London, England - With all the hype surrounding the World Cup in South Africa, it is easy to forget that there are other major sporting events taking place this summer. Wimbledon, the world’s oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament, has found itself unfortunately sandwiched into the middle two weeks of the biggest sporting competition on the planet.
However, officials at the All England Club have declared the Championships a soccer-free zone, choosing to show only tennis on the venue’s big screen during the June 21-July 4 event. There will be no screenings even of any of England’s World Cup matches which may fall during the Wimbledon fortnight.
The decision is unpopular - but the fact is that tennis deserves to remain the center of attention during its own tournament. Tennis doesn’t need to try and compete with football, but if it did, it would surely win hands down. Here are five reasons why.
Over recent months, Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has given the biggest hint yet that the sport may be returning to American soil, confirming his hopes to stage a U.S. grand prix again by 2012. But given the country’s troubled history with F1, does the country even want it to return?
F1 hasn’t always been so unpopular in the United States. America’s first ever Formula One grand prix took place in California in 1959, inspiring a generation of homegrown drivers to compete on the international stage, including its only world champions, Mario Andretti and Phil Hill.
The race has been held at various locations across the country, from Florida to Phoenix, to Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace, before settling at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway ten years ago. And the Speedway, which hosted the last U.S. Formula One race, can also boast the largest ever attendance at a grand prix of 225,000.
The world has heard far more inflammatory comments than Alex Ferguson's complaint that Bayern Munich acted like "typical Germans" during Manchester United's European Championship quarterfinal tie.
But those two words – in the aftermath of winning at Old Trafford on Wednesday but going out of the competition on the away goals rule - reveal so much about Britain's most successful manager.
It's impossible to explore the irony without dealing in tabloid cliche but Ferguson has never let anyone forget he's a Scotsman, despite working in the north-west of England for more than two decades.
Some Scottish fans are famed for hating the English who, in turn, are traditionally ambivalent towards the Germans.
If the old Chinese maxim was correct - that the enemy of my enemy is my friend - then Ferguson should find kinship with last night's victors. But alas, no.
So has United's boss brought Britain together in a common dislike for the ability of German football teams to get the job done?
Throw in the fact that Ferguson's main gripe was how Bayern Munich's players "surrounded the ref" and it's hard not to smile, especially given that the ref was surrounded by those well known Germans - Franck Ribery from France and Arjen Robben from Holland.
I'd bet a lot of money that Manchester United would top a poll of football fans if they were asked which English Premier League team's players surround the referee most often.
Just type "United," "Andy" and "D'urso" into a video sharing website to see how Ferguson's team are past masters at pressuring the match official.
But let me backtrack just a little. Fergie can't really be accused of xenophobia considering how many players of different races and nationalities he's embraced at Old Trafford down the years. Not many of sport's great winners like losing, so it isn't a huge surprise that he sounded so bitter immediately after crashing out of the Champions League.
Alex would dearly love to add another European title to his vast collection of trophies before retiring.
Although he likes to give the impression of not caring what others, particularly the press, think of him Ferguson craves respect and admiration as much as the next person.
He got his tactics against Bayern Munich spot on and you could argue that only Rafael's red card denied him another glorious night of vindication, proving that Alex Ferguson is just about the best in the business.
Instead, the press was left to ruminate on another victory for the Germans against the English.
And in that respect, Ferguson was right. Bayern Munich did act like "typical Germans." After all, they won.
LONDON, England - It is hard to believe that all of the dirt, mud, and blocks of concrete at the "Olympic Park" will, in three years, be a fresh new space with gleaming buildings, green trees and grass fit to host the biggest carnival in World Sport. Are they really going to finish in time? Can they turn all of this into roadways and landscaping in time for 2012? It is a vast space, and it seems like there is just so much to do in such a short space of time. For the media invited to an open day, on the three-year anniversary before the start of the event, such questions of doubt would need some reassurance to not resurface in news reports over the coming days.
One shiny, gleaming promise that has already been delivered is the "Javelin" high-speed train which will take 25,000 visitors an hour from central London to the Olympic Park. Riding it is a treat - it is quick (225kph), modern, and clean - and the journey time of the 10km route was only seven minutes. It's door-to-door service from one brand new station to another.
