 finals.
Jose may not be special any more
A manager with a CV boasting as much silverware as Jose Mourinho rarely feels under pressure -but the Portuguese has suffered a bad year at Manchester United.
Although the ex-Chelsea boss guided the Red Devils to second place in the Premier League, they finished a distant 19 points adrift of champions and neighbours Manchester City.
Add to that defeat to Chelsea in the FA Cup final, a summer where the manager’s key transfer targets were missed and a dismal start to the current campaign which sees United languishing outside the top-four as their bitter rivals City and Liverpool battle it out at the summit and Mourinho may well be glad to see the back of 2018.
Football still tackling racism issue
A number of events towards the end of the calendar year brought racism in football firmly back into the public domain.
Firstly, Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a banana skin thrown in his direction as he celebrated in front of Tottenham fans having opened the scoring in the north London derby.
Then Raheem Sterling, the England international having already spoken out about racism within the game, was subject to alleged racist taunts during Manchester City’s Premier League defeat at Chelsea.
The London club quickly identified those who had been accused and banned them pending ongoing enquiries but another incident during Chelsea’s Europa League game against Vidi in Hungary only heightened the ongoing problem for the English game to overcome.
Cook departs in the right way while sandpaper gives Aussies a rough year
Former England captain and their all-time leading Test run scorer Alastair Cook bowed out of the national side with a memorable century against India – all corners of the Oval rising to recognise a fine bastion of the game.
His replacement as skipper, Joe Root, has since guided England to a series win in Sri Lanka as young blood comes through to join the likes of all-time leading wicket-taker James Anderson.
All of this has happened against a backdrop of controversy in Australian cricket. Australia’s constant claims to be the moral guardians of the game, as they talk about knowing where to draw the line, proved to be hot air.
Back in March the team were involved in a ball-tampering scandal during and after the third Test match against South Africa as Cameron Bancroft was shown trying to rough up one side of the ball with sandpaper to make it swing in flight.
It later transpired both captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner colluded with Bancroft – with the trio hit with huge sanctions from Cricket Australia, Bancroft getting a nine-month suspension while Smith and Warner were handed year-long bans.
All Blacks not all that
In 2018 New Zealand were fallible, for the first time in years.
Ireland’s victory over the All Blacks in Dublin proves Steve Hansen’s back to back world champions can be toppled, and could even lose their top dog status in 2019. Ireland have a great chance of World Cup glory in Japan, but then England and Wales will enter the autumn tournament with renewed optimism too.
In December it was also announced that New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen will leave his role after the World Cup, having been at the helm since 2011.
Hamilton may just be the best of all time
Lewis Hamilton stormed to his fifth world drivers’ championship in 2018 as he continues to dominate Formula One. The Briton and his Mercedes were again unstoppable as he saw off the challenge of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to win the title by 88 points.
The fifth title draws him level with Juan Manuel Fangio and two behind Michael Schumacher but Hamilton now boasts a better win percentage and 15 more pole positions than the German.
The 33-year-old may split opinion off the track but the fact is he is now building a long-lasting legacy on it.
Fury returns to show he belongs in impressive heavyweight division
In largely outboxing perhaps the world’s most dangerous fighter – having followed almost three years of trauma and inactivity with only 14 unremarkable rounds – Tyson Fury demonstrated what a threat he remains.
His opponent Deontay Wilder and rival Anthony Joshua had established themselves as the world’s leading heavyweights in his absence, and yet Fury showed he may even be the best of the three.
That his fight with Wilder proved so exciting also shows what an entertaining addition he is to an already high-profile landscape – the competition between Fury, Joshua and Wilder makes the heavyweight division the best it has been this century.
Edmund emerges out of Murray mound shadow
British men’s tennis has enjoyed a revival due to the form of Sir Andy Murray over the past few years.
But in recent times the former world number one and two-time Wimbledon winner has been suffering with injuries. That has allowed Kyle Edmund to emerge as a pretender to Murray’s crown and the 23-year-old has enjoyed a fine 2018.
Not only did he beat Murray for the first time in their careers at the Eastbourne International but Edmund also reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open, claimed his maiden ATP title and broke into the world’s top 15.
‘The Match’ strikes fiery discussion on the future of golf
Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods may have been unable to use their collective force to help the United States retain the Ryder Cup but that did not stop the old rivals making a fortune in 2018.
The duo took part in a head-to-head round of matchplay golf at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas – with a USD9million purse on offer for the winner.
The event was heavily sponsored and both Mickelson and Woods made spot bets during the round.
Although the money from side bets went to charity, the event was widely criticised for promoting gambling and – with both players pictured with the winnings beforehand – being more than a little ostentatious as Mickelson won on the 22nd hole following a play-off.