Liam Beglan

Liam Beglan has 22 articles published.

2022 SPORT HIGHLIGHTS – HIGHS AND LOWS OF THE YEAR SO FAR…

in Features/Sport Insight

JANUARY

3rd:

Darts supplied the year’s first world champion when Scot Peter “Snakebite” Wright won his second PDC World Open title and with it a cool half-a-million quid when beating Michael Smith 7-5 in the final at Alexandra Palace, London.

16th:

Australia complete a 4-0 humiliation of an abject England side in the Ashes cricket series Down Under.

29th:

Ash Barty thrilled an ecstatic Melbourne Rod Laver Arena when she became the first home  player since 1978 to win the Australia Ladies Open, beating American Danielle Collins in straight sets in the final.

30th:

Rafael Nadal roared back from two sets down to overcome Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in an epic 5hr-24min Australia Men’s Open final, giving the 35-year-old Spaniard a record 21st slam. Sadly, the tournament will probably be best remembered for the deportation of unvaccinated defending champion Novak Djokovic.

FEBRUARY

6th:
Round One of rugby’s Six Nations sees Scotland retain the Calcutta Cup, controversially edging out England 20-17 at Murrayfield.

13th:
Los Angeles Rams grab victory from the jaws of defeat courtesy of a last-minute Touchdown to pip Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 in a thrilling NFL Super Bowl final.

20th:
The charming sport of Curling supplied Team GB’s total tally of two medals in the Beijing Winter Olympics, with gold coming in the Women’s final to add to the silver gained in the Men’s event the previous day.

27th:
The Carabao Cup Final between Liverpool and Chelsea produced a pulsating 0-0 draw with the Men from the Mersey clinching victory 11-10 in a bottom-clenching penalty shootout.

March

4th:
Australia and the world of cricket recoiled in disbelief at the news of the sudden death at age 52 of Shane Warne, universally acclaimed as the world’s best-ever spin bowler, following on from the passing of another Aussie cricket legend Rodney Marsh, aged 74, just a few hours earlier.

18th:
Rachael Blackmore became the first female rider to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup when guiding A Plus Tard to victory, the historic event coming just three days after the Tipperary girl retained the Champion Hurdle crown aboard Honeysuckle at the festival.

19th:
France clinched the Grand Slam when comfortably brushing England aside in the Six Nations Championship in Paris, while Ireland lifted the Triple Crown when routing Scotland in Dublin.

23rd:
Reigning world number one and holder of both the Australian and British Open titles Ash Barty shocked the tennis world by announcing her retirement from the game at the tender age of 25.

26th:
Robert Milkins pocketed the £50,000 first prize when he beat Kyren Wilson 4-2 in an all-English final of the Gibraltar Snooker Open at the Europa Sports Complex.

April

9th:
Ridden by amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, Irish-trained surprise packet Noble Yeats won the Aintree Grand National at odds of 50/1.

10th:
Scottie Scheffler lived up to his world number one ranking when easily winning the US Masters at Augusta, the 25-year old American donning the famous green jacket and trousering  an eye-watering first prize of 2.7 million dollars.

May

2nd:
‘Rocket  Ronnie’ O’Sullivan pocketed his seventh World Snooker Championship title and half-a-million sterling when easily snookering Judd Trump 18-13 at The Crucible, Sheffield. 

14th:
It was deja vu on the double as Liverpool added the FA Cup to their Carabao triumph, with Chelsea again succumbing in the final, and once more the tie was decided only after a tense penalty-shootout, which the Men in Red won 6-5.

18th:
Heartbreak for Rangers in the Europa League Final, when the Glasgow giants were pipped in a penalty shootout by German side Eintracht Frankfurt.

22nd:
Manchester City clinched their sixth Premier League title in spectacular fashion, coming from two goals down against Aston Villa to win 3-2 and consigning arch-rivals Liverpool to the runners-up spot.

28th:
More misery for Liverpool as the Mersey men falter in the Champions League Final in Paris, cruelly losing 1-0 to Real Madrid, despite totally dominating the game, but unable to beat inspired ‘keeper Courtois.

29th:
Racing legend Lester Piggott, the greatest jockey of all time, dies in a Geneva hospital, aged 86.

June

5th:
Wales seal their place at the Qatar 2022 World Cup finals, beating Ukraine 1-0 in playoff at the Cardiff City Stadium.

12th:
Legendary Wales rugby union flyhalf Phil Bennett passed away, aged 73.

19th:
Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick, 27, wins the US Golf Open at Brookline Massachusetts.

July

3rd:
Spain’s Carlos Sainz triumphs in a thrilling F1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

9th:
Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina came from a set down to beat Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur in the Wimbledon Ladies final.

10th:
Super Serb Novak Djokovic captures his seventh Wimbledon Men’s title, comfortably seeing off the challenge of volatile Aussie Nick Kyrgios.

17th:
Australian golfing sensation Cameron Smith won the 150th British Open at St Andrews, thrillingly coming from four shots down on the final day to lift the Claret Jug.

31st:

England were crowned UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 champions with a dramatic 2-1 extra-time victory against Germany to win their first major title in front of a record crowd. 


Nothing could separate the sides after a physical first half, before Ella Toone’s outrageous chip put England ahead and blew the roof off Wembley. 


Germany found themselves back in it 17 minutes later though, as Lina Magull finally got past a stoic Mary Earps to take the game to extra-time. 


But substitute Chloe Kelly provided the decisive goal on 110 minutes, poking home from close-range before wheeling away in celebration in front of 87,192 fans. 

August

6th:
Premier League football kicks off earlier than usual because of the mid-season suspension owing to the Qatar World Cup. At time of writing I’m deliriously happy because my beloved Arsenal proudly sit atop the table, a full five points clear of nearest pursuer, defending champions Man City.

September

8th
The sporting world united in grief at the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

11th:
Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaras, a mere 19, captures the US Men’s Tennis Singles title, beating Norway’s Casper Ruud in the all-European final in New York.

23rd:
Not a dry eye in the house, among the ladies anyway, as Roger Federer confirms his retirement after defeat in Laver Cup doubles with his close friend Rafael Nadal, a stubborn knee injury forcing the elegant Swiss to call an end to his stellar career.

October

9th:
Max Verstappen clinches his second  F1 championship when winning the Japan Grand Prix.

November

12th:
Heartbreak for England Women as they lose a dramatic Rugby Union World Cup Final 34-31 to New Zealand at Eden Park.

13th:
Better news next day as England triumph Down Under in Melbourne, when the Red Roses pruned Pakistan, comfortably capturing the T20 World Cup for the second time.

Qatar World Cup: November 20 – December 18

Another World Cup, this time it’s the turn of the footy boys to travel, and as I write the Wales and England teams are airborne, enroute to their date with destiny in the Middle East –  we wish both squads well  in their quest for glory.

FIFA World Cup – Qatar 2022

in Features

High Hopes

Santa will bring home World Cup this Christmas

QATAR WORLD CUP 2022 promises to be like no previous celebration of the beautiful game – hold on to your hats, and your wives as, for the first time ever, Match of the Day clashes with the Christmas shopping, with the tournament roaring into life on Sunday 20th November and the final scheduled to take place on Sunday
18th December, a week before Santa Claus comes calling.

The potential for disruption to household harmony looms large over this festive period, with blanket TV coverage of the footy extravaganza, often covering four matches daily, all at pub-friendly hours, clashing with Jingle Bells and Slade belting out “Merry Christmas Everyone” just as mummy and daddy are queueing up in Morrison’s, Mark’s & Sparks, Emporium et al, scouring Irishtown in an attempt to lighten Santa’s load.

 Women can be strange creatures, one or two I’ve known don’t even like football, indeed I’ve had first hand experience of this curious condition when working for the Guardian newspaper in London many years ago. Stuck in a small editorial room that boasted just the one telly, I was settling down to watch England vs Italy in a World Cup quarter-final when a lady, much more senior than I, pulled rank and insisted that she wanted to watch The Antiques Road Show instead!

Aghast, I hastily left the building and enjoyed the game along with quaffing several pints of cider in the Betsey Trotwood pub across the road. So, my tip to harried hubbies on how to avoid marital conflict and prevent possible blood on the carpet, is to bung the little woman an extra few quid for the prezzies and, unfettered by any feminine distractions, off to the pub with you and enjoy the game without any interruptions, amid friendly fellow footy fans.

Featuring 32 of the world’s greatest football nations, split into eight qualifying groups of four, hopes are high that the two British qualifiers, Wales and England, drawn together in Group B with two lesser lights United States and Iran, can go far in this tournament, the 22nd running of the world’s greatest sporting event. The top two teams from each of the eight groups go through to the last 16 knockout stage.

Quite how Qatar came to be chosen to host football’s most hallowed event is still shrouded in mystery – the tiny Middle East country, population less than three million, with no football tradition whatsoever and at time of event allocation with no suitable stadia, successfully saw off bids from established soccer nations, including United States, Japan and Australia.

Suffice to say, the application of cash in unimaginable amounts worked the oracle, with the identity of the recipients remaining a secret, at least for the time being, no doubt with some eminent FIFA  and national football figures, a few rumour has it, hailing from quite close to home, looking nervously over their shoulders, fearful of what dark deeds may be revealed in the unlikely event that a genuine forensic investigation into Qatar’s successful bid is launched.

Adding to the puzzle is that football’s holy grail has for the first time been switched to a European winter schedule – an attempt to counter the searing 40°c summer heat of Middle Eastern sun – a remedy that has necessitated the suspension of major domestic and continental football leagues. Phew, those brown envelopes must have been very bulky indeed!

