The best and worst World Cups ever

After a magnificent World Cup in Brazil, there has been much talk both in newspapers and on social media as to whether it was the best World Cup ever.

There are several contenders for ‘best World Cup’, but what about the ‘worst World Cup’?

Answering both those categories at once, here are my picks for the best and worst World Cups in footballing history, starting with the best.

3. Switzerland 1954

If goal-drenched football is your thing, you could do no worse than delving into the archives for footage of Switzerland 1954. With over five goals scored per game, spectators were treated to some memorable scorelines including a 9-0 win for Ferenc Puskas’ Hungary against South Korea, an 8-3 Hungarian thrashing of West Germany and a seismic 7-5 win for Austria against hosts Switzerland in the quarter-final where nine goals were scored in the first half.

Best moment: Despite their earlier defeat by Hungary, the canny West Germans, knowing that scouting and video footage of club football were in their embryonic stages, had played an under-strength side in that game and later defeated the surprised Hungarians 3-2 in the final.

2. France 1998

Zidane’s double against Brazil. Beckham’s kick at Simeone. Carlos Valderrama’s haircut. Owen’s solo goal against Argentina – just some of the enduring memories of France ’98 that will continue to endure for some time to come. France ’98 was certainly a purist’s World Cup with an emphasis on attacking football. As a result, 171 goals were scored in a tournament eventually won by the home side as they triumphed 3-0 over a lacklustre Brazil.

Best moment: Dennis Bergkamp’s fear of flying had restricted his international appearances, but he braved the Channel Tunnel to take the stage for Holland in France. In the quarter-final against Argentina, with the score locked at 1-1 in the 89th minute, Bergkamp elegantly controlled a diagonal lofted pass before slamming home a volley to send Holland through to the semi-finals.

1. Brazil 2014

The Brazilian public were promised a marvellous World Cup and they were not disappointed. Despite taking place amidst noisy protests about the weight and wisdom of Brazilian government spending for football’s showpiece event, the tournament let its football do the talking as some hefty attacking play drew rich rewards for the billions of viewers around the world. Reigning champions Spain were thumped 5-1 by Holland, James Rodriguez announced himself as football’s next superstar and Germany swept all before them to record a fourth World Cup crown.

Best moment: Hopes were high for hosts Brazil going into their semi-final with Germany but, when Neymar fractured a vertebra and captain Thiago Silva earned a suspension, things quickly turned nightmarish as a ruthless German side dismembered them 7-1, compiling a 5-0 lead by half-time. Ouch.

Now we move on to the worst World Cups in history – brace yourselves!

3. USA 1994

The tone for USA ’94 was set in the opening ceremony when Oprah Winfrey fell off the stage in introducing Diana Ross before Ross famously missed a penalty in a pre-orchestrated routine. The football itself was not much better, with hot temperatures and a lack of attacking football combining to bore viewers rather than excite them. USA ’94 also made history by hosting the first goalless World Cup final – a dour 0-0 draw between eventual winners Brazil and Italy.

Worst moment: Diego Maradona was sent home in disgrace after testing positive for the banned weight-loss drug ephedrine. The fiasco ended his equally controversial and glittering international career, although he continued at club level for three more years.

2. Italy 1990

Italia ’90 is not fondly remembered by the football fraternity – unless you support Germany. The tournament was so bad that it caused the back-pass rule to be created while many experts consider the tournament to have been the crucible of defensive football. Only 115 goals were scored in the 52 matches played – a record low for World Cups – with one group even recording five draws from six games. A dull World Cup final was enlivened by Andreas Brehme, whose 85th-minute goal won the tournament for West Germany.

Worst moment:  Pedro Monzon is not a household name, but he went into the record books as the first man to be sent off in a World Cup final. The Argentine may rightfully protest his case though as a lunge on Jurgen Klinsmann missed the German, with replays appearing to show Klinsmann diving.

1. South Africa 2010

As the drone of vuvuzelas rang around every World Cup venue, the players may have been distracted, tactical messages from the bench drowned out and commentators unable to hear themselves speak. Whatever the reason was, South Africa 2010 is by far the worst World Cup in history. Teams were hindered by bobbly surfaces and an unpredictable ball, ironically named ‘Jabulani’ – Zulu for “bringing joy to everyone.” The tournament average of 2.27 goals per game is beaten only by the tally of 2.21 at Italia ’90. South Africa 2010 also hosted what many claim to be one of the worst World Cup games in history as England dismally drew 0-0 with Algeria in Cape Town.

Worst moment: Yet another recent World Cup final became an abysmal affair as Spain’s already lamentable encounter with Holland was spiked by Nigel de Jong, who took his position of central defensive midfielder too literally. De Jong’s ‘kung-fu kick’ on Xabi Alonso was only given a yellow card by referee Howard Webb – a decision almost as bad as the tackle. Spain went on to win 1-0 thanks to an Andres Iniesta goal in extra-time.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

2014 World Cup: My 2014 World Cup XI

With the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro fast approaching, it’s time to focus on the players that will make up the FIFA team of the tournament.

Of course, the public don’t get a say, but there is plenty to discuss with several world-class performances throughout the tournament.

Regular World Cup followers will see dozens of ‘World Cup XI’ selections over the coming days, but here is my team along with seven substitutes who have also caught my attention.

For those interested, I’ve opted for a standard 4-2-3-1 formation – you can see my team on sharemytactics.com.

GK. Keylor Navas (CRC)

Navas attracted plaudits from across the globe for a series of stunning displays as he almost single-handedly kept Costa Rica in the World Cup. His world-class saves against Greece in their last-16 penalty shoot-out were arguably his best but another impressive shot-stopping spree against the Netherlands in the quarter-final proved futile as the Central American team went out on penalties.

RB. Cristian Gamboa (CRC)

The contest for the right-back slot was close, but Gamboa wins out for his lung-bursting runs down the right flank. His tireless efforts gave the Costa Ricans a vital get-out to relieve heavy pressure against Holland and Greece and, refreshingly, he is a full-back who is equally at home in defence as he is going forward.

CB: Mats Hummels (c) (GER)

Hummels is Germany’s giant at the back and possibly their most reliable player of the tournament, making him the ideal choice to captain my World Cup XI. The centre-back makes defending look easy with his almost telepathic reading of the game and has also weighed in with two goals including the winner against France in the quarter-final.

CB: Stefan de Vrij (HOL)

Perhaps one of the most unsung players at the World Cup, de Vrij has quietly gone about his business as a quality centre-back. Like Hummels, de Vrij has an excellent reading of the game and seems to thrive on the pressure of tournament football with his performances getting better as the tournament endured. He kept Gonzalo Higuain at bay with ease for 120 minutes in the semi-final against Argentina and also scored in the 5-1 thrashing of world champions Spain.

LB: Marcos Rojo (ARG)

Rojo has shown during this World Cup why a move to a big club in Europe could lie in wait. His pace on the left has provided Argentina with a formidable left flank as Rojo has been deployed in tandem with Angel di Maria. The 24-year-old grabbed a goal against Nigeria in the group stage and looks set to enjoy a long international career.

CM: Toni Kroos (GER)

The German midfield is loaded with talent, but Kroos surpasses his compatriots with his deadly ability to take a controlling grasp of matches. He ducks in and out of attack and defence making him hard to mark and also has the nous to thread an incisive pass. His quick double against Brazil in Germany’s incredible 7-1 mauling of the hosts illustrates why Real Madrid are chasing his signature.

CM: Javier Mascherano (ARG)

He has his critics, but Mascherano has had an outstanding tournament. The gritty Argentine has been cast into his preferred central defensive midfield slot and his country has reaped the rewards. A stunning late block from Arjen Robben’s shot in the semi-final win over Holland was Mascherano at his typically hard-working best.