Cranes and construction sounds welcome travelers who leave the train and head towards the Olympic Park - to the right are the unfinished, empty high-rise skeletons of the athletes' village, to the left random concrete pylons stick from the ground. Maybe it was the cold and rain that led to a pessimistic mindset but thoughts wandered again towards the mountainous task of meeting the Olympic deadline and whether tourists will have to pack winter clothes for a "summer" Games.
People measure progress in different ways on construction sites. Most of us see buildings popping out of the ground as a sign that things are moving along. But we don't think about all the preparation that's had to be done in the ground - the laying of electric cables, the dredging of rivers, the clean-up of waste and contamination - before they can even build those buildings.
In the final analysis the consensus was that progress was on track and within budget. The sun finally broke through by the end of the trip and the big white clouds seemed to carry away any doubts about whether this place will be ready by 2012. But then a thick drop of water fell on the top on my head from the unfinished stadium - a reminder that a lot more still needs to be done.
I have seen quite a few sport stadiums and arenas in my lifetime but none that have inspired within me the awe of Wembley. The walk up "Olympic Way", the warm welcome of the Bobby Moore statue and the magnificence of the giant supporting arch - the "Home of Football" makes its visual mark before you have even stepped through its doors. This is why people come to Wembley, the place where sporting lives change and clubs make history on the hallowed turf.
So surely a preseason "Wembley Cup" - featuring European champions Barcelona, African club of the century Al Ahly and British big-hitters Celtic and Tottenham Hotspur - would be a tournament not to miss. I mean it is Wembley, the Mecca of football in England, how could the masses not respond?
Once inside, I was struck with a sea of bright red. From left to right, an ocean of empty seats, reaching from the ground to the heavens and all I could think of was just how many people were needed to fill this place? The simple answer is 90,000. It might not be the biggest, but as the 21st biggest stadium in the world it is still up there with the best. To understand just how big consider a little comparison: Rome's Colosseum had a capacity of 4,296, consequently; it would therefore take 21 gladiatorial events to match the attendance of one England home game. Large? Yes. But too big for Barcelona? Surely not.
Seeing the Spanish giants live for the first time since being crowned 2009 European and La Liga Champions, the expectation was for crowds to flock in their thousands to catch a glimpse of Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry. But to my astonishment the match was played in front of barely 20,000. Crowds increased to about 40,000 when Celtic and Tottenham hit the pitch, but still the place looked cavernous. So why lack of enthusiasm?
Maybe the reason could have been ticket prices, where a one-day pass would cost between $48 and $97 for an adult. The credit crunch is still an issue for many and with the ticket price, plus travel, food and merchandise; an expensive day could have proved a bank-breaker.
The other reason could be that because it was a Sunday, people would rather just stay at home and relax by watching the game on television before another hectic week at work begins. Whatever the excuse, one thing is for sure the Wembley experience, engraved in my mind until the end of my days, cannot be experienced from the couch and the marketing department's dream of a packed-to-the-rafters stadium did not materialize.
Consequently, Barcelona trounced Al Ahly and Celtic were victorious over Harry Redknapp's Tottenham Hotspur, in another chapter of the age-old conflict between the English and the Scots, in front of a disappointing crowd.
Despite the lack of numbers, the cheers from fans filled the air within the cauldron of the stadium. Celtic will go down in the history books as the 2009 winners, but the tournament may have to think of a re-brand; Wembley Cup might be better named Wembley "no show up." Just a thought.
When the field of 156 players hit the links on Thursday for the Open Championship for the first round they might have thought they were on the coast of Florida.
Come Friday and they definitely know they are in the heartland of links golf in Scotland as the weather is combining with the course to ruin plenty of dreams of holding the Claret Jug come Sunday.
It’s blustery here but not too cold and the first 10 holes are proving a real nightmare for everyone as they head out straight into the breeze. We are going to see some erratic scoring today.
America's Ben Curtis is the best example so far of the course biting back. He was one shot off the lead yesterday on 5 under but, after an opening nine that came from the book of golf's worst nightmares with seven over par holes, today will post a 10 over 80 and may very well miss the cut.
On the other hand American Steve Marino managed a 2 under 68 after heading out early for a tournament total of 5 under and will comfortably take part over the final two days of the Open.
Not only will there be plenty of interest in how the field copes with the conditions but Tom Watson will have a huge following.
The 59-year-old will need all his experience today if he is going to manufacture anything like Thursday’s sparkling round of golf.
In all it should be a fantastic day of golf to watch.