The action kicks off on Sunday 20th November when hosts Qatar take on Ecuador while domestic neighbours Wales and England join the fray a day later, when the Men from the Valleys face the United States and the Three Lions do battle with Iran. The bookies appear to have written off any chance of the Taffs lifting the cup, quoting rather insulting odds of 150/1 on that possibility, while England are priced at a very skinny-looking 7/1.

Wales ended a 64-year drought when qualifying for the finals via a 1-0 play-off victory over Ukraine and should certainly not be underestimated – star players, potent striker Gareth Bale and midfield dynamo Aaron Ramsey can cause chaos to any defence, and it will be disappointing if they fail to make the last 16. The recent addition of true great 73-cap Wales and Liverpool legend Ian Rush to the backroom staff as ambassador and advisor more than compensates for the loss of one-time manager and self-confessed sex addict, the very troubled Ryan Giggs.

England qualified for the finals with consummate ease, and were cruelly pipped on penalties by Italy in the Euros final, but the long honeymoon Gareth Southgate has enjoyed with the fans screeched to a halt with the Three Lions suffering a 4-0 Nations League trashing by Hungary at Wolverhampton – the worst home defeat since 1928. Gentleman Gareth may wow granny with his three-piece suit and sartorial elegance, but the boos that rang round Molineux on that astonishing June night mean he is now under pressure like never before.

England have the individuals talented enough to claim the crown – Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane are two world-class warriors capable of bagging bagfuls of goals but, sadly, the defence is just as adept at conceding similar amounts. So Gareth, tighten up the rearguard and with Kane and Sterling wreaking their usual havoc up front, it won’t prove to be an impossible dream, and the World Cup will be tucked snugly in Santa’s sack this Christmas!


Complete guide to Qatar tournament

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is rapid approaching and fans around the world are getting prepared to watch every second of the biggest single sporting event in the world.

World renowned stars like Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar are set to strut their stuff in the first ever World Cup to be held in the Arab world.

Here’s everything you need to know about the World Cup’s history and the upcoming tournament in the Middle East. 

What is the World Cup?

Hold on, this is too easy. Everyone knows that. Yes and no. Just like boiling an egg, you may know but do you really know? 

The FIFA World Cup is an international football tournament contested by men’s senior national teams of members of FIFA.

Qualifying rounds take place in the years leading up to each tournament. They are held in FIFA’s six continental zones – Africa, Asia, North and Central America and the Caribbean, South America, Oceania, and Europe – with the amount of qualifying spots given to each zone decided by FIFA.

Host nations have received automatic qualification for each World Cup finals tournament since the 1938 World Cup. Champions are still required to qualify for each tournament.

World Cup history

The international governing body FIFA was officially created in 1904 in Paris and by 1930 every affiliated country had been invited to compete in the first ever World Cup that year. It was hosted in Uruguay and subsequently had more South American sides competing than nations from Europe – only Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia travelled across the sea.

The tournament grew from 13 participating teams to 16 in 1934, where Italy won in their homeland before retaining their title four years later in France.

The planned 1942 and 1946 World Cups were cancelled due to World War II but the tournament returned in 1950, where inaugural hosts Uruguay collected the most points from the final round to win the trophy.

World Cups have been played every four years ever since, with nations Brazil, England, Germany, France, Argentina and Spain all winning the competition in that time.

World Cup winners

1930 – Uruguay 4-2 Argentina

1934 – Italy 2-1 Czechoslovakia (AET)

1938 – Italy 4-2 Hungary

1950 – Uruguay 2-1 Brazil

1954 – West Germany 3-2 Hungary

1958 – Brazil 5-2 Sweden

1962 – Brazil 3-1 Czechoslovakia

1966 – England 4-2 West Germany (AET)

1970 – Brazil 4-1 Italy

1974 – West Germany 2-1 the Netherlands

1978 – Argentina 3-1 the Netherlands

1982 – Italy 3-1 West Germany

1986 – Argentina 3-2 West Germany

1990 – West Germany 1-0 Argentina

1994 – Brazil 0-0 Italy (3-2 on penalties)

1998 – France 3-0 Brazil

2002 – Brazil 2-0 Germany

2006 – Italy 1-1 France (5-3 on penalties)

2010 – Spain 1-0 the Netherlands (AET)

2014 – Germany 1-0 Argentina (AET)

2018 – France 4-2 Croatia

World Cup rules

Substitutions

12 substitutes can be named by managers for each World Cup game. An additional swap can be made when a match goes to extra time, regardless of whether a team has made their full quota of permitted subs already.

Suspensions

Players who are sent off are banned outright for one game – this applies to both straight red cards and accumulation of yellows. Two bookings in separate games result in a one-game suspension.

Yellow cards are then wiped out at the quarter-final stage.

Offside rule

This one is best explained by your mate in the pub after a couple of refreshing ales while watching a game. He’ll be right, obviously. 

World Cup highest goalscorers

Miroslav Klose became the greatest goalscorer in World Cup finals history in 2014, when he overtook Ronaldo’s 15 goals to reach 16 for Germany.

The only current player in the top 15 is Thomas Muller, who has netted ten times for Germany on the biggest stage.

Miroslav Klose (Germany) – 16

Ronaldo (Brazil) – 15

Gerd Muller (West Germany) – 14

Just Fontaine (France) – 13

Pele (Brazil) – 12

Sandor Kocsis (Hungary) – 11

Jurgen Klinsmann (West Germany, Germany) – 11

Helmut Rahn (West Germany) – 10

Gary Lineker (England) – 10

Gabriel Batistuta (Argentina) – 10

Teofilo Cubillas (Peru) – 10

Thomas Muller (Germany) – 10

Grzegorz Lato (Poland) – 10

Eusebio (Portugal) – 9

Christian Vieri (Italy) – 9

World Cup Golden Ball winners

The Golden Ball award is given to the best player at a World Cup and was first awarded in 1982, when Paolo Rossi’s six goals took Italy to victory in Spain.

Legendary icons like Diego Maradona, Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have all been named the best player at a tournament, with the most recent winner being Luka Modric as Croatia reached the final in 2018.

1982 – Paolo Rossi (Italy)

1986 – Diego Maradona (Argentina)

1990 – Salvatore Schillaci (Italy)

1994 – Romario (Brazil)

1998 – Ronaldo (Brazil)

2002 – Oliver Kahn (Germany)

2006 – Zinedine Zidane (France)

2010 – Diego Forlan (Uruguay)

2014 – Lionel Messi (Argentina)

2018 – Luka Modric (Croatia)

The contenders for this year may well include Messi and Modric again, though stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Kevin De Bruyne and Neymar will be in contention if their respective nations go deep into the tournament.

Best Young Player award

The Best Young Player award is given to the best performing young player at a World Cup tournament. It was first officially awarded in 2006, when Lukas Podolski scooped the trophy.

FIFA retrospectively named the best young players at old tournaments via an internet survey.

1958 – Pele (Brazil)

1962 – Florian Albert (Hungary)

1966 – Franz Beckenbauer (West Germany)

1970 – Teofilo Cubillas (Peru)

1974 – Wladyslaw Zmuda (Poland)

1978 – Antonio Cabrini (Italy)

1982 – Manuel Amoros (France)

1986 – Enzo Scifo (Belgium)

1990 – Robert Prosinecki (Yugoslavia)

1994 – Marc Overmars (the Netherlands)

1998 – Michael Owen (England)

2002 – Landon Donovan (USA)

2006 – Lukas Podolski (Germany)

2010 – Thomas Muller (Germany)

2014 – Paul Pogba (France)

2018 – Kylian Mbappe (France)

World Cup Golden Boot winners

The Golden Boot – previously called the Golden Shoe – is awarded to the top scorer of any given World Cup. Records show the top scorers for early World Cups, but the award wasn’t officially introduced until 1982.

If there is a tie for top scorer with the same number of goals, the tie-breaker is fewer goals scored from penalties. It is then decided on who has more assists. If there is still a tie, the tie-breaker is playing the least amount of time.

1930 – Guillermo Stabile (Argentina) – 8

1934 – Oldrich Nejedly (Czechoslovakia) – 5

1938 – Leonidas (Brazil) – 7

1950 – Ademir (Brazil) – 8

1954 – Sandor Kocsis (Hungary) – 11

1958 – Just Fontaine (France) – 13

1962 –
Florian Albert (Hungary), Valentin Ivanov (Soviet Union), Garrincha (Brazil), Vava (Brazil), Drazan Jerkovic (Yugoslavia), Leonel Sanchez (Chile) – 4

1966 – Eusebio (Portugal) – 9

1970 – Gerd Muller (West Germany) – 10

1974 – Grzegorz Lato (Poland) – 7

1978 – Mario Kempes (Argentina) – 6

1982 – Paolo Rossi (Italy) – 6

1986 – Gary Lineker (England) – 6

1990 – Salvatore Schillaci (Italy) – 6

1994 –
Oleg Salenko (Russia), Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria) – 6

1998 – Davor Suker (Croatia) – 6

2002 – Ronaldo (Brazil) – 8

2006 – Miroslav Klose (Germany) – 5

2010 – Thomas Muller (Germany) – 5

2014 – James Rodriguez (Colombia) – 6

2018 – Harry Kane (England) – 6

Harry Kane won the Golden Boot in Russia and will be among the favourites for the prize this winter. However, Mbappe and compatriot Karim Benzema are just two of the premier goalscorers Kane will have to fend off to be top scorer.

Dark horses include the likes of Vinicius Junior, Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku.

World Cup Golden Glove winners

The Golden Glove is awarded to the best goalkeeper at a World Cup tournament. It was initially called the Lev Yashin Award in 1994, but was later retitled in 2010. The decision is made by the FIFA Technical Study Group.