LM: James Rodriguez (COL)

With six goals Rodriguez is currently top goalscorer at this World Cup, the best of which was a stupendous volley against Uruguay in the last-16. Although Colombia crashed out to Brazil in the quarter-finals, Rodriguez had made his presence felt with a number of world-class attacking displays. Could he follow Ronaldo and Messi as the next footballing superstar?

AM: Lionel Messi (ARG)

The man responsible for dragging Argentina through to the final is unsurprisingly Lionel Messi. Part of an average Argentine side, Messi has provided his country with a winning touch having scored the winning goals in two games and having created Angel di Maria’s winner against Belgium in the quarter-finals. Despite his improved form at this World Cup, his critics will argue that until he wins football’s greatest prize he cannot be elevated above Pele as the best that ever lived.

RM: Thomas Mueller (GER)

Mueller has had another productive World Cup with five goals and is quickly threatening the all-time record tally. One of his finest strengths is his elusive nature. Always on the move, the German can drift to either wing to take possession or can be deployed as a ruthless striker – as his predatory hat-trick against Portugal showed.

ST: Neymar (BRA)

The darling of Brazil, Neymar’s tournament was cruelly cut short by a mischievous challenge by Colombia’s Juan Zuniga which fractured a vertebra. Had he not been taken out so early he could have finished as top goalscorer, but his four goals gave an unusually dull Brazilian side hope of a home World Cup win.

Subs:

GK: Manuel Neuer (GER)

Solid, but not spectacular, Neuer’s tally of three clean sheets owes much to the powerful German defence as it does to his flamboyant sweeper-like antics.

CB: Thiago Silva (BRA)

Thiago Silva’s class during this tournament was defined by his absence in the 7-1 semi-final annihilation by Germany. He was the glue in the Brazilian defence and, when missing through suspension, they were leaderless and duly crumbled.

CB: Ezequiel Garay (ARG)

Garay has had an outstanding tournament for Argentina at the back, and his new club Zenit St. Petersburg will feel vindicated at the £12m they paid Benfica for his services.

RM: Mathieu Valbuena (FRA)

Arguably France’s best player at the World Cup, Valbuena was a constant menace on the right-wing with his pace and trickery. His deliveries from set-plays were sublime and he also scored a deserved goal against Switzerland in the group stage.

LM: Arjen Robben (HOL)

Despite admitting to diving during Holland’s 2-1 win over Mexico in the last-16, Robben earns a place on the bench. He terrified Spain with a brace in a famous 5-1 win and was full of his jinking runs even in extra-time periods against Costa Rica and Argentina.

ST: Robin van Persie (HOL)

The Dutch captain is worth his place on the bench purely because of an astonishing diving header against Spain, and he went on to notch two more goals despite being starved of service as the tournament progressed.

ST: Miroslav Klose (GER)

His goal at the second attempt against Brazil was a record-breaker for Klose as he overtook Ronaldo as the all-time leading World Cup goalscorer with 16. He has the chance to line up in his second World Cup final but has yet to score in one.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

2014 World Cup: Top 30 World Cup heroes

World Cup heroes.

These are the footballers who have made history in the world’s greatest sporting event.

The 30 players distinguished on this eminent list have all written themselves into the World Cup archives with performances and feats worthy of heroic recognition.

To clarify, ‘hero’ is preferred to the word ‘legend’ because legendary status cannot apply to a player whose career is still ongoing.

So, administration aside, who tops this marathon list of World Cup heroes?

30. Pak Doo-Ik – North Korea, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1966

In an extraordinary game at Ayresome Park, minnows North Korea defeated Italy 1-0, knocking the then two-time world champions out. Architect of that famous win was Pak Doo-Ik, a serving member of the North Korean military, whose goal after 42 minutes is still talked about as part of one of the greatest World Cup shocks in history.

29. Lucien Laurent – France, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1930

The late Frenchman is famous for having scored the first-ever World Cup goal in a 4-1 win against Mexico at Uruguay 1930. When France became world champions on home turf in 1998, Laurent was the only surviving member of France’s 1930 squad to witness them lift the World Cup.

28. Papa Bouba Diop – Senegal, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 2002

In Senegal’s World Cup debut against reigning champions France, few pundits offered them hope of scoring, let alone beating their decorated opponents. When Bouba Diop scored what proved to be the winning goal in a 1-0 win it was a moment that reduced Senegalese fans to tears. They eventually lost 1-0 to Turkey in the quarter-finals.

27. Roger Milla – Cameroon, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1982, 1990, 1994

Famous for his eccentric goal celebrations, Milla was a star of Italia ’90 when his four goals propelled Cameroon to the quarter-finals – a record for an African team. They eventually lost to England 3-2 after extra-time, but he returned at USA ’94 to become the oldest goalscorer in a World Cup.

26. Oliver Kahn – Germany, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 2002, 2006

Kahn became the first goalkeeper to win the golden ball as player of the tournament in 2002 and he is renowned for his disgust at a mistake during the final which allowed Ronaldo to score in a 2-0 defeat to Brazil. Kahn would not be able to exorcise those demons as Germany finished third on home soil in 2006.

25. Gary Lineker – England, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1986, 1990

Lineker shot to fame at Mexico ’86 after netting a hat-trick in a 3-0 win against Poland and went on to win the golden boot as top scorer with six goals. At Italia ’90 he added four goals to his World Cup tally but, after Lineker had equalised, England lost on penalties to West Germany in the semi-finals.

24. Gianluigi Buffon – Italy, World Cups won: 1 (Germany 2006), World Cups: 2002, 2006, 2010

Buffon is one of the best goalkeepers ever to play at a World Cup. The peak of his career came when Italy won the World Cup in 2006 after a penalty shoot-out. Though Buffon didn’t save a spot-kick in the final, he kept five clean sheets throughout the tournament.

23. Miroslav Klose – Germany, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 2002, 2006, 2010

With five goals at the 2002 World Cup, five goals and the golden boot in 2006 and a further four goals at South Africa 2010, Klose is tied with compatriot Gerd Müller at second on the all-time World Cup goalscorers list with 14 goals. A strange quirk to his goals in 2002 was that they were all headed efforts.

22. Dino Zoff – Italy, World Cups won: 1 (Spain 1982), World Cups: 1974, 1978, 1982

Zoff became the oldest player to win a World Cup at 40 when Italy beat West Germany 3-1 in the final. He also joined countryman Gianpiero Combi as the only players to have won the World Cup as goalkeeping captains.

21. Zico – Brazil, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1978, 1982, 1986

One of the greatest players never to have won a World Cup, Zico was part of the 1982 Brazilian side which was hailed as one of the best Brazilian squads ever to grace football’s biggest stage, scoring four goals before being knocked-out by eventual winners Italy.

20. Andres Iniesta – Spain, World Cups won: 1 (South Africa 2010), World Cups: 2006, 2010

Perhaps overshadowed by Xavi at Barcelona, Iniesta wrote a dramatic chapter in World Cup history by scoring the winning goal in the 2010 final against the Netherlands. His shirt-wheeling celebration was one of the greatest images of that World Cup and the goal is the pinnacle of his career to date.

19. Fabio Grosso – Italy, World Cups won: 1 (Germany 2006), World Cups: 2006

Italy owe much to the charismatic full-back. In his first and only World Cup he scored an instinctive goal with one minute of extra-time remaining in the semi-final against Germany before netting the winning spot-kick to end an enthralling penalty shoot-out in the final against France, giving Italy a fourth World Cup triumph.