So another fantastic season of football in Europe comes to a close, and now the excitement is over there is time for reflection and analysis before things kick off again in a few month's time. Who stood out among the myriad of stars fighting for silverware across the continent – well here are my thoughts:
English Premier League
Player of the year – Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)
The Serbian international matured into one of the best defenders in the world during Manchester United's title-winning campaign. The 27-year-old provided the muscle in a back line which proved watertight for much of the season. Vidic led United to a streak of 14 consecutive clean sheets. He also scored four goals, some of them crucial to his team's success in the league.
Honorable mention – Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
The league's third top scorer with 16 goals and nearly single-handedly kept Liverpool in the title race until the final weeks of the season. Playing further up the field, he provided scoring opportunities to Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt who both scored over 10 goals in the campaign. England's best all-round player had probably his best season to date.
Spanish Primera Division
Player of the year – Leo Messi (Barcelona)
You could easily run out of superlatives trying to describe Messi's performances in La Liga this season. The tiny Argentine was simply breathtaking, mesmerizing opponents' defences with his magical dribbling skills, and scoring goals of all shapes and sizes. His finishing was the skill which he improved the most in the last campaign as he tallied an impressive 23 league goals.
Honorable mention – Diego Forlan (Atletico Madrid)
The European Golden Boot winner was a constant threat to goalkeepers all across Spain this season and finished with 32 goals in 33 appearances for Atletico Madrid. One of the hardest working strikers around, the 30 year-old Uruguayan international made the most of the goalscoring opportunities presented to him by Kun Aguero and Maxi Rodriguez.
Italian Serie A
Player of the year – Esteban Cambiasso (Inter Milan)
The heart and soul of an Internazionale side that dominated the Serie A. Esteban Cambiasso was ever present in the Nerazzuri midfield this season and was the first name on the team sheet for manager Jose Mourinho as his tough tackling and intelligent ball distribution made him indispensable. The 28-year-old Argentine international also pitched in with four goals during a stellar campaign.
Honorable mention – Diego Milito (Genoa)
To score 24 goals in the Serie A is tough, but to do it for a non-championship contender is even tougher, but that's what Il Principe accomplished this season. Despite being overtaken at the top of the goalscoring chart by Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the last day of the campaign Milito still earned praise from all corners of Italy for his spirited performances and deadly finishes. Impressed 'The Special One' who bought him for Inter next season.
Player of the year – Grafite (Wolfsburg)
Wolfsburg won their first ever league title thanks in large part to the goalscoring exploits of this Brazilian striker. An incredible 28 goals in 25 games from a late bloomer who had never scored more than 20 goals in a season in the top flight of any league before. He will be remembered this year for a fantastic solo goal against Bayern Munich in a 5-1 demolition of the Bavarian giants.
Honorable mention – Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich)
The silver lining in a dark cloud for Bayern this season. The Frenchman was just unstoppable and assisted more goals than any other player this season. His own tally wasn't bad either as the 26-year-old winger finished with nine goals. If it weren't for Ribery, Bayern could have easily finished outside the top four.
French First Division
Player of the year – Yoan Gourcuff (Bordeaux)
Proved he is a world-class player with a series of fantastic performances in France as he led Bordeaux to their first title since 1999. He was the maestro of a side who won the last 11 games of the season to clinch the league trophy on the last day of the campaign. Gourcuff, who was on loan from AC Milan, scored a career-best 12 goals and is one of the brightest young stars in European football at 22 years of age.
Honorable mention – Bakary Kone (Olympique Marseille)
One of the fastest players on the planet, the Senegal international gave Olympique Marseille a new dimension following his signing from Nice. The 27-year-old winger terrorized defenders all season long, setting up heaps of goals and getting on the score sheet nine times himself.
Coach of the Year
Pep Guardiola – A perfect season for the rookie coach who in his first season in professional management won an unprecedented treble – The Spanish League, Spanish Cup and Champions League. As impressive as the trophy haul was the way they achieved it, playing free flowing attacking football during most of the season. They finished their league campaign with a +70 goal average and were also the top scorers in the Champions League.
Most disappointing coach of the Year
Jurgen Klinsmann – He had to be relieved of his duties in the final sprint for the Bundesliga title race. Worse than their performances in Germany was their capitulation against Barcelona at the Camp Nou. It is inadmissible to concede four goals in a half, even against the almighty European Champions. The fact he failed to motivate a star-studded dressing room means it will be a while before he gets another chance at a top club in Europe.