1994 – Michel Preud’homme (Belgium)

1998 – Fabien Barthez (France)

2002 – Oliver Kahn (Germany)

2006 – Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)

2010 – Iker Casillas (Spain)

2014 – Manuel Neuer (Germany)

2018 – Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)

Thibaut Courtois is the current Golden Glove holder and has arguably been the in-form goalkeeper of the last two years, enjoying great success with Real Madrid at club level. Brazil are expected to reach the late stages of the tournament, so expect Alisson to be in contention.

World Cup most finals appearances

Germany legend Lothar Matthaus has
made more appearances at men’s World Cup finals than any other player with 25.

Lothar Matthaus
(West Germany,
Germany) – 25

Miroslav Klose (Germany) – 24

Paolo Maldini (Italy) – 23

Diego Maradona (Argentina) – 21

Uwe Seeler (West Germany) – 21

Lionel Messi ought to break into the top ten this year, with the Paris Saint-Germain wizard currently sat on 19 games.

How was Qatar given the World Cup?

Oh, where to start? It all depends who you speak to and how far down that rabbit hole you want to go. 

In breif, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani was the chairman of Qatar’s bid committee. Their bid received an endorsement from Real Madrid and France legend Zinedine Zidane, who said “now it is time for the Middle East” to host a World Cup.

However, the compact nature of the country and the ferocious heat seemed to make the bid appear fanciful. Qatar promoted their bid as a way of bridging the Arab and Western worlds, though human rights crimes that are still prevalent today also caused a lot of criticism.

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter then endorsed a Middle East World Cup, praising Qatar’s infrastructure and their hosting of the 2006 Asian Games.

In December 2010, it was announced the 22 executive committee members had voted to award the 2022 edition to Qatar, who had appealed to FIFA to take a “bold gamble” in bringing the World Cup to previously unchartered territory.

Local laws in Qatar

Fans travelling to Qatar have been advised to learn about the customs of the nation, with different views present on clothing, alcohol and human rights issues.

It is illegal to drink or be drunk in Qatar, though some relaxation of this law will be in force for the 2022 World Cup. Aside from expected fan zones, alcohol can only be purchased at specially licensed premises.

Why is the World Cup in November and December?

Qatar’s summer heats make a European summer World Cup impossible, as it can hit 50 degrees. Instead, the club season will break up in November and teams will travel over to the Middle East to play the tournament in a reduced timeframe.

2022 World Cup host cities & stadiums

All eight stadiums are situated in a 21-mile radius of central Doha and are powered by solar panels farms. They are also equipped with detailed cooling systems to ensure things don’t get too hot.

Lusail Iconic Stadium – Lusail

Al Bayt Stadium – Al Khor

Education City Stadium – Al Rayyan

Al Rayyan Stadium – Al Rayyan

Al Janoub Stadium – Al-Wakrah

Ras Abu Aboud Stadium – Doha

Al Thumama Stadium – Doha

Khalifa International Stadium

Where is the 2022 World Cup final?

The final is scheduled for Friday 18 December – coincidentally Qatar National Day – and will be played at Lusail Iconic Stadium, which has a capacity of 80,000.

2022 World Cup fixtures

A total of 64 games will be played throughout the tournament, beginning with Qatar vs Ecuador in the tournament’s curtain-raiser.

Among the spicier encounters in the group stage will be Argentina vs Mexico – a staple fixture at World Cups – the European clash between heavyweights Spain and Germany, and Iran vs the United States, a match with added tension due to their complex geo-political relationship.

2022 World Cup kits

Not every World Cup kit for the 2022 tournament has been released, but almost every country has confirmed at least one shirt design.

Mexico’s away kit is a thing of beauty while Ecuador have also earned some rave reviews, but Belgium’s year five disco flame shirt and Portugal’s awful split-screen top have gone down like led balloons.

2022 World Cup players to watch

Wow, where do we even start? Again we are sure your mate at the pub will have the best insight but here are our picks. 

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo may not be seen as the two outright top players in the world anymore but both likely know this may well be their final chance for World Cup glory.

France are stacked with stars like Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba, while individual stars like Son Heung-min, Gareth Bale and Sadio Mane will be hoping to lead their sides on surprise runs to the knockout stages.

2022 World Cup mascot

The mascot for the 2022 World Cup is La’eeb, a “fun and mischievous character who comes from the mascot-verse, a parallel world where all tournament mascots live,” according to FIFA.

They also say La’eeb has attended every previous World Cup tournament and has “contributed to some of the most famous moments in football history, including a number of iconic goals”.

We’re not totally convinced.

2022 World Cup ball

FIFA and adidas have confirmed the new Al Rihla ball will be used at this year’s World Cup in Qatar. ‘Al Rihla’ translates as ‘the journey’ and a strong emphasis on speed was placed on the ball’s creation.

It is also the first World Cup ball to be made exclusively with water-based inks and glues.


Facts & Stats!

The world’s most popular sporting competition pits 32 teams against each other across 64 matches for an entire month of non-stop football action. As if that’s not enough, there are many reasons why the Qatar 2022 World Cup will be unlike any other. Not to mention that it’s the first genuinely global post-pandemic football tournament.

To help prepare you for all that’s to come, here are some interesting facts about the FIFA Qatar 2022 World Cup,

The First Winter FIFA World Cup Ever

FIFA World Cup tournaments traditionally occur throughout June and July, which is summer in the Northern Hemisphere. However, as the first World Cup in the Arab world, the organisers had to make concessions due to the scorching summer temperatures in the region.

While summer temperatures peak at around 50c, winter is much more comfortable, with averages between 4c to 29c. 

Costliest World Cup

With estimates ranging up to £138 billion (US$220 billion) in infrastructure investments, Qatar is the costliest World Cup to date. That’s nearly 10x more than the next most expensive World Cups, Brazil (£11.6 billion) and Russia (£14.2 billion). This is partly because Qatar is building seven brand new stadiums from scratch. It’s also nearly 64x the $3.5 billion South Africa invested in its World Cup.

Fewest Stadiums

With eight total, the Qatar 2022 World Cup will take place in the smallest number of stadiums of any previous World Cup. Seven of the eight stadiums were built entirely from scratch, while the only existing stadium was massively renovated.

The stadiums include:

• Al Bayt Stadium 


Khalifa International Stadium


Al Thumama Stadium

• Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium


Lusail Stadium – the largest
stadium with a capacity of 80,000

• Stadium 974

• Education City Stadium

• Al Janoub Stadium

Largest Number of Potential Visitors

Situated in the Arabic Peninsula, Qatar is an established travel hub and centrally located between most major geographic regions. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the country expects to welcome the largest influx of over 1 million international spectators. It’s estimated that 1,300 incoming flights will land in the country daily throughout the competition.

First World Cup in the Middle-East

Qatar will be the first Middle-Eastern country to host the FIFA World Cup and only the second in all of Asia. The last time the FIFA World Cup visited a new region was South Africa (Africa) in 2010.

Smallest Host Country

Qatar is the smallest host country to host the FIFA World Cup by land size and population. Qatar only covers 11,571 km, making it smaller than the whole of New York City. The population is only 2.881 million. The next smallest FIFA World Cup host is Uruguay, with a land size of 176,215 km and a population of roughly 3.5 million.

Only 90 miles separate Qatar’s two stadiums that are the furthest from each other – Al Bayt and Al Wakrah. What’s more, all of the World Cup stadiums are interconnected by the Doha Metro line.

Alcohol Availability During the World Cup

As a highly conservative Muslim country, there were plenty of concerns regarding alcohol available during the World Cup. While alcohol will not be available in stadiums, Qatar has set up alcohol-friendly “fan zones” throughout the country. Alcohol sold in fan zones will also be less expensive than what’s typical for Qatar.

All Stadiums Equipped with Central Air-Conditioning

Although the Qatar 2022 World Cup takes place in winter, the host country is situated in a sub-tropical climate in one of the hottest regions in the world. Temperatures will still peak in the high 20s on most days. While December is one of the coolest months in Qatar, it’s also generally the most humid.

So, it’s no surprise that all of Qatar’s brand new stadiums will feature central air-conditioning. Each stadium will require about 115 MWh per game for cooling. That translates to roughly 43,560 household air conditioners per stadium or a whole lot of industrial fans.

South America’s Longest Streak Without a World Cup Win?

If no South American team manages to win the 2022 World Cup, it will be the continent’s longest title drought. Uruguay (1930, 1950), Brazil (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, and 2002), and Argentina (1978, 1986) have all previously won a FIFA World Cup. The previous record was 20 years between 1950 and 1970. With Brazil having last won the World Cup in 2002, this is South America’s last chance to avoid a new record.

Nearly 12,000 Door Mats are Needed to Cover a Single Football Pitch

According to FIFA, the legal pitch dimensions for international matches is between 100m and 110m in length and 64m to 75m in width. That means you’ll require roughly 11,984 standard entrance mats to cover one regulation-size football pitch.

You Need Almost 8,000 Cans of Line Marking Spray to Mark All Qatar’s Football Pitches

Each FIFA-regulation football pitch has nearly 735.09m of lines that need marking. On the other hand, each can of line marking spray has the capacity to create 50m-90m of 50mm lines. You need 120 cans of PROline to mark all Qatar’s pitches once and 7680 cans to cover the tournament if you remark a pitch after every game!

How many bathtubs of water are needed per day to maintain the football pitches?

Due to the arid conditions, Qatar’s football pitches need more water [4] than usual to maintain. Each pitch needs about 10,000 litres of desalinated water daily to keep the grass lush and green. That’s 17,597.5 pints or 100 bathtubs (filled halfway) of desalinated water.

Most Expensive Match Tickets of Any World Cup

Unsurprisingly, considering the cost of the tournament, the 2022 FIFA World Cup will have some of the highest ticket prices ever [5]. The most expensive final tickets will cost 5,850 Qatari riyals (£1,179), up 46% from the £807 for the 2018 final in Russia. The cheapest will be available for £513.34. Group matches will start at £58.64 pounds for foreigners, while the opening match starts at £302. Qatari citizens will enjoy a discounted rate of as low as £8 for group matches.