18. Eusebio – Portugal, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1966

The late Eusebio won the golden boot at the 1966 World Cup in England with nine goals. That proved to be his only World Cup appearance but it was one littered with jewels. He scored a brace against Brazil, four goals against North Korea and one against England in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss which became known as the ‘game of tears’ in Portugal after Eusebio broke down post-match.

17. Jürgen Klinsmann – Germany, World Cups won: 1 (Italia 1990), World Cups: 1990, 1994, 1998

Scoring at three World Cups for a total of 11 goals, Klinsmann is one of the greatest World Cup strikers of all time. His West Germany side won the World Cup in 1990 and he would go on to manage his country to third place on home territory in 2006.

16. Paolo Rossi – Italy, World Cups won: 1 (Spain 1982), World Cups: 1978, 1982

Rossi’s World Cup career mirrors a rollercoaster ride. In 1978 he scored three goals before being implicated in the infamous 1980 Totonero betting scandal, receiving a two-year ban. He was selected for the 1982 World Cup but was exposed early on by a severe lack of match-fitness. However, Rossi recovered to score a hat-trick against Brazil, a semi-final brace against Poland and a goal in the final against West Germany. His performances earned him the golden ball and the golden boot with six goals.

15. Mario Kempes – Argentina, World Cups won: 1 (Argentina 1978), World Cups: 1978

Kempes only played in one World Cup – Argentina ’78 – but he was imperious throughout it. His tally of six goals helped Argentina to a home World Cup win, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory against the Netherlands in the final. His display won him the golden boot and the golden ball.

14. Just Fontaine – France, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1958

Fontaine holds the record for the most goals scored in a World Cup – a staggering 13 in six games – which puts him fourth on the all-time list. Despite only playing at one World Cup, the Frenchman is considered to be one of France’s greatest players having won the golden boot in 1958.

13. Romario – Brazil, World Cups won: 1 (USA 1994), World Cups: 1990, 1994

Romario’s World Cup story is blighted by injury and high-profile exclusions. In 1990 he played one game against Scotland, but returned in style to claim a winner’s medal in 1994, scoring five goals. He suffered an injury just before the 1998 World Cup and was also left out of the 2002 squad despite a blistering season in his native Brazil playing for Fluminense.

12. Johan Cruyff – the Netherlands, World Cups won: 0, World Cups, 1974

A leading exponent of ‘total football’ Cruyff bamboozled defenders with his famous ‘Cruyff turn’. He played at just one World Cup, leading the Netherlands to the 1974 final where he won the penalty which gave his side a 1-0 lead over West Germany after two minutes. Though the Germans eventually won 2-1, Cruyff’s consolation prize was the golden ball.

11. Ferenc Puskas – Hungary, World Cups won: 0, World Cups, 1954

Puskas was part of the feared Hungarian side of the 1954 World Cup. Favourites for the tournament, they were beaten in the final by West Germany as their opponents executed a fine tactical plan to win 3-2, despite Puskas opening the scoring after six minutes. The diminutive striker received the golden ball and scored four goals in the tournament.

10. Sir Geoff Hurst – England, World Cups won: 1 (England 1966), World Cups, 1966, 1970

Hurst became the first and only man to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final as England won 4-2 against West Germany to win the World Cup on home turf. Hurst scored five World Cup goals in total but will forever be remembered as the man who won England’s only World Cup.

9. Rivaldo – Brazil, World Cups won: 1 (South Korea & Japan 2002), World Cups: 1998, 2002

The Brazilian winger was famous for his partnership with Ronaldo and Ronaldinho at the 2002 World Cup. He went on to score five times and netted eight goals in his World Cup career and is held as one of the greatest Brazilian players of all-time.

8. Gerd Müller – West Germany, World Cups won: 1 (West Germany 1974), World Cups: 1970, 1974

Müller played 11 World Cup games and scored 14 times. His immense record places him joint-second with Klose on the all-time World Cup goalscorers list. In the 1970 World Cup he notched two hat-tricks as West Germany finished third, but he would claim a winner’s medal in his home country by scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 win over Cruyff’s Netherlands in the final.

7. Franz Beckenbauer – West Germany, World Cups won: 1 (West Germany 1974), World Cups: 1966, 1970, 1974

‘Der Kaiser’ is an integral part of the German footballing fabric. He scored five World Cup goals from the sweeper position and also managed his country to victory at Italia ’90, becoming one of only two men to have won the World Cup as both a coach and player.

6. Cafu – Brazil, World Cups won: 2 (USA 1994, South Korea & Japan 2002), World Cups: 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006

Cafu is one of a handful of players to have played in four World Cups. He has two winner’s medals and is considered to be one of Brazil’s greatest players. Despite never scoring at a World Cup, Cafu has played 20 World Cup matches, recording ten clean sheets in the process.

5. Ronaldo – Brazil, World Cups won: 1 (South Korea & Japan 2002), World Cups: 1998, 2002, 2006

Ronaldo has amassed 15 goals in World Cups and is the all-time leading goalscorer. His brace in the 2002 final against Germany helped secure Brazil’s fifth World Cup crown and he also finished with the golden boot after claiming eight goals. He broke Gerd Müller’s record with a simple finish against Ghana in the 2006 World Cup and is rated as one of the greatest of all-time.

4. Garrincha – Brazil, World Cups won: 2 (Sweden 1958, Chile 1962), World Cups: 1958, 1962, 1966

Ever worthy of a place on the all-time World Cup XI, Garrincha is one of the most decorated players in World Cup history. Having won the 1958 final 5-2 against Sweden, Garrincha played a starring role in the next Finals with Pele out injured. The man dubbed ‘little bird’ scored five goals in his World Cup career and won the golden boot and golden ball in 1962.

3. Zinedine Zidane – France, World Cups won: 1 (France 1998), World Cups: 1998, 2002, 2006

Zidane’s World Cup career is one of the greatest. He scored twice in a home World Cup final against Brazil, winning 3-0, and then scored in the 2006 final against Italy. However, that performance was marred by an ugly headbutt inflicted upon Marco Materazzi. Even after that ill-discipline, Zidane collected the golden ball as player of the tournament.

2. Diego Maradona – Argentina, World Cups won: 1 (Mexico 1986), World Cups: 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994

Maradona’s World Cup tale is even more controversial and successful than Zidane’s. His ‘hand of God’ goal against England led many to label him a cheat and, at the 1994 World Cup, he was disgraced and sent home after failing a drugs test for ephedrine. Despite these misgivings, Maradona is held by some as the greatest World Cup player of all-time. His jinking run against England at Mexico ’86 is one of the best World Cup goals ever and he captained his side to World Cup glory in the same tournament while also winning the golden ball.

1. Pele – Brazil, World Cups won: 3 (Sweden 1958, Chile 1962, Mexico 1970), World Cups: 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970

Easily the greatest World Cup player of them all, Pele’s three World Cup wins prompted the Brazilian public to deify him. He has scored in every World Cup he has played in, including a brace in the 1958 final and the opening goal against Italy in the 1970 final. His 12 career World Cup goals place him in exalted company on the all-time goalscorers list, but it is for his magic that he earns top spot on this list. There have been many majestic World Cup players, but none as majestic as Pele.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

Bayern Munich – The world’s first hybrid football team

Over the last few years the concept of all things hybrid has spread across the world. We now have hybrid cars – both on the road and in motorsport – there are hybrid road bikes and even ‘phablets’ which are a cross between a smartphone and a tablet.

There has, however, never been a hybrid football team – until now.

Bayern Munich, the German, European and world champions, are arguably the first tangible example of such a thing in the sporting, not technological, world.

A couple of seasons ago, Bayern were eclipsed in the Bundesliga by the burgeoning force of Borussia Dortmund.

