For once, the old abused proverb “What a week!” holds true. The sporting universe has not had it so crowded and cool all year. And the Olympic Games haven’t even begun. Let’s take a look at the highlights, as well as what to look forward to over the eventful next seven days.
MESSI v/s RONALDO
Not in the literal sense; Lionel Messi has been leading his Argentina team to the finals of Copa America, while Cristiano Ronaldo has been lugging his chunky Portugal team to the Euro knockout stages. At one point, Messi scored a physics-defying wondrous free-kick against hosts USA in the semifinal, beating the goalie from well outside the box despite the American covering the far post. It was perfection. It was perhaps the sign the world needed to recognize that Messi was a league even above Ronaldo – who had failed to score in 23 attempts in the group stages by then.
And in a crucial game against table-toppers Hungary, Ronaldo single-handedly reminded everyone why he is never far behind. His sublime backheel flick to score Portugal’s second leveling goal, followed by a header to equalize again later, took Euro by storm – signaling his long-awaited arrival on the international stage, just in time for the knockouts. They didn’t top their group, but it will have to be Ronaldo who pulls them further, through sheer will power.
Meanwhile, Messi will prepare for a rematch of last tournament’s final – against defending champs Chile, and will look to give his country their first trophy since 1993.
UPSETS OF THE WEEK:
Martin O’Neil’s unfancied Ireland stunned favorites Italy 1-0 to leap into the knockouts to earn a last-16 match against hosts France. This was perhaps the most heartwarming result of a week in which Wales demolished Russia to top their group and Croatia dismantled Spain in the final game to take top spot. Both the Irish sides, England and Wales made it to the knockouts in a week that would later end with a historical referendum that could well rule out every United Kingdom side from future Euro tournaments.
Saturday matches: Switzerland v/s Poland, Wales v/s Northern Ireland, Croatia v/s Portugal (midnight)
Sunday: Germany v/s Slovakia, France v/s Ireland
An utterly meaningless India’s tour of Zimbabwe ended with happy news for the young untested Indian side. They won the ODI series 3-0, before losing the first T20 game (with MS Dhoni at the crease, AGAIN), and managing to win the next two to take the series 2-1. The third match went down to the wire, with Barinder Sran almost blowing it for his team, conceding 17 off the 21 runs required in the final over with some wayward bowling. Eventually, India won by three runs, ending a series that perhaps earned the lowest TV viewership in the history of Indian TV ratings.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka did the impossible and let England tie an ODI game that they should have won. Chasing a total of 286, England were in the dumps within the first 50 runs, before Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes and eventually Liam Plunkett sealed a heroic comeback. Needing seven off the last ball, Plunkett cleared his front foot and steamed the ball down to the long-off boundary, clearing it and sparking off wild celebrations for a team that has forgotten how to lose – at least against Sri Lanka.
And the happiest news for Indian fans in a while: Anil Kumble was appointed as senior team head coach for a period of one year, over the looming influence of Ravi Shastri – who was one of the 57 applicants, until it was down to the final two. The trio of Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar recommended the appointment of former teammate and captain Kumble, whose presence will bring a calm collected sigh of relief for fans who were worried that Shastri’s obsession with doctored pitches and jingoism would take Kohli’s men in the wrong direction.
Nico Rosberg won the first-ever European Grand Prix at the Baku circuit in Azerbaijan, extending his narrow lead back up to 24 points over teammate Lewis Hamilton, who finished a frustrating fifth after two wins in a row. This was Rosberg’s 19th career win, and his fifth of the season. More importantly, Force India’s impressive Sergio Perez managed a second podium in a row, finishing third again, arresting attention from all the big teams for next season. The next race will be the Austrian Grand Prix in the first week of July.
Dustin Johnson, last year’s US Open runner-up to Jordan Spieth, finally won his first major with one of the great performances at Oakmont Greens. He carded a Sunday 69 to defeat Jim Furyk, Shane Lowry and Scott Piercy by three shots. He is now Number 3 in the world, and the “moving ball” incident and its shambolic handling by the USGA only seems to have strengthened his position among his peers.
The Cleveland Cavaliers won their first-ever NBA title on the back of LeBron James’ greatest-ever NBA Finals performance. They became the first team to win from 3-1 down, defeating the Golden State Warriors 4-3 after losing to them 4-2 last year. James won his third NBA title, his first with his home state, in his sixth Finals in a row, sealing himself as one of the greatest NBA players of all time. His thrilling block in the dying seconds with the two teams tied at 89-89 will go down as the game’s greatest contemporary clutch moment.