Ranked Best Qatar Kit

1. Ecuador

Left field choice but Ecuador’s handsome navy changed comes in at #1.

Patterns can make or break a kit. Here, the subtle colors in the grey badge, along with the smooth shades of blue makes this a winner. 

It’s hard to make a home shade of yellow easy on the eyes, but they’ve knocked this out of the park. The accompanying red and blue shades, plus the revamped national crest, are a sweet touch.

2. Japan

A World Cup just isn’t a World Cup without a) Japan competing, and b) Japan looking stylish.

Their 2022 home strip is one that will probably be worth about £300 in years to come. Just look at it.

3. Mexico

This kit makes me wish I was Mexican.

The beauty of national kits is you can throw so many colours and patterns together without worrying about giant sponsors ruining the shirt – adidas have utilised this creative licence to perfection. I will be ordering eight Mexico away kits immediately. 

The green is back after going missing for a year so all is right with the world! 

4. GERMANY

You can always rely on adidas to sort Germany out with top kit for major tournaments.

Their home kit feels a bit too Ajax/PSG meh, but the changed strip just looks like one of a team that is going to smash the World Cup final 4-0.


Ranked Worst Qatar Kit

1. BELGIUM

Belgium are threatening to bring the game into disrepute by rocking up to the biggest sporting event in the world dressed like they’re heading to a year 5 disco.

It’s not big, it’s not clever and no one is impressed. 

2. SWITZERLAND

You know things are bad when a Switzerland kit isn’t a big plus.

Boom, Boom. I’m here all week.

Anyway, their changed strip for the World Cup looks like a FIFA 98 loading screen. And not in a good, nostalgic way.

3. Netherlands

Things the Netherlands home top looks like:

  • Velvet 
  • Those cushions with reversible fur when you swipe your hand across it
  • An old rug from the 1980s

Things the Netherlands away top doesn’t look like:

– A Netherlands home top

4. USA

Nice try, Nike. American fans aren’t going to be more interested in ‘soccer’ just because you made their shirt look like a NFL jersey. Looks a like a
 training jersey at best. 


World cup Quiz!

It’s getting close, the 2022 World Cup is now just days away.

A likely last hurrah on the World Cup stage awaits superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, while new names will break through and rising talent will be put to the test.

Many of us pride ourselves on remembering World Cup trivia from past tournaments, but just how good is your knowledge?

The First

1.
Name the English boss who at Qatar 2022 will become the first to coach a team at both the men’s and women’s World Cups?

2.
Gregg Berhalter will become the first man to serve as player and manager of the USA at the World Cup. He appeared at the 2002 tournament and is now boss of the American side. To which present-day Premier League club did Berhalter then belong, becoming their first World Cup player?

3.
Who became the first player to score a Golden Goal winner at the World Cup when he netted for France against Paraguay in a 1998 last-16 clash?

4.
 In the 2018 showdown between France and Croatia, who became the first player in World Cup final history to score for both teams?

5.
Qatar will attempt to become the first nation from the AFC confederation to win their first World Cup finals match. Ten of the previous 11 have lost (including Israel in 1970), but who were the team who in 1982 managed a 1-1 draw against Czechoslovakia?

6.
There have been 52 hat-tricks in the tournament’s history, but who was the last player to score a treble in the knockout stages of the World Cup?

The Last

7.
A goalkeeper won his 159th and final international cap at the 2018 finals, when he became the oldest player to appear at the World Cup, at the age of 45 years and 161 days. He saved a penalty in a 2-1 defeat for his team against Saudi Arabia. Who was that goalkeeper and what team did he play for?

8.
Ghana reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 2010 and Senegal did so at the 2002 finals. But who were the first team from Africa to make it to the last eight, doing so at the 1990 finals in Italy?

9.
Brazil last lost a group game at the World Cup in 1998, since when they have won 12 and drawn three games at the first-round stage. Which team beat them in that 1998 tournament?

10.
Cameroon have lost each of their past seven games at the World Cup (between 2002 and 2014). Only one team have ever lost more games in a row in the competition’s history – nine between 1930 and 1958. Who were that team?

The Most

11.
Just Fontaine scored his 13 World Cup goals in just six games for France. The competition’s all-time record scorer is Germany’s Miroslav Klose, who netted 16 times for his country in how many appearances: 22, 23 or 24?

12.
Who will become the only team to have appeared at all 22 editions of the World Cup when they take part in Qatar 2022?

13.
Iran will be making their sixth appearance at the World Cup and have never gone beyond the group stage. Which country has made the most appearances (eight) without making it past the first round?

14.
Which forward had the most goal involvements of all players in European qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, scoring 12 and assisting six times in 10 games?

15.
Since 1966, only three players have completed more than 12 dribbles in a single World Cup game, with Brazil’s Jairzinho achieving 13 against Paraguay in 1970 and Paul Gascoigne matching that total for England against Cameroon in 1990. Who managed the most – 15 in a game against Italy at the 1994 tournament?

The Goats

16.
Which superstar, who scored eight times and provided eight assists in 21 World Cup games, also holds the record for the most handball decisions given against a player at the tournament (seven) since records began?

17.
Who holds the record for the most minutes played in World Cup history, having featured in 2,216 minutes of finals action?

18.
Portugal great Cristiano Ronaldo is one of only four players to score in four different World Cup tournaments. He will attempt to go one better this year, but Ronaldo currently sits alongside Pele, Klose and which other player?

19.
Between them, Ronaldo (seven) and Lionel Messi (six) have managed 13 World Cup goals. How many of those goals came in the knockout rounds?

20.
Ronaldo is one of just two European players to have either scored and/or assisted a goal in each of the last five major international tournaments (World Cup/European Championship). Who is the other player to have managed the feat?


Denmark unveils World Cup jerseys that protest host Qatar

Black alt kits, faded logos will honour migrant workers who died during construction

Denmark will wear team jerseys at the World Cup that protest the human rights record of host nation Qatar, with a black option unveiled Wednesday to honour migrant workers who died during construction work for the tournament.

“The colour of mourning,” kit manufacturer Hummel said in a post on Instagram releasing the black third-choice design.

“While we support the Danish national team all the way, this shouldn’t be confused with support for a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives,” the company said.

The designs seem to complete a promise made by the Danish soccer federation last November to wear clothing with “critical messages” at the tournament in Qatar.

Though FIFA’s World Cup rules prohibit political statements on team uniform, the three Denmark shirt designs in all-red, all-white and all-black appear to comply with no words or symbols that are an explicit statement. The national team badge, Hummel logo and decorative white chevrons — a famous feature of the Denmark shirt since the 1980s — are faded into the same single colour as the shirt.

“We don’t wish to be visible during [the] tournament,” Hummel said. “We support the Danish national team all the way, but that isn’t the same as supporting Qatar as a host nation.”

Denmark, the world’s No. 10-ranked team which reached the European Championship semifinals last year, has been one of the 32 World Cup teams most likely to take a strong stance against Qatar.


Top 10 young Guns to watch in Qatar

The World Cup, is coming. Teams are preparing, fans are arriving and the excitement levels are rising.  

Let’s take a look at the top 10 youngsters that could shine in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

1. Nuno Mendes

National team: Portugal

Club: PSG

It would not be surprising to see this 19-year-old left-back at the center of attention with Portugal’s national team in Qatar due to his speed and technical skills.

Being linked with a number of top sides during the summer transfer window, the former Sporting star finally joined French giants PSG and is currently continuing his improvement with Mauricio Pochettino’s side.

2. Pedri

National team: Spain

Club: Barcelona

Spain’s national team has a bright future, having a number of young talents in the squad. One of them is Pedri who sparkles both at Barcelona and at the international level.

The 19-year-old magician is considered one of the best young midfielders of his time as he has already managed to show his class in major tournaments.

3. Jude Bellingham

National team: England

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Despite his young age, Bellingham is showing quality and is proving to be fit enough to play at a senior level.

The 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder was not given much playing time during the Euro 2020. However, Qatar 2022 could become the time for him to shine as England national team player.

4. Eduardo Camavinga

National team: France

Club: Real Madrid

Joining Real Madrid during the summer transfer window, this young star had an instant impact on Carlo Ancelotti’s team, scoring his first goal just on his debut day.

The 19-year-old’s impressive La Liga displays are another stimulus for the French youngster’s involvement in international games.

5. Rafael Leo

National team: Portugal

Club: AC Milan

Leão’s meteoric rise in the last few years has played a key role in his career as he now shines at the Serie A side AC Milan.

He joined the Portgual senior national team back in October 2021. His place in the World Cup squad could be booked if we continue to see his impressive performances.

6. Jamal Musiala

National team: Germany

Club: Bayern Munich

Previously playing in Chelsea academy and later in England national team, Musiala has now moved to Germany to continue his improvement in his birthplace.

The 19-year-old became Bayern Munich’s youngest-ever player in the Bundesliga at just 17 years and 115 days old, while now he has also gained his place in the Germany senior national team.

7. Gavi

National team: Spain

Club: Barcelona

Another rising star! His few displays for the Catalan giants Barcelona were enough to impress Spain’s national boss Luis Enrique. The latter believes that Gavi is the “future and present” of their country after the 17-year-old became Spain’s youngest ever player in the Nations League win over Italy.

8. Ryan Gravenberch

National team: The Netherlands

Club: Ajax

Ajax is home to a number of talented youngsters. The Dutch team’s academy players are among the most wanted footballers in Europe, and Gravenberch is not an exception.

Various top clubs, with the likes of Barcelona, Juventus, and Manchester United, have been already reportedly linked with the 20-year-old midfielder, whose skills are promising enough to play an important role in Qatar 2022.