‘Die Schwarzgelben’ had revolutionised German football with their aggressive defensive pressing –  ‘Gegenpressing’ – and their razor-sharp attacking play which regularly made fatal incisions into Bayern’s defence – most notably during a 5-2 German cup final win in 2012.

Dortmund’s powerful arrival onto the German footballing scene provoked a reaction in Munich. Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes finally had the barometer that would help elevate his side and convert their huge potential – setting them on the path to becoming the world beaters they are now.

Heynckes’ response was to recalibrate Dortmund’s ‘gegenpressing’ – using it in a way that would suit Bayern. The results were devastating.

The following season Bayern defeated Dortmund in the German Supercup and later went on to win the treble – including a last-minute win over their arch-rivals in the Champions League final at Wembley.

Yet, it was Bayern’s performance in their semi-final against Barcelona – then comfortably held to be the best team in the world – that drew the most attention as they crushed them 7-0 on aggregate.

In the first leg they swamped their Spanish opponents, asphyxiating them with a brutal display of counter-attacking and finishing them off with startling lethality in a 4-0 win.

Barcelona’s Camp Nou had long been a fortress – particularly in European football – but Bayern flattened it in the second leg, cruising to a 3-0 victory.

The Bavarians sent shockwaves through the footballing community – especially the Catalonian one – and from there they have built upon that success.

Heynckes left Bayern last summer but was replaced by Pep Guardiola – a man who had been the chief architect of Barcelona’s rise to the top of the game.

Guardiola has not hindered Bayern’s progress though – he has sharpened it.

In just eight months at the helm he has developed the German giants into an all-conquering machine and the theme of hybridity is the ideal way to describe their style of play.

A key feature of the modern Bayern is the seamless transition from defence to attack.

Guardiola has drilled a sublime one-touch passing game into his new side, which serves to speed up the way Bayern shift the ball from their penalty area to the other.

Full-backs David Alaba and Rafinha have a licence to raid forward – particularly Alaba who is rapidly developing into the most potent left-back in the world.

However, it is when Bayern are faced with a wall of 11 players in front of them that they are at their most fluid.

Their defence, midfield and strike force all combine in each venture forwards, with an interchangability that is unprecedented in the modern game.

So much so that some photographs of Bayern’s offensive shape this season show a 1-8-1 formation – an almost incomprehensible form for a football team to sustain.

That ‘midfield’ eight usually comprises Alaba, Rafinha, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Phillip Lahm and Thomas Mueller.

Eagle-eyed readers will notice Lahm’s absence in defence. Only a few years ago Lahm was seen as one of the best full-backs in the world, but Guardiola has transformed him into a free spirit that roams across midfield.

Effectively, Lahm acts an important cog between defence and midfield but, such is Bayern’s constant fluidity, the diminutive captain can pop up on either flank to assist wingers Robben and Ribery with attacks.

In Schweinsteiger, Bayern have the typical box-to-box midfielder – himself reformed from a flamboyant winger in his early career.

His partner in central midfield is contract rebel Kroos, whose growing influence during Bayern’s games has seen him linked with several top clubs in Europe.

Then there is Mueller – one of the most underrated players in world football at the present time.

Mueller has the ability to play as a striker – indeed that is where he started in his early career – but in recent seasons he has acted on the edges of an attacking three.

That Mueller is also an extremely hard-working midfielder enables his side to spring forward in numbers while also knowing that he will return goalside quickly if his side loses the ball.

This takes a huge amount of discipline and drilling on the training ground, and Guardiola must take credit for that.

What Guardiola has created is, in effect, the all-round football team.

In cricket, there are all-rounders, in cycling there are rouleurs and now in football there are hybrids.

Bayern’s influence on world football is now so strong that teams in England are dropping players whose talent only extends to one area of the game.

This is best evidenced in footballers such as Juan Mata and Mesut Özil.

Mata was allowed to leave Chelsea by Jose Mourinho in January. The Spaniard’s attacking quality was not in doubt, but his willingness to defend was.

Mourinho is keen to have the same all-round, hybrid player that Guardiola has created at Bayern. Consequently, players such as Ramires, Oscar and Eden Hazard were preferred to Mata for their greater work without the ball.

The same is true of Özil at his new club Arsenal. Although Real Madrid didn’t let him leave because of his lack of defensive diligence, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger dropped the German due to his ‘tiredness’.

After noticing Özil’s complete disinterest in tracking back, many critics saw this as a veiled signal to Özil that his work rate must improve.

As talented as Mata and Özil are, they are not the complete all-round footballer. They could even be considered a weakness if they do not perform to their high attacking standards because they offer little in defence.

This is where Bayern have excelled. They have changed the type of player needed to perform at the highest level and have quickly set up a squad containing players who are comfortable and capable of playing in several positions.

What used to be the utility player, a rare breed, is now a necessity.

Even goalkeepers are being asked to play as sweepers – good examples of those are Bayern’s Manuel Neuer and Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris.

Having such a goalkeeper allows teams have an extra layer of defensive security, and that is just one part of how the modern game is developing.

Defenders are midfielders, sometimes even attackers, midfielders are starting to flourish in any position across the width of the pitch and strikers are doing defensive duties too.

This hybridity will continue to reign in football for years to come and until then Bayern are the team to beat – just as Barcelona were when their tiki-taka football dominated the game.

The question is which team will be able to take football onto the next level and render the concept of hybridity a thing of the past?

F1’s loss is Mark Webber’s gain

When drivers retire from Formula One, their powers are usually on the wane. This driver, though, timed his escape from an increasingly shackling sport to perfection.

For Mark Webber, F1 had long lost its purity and its ability to enable drivers to push to the limit of their car’s capabilities before his decision to switch to endurance racing with Porsche for 2014.

He had become increasingly frustrated after Pirelli moved to F1 to manufacture the sport’s tyres in 2011. Under a brief from F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone to encourage overtaking and more pit stops, Pirelli built tyres which degraded quickly – much to the abhorrence of the Australian.

Such a change forced drivers to nurse the cars lap-by-lap on race day, and Webber was among the fiercest critics of the new approach.

So much so that he once claimed qualifying to be the highlight of a race weekend – the only time when he could extract maximum pace from his car without fear of his tyres ‘falling off the cliff’.

The introduction of Pirelli, coupled with Red Bull’s mastery of the exhaust-blown diffuser in the same season made for a very disgruntled Aussie.

It seemed the tide would not turn, especially when his young team-mate Sebastian Vettel would later perfect the counter-intuitive use of the exhaust-blowing to romp to his second world title that year.

The German’s success, coming a year after Webber’s flirtation with his own world championship triumph, was particularly galling but he never relented in his persistent chase of Vettel, despite being ultimately powerless in seeing his greatest rival record his third and fourth titles in the following two campaigns.

When Webber moved to the Austrian-owned team in 2007, he had already notched his maiden podium for Williams in 2005 and scored two points for perennial backmarkers Minardi in his debut Grand Prix in Melbourne in 2002.

From the outset of his F1 career it was clear that Webber’s greatest strength was qualifying and he had already made the front row for Jaguar and Williams before taking his maiden pole position for Red Bull in 2009 at the German GP.

In an outstanding show of pace, Webber negated a drive-through penalty – given to him for a first-lap brush with Rubens Barrichello – to claim his maiden F1 win. The euphoric celebration over his in-car radio underlined just how much it meant to him.

The subsequent season was a mixture of highs and lows, and was also the beginning of his intense rivalry with Vettel.

By mid-season Webber had delivered commanding wins in Barcelona and Monte Carlo, but then came the British GP at Silverstone.

Red Bull had manufactured a new-spec front wing and fixed it to Webber’s car but, after Vettel damaged his old-spec wing in qualifying, the team took the decision to switch it to Vettel’s car instead.

The difference between having and not having the wing was only 0.1 seconds per lap, but it was the principle of the move that upset Webber the most. He was incensed by what he saw as the team’s favouritism towards Vettel.

Vettel duly took pole but Webber passed him at the start of the race and took a crushing win, delivering his infamous “not bad for a number two driver” message over the radio on the cooldown lap.

Another win in Hungary set Webber’s title charge up nicely and with three races left he was ideally placed.

But, in a wet inaugural Korean GP, disaster struck when he spun on a sodden piece of astro-turf, clattered the inside wall and was then hit by Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes.

With Vettel also retiring, Fernando Alonso took a vital win and with it the championship lead from Webber.

With five drivers going into the last race in Abu Dhabi with a chance of claiming the title, Red Bull firmly nailed their colours to the mast by deploying Webber, who had got ahead of Alonso, as a decoy.

The genius of the idea brought them into the pits at the same time, with Ferrari covering Webber’s move as Alonso’s main challenger. The pair rejoined in heavy traffic and, with overtaking seemingly impossible, Vettel took the win and the title.

Webber had been used, and he was livid.

So began his misery. The next season saw him win just one race in a campaign dominated by his team-mate, while reliability issues in 2012 thwarted his title challenge, although he registered impressive wins at Monaco and Silverstone for the second time in his career.

This season has been equally frustrating, Webber enduring further difficulties with the Pirellis and yet more reliability gremlins, but he managed to claim three pole positions before the end of the season to prove his pace over one lap still existed.

The outpouring of love and fondness for Webber from his colleagues, notably Alonso – the pair began their F1 careers together at Minardi – was a reminder of his popularity, which is reflected in his outspoken view on the sport.

Some of the most famous quotes in F1 are attributed to the Australian, and they are partly a reason for his status as a fan’s favourite.

On his disgruntlement at the burgeoning use of “Mickey Mouse” street tracks like Valencia, Webber took the chance to say the Spanish circuit was akin to “a Tesco car park”.

Valencia, of course, would provide excitement of an unwanted kind in 2010 when he somersaulted into the air after colliding with Heikki Kovalainen on the back straight.

That he landed safely and escaped unhurt was a minor miracle but he bounced back to win the next race at Silverstone, despite the front-wing controversy.

Other famous quotes include his description of Romain Grosjean as a “first-lap nutcase” after the Lotus driver shunted into him at the start of the 2012 Japanese GP, and earlier this year in an interview on Top Gear, Webber was asked by Jeremy Clarkson if he had ever been tempted to punch arch-rival Vettel.

His reply was typically memorable: “My Dad always said you shouldn’t hit boys, mate.”

Of course, the relationship between the two had been tempestuous ever since the Malaysian GP.

A pre-race agreement, coded ‘multi-21’, was designed to protect whichever Red Bull driver held the lead after the first pit-stop.

That honour fell to Webber and, safe in the knowledge that Vettel wouldn’t challenge him, he dialled his engine down to preserve his car in the heat and humidity of Sepang.

Vettel began to close in on him though, and defied desperate team orders over the radio to pass the Australian for what would prove to be the first of his thirteen victories this season.

Webber was enraged, but had further cause for irritation when Vettel said he would do the same again during a press conference at the next race in China.

Their rivalry truly ignited in 2010 when Vettel veered across Webber’s path in the Turkish GP, while the pair had earlier been involved in a collision in 2007 when Vettel smashed into Webber at Fuji, depriving them both of podium positions in horribly wet conditions.

The incident provoked more memorable remarks from the New South Wales- born veteran who, in reference to Vettel’s inexperience, stated that, “It’s kids isn’t it…you do a good job and then they fuck it all up.”

Webber will be remembered not only for his straight-talking ways, but his infamous lack of luck and recent poor getaways off the line.

Despite those setbacks, Webber has a glittering set of statistics to look back on his time in the sport ahead of his new career with Porsche in the World Endurance Championship.

He triumphed with nine victories, claimed 42 podiums – the last coming in his final race in Brazil – and secured 13 pole positions in his 215-race career, amassing 1047.5 points and setting 19 fastest laps.

Webber is not the type to fuss about such things, but at the time of his exit from F1 he was placed in the top twenty drivers of all time. “Not bad for a number two driver.”

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

Sebastian Vettel – A true F1 ‘great’?

Formula One drivers come and go. Some may win races but most won’t. Others shrink into obscurity after a career spent hidden in the midfield. But there are an elite few, those who are recognised as ‘greats’.

Undeniably, after clinching a fourth consecutive title following victory at the Indian GP – his third in succession – Sebastian Vettel now joins a pantheonic group of F1 drivers who are freely regarded as ‘great’.

But sadly this historic achievement, for a significant proportion of F1 fans throughout the world, is being devalued with claims that he has had it all too easy during his short but illustrious career.

True, the 26-year-old has benefitted from an Adrian Newey-inspired Red Bull car for the past four seasons.

Red Bull’s rise from midfield runners to all-conquering world champions has coincided with a change in regulations in 2009 that mixed the ‘normal’ grid up.

The struggling Honda effectively forfeited their 2008 season, concentrating on the 2009 regulations and inventing the ingenious double diffuser.

Despite knowing the potential of their cars, the Japanese giant pulled out of the sport citing high costs and sold their operation to Ross Brawn, who promptly guided the rebranded ‘Brawn GP’ to a world championship double, with Jenson Button taking the drivers’ championship.

Since then, Newey has worked his magic, developing the Red Bull cars into a force so strong they have swept away all before them. It has been a Vettel stampede across the subsequent four championships.

To undermine Vettel’s ability during this period though, is to flirt with grave ignorance.

F1 bosses had long been aware of the German’s potential ever since an astonishing performance in 2004, when driving for Mücke Motorsport in the German branch of Formula BMW.

His team was not the fastest in the championship, but that did not stop the immensely talented Vettel winning 18 out of 20 races. To underline his brilliance he finished second and third in the two races he didn’t manage to win, amassing a staggering 20 podiums.

In fact, that title remains the last drivers’ title that Mücke won, further illustrating just how special Vettel is.

These are not the achievements of a man who has zero ability, or who would later rely on a superior car to win four F1 world championships. Moreover, it was a telling sign of the domination that was to come.

After progressing to Formula Three in 2005, he drove a so-called inferior car to fifth place in the standings, before earning the F1 test driver role with BMW Sauber in 2006.

The following season, Vettel was leading the Formula Renault 3.5 Series – a platform to F1 – when BMW driver Robert Kubica suffered a huge crash at the Canadian GP, sustaining concussion and forcing BMW to promote him to a race seat in the next race.

In another sign of his talent, Vettel qualified seventh and finished eighth, scoring his maiden point in F1 at the first attempt.

Four races later he replaced Scott Speed at Toro Rosso. The Italians, Red Bull’s sister team, were perennial backmarkers but Vettel took an outstanding fourth place finish at the Chinese GP.

This convinced Red Bull enough to place him in a full race seat with Toro Rosso in 2008, where he again surpassed expectations.

Bouncing back from four retirements in the opening four races, he took the slow Toro Rosso to five points finishes before a breakthrough moment set his career on a fast upward curve.

A wet Monza qualifying session was the stage on which Vettel needed no second invitation to demonstrate his capabilities. He surged to pole position – the first of his career and, to date, the only one during Toro Rosso’s short time in F1.

On race day, his achievements rocketed even higher. Despite his lack of experience and a wet start to the Grand Prix, he showed extraordinary skill to guide his Toro Rosso to victory.

It was the type of lights-to-flag win that would become gut-wrenchingly familiar to his opponents over the next five seasons.

He went on to finish eighth in the 2008 championship, ahead of established names such as Rubens Barrichello and Jarno Trulli.