9. Phil Foden

National team: England

Club: Manchester City

Both Manchester City and England have found their own future star – Phil Foden. 

Despite the latest struggle to enter Gareth Southgate’s first team, Foden is quite likely to be given the chance of showing his impressive skills and talent in the biggest football tournament in the world.

10. Ansu Fati

National team: Spain

Club: Barcelona

Barcelona Anfu Fati is back to the club after a long-term injury. The future is promising to be very magical for the Catalan giants’ new No 10, with the 19-year-old already showing the power of his play at the age of 18.

Fati plays for the Spain national team and there is a high probability that he will have his unique role in Luis Enrique’s plans for the World Cup.

QATAR WORLD CUP DOMINATES 2022

in Sport Insight

AND GIBRALTAR CELEBRATES NATIONS LEAGUE PROMOTION

Suffice to say the application of cash and liberal distribution of extra-large brown envelopes to recipients who continue to remain anonymous are rumoured to have played a part in Qatar getting the nod – a decision that has resulted in the tournament being switched from its traditional summer schedule and searing 48-centigrade degree heat to a much more manageable December climate, consequently effecting a mid-winter suspension of major European domestic football competitions – boy, those inducements must have been very bulky indeed!

Away from the less than fragrant whiff of politics and corruption and on to the playing field, England qualified for the finals with consummate ease and may yet be joined in April’s group draw by either Wales or Scotland who have been drawn in the same playoff pool with Austria and Ukraine, with just one nation progressing.

Red-hot World Cup action from Qatar’s seven newly built air-conditioned stadia in December, with kick-offs at boozer-friendly times of 16:00 and 20:00 (CET), mixed with the Christmas jingle bells is quite an intoxicating prospect, so lets get ready to rock and roll! Bung the missus an extra few quid for the shopping and get down the pub! 

FIFA 2022 Qatar World Cup

21st November – 18th December

ON THE HOME FRONT, pandemic permitting, Gibraltar can look forward to an exciting sports calendar, with football and darts topping the tasty menu.

Fresh from promotion to League C of the UEFA Nations League – a remarkable achievement that, sadly, received little fanfare, Julio César Ribas’s boys have been drawn in a far from formidable group containing Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Georgia, and the prospect of a positive points haul is much more realistic this time round than the recent World Cup campaign. Yes, Gibraltar’s Qatar 2022 qualification record of Played 10, Lost 10,  goals for 4, goals conceded 43, at first glance appears to be poor, but that would be a tad harsh as the opposition contained world superpower the Netherlands along with top class footy nations  Norway and Turkey, and there is little of that calibre to fear here.

The action kicks off with a helter-skelter schedule of four matches in June, starting with an away trip to Georgia, followed by two home ties when the visitors to the Victoria Stadium are North Macedonia and four days later group favourites Bulgaria come calling, with the fortnight’s frenetic action concluding with the reverse fixture to North Macedonia. Gibraltar will be seeking a first win against all three opponents, having played Georgia four times, North Macedonia twice and Bulgaria once, battling gamely but ultimately tasting defeat in all seven ties – but let’s not be too despondent, points can be gained in this group, especially in the home games.

Whatever the on-field results, the prime return for Gibraltar is continuing to introduce The Rock to the rest of the world through international competition – everybody is familiar with the Rock of Gibraltar – an iconic picture postcard destination that all have heard of but not that many have visited, a sun-kissed paradise, with a friendly populace eager to explore the wider world of sport, blessed with a first-class but sadly under-used airport. The curse of Covid has just delayed but definitely not derailed Visit Gibraltar, and sport continues to light the path in opening up hitherto seldom crossed frontiers.

Gibraltar’s 2022 UEFA Nations League
Fixtures

Thursday June 2nd Georgia v Gibraltar KO 17:00

Sunday June 5th Gibraltar v North Macedonia KO 17:00

Thursday June 9th Gibraltar v Bulgaria KO 19:45

Sunday June 12th North Macedonia v Gibraltar KO 17:00

Friday Sept 23rd  Bulgaria v Gibraltar KO 19:45

Monday Sept 26th Gibraltar v Georgia KO 19:45

THE PDC European Darts Tour reaches an exciting finale on the Rock next autumn when the world’s top-ranked arrowsmiths step up to the ‘oche’ in the Gibraltar Darts Trophy that is due to be staged at Victoria Stadium. 

World Number One and defending champion Gerwyn Price will be a short-priced favourite to retain the trophy and grab the lion’s share of the £140,000 prize fund, though the ex-rugby league star can expect stern slings and arrows from fellow Welshman Johnny Clayton, Dutch master “Mighty Mike” van Gerwen, Scottish duo Gary Anderson and Peter “The Parrot” Wright, plus Scouser and regular Rock visitor Stephen “The Bullet” Bunting.

A refreshing feature evident when the darts kingpins come visiting is their willingness to explore the Rock and mix freely with the locals, unlike stars of other sports who choose to stay aloof in their hotel rooms, often flying out immediately after their event has concluded. I well remember two years ago, Gerwyn Price, who a few months later would be crowned world champion, and who glories in the role of pantomime villain, sat at the bar in the Sports Arena, chatting amiably to everyone, and a few months ago, I was lucky enough to be in my local, The Quarterdeck Tavern, when Stephen Bunting wandered in with his charming family and regaled us for a couple of hours with derring-do tales from the world of darts. No prima donnas among these darting sharpshooters!

Gibraltar Darts Trophy

14-16th October – Victoria Stadium

AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS

in Features/Sport Insight

SOUTHERN BIG BOYS BACK ON EURO TOUR

NOVEMBER’S here and with the accompanying chill come the Autumn Internationals when rugby union’s southern hemisphere heavyweights, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, world-ranked 1-2-3 respectively, invade the British Isles with all guns blazing to remind uppity European nations just where the powerhouse of the sport burns brightest – the fulcrum that will never be extinguished despite the odd momentary flicker or two, an opportunity to reaffirm that any spark of an ascendancy-shift northwards is just another illusion, a dream destined to perish like so many before.

Reigning world champions South Africa embark on an ambitious and demanding schedule, starting with a visit to the Principality Stadium in Cardiff to lock horns with current Six Nations champions Wales, followed by a trip to Edinburgh to take on resurgent Calcutta Cup holders Scotland, and then it’s a repeat of the 2019 World Cup final, with Twickenham the amphitheatre, to go head to head with an England side thirsting for revenge, an opportunity to right that shameful 32-12 final collapse in Japan.

Memories of that tame surrender are still raw to this correspondent, having had a lumpy bet on Eddie Jones’ boys pre-tournament at odds of 8/1 to go all the way, and having disposed of the All Blacks in the semis, in my mind I had already banked the winnings, but, alas, for whatever reason England failed to turn up for the final and my once neatly folded and indexed betting slips finished up shredded, torn and tear-stained in the bin. Ouch, that pain still lingers!

South Africa start their tour of the UK buoyed by the summer series win over the visiting British and Irish Lions, a somewhat fortuitous 2-1 victory for the Boks that owed much to Lions’ coach Warren Gatland’s insistence on going head-to-head against the host’s power game rather than employ the famed running style that has long been the Lions trademark and has served them so well down the decades. Gatland’s strategy was obvious from pre-tour with the dizzying decision to leave Johnny Sexton, the world’s most creative flyhalf, at home in Dublin and then, inexplicably, as brutal onfield battle raged, to exile Owen Farrell, England’s fiercely combative captain, to the replacement bench.

With tough games over 14 days, opening with Wales on 6th November, eyeballing Scotland at Murrayfield a week later and then the Twickenham showdown, certainly no one can accuse South Africa of shirking any challenge on this tour, and a clean sweep for the Springboks over three of the home powerhouses would be catastrophic for the reputation of the Six Nations championship, unquestionably the world’s most popular rugby tournament.

Australia arrive in the UK for successive weekend dates with the same three opponents and despite enduring a double drubbing from the All Blacks in the recent Rugby Championship they still finished runners up in that tournament, comfortably ahead of South Africa, in the process beating the Boks twice, the team that had shattered England’s World Cup final dreams and shot down the British and Irish Lions – food for thought for the home nations, an Aussie hat-trick would be unthinkable, whilst the thought of sending the ultra-confident Wallabies, who all appear to be imbued with the “Crocodile Dundee” mindset, limping back Down Under with their didgeridoo between their legs, is very enticing indeed.

Reigning Rugby Championship holders New Zealand commence the European part of their tour with a mouth-watering clash with current Six Nations champs Wales at The Principality, followed by a leisurely trip to Rome to inflict more ignominy on whipping boys Italy, whose continued participation in the Six Nations has recently come under scrutiny following a disastrous run of 30 straight defeats since the Azzurri’s last victory, over Scotland, six years ago. With South Africa waiting in the wings as a possible replacement and making less than subtle overtures to be admitted to Europe’s beloved tournament, it’s way past time to get the House of Rome in order.

The mighty All Blacks then head to Dublin’s fair city to face an Ireland side who have promised much but ultimately failed to deliver on the big occasions – a monster test for the Men in Green to prove that this time there’s substance to the positive vibes emerging from the Aviva and not just another pipedream. An exciting  date with  France in Paris concludes the Kiwi tour and a brilliant month-long rugby extravaganza ends.

Sadly, rugby has joined football, boxing, snooker, darts and motor racing in selling the sport’s crown jewel events to the highest bidder, on this occasion TV coverage has been bought by an obscure internet outfit called Amazon Prime, and only the Ireland games can be seen on free-to-air terrestrial television. More money in the coffers but less audience – a scandalous short-sighted decision by the men in suits who know the price of everything but the value of nothing. Amazon Prime subscription costs a monthly fee of £7.99 to add to the sky-high Sky Sports and BT bills. No thanks, it’s time to pop down the pub and watch. Cheers!