Red Bull came calling after the retirement of David Coulthard, and suddenly Vettel was winning races again.

In a season where Brawn were dominant, Vettel managed to outperform team-mate Mark Webber to take second in the championship behind Button. He took four victories in amongst a total of eight podiums.

His record since then is scary.

He has won 31 times more, taking his career race win tally to 36 – the fourth-highest ever.

With 43 pole positions, he has started over a third of the races in his career from the front.

He has also been on the podium 50 times in his four title-winning seasons, recording 59 in total.

That means that of the 117 races he has started in F1, he has been on the podium in 50.43% of them – a mind-boggling display. Additionally, over 30% of those races have been victories – hardly an example of a driver who relies solely on his car.

These are the kind of statistics that remain unchallenged in modern F1. Nobody even comes close to the achievements that Vettel has carved out.

His meticulous approach to everything F1, including a unique visit to the Pirelli tyre factory, is a trait of a winner, a champion with a fierce desire for success – and success he has grasped.

It is clear that his unpopularity this season largely stems from the ‘multi-21’ incident with Webber in Malaysia. The team had instructed the drivers to respect track position after the first pit stop, but Vettel relentlessly chased the Australian – who had dialled his engine power down – before passing him for victory.

Webber, himself a popular figure in the paddock and with fans around the world, was incensed. Nevertheless Vettel, although sheepish in victory, displayed a ruthless streak compatible only with that of a champion.

He has since been booed on the podium during victory, something which has been on the wane in recent races – particularly in India where it was perhaps non-existent and if not, inaudible.

Unfortunately, the fans have also attacked the sport because of his dominance, claiming it to be boring – whether that would be the case if ‘greats’ Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton were to have been as dominant is extremely unlikely.

His driving style may be win at all costs and some may frown upon that, but out of the cockpit he is as personable and friendly as they come. His cheeky and fun personality is always engaging and makes him a wonderful ambassador for the sport.

It is doubtful too whether the steadfast Alonso or the cocksure Hamilton would show as much humility as Vettel has done in the wake of four consecutive world championship triumphs – if they even get there.

Vettel’s record alone is worthy of the ‘greatness’ tag. Add to that his almost limitless talent and ability – displayed with crushing victories in junior and senior formulae – and you have a driver who should unquestionably be lauded as a true F1 ‘great’, joining names of the calibre of Schumacher, Fangio and Senna.

He really is that good – and the scary part for his opposition is that he is improving all the time. Are title numbers five, six, seven and eight feasible? For Vettel, anything is possible – and with the talent at his disposal, it is entirely probable.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

Spurs ease past toothless Anzhi

First-half goals from Jermain Defoe and Nacer Chadli guided Spurs to a simple 2-0 Europa League win against an insipid Anzhi Makhachkala side at Saturn Stadium.

Spurs now lie top of Group K with maximum points from two games having kept consecutive clean sheets.

In truth, Spurs were never troubled by a limited Anzhi side, whose budget was slashed by billionaire owner Suleyman Kerimov in August, prompting an exodus of star names such as Samuel Eto’o and Willian.

The effect of the two-thirds budget cut also saw Anzhi play at FC Saturn Moscow’s compact Saturn Stadium, several hundred miles from their Dagestan home.

In cold conditions, Anzhi made an enterprising start with striker Pavel Solomatin twice troubling a high Spurs defence, but the North Londoners registered the first shot on target when Sandro’s bobbling effort found the gloves of Yevgeny Pomazan.

An uneven playing surface ensured that the fluency of both teams was hindered in a first 30 minutes that passed without incident, but Anzhi finally threatened when a firm pass from Solomatin found Serder Serderov, forcing Hugo Lloris to hastily smother the ball at the midfielder’s feet.

Spurs tried to feel their way into the game, with Lewis Holtby ubiquitous, and the German playmaker linked up with Walker down the right before cutting inside and curling a long-range shot which Pomazan acrobatically palmed clear.

Moments later Holtby turned provider for the opening goal, sliding a perfect pass into the feet of the in-form Jermain Defoe, allowing him to lash home emphatically into the roof of the net from 12 yards.

Holtby was fast proving to be the controlling influence on an otherwise indifferent first-half, and he aimed an inviting cross-field pass to Kyle Walker, affording the right-back time and space to find the incoming Nacer Chadli who swept home past the grasp of Pomazan to give the visitors a 2-0 half-time lead.

Anzhi boss Gadzhi Gadzhiyev reacted to a poor first half by fast-tracking Ivorian striker Lacina Traore onto the pitch at the restart, despite his ongoing recovery from a shoulder injury.

Traore, recognised as the last remaining big name at the club following the U-turn in ethos ordered by Kerimov, was instantly a problem for the Spurs defence.

Holding the ball up well, he started an Anzhi move which led to right-back Benoit Angbwa shooting wide from outside the area, before Spurs replied when £25m forward Erik Lamela found Chadli who curled a shot wide after a quick break – again down Anzhi’s left-hand side.

Russian full-back Andrey Eschenko was introduced before the hour-mark, and he combined with fellow substitute Traore to work Lloris following a quick move on the left as Anzhi showed signs of improvement.

Solomatin drove ambitiously from an angle to force Lloris into a smart save, but Spurs cleared the resulting corner and broke forward with Holtby tamely shooting at Pomazan.

As the ambient temperature plummeted the quality of play also dropped off, but Spurs were dealt a blow on an otherwise easy night for them when Younes Kaboul hobbled off with a quarter of the match remaining.

Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas reacted by making two quick changes, with captain Michael Dawson replacing the Frenchman in central defence and the disappointing Lamela making way for in-form Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Solomatin again tried his luck from range late on, volleying towards goal, but Lloris calmly pushed his dipping shot wide of goal.

If the travelling Anzhi fans needed any excuse to leave early after their team’s meek display, the special charter train laid on by Kerimov to escort them back to Moscow left the ground five minutes from the end. Yet, they could have left at half-time as Spurs were never in danger of relinquishing their grip on an easily-earned three points.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

A Great British Sporting Weekend

Everything went perfectly – almost.

This was a Great British sporting weekend to rival any other in history.

It began on the other side of the planet as the British and Irish Lions took on Australia in Sydney. They knew that with the series locked at 1-1, a win would hand them their first series triumph in 16 years, and their first in Australia since 1989.

With ten Welsh players in the starting XV, the Lions were dubbed the “Llions” in some areas of the media, while coach Warren Gatland had come under heavy criticism for his decision to drop Brian O’Driscoll from not only the starting line-up, but the match-day squad too.

Within two minutes of the whistle the critics had been hushed as a rampant Lions scrum punished a knock-on from Will Genia at the kick-off with an Alex Corbisiero try.

The Lions were making mincemeat of a dismal Australian scrum, forcing the Wallabies to concede penalty after penalty in their own half to gift the tourists a 19-3 lead – Leigh Halfpenny clinically dispatching five kicks at goal.

But a late first-half twist saw the Aussies haul themselves back into the game with a converted James O’Connor score. Suddenly, the Lions were wobbling rather than bouncing into the break.

More nervous energy was to be expended amongst the 30,000 Lions fans inside the ANZ Stadium when Christian Leali’ifano kicked two penalties to make it 19-16.

The Lions’ response was tremendous with Jonny Sexton, George North and Jonathan Davies all cutting through the Australian defence to score tries in a mesmeric ten-minute spell.

At 41-16, the Lions had crushed the Australian’s spirit and the series was theirs.

A couple of hours after that momentous win, British attention switched to the Eifel mountains in Germany, where Lewis Hamilton wrapped up pole position for the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.

He did so with a stunning lap, beating home darling Sebastian Vettel by 0.103 seconds on the final lap of qualifying.