ICC World Twenty20 – 2021

in Sport Insight

Sport continues to take centre stage as Planet Earth slowly struggles to break free from the deadly tentacles of the Covid-19 pandemic, and this month it’s Cricket’s turn to play a leading role in lighting the way on the rocky road back to normality with the start of the T20 World Cup in Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Originally scheduled to take place in India, but postponed because of the plague and the emergence of the virulent “Indian variant”, the 7th ICC T20 World Cup has been switched to the Middle East, starting on 17th of this month, with the final due to be played on 14th November.

T20 cricket, by far and away the most exciting version of the sport,  came into being in 2003 and the inaugural T20 World Cup was played in South Africa in 2007 when India claimed the cup by beating bitter rivals Pakistan by just 5 runs in an exhilarating final in Johannesburg. Of the six T20 World Cup finals played so far, West Indies boast the most successful record with two victories, with one each for England, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Surprisingly, Australia and New Zealand still await a maiden World T20 cup final win – something the southern hemisphere heavyweights will be pumped to put right this time round. England have contested two finals, beating Australia in 2010, and losing to the West Indies in the last tournament, played in Eden Gardens Kolkata in 2016.

This year’s tournament sees the sport’s top eight qualified nations – England, India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies and, miraculously, Afghanistan, being joined by four qualifiers, two of which could be Scotland and Ireland, to form the Super 12, which is split into two groups of six. England face defending champions West Indies, Australia and South Africa in Group 1 which has already been labelled the Group of Death. Should Ireland qualify to join the group we could see a possible clash with England, an English side captained by Dubliner Eoin Morgan – not content with stealing football stars Jack Grealish  and Declan Rice from Ireland’s international youth teams, the “Auld Enemy” has gone and pinched their best cricketer as well!

Ranked T20 number one in the world, England are among the favourites to lift the trophy for the second time, the Red Rose having gained the sweetest of victories when bashing the Aussies in the final in Barbados eleven years ago. Shorn through injury of the services of the world’s fastest bowler Jofra Archer and top all-rounder Ben Stokes, who is taking indefinite leave to rekindle his mental wellbeing, their first opponents are defending champions West Indies, whose light has dimmed somewhat from the stellar days of Lara, Lloyd, Marshall and Richards, but on their day the Windies are capable of scalping any side. Faltering giants Australia and South Africa follow, along with two qualifiers yet to be determined, all in all a teak-tough group, and should England qualify for the semis, Morgan’s men should not fear whichever teams emerge from the other group. The entire world, not just the world of cricket, will hope that the courageous band of men representing Afghanistan prosper in the heat of battle in Oman, but will the Taliban be watching and dancing in the streets!

My first recollection of cricket was when accidentally wandering through an open gate after a liquid lunch in Tunbtidge Wells and finding myself among a sparse scattering of spectators at a county cricket match, where nobody appeared to be watching the on-field action and quite a few appeared to be having a nap. I noticed one elderly lady nearby who was busily knitting, while a Yorkshire terrier lay sleeping at her feet.  In the distance I could see the players, all immaculately attired in brilliant whites, top and tails, I could hear the odd shout carried on the breeze, and thought to myself, how nice, how posh, how totally different to the shouts of abuse I endured while playing footy on Hackney Marshes every Sunday morning, and then I fell asleep, coming to two hours later.

At that time i thought cricket should be sponsored by Ovaltine as a bedtime drink to cure insomnia, but with the advent of T20 all that changed forever. Now, every ball bowled, every run scored, every target set is vital, tension-filled and often breathtakingly exciting – no chance of a nap now as the result is often in doubt until the final ball is bowled or the winning run secured. We’re blessed to have four weeks of exhilarating action to come, every match covered on TV, pub-friendly start times – lunch times and evenings. Howzat! I can’t wait!

Current odds: 

India 13/5, England 7/2, Australia 6/1, West Indies 7/1, New Zealand 8/1, Pakistan 10/1, South Africa 12/1, Bangladesh 50/1, Sri Lanka 66/1, Afghanistan 80/1, Ireland 500/1, Scotland 1000/1, Netherlands 1000/1, Papua New Guinea 1500/1, Oman 1500/1, Namibia 2000/1.

TV Coverage: Sky Sports / Highlights BBC1

Radio Coverage: BBC Radio 5 Live


Selected Group Matches (all times CET)
17th October
Bangladesh v Scotland  – 15:00
18th October
Ireland v Netherlands – 11:00
19th October
Scotland v Papua New Guinea – 11:00
20th October
Sri Lanka v Ireland – 15:00
21st October
Oman v Scotland – 15:00
22nd October
Namibia v Ireland – 11:00
23rd October
England vs West Indies – 16:00
27th October
England vs Qualifier – 12:00
30th October
England vs Australia – 16:00
1st November
England vs Qualifier – 15:00
6th November
England vs South Africa – 15:00

Ryder Cup to the fore as sport lights up road to recovery

in Sport Insight

As the planet slowly recovers from the ravages of the terrifying Covid-19 pandemic, sport once again leads the way on the rocky road back to normality as, immediately after the successful and entertaining but spectatorless Tokyo Olympic Games, golf takes centre stage when the War of the World – United States vs Europe – tees off in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, with the home side thirsting to avenge the 17.5-10.5 mauling suffered in the Paris debacle of 2018.

The Ryder Cup, named after English entrepreneur and golf enthusiast Samuel Ryder who hailed from Preston, proved to be an insurmountable task for the home nations in the initial years as the Americans, powered by immortals Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino etc, routinely and relentlessly brushed the opposition aside, often by embarrassing margins. I’m old enough to recall those dark days and how jarring were the patronising words of consolation and pats on the head proffered to outclassed opponents by successive Yankee captains at post-match victory celebrations, but in 1979 all that was about to change.

Golf was becoming very popular in continental Europe with the emergence of Spanish superstars, swashbuckling Seve Ballesteros, gritty Antonio Garrido, ‘El Niño’ Sergio Garcia, Captain Fantastic José Maria Olazabal, plus cigar-chomping Miguel Ángel Jiménez and German prodigy Bernhard Langer. With Europeans regularly scaling the summit of golf’s order of merit, and with Uncle Sam at last tiring of the cat-torturing-the-mouse routine that the competition had become, combined with TV stations’ complaints about the one-sidedness of it all, the call went up… the Ryder Cup must be opened up to the rest of Europe.

And so it came to pass – from 1979 stars from Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden strode to the aid of their beleaguered British and Irish colleagues and the effect was immediate, the Ryder Cup became a proper contest and the unthinkable happened – the Americans were being put to the sword, and for Uncle Sam, having grown fat gorging on the carcasses of inferior opponents, this was a hard pill to swallow. Of the 20 tournaments played since the change, Europe have won 11 to eight, with one tied.

Postponed for a year because of the plague, the 43rd Ryder Cup is scheduled to take place at Whistling Straits, Haven, Wisconsin, with the action set to detonate on Friday 24th September and ending two days later on the Sunday. At the time of writing, barring any more nasty pandemic setbacks, the three-day extravaganza is set to be played in front of a full hostile house of fanatical and very noisy golf enthusiasts. Memories of the spanking the Yanks suffered last time in Paris are still raw in the States – the then president and golf nut Donald Trump was reported to be incandescent at the result, it didn’t sit well with the Ginger Don’s moronic MAGA chant of Make America Great Again – and Team USA are desperate to avenge what they consider to be that shameful collapse.

The Americans, led by non-playing captain Steve Stricker, are odds-on favourites with the bookies to wrest the Cup back, and with eight Yanks in the top ten of golf’s official world rankings it’s not difficult to see why Uncle Sam’s Boys are confident that America is on the road to redemption, with victory assured in what is sure to be an ultra intimidating Whistling Straits battleground. The team is made up of the top six in the points table who qualify by right, the remaining six places are ‘captain’s picks’ where Stricker has the option to include players based on current form or previous Cup experience, like class act Phil Mickelson, who boasts an astonishing 12 Cup appearances. I fervently hope that old ‘Lefty’ makes it 13.

Team Europe consists of the top nine in the order of merit, with non-playing captain Padraig Harrington having just three picks, an unenviable dilemma for the popular Irishman – who to pick, who to leave out? Just as with Mickelson for the USA, my earnest hope is that Ian Poulter be one of Harrington’s choices should he not qualify by right. The mercurial Englishman comes alive when donning Team Europe colours – not a hint of Brexit negativity here – a fantastic fanatical team player who has never lost a Cup singles match, won five with one tied is the proud record of Hitchin’s favourite son.

Who will emerge triumphant on Sunday, 26th September? My heart says Europe but my head whispers USA. Spaniard Jon Rahm, who tops the world rankings, is head and shoulders Team Europe’s finest, Rory McIlroy occasionally shows signs that he might be about to rediscover some of his past zest, Tommy Fleetwood is flying and Tyrell Hatton has been a revelation this term, all signs that Team Europe have realistic hopes of hitting the 14-point target that, as holders, would see the Ryder Cup retained. It’s going to be an exhilarating three days, with every stroke live on TV. Don’t miss it!

Current odds: Team USA 4/7, Team Europe 2/1, Tie 12/1

TV Schedule of The Ryder Cup Action (Tee-off times to be announced)

Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Golf

Also excellent coverage BBC Radio 5 Live

Friday 24th – Morning 4 Foursomes – Afternoon 4 Fourballs

Saturday 25th – Morning 4 Foursomes – Afternoon 4 Fourballs

Sunday 26th – 12 Singles

England, Wales and Scotland set to star in spectacular Euros

in Sport Insight

EURO 2020, delayed for a year because of Covid-19 restrictions, will now kick off  on 11th June, sparking a month long celebration of the beautiful game, with the final scheduled to take place at Wembley on 11th July. For the first time, the finals will be shared between 11 countries, originally a one-off idea from UEFA to honour the competition’s 60th anniversary but, of  much more significance now as Europe slowly emerges from the ravages of the pandemic, an opportunity to spread the love of the sport that so unites the international football family.