British sport fans could have been forgiven for thinking that the day was not going to get better than this but 778 miles away from Hamilton in the Pyrenean mountains, Chris Froome had other ideas.

Froome, favourite for the Tour de France, had targeted the eighth stage in his quest to pull on the famous yellow jersey worn by the leader of the race.

After showing composure to gradually reel in a dangerous attack from Nairo Quintana, Froome’s Team Sky ripped up the road en route to the summit finish atop Ax 3 Domaines.

Froome then attacked with 6km remaining – to devastating effect.

So fierce was his acceleration on a climb peaking at a gradient of around 10%, he had shattered the race – leaving his rivals gasping for air.

He continued to power to the finish, cresting the summit with 1km to go and speeding over the false flat to claim his second career Tour de France stage win.

Froome claimed not only the yellow jersey and a stage win, but several minutes on his rivals. Alejandro Valverde was the least damaged of them all, but even he came home over a minute behind.

Alberto Contador and Quintana finished another 30 seconds later, while the explosive talent of Joaquim Rodriguez had been tamed, with the little Spaniard finishing over two minutes down on Froome.

All this had happened on Saturday, but the best was reserved for Sunday as Andy Murray faced world number one Novak Djokovic in the men’s singles final at Wimbledon.

Murray was aiming to win his second career Grand Slam, and in the process end a 77-year wait for the first British male winner at Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.

In 40 degree heat, it was a battle of stamina as much as physicality.

Outrageously long rallies – some stretching to 30 shots – were becoming normal and a first set which took just over one hour was eventually won by the Scot 6-4.

In typical fashion, Djokovic mounted a quick recovery. Breaking Murray in the fourth game of the second set, he raced into a 4-1 lead.

Murray was stumbling at this point but swiftly picked up his game and broke the Serbian back, winning three games in a row to level at 4-4.

With the duo holding their next service games it was Djokovic who blinked first as Murray broke him for a 6-5 lead with his second break point. Nerveless, he served out the set to love for a 2-0 lead.

Djokovic was clearly out of sorts, perhaps hindered by his exhausting semi-final win over Juan Martin Del Potro, and he dropped his serve at the start of the third as Britain dared to believe this was Murray’s year.

He seemingly did too, as a sudden crash in his level of performance combined with Djokovic’s best tennis of the match resulted in two breaks of serve for the Serbian.

His 4-2 lead would diminish immediately though, as Murray stirringly chased down a flurry of drop shots to break Djokovic twice more and earn himself a 5-4 lead and a chance to serve for the championship.

The crowd, whose shrieks of support reverberated around Centre Court, were ecstacized as Murray fought crippling nerves to surge into a 40-0 lead.

Yet three championship points disappeared as quickly as they materialised, with Djokovic thriving on the pressure steeped on Murray’s every shot to win five straight points and a break-back opportunity.

Somehow summoning the strength to save the game, Murray twice more offered break points to Djokovic, and saved each of them with courageous defensive work.

On winning his fourth championship point Murray would not be denied and when Djokovic dumped a forehand into the net, a nerve-shredded Wimbledon exploded with relief as much as celebration.

The only disappointment to arise from this now fabled weekend was Hamilton’s performance in Germany. Swamped by both Red Bulls off the start, the Mercedes driver never recovered and could only finish fifth behind Vettel – who took the first home win of his young career.

Britain’s competitors were not finished yet – Graeme McDowell carded a superb 67 to win by four shots in the French Open. But by that time it was conceivable that golf, along with many other sports, had paled into relative insignificance as the nation basked in the rays of Murray’s success.

And so this Great British Sporting Weekend finished with a nation united and sun-drunk. We hadn’t felt this good since the Olympian summer of 2012.

Now, where did Andrew Strauss leave that little urn?

Sky’s Tour bid rests with Froome – Tour de France 2013 preview

A peloton of 198 riders will amass for 21 leg-crushing stages of the 100th Tour de France on Saturday – a journey over three weeks that will lead the greatest annual sporting event in the world over a distance of 2,115 miles.

To celebrate the centenary of cycling’s most iconic race, the organisers have compiled a route that takes in the legendary mountainous climbs of Alpe d’Huez (twice on stage 18), and Mont Ventoux – with the Tour culminating in a sunset finish on the Champs –Elysees in Paris.

For the first time in the race’s history the island of Corsica will feature when it hosts the opening three stages or ‘grand depart’ of the race.

The Pyrenees will also be navigated in the first week before the infamous Mont Ventoux ends the second with the Alps looming large in the third.

It is a truly brutal Tour and with the addition of three time-trials (one team and two individual) the 100th edition of this race is one of the most eagerly anticipated.

Once again, Great Britain has a pre-race favourite in Team Sky’s Chris Froome.

With 2012 winner Sir Bradley Wiggins unable to defend the famed yellow jersey because of a knee injury, cycling has been starved of what would have been a momentous rivalry.

Wiggins had planned to defend his crown after the recent snow-hindered Giro d’Italia – but Froome had long been placed as Sky’s team leader for the Tour, and the friction between the two riders has been uncomfortably evident ever since.

The source of the pair’s inclement relationship is widely reckoned to be the 2012 race when Froome, the stronger climber of the two, demonstrated his strength by attempting to leave Wiggins on a couple of crucial stages – only to back down and support him to victory in a further display of loyalty to the team.

For 2013, Wiggins was earmarked to be Froome’s right-hand man, but his subsequent withdrawal has saved Sky from a glut of unwanted media attention.

The duo’s Sky team-mate, Australian rider Richie Porte, will instead support Froome in the high mountains and will be the team’s back-up plan should Froome suffer injury or huge time losses.

Froome’s form has been exemplary in the run up to the race, with the Kenya-born Brit winning four out of five stage races this season – including the Criterium du Dauphine and the Criterium International, both of which are good indicators of a rider’s Tour de France form.

In doing so, Froome has emulated Wiggins’ performances of 2012 – and he will hope to provide the same end result.

But he will face strong competition from Spain’s Alberto Contador, twice a winner of this event, and his Team Saxo Bank –Tinkoff Bank squad.

Contador has seasoned Tour riders such as Nicholas Roche, Michael Rogers and Roman Kreuziger at his disposal but Sky, who will rely on Kanstantsin Siutsou and David Lopez alongside Porte in aid of Froome, will be confident of holding off the diminutive Spaniard.

Other contenders for the General Classification victory include the aggressive Spanish duo of Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde, along with promising Colombian rider Nairo Quintana – who will vie with BMC’s Tejay van Garderen for the best young rider’s white jersey, or ‘maillot blanc’.

Cadel Evans, who enjoyed a fine podium finish in the Giro, will also be in contention – as will the dangerous trio of Jurgen van den Broeck, Robert Gesink and Ryder Hesjedal.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Mark Cavendish, who last week won the British National Road Race Championships, has the chance to write his own piece of history during his quest for the green sprinter’s jersey.

He is currently fourth on the all-time list of Tour stage wins with 23, just 11 behind the great Eddy Merckx. A healthy six stage wins for the ‘Manx Missile’ would propel him above French legends Bernard Hinault and Andre Leducq into second on that list.

However, Cavendish could be the first rider to wear the ‘maillot jaune’ as the Corsican first stage seems custom-made for his explosive sprinting abilities.

Last year’s winner of the green jersey Peter Sagan will be Cavendish’s main threat, as the Slovakian is a stronger climber than the Briton and may look to escape on the hillier parcours later in the Tour to claim vital intermediate sprint points and maybe a couple of stage victories – just as he did last year.

One of the Tour’s most interesting sub-plots is the King of the Mountains classification, which is always unpredictable as the best climbers tend to stay in the peloton to conserve energy rather than chase the points on offer for cresting the summit of each categorised climb.