Twenty-four nations are divided into six groups of four in the pool stage, with the winners and runners-up in each group, plus the four best third-placed teams qualifying for the last 16 knockout stage. With Wales, Scotland and England having qualified for the much anticipated and long-delayed extravaganza, Euro 2020 promises to be a blockbuster event for UK expats and tourists here in Gibraltar, evoking cherished memories of previous tournaments, particularly in this correspondent, when fondly remembering magical moments sitting in sun-baked Casemates Square, sipping cider in front of the Big Screen and letting tribal passion run free, unfettered, if only for an hour and a half!

Scotland and England have been drawn together in Group D and their pool clash promises to be a juggernaut affair, definitely not one for the faint-hearted, an irresistible force crashing against an immovable object, evoking memories of past epic football encounters between these footy-mad nations, the drama still powered by lingering echoes of centuries-old battlefield conflicts – think Braveheart, think Bonnie Prince Charlie, think Bannochburn and, on 18th June, think Wembley, when, pandemic permitting, tens of thousands of tartan-clad, kilt-wearing, wild-eyed, hairy-legged Scots, all united in single purpose – the rout of the Sassenachs – will march on England’s premier stadium to the haunting backdrop of Flower of Scotland and the intoxicating swirl of bagpipes. England, be warned, the Tartan Army is on the march and defeat is not an option.

Bookmakers appear to have dismissed any chance of tournament victory for either Wales or Scotland, as derisory odds of 200/1 and 300/1 respectively would seem to indicate, with England currently available at a very skinny 6/1 to lift the Trophy. Let’s take a look at how the three home nations have performed in past Euros, and run the rule over the chances of an at-long-last home victory in Euro 2020.


Grand National Set to lift spirits and Covid Gloom

in Sport Insight

The Grand National, the greatest horse race in the world bar none, takes place on Saturday April 10th, the last day of the Aintree Festival and, just like Cheltenham the preceding month, the much loved event will for the first time be staged behind closed doors as Covid-19 continues to exert its cruel, malevolent and deadly grip on people’s lives, loves and pursuits.

Certainly, the iconic three-day festival will be much the poorer deprived of the heaving throng of enthusiastic Scousers who annually come out in force to celebrate the Merseyside version of Royal Ascot but, at least, the “People’s Race” goes ahead, unlike last year when the plug was pulled as distress signals from the men in white coats to the men in suits resulted in the entire meeting being abandoned.

While gambling restrictions have been lifted in Gibraltar and it has been possible to have a bet in the Sports Arena in Casemates and Ocean Village for several weeks now, under Boris Johnson’s “roadmap to freedom” high street betting shops in the UK will remain closed until April 12th, two days after the festival ends, unfortunate timing for the bookies, a decision that is estimated will cost the industry north of £175m in cash betting as once-a-year punters and hordes of eager housewives will be unable to place their annual pound each-way on the famous race.

Another blow to the National is that the tiny turbo known as Tiger Roll, denied by last year’s abandonment of the opportunity to make history by becoming a three-in-a-row winner, having being first to the jam stick in 2018 and repeating the feat the following year – an awesome achievement that proved beyond even the legendary Red Rum – has been taken out of the race by owner Michael O’Leary, who reportedly was miffed that the handicapper had allotted his stable star 7lbs more weight to carry than when last successful in 2019.

I have two questions for Mr O’Leary, Ryanair’s abrasive boss – yes, Tiger Roll is getting on a bit, he’s 11 years, which in equine terms means pension pastures are on the horizon, he’s tiny, about the size of a pony, and weight can anchor even the strongest of steeds, but Michael, surely you must have a twinge of regret at your hasty decision to withdraw our little hero from the National after Tiger rolled back the years at last month’s Cheltenham festival, pulverising a field of top-class chasers to win unchallenged, thrilling the racing world in scenes reminiscent of  derring-do deeds from past immortals like Rummy and even “Himself”, the almighty Arkle, by some distance the greatest chaser ever to set hoof on the racecourse.

It’s not too late to re-enter the little warrior in the race Michael and, for once, enjoy a rare chance to bask in the warm glow of public acclaim and affection rather than continue to suffer the slings and arrows that daily assail you. And my second question, any chance that when lockdown is lifted and normality resumes, would Ryanair be interested in taking over the Luton slots vacated by the collapse of Monarch? Just like Tiger Roll Mr O’Leary, it would be a sure-fire winner!

The three-day Aintree Festival, one of my favourite meetings, is not all about the Grand National, it provides an opportunity for recent Cheltenham winners to strut their stuff, to showcase their talent in search of further glory, and for the Prestbury Park vanquished, a chance of redemption – like PAISLEY PARK, who could only finish third for us in the Stayers Hurdle, to get back in the winner’s enclosure, and once again I’ll be lumbering the poor beast with my tenner when he lines up in the Liverpool Hurdle on the Saturday (4.40 CET), as I’m convinced Paisley wasn’t 100 per cent last time and compensation awaits popular owner Andrew Gemmell, who has been blind since birth.

And so, on to the daunting conundrum that the Grand National poses, the most demanding test of man and beast – a maximum field of 40 runners competing over a distance of 4 miles and 514 yards with thirty fearsome fences to be negotiated, the best known being Valentine’s, The Chair, Canal Turn and Becher’s Brook, so called because Captain Martin Becher, riding in the first Grand National, was unseated and nearly drowned in the brook.

At the time of writing, entries for both races have not been finalised which puts picking the winner as elusive as finding that old needle in a field of haystacks. However, undaunted and forever the optimist despite repeated reversals, I’ve got a horse that I feel certain is sure to give us a good run for our money – CLOTH CAP, trained in the Cotswolds by National Hunt elder statesman Jonjo O’Neill and owned by Trevor Hemmings, surely the luckiest of men, as the apple of his eye attempts to win him the great race for the fourth time. The 8-year-old gelding has been very impressive in its last two races, winning at Kelso and Newbury and, carrying a feather weight of 10st 5lbs and my tenner, already I can hear the commentator screaming his name as he jumps the last in front and sails past the elbow on that famous Aintree run-in to claim victory and the thick end of a million quid. It’s on the Big Screen at the Arena in Ocean Village – don’t miss it!

Brexit and Covid combine to threaten Cheltenham Festival

in Sport Insight

CHELTENHAM National Hunt Festival 2021 commences on Tuesday, 16th March and ends 28 races and four days later on the Friday, when the blue riband of steeplechasing, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, takes centre stage. Unfortunately, at the time of writing it appears odds on that pandemic restrictions mean the festival will proceed behind closed doors, no full-throated roar from the packed stands as the horses jostle for position pre-race, no hats and racecards tossed triumphantly in the air as horse and jockey strain every sinew on the tortuous uphill finish to be first to the winning post…sad to relate …yes, but at least the iconic event is going ahead, albeit under heavy restraint.

The festival, the jewel in the crown of the National Hunt season, is once again set to enchant the racing public as, midway through March, it opens up its treasure chest of exciting equine stars to the global sporting spotlight that every spring illuminates the Cotswolds town’s glorious centuries-old salute to the Sport of Kings.

But this year, my beloved festival is under a cloud, accusatory fingers are pointing, the charge being levelled is that last year’s event, attended by crowds totalling north of a quarter of a million over the four days, racing fans from all corners of the British Isles and beyond, had converged cheek to jowl, to make the annual pilgrimage to celebrate the crème de la crème of steeplechasing and, indulged, sated and by then allegedly stricken with the deadly virus, had returned home as Covid-19 super-carriers, unleashing death and desolation on family, friends and neighbours.

That’s the damning verdict tapped out by social media keyboard warriors and an army of self-appointed, ill-qualified rent-a-quote experts – last year’s Cheltenham Festival, one of the most exciting and enjoyable ever, has been condemned as a major contributor to the spread of the deadly disease. Whatever the truth of that charge, it has to be remembered that the global reaction, both medical and political at the time, was one of profound ignorance and utter confusion – Commander-in-Chief Donald trumpeted that the virus was ‘a hoax’ and, in the Ginger Don’s opinion, could be cured just by swigging a couple of glasses of bleach! Thank you for that diagnosis Dr Trump, now please disappear quietly into the sunset.

Alas, it’s not just the pandemic that threatens the festival – Brexit looms large as another dark cloud hovering over the meeting, throwing up miles and kilometres of new bureaucratic red tape, including extra veterinary checks, travel restrictions and prohibitive VAT increases, that calls into question the very participation of the Irish contingent. Cheltenham without the Irish, equine and human, would be akin to a Shakespearean tragedy – a modern day Romeo Without Juliet and must not be allowed to happen. The unintended consequences of divorce from the EU become more apparent daily, an indisputable fact surely, even to the most blinkered Brexiteer, harsh reality replacing fevered fantasy, as Morrison’s empty supermarket shelves and rising prices bear testimony.

Enough of the darkness and doom, come with me as we launch Operation Cotswolds, another shot-in-the-arm attempt in our quest to lift the gloom and hopefully in the process, lighten bookmakers’ satchels. Ever the optimist despite repeated reversals, my cunning roadmap to riches revolves round a modest wager on each of the following five races – my favourite festival five, enough for a Super Yankee. For the uninitiated that’s the name of a combination bet and most definitely not a compliment to the unlamented and lately departed Trump. The alternate name for the bet is a Canadian!

The Arkle  

(Tuesday 16th, 3.10pm CET)

THIS is the race that launches talented juveniles on the trail to greatness, and whilst it would be tilting at windmills to suggest that today’s cast contains a candidate that could be remotely compared to the immortal steed the race commemorates, it has produced stellar winners in the recent past who have gone on to hit the heights, like Altior, Sprinter Sacre and Moscow Flyer. Top of this year’s class come the exciting pair, SHISHKJN, trained in England by Nicky Henderson and Irish raider Energumene, trained by Willie Mullins. Henderson and Mullins have each won the race four times and I’m siding with SHISHKIN to give Hendo outright bragging rights to this event. Current odds are a bit skinny at Evens, but it does look home and hosed.

Champion Hurdle 

(Tuesday 16th, 4,30pm CET)

MY DREAM since boyhood is that one day I would own the winner of my favourite race, the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, unlikely to be realised of course, barring Lady Luck changing her habit of a lifetime and for once, smiling rather than scowling on me. The runner in this year’s race I would most like to call my own is defending champion EPATANTE, owned by legendary Irish gambler JP McManus, whose billionaire financial status is a tad dissimilar to mine. No private plane to the racecourse for Liam, just flights of fantasy and a stroll on Shanks’s pony to the pub and Arena in Casemates or to watch the drama unfold on the Big Screen at Ocean Village. The dream this time is that EPATANTE retains her title and repays my ten pounds vote of confidence. Current odds are 3/1.

Queen Mother Champion Chase (Wednesday 17th, 4.30 CET)

THE Queen Mother, the two-mile speed chase involving the fastest jumpers in the world, where fences need to be negotiated at up to 40mph and a mistake could catapult the jockey clean out of the Cotswolds, is the highlight of the second day of the festival. This year’s renewal sees the short-priced favourite Chacun Pour Soi, another graduate from the Mullins academy, travel from County Carlow seemingly with victory already assured. However, I will be looking to dual winner of the race ALTIOR, trained by Henderson, to rediscover his imperious form of a season ago and regain the crown. Current odds are 8/1.

Stayers’ Long Distance Hurdle (Thursday 18th, 4.30 CET)

THE STAYERS’ is one of the most popular races of the festival, mainly because of the numerous times it has been won by the same horse – Big Buck’s won it four times, Inglis Drever was a triple victor, Baracouda and many others were multiple winners. A simple and profitable betting strategy proved to be backing a previous winner to repeat the feat, and it’s one I’ll be following this time around when lumping 2019 winner PAISLEY PARK with my tenner. Current odds are 3/1.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

(Friday 19th, 4.30 CET)

CHAMPION festival trainer Willie Mullins had never won the great race until Al Boum Photo triumphed in 2019, and having retained the Cup last year the classy Al Boum is the pick of many form experts to make it three in a row, replicating a feat that the incomparable Arkle accomplished 55 years ago. However, I’m looking elsewhere for the winner and my tenner each way will be entrusted on last year’s unlucky runner-up SANTINI to avenge that narrow defeat and keep the prize at home. Current odds are 14/1, a must-have each way price, provided trainer Nicky Henderson can get him to the post fit and well and the talented beast cuts out the jumping errors. 14/1 …. what a Friday finale that would be.

See you at The Arena (pandemic permitting) – the cider’s on the bookies. Cheers!

Getting to know the opposition

in Sport Insight

QUALIFICATION for Qatar 2022 World Cup Finals kicks off next month when Gibraltar, drawn in Group G, play host to Norway and Netherlands, those two games sandwiching an away trip to Montenegro, with Turkey and Latvia completing this tough six-team group. Pandemic permitting, the nation that tops the table when qualifying finishes next November will have booked their ticket direct to the finals, with the runners-up advancing to the playoffs for a second chance to join them on the plane to Qatar, the first time the tournament will be staged in the Middle East.

Gibraltar hopes have been buoyed by recent confirmation from UEFA that their home games, in this their second World Cup campaign, can be played at Victoria Stadium, unlike their first foray into the global competition – Russia 2018 – when the Rock were required to play their “home” ties in the vast, almost empty Portuguese Faro stadium, a rather soulless, eerie experience, nothing like the frenzied but friendly atmosphere created at the Vic in previous international and club encounters, notably on nights when Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark and Glasgow giants Celtic and Rangers came calling.

Fresh from the Rock’s remarkable achievement of promotion to Division C in the inaugural UEFA Nations League, Julio’s “Gibraltarian Warriors” will not lack for confidence in embarking on this ultra competitive qualification odyssey. In addition to charismatic coach Ribas, who has engendered a special family togetherness in the squad, there is the never-say-die spirit of “Captain Fantastic” Roy Chipolina, the creative quality of midfield dynamo Liam Walker and the goal poaching power of Lee Casciaro, lionhearts the entire squad, all dedicated to achieving the impossible, but, alas, cold reality decrees that qualification for Qatar 2022 will be a dream too far, but hey, there will be fun and maybe even glory nights on the way.

When Gibraltar was warmly welcomed into FIFA’s football family on 13th May, 2016, it wasn’t an event just about opening up world football to the Rock, but also about opening up Gibraltar to the world. Gibraltar is a picture postcard destination with a first class but sadly underused airport, practically every person on earth has heard of the Rock, but not that many have visited, and now international football is providing opportunities for footy fans from all over the globe to put that right, sit in the sun and quaff cider in Casemates Square, hit the casino tables, roll the dice and explore the delights of Ocean Village, while Gib’s footy fans reciprocate by rocking up to exotic destinations, like wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, tip-toe through the tulips in Amsterdam and spend drunken nights in Dublin.

Gibraltar’s Group G campaign, labelled the Group of Death, commences with a Viking visit from Norway on 24th March and concludes on 16th November, again at Victoria Stadium, when familiar foe Latvia provide the opposition. What a finale that night would be should the impossible have come to pass, with Julio’s boys still having something to play for – most unlikely of course, but it’s nice to dream!

Coronavirus protocols may have relaxed somewhat come the last week of March, the impressive rollout of the vaccine and responsible social distancing may by then have put a check on this ghastly

pandemic, perhaps sufficient for the lockdown to be lifted, Victoria Stadium and the pubs given the green light to reopen, deprived and parched footy fans free once more to quench their thirst and toast their heroes as they rub shoulders with visiting football greats. Who knows, maybe travel restrictions may be lifted in time to join Julio’s army on battlefields abroad!

Let’s take a quick glance at the opposition….


NETHERLANDS

Population: 17.15m

Capital: Amsterdam, (Parliament and Government based in The Hague). Stadium: Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam (Capacity 55,500)

Fifa World Ranking: 14th

Head Coach: Frank de Boer

Previous Gibraltar encounters: None. 

Match Dates: Gibraltar vs Netherlands – 30th March, KO 20:45 CET / Netherlands vs Gibraltar – 11th        October, KO 20:45 CET

The Netherlands, the nation that brought “total football” to an enchanted world, iconic names over the decades, Van Basten, Cruyff, Kluivert, Neeskens, van Nistelrooy, still elicit goose bumps. No one of that calibre in the current squad, save perhaps captain Virgil van Dijk, but a single point from the Dutch masters would be a huge achievement for Gibraltar.

When in Amsterdam: Three-course dinner for two (no alcohol) will set you back around £70. A small bottle of beer costs £4.50.


LATVIA

Population: 1.92m

Capital: Riga

Stadium: Daugava Stadium, Riga (Capacity 10,460)

Fifa World Ranking: 136th

Head Coach: Dainis Kazakevics

Previous Gibraltar encounters: Two friendlies, a win apiece – Gibraltar 0-5 Latvia (29th March, 2016); Gibraltar 1-0 Latvia (25th March, 2018).

Match Dates: Latvia vs Gibraltar – 1st September, KO 20:45 CET / Gibraltar vs Latvia – 16th November, KO 20:45 CET

Honours shared in the two previous clashes and Gibraltar will have realistic prospects of gaining points from both these games.

When in Riga: Three-course dinner for two can be had for a reasonable £36, while a bottle of beer is available for just £1.50.


NORWAY

Population: 5.33m

Capital: Oslo

Stadium: Ullevaal Stadium, Oslo (Capacity 28,000) Fifa World Ranking: 44th

Head Coach: Ståle Solbakken

Previous Gibraltar encounters: No previous meetings. 

Match Dates: Gibraltar vs Norway – 24th March, KO 20:45 CET / Norway vs Gibraltar – 7th September, KO 20:45 CET

Tough opening opponents, a draw would be a great result.

When in Oslo: Expect to pay about £78 for a three-course dinner for two (no alcohol) and a small bottle of beer costs a wince-inducing £7.75.


MONTENEGRO

Population: 622,157

Capital: Podgorica

Stadium: Podgorica City Stadium (Capacity 15,225).

Fifa World Ranking: 63rd

Head Coach: Miodrag Radulovic

Previous Gibraltar encounters: None.

Match Dates: Montenegro vs Gibraltar – 27th March, KO 15:00 CET / Gibraltar vs Montenegro – 8th October, KO 20:45 CET

The Balkan territory could well prove to be a fruitful points source for Julio’s boys.

When in Podgorica: A three-course dinner for two is a very palatable practical giveaway at £23, especially washed down with a £1.70 bottle of beer.


TURKEY

Population: 82.3m

Capital: Ankara

Stadium: Ataturk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul (Capacity 76,760)

Fifa World Ranking: 32nd

Head Coach: Senol Gunes

Previous Gibraltar encounters: No previous meetings.

Match Dates: Gibraltar vs Turkey – 4th September, KO 20:45 CET / Turkey vs Gibraltar – 13th November, KO 18:00 CET

Very tough opponents where any points return would be a huge bonus.

When in Istanbul: Three-course dinner for two is a very reasonable £30 and a bottle of beer can be yours for £2.30.


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