As a result, France’s popular Team Europcar member Tommy Voeckler – not renowned for his climbing – got himself into several breakaways last season to mop up the points on offer and claim the polka dot jersey.

Cycling fans will also be glued to the fortunes of current world champion Philippe Gilbert, French cult hero Voeckler, Andy Schleck – making his Grand Tour comeback after a fractured pelvis – and German sprinters Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel, who will provide a stern test for the likes of Cavendish, Sagan and Matt Goss in bunch sprint finishes.

But the hundreds of millions of eyes watching this inspiring event will likely be watching Froome and his battle with Contador.

While it is not the Froome vs. Wiggins clash the cycling community had so relished, it promises to be a fascinating match-up – and one which is worthy of the centennial staging of this colossal race.

Who are the best and worst football commentators?

Football commentators. The people armchair viewers love to hate.

There are plenty of atrocious and infuriating callers of the beautiful game out there, and also a handful of brilliant ones, but who makes my top 10 best and worst?

And before anyone pipes up about Andy Townsend, I’ve included co-commentators in the list too!

Let’s start with the good first:

10. Mike Ingham, BBC 5Live

Ingham is an entertaining commentator for those of you who are avid 5live listeners. Hardly ever culpable of making a mistake, he blends an enthusiastic commentary style with a thorough knowledge of the game. More importantly, he puts his 5live colleagues to shame.

9. Simon Brotherton, BBC

Brotherton is without doubt one of the BBC’s most underrated commentators. Experienced and articulate, he calls some of the biggest games on the Premier League calendar for Match of the Day with great success. Like Ingham, he hardly makes a mistake and is definitely worthy of a place on this countdown.

8. Clive Tyldesley, ITV

I’ve been known to call Tyldesley ‘Alive Clive’ due to his excitable style (he often sounds like a Dalek too), but generally he is a very capable commentator. His greatest work for ITV is probably the 1999 Champions League final, but can be prone to some occasional errors too. He gets bonus points for sitting next to Andy Townsend for two hours.

7. Rob Hawthorne, Sky Sports

Hawthorne is part of Sky’s respected commentary line-up, and has often called some high-profile matches. Not least the memorable Manchester derby where United’s Michael Owen snatched a 96th-minute winner in a 4-3 win. Looking back at Hawthorne’s commentary for that match on YouTube, it’s safe to say he did a fantastic job.

6. Jon Champion, ESPN

Perhaps the most respected commentator in the media, Champion is vastly experienced having worked for the BBC, ITV and most recently ESPN. His commentary of Owen’s wondergoal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup will forever live in the memory of England fans.

5. Peter Drury, ITV & Fox Soccer

Often unfairly dubbed ‘Peter Dreary’, Drury is a well-spoken and entertaining commentator. He has a remarkable knowledge of the game and thrives in the big moments during the biggest games. Arguably his most thrilling work was during last season’s Manchester City 3-2 QPR match for Fox Soccer, where Sergio Aguero scored a late title-clinching winner for City.

4. Steve Wilson, BBC

Wilson has often been overlooked for the biggest games on Match of the Day in favour of the much-maligned Guy Mowbray, but his commentary style is perhaps the clearest of them all. He has the ability to keep up with play using quick, engaging and efficient language, and rarely makes mistakes.

3. Martin Tyler, Sky Sports

Head honcho of Sky’s commentary team, Tyler’s career has spanned across numerous eras of football. Usually understated and reserving his enthusiasm for the biggest Premier League and European games, Tyler’s most famous piece of commentary came in Manchester United’s 3-2 win over Aston Villa in 2009, where 17-year-old Federico “Machedaaaaaa!” scored a last-gasp winner.

2. John Motson, BBC

“Motty” is the godfather of commentary. Having retired from calling the action at international tournaments, Motson typically covers games in London for Match of the Day. He is nudged down from the top spot due to what many critics have correctly said about his increasingly frail and error-laden commentary – but that should not detract from the 67-year-old’s marvellous career.

1. Jonathan Pearce, BBC

Pearce beats his famed BBC colleague to top spot by virtue of some memorable and flawless commentary. Without doubt the BBC’s finest live commentator, some of the most enjoyable work in his career came in 2001 during England’s 5-1 ‘Müllering’ of Germany in Munich, where he worked for Capital Gold Sport. The line “England have gone naff in Germany!” was just one of many gems that night.

And now, the bad (and in Mark Lawrenson’s case, the ugly):

10. Guy Mowbray, BBC

It is baffling to many armchair and pub viewers alike why Guy Mowbray continues to be awarded the biggest gigs in football commentary. He cannot bring himself to make a definitive judgement on many controversial incidents and he is usually off the pace with his languid and dull style. He should be afforded some respite from his many critics for his famous “Agueroooooooo” line in the climax to the 2011-12 Premier League season.

9. Chris Waddle, ESPN

Waddle is not shy of making criticisms of current players, but when you are responsible for one of the most painful moments in English football history, you can hardly hide. Alongside Champion at ESPN, he has a tendency to state the obvious and offers tired, useless analysis of live matches.

8. Alan Green, BBC 5Live

Green is another opinionated commentator who has drawn criticism from far and wide. His style is actually listenable and articulate, but he lets himself down by hovering over his criticisms of players for too long – often to the detriment of his output.

7. Robbie Savage, BBC 5Live

Savage has cultivated a punditry career seemingly out of thin air. He certainly uses up a lot of air too, with his frenzied commentary style for 5Live, and offers little or no original analysis. He has also become the voice of 5Live’s 606, which is the perfect place for his dim comments to be hidden amongst others.

6. Craig Burley, ESPN

One of the more enjoyable co-commentators on the list, Burley gets onto the bad side due to his unprofessional nature. He is often guilty of bullying Champion during live matches and, given Champion’s well-respected and insightful commentary, his obvious misplaced dislike for his colleague makes him appear in a bad light.

5. Steve Bower, BBC

Currently being groomed by the BBC for a commentary place in football’s biggest arenas, Bower is unworthy of such a privilege. He rarely gets enthused by big moments in matches and has a distinctly monotone style which feels out of place on Match of the Day.

4. Martin Keown, BBC

Making the grade for the BBC’s Euro 2012 coverage, Keown should count himself lucky that the Beeb ignore the hundreds of tweets about his commentary every time he picks up a co-commentators mic. Littering his calls with errors, mispronunciation and recycled clichés, Keown’s commentary is every bit as cringeworthy as his punditry.

3. Andy Townsend, ITV

There are few plastic Irishmen in this world, and if they are all like Andy Townsend, I hope none of them get a commentary job in their lives. Constantly stating the obvious, Townsend’s only redeeming feature is that he is not afraid to say if a player is offside, rather than the usual “it’s marginal” sitting-on-the-fence attitude.

2. Mark Lawrenson, BBC

“Lawro”, or rather, ‘LOL-o’ is prone to making awful puns and jokes during live commentary for the BBC. A fond wearer of revolting shirts and a model of the balding mullet, a tirade of abuse was directed his way during the Euro 2012 final for what the Twittersphere correctly perceived to be an abhorrent lesson in commentary. That he was partnered with Mowbray for the same match caused many viewers to switch over to ITV or Flog It on BBC2.

1. Mark Bright, BBC

I have no doubt that ‘Brighty’ is a nice enough bloke, but his commentary is useless. He deflates rather than inspires, confuses rather than enlightens and, more importantly, bores rather than delights. It is perhaps testament to the dearth of co-commentating depth-in-strength possessed by the BBC that Bright continues to journey to World Cups and European Championships. Bright is the strongest reason to ditch ex-player co-commentators, but if we didn’t have them, over half of this list would be null and void and I would not be blogging. So thanks Mark, it appears you do have a use after all.