The continuing coronavirus pandemic ensured that 2021 was a year of sport like no other, yet despite lockdowns and behind-closed-doors events, there were still plenty of highlights throughout the year.
Major competitions like the Tokyo Olympics, European Championship and Copa America took place after being pushed back from 2020, contributing to a bumper 12 months of sport around the globe.
There were record-breaking feats, unforgettable triumphs and blockbuster moves galore, so much so that some hugely notable achievements still miss out on a place in this list.
A host of events from the Olympics and Paralympics are worthy of honourable mentions, as are Novak Djokovic's ninth Australian Open title and Daniil Medvedev's first Grand Slam triumph at the US Open.
Europe picked up only their second Solheim Cup win on American soil, Hideki Matsuyama became the first male Japanese golfer to win a major at The Masters and Gerwyn Price won the PDC World Darts Championship for the first time.
There were also memorable moments on a smaller scale, such as Julianna Pena's stunning upset of Amanda Nunes at UFC 269 and Alisson Becker's incredible headed winner for Liverpool against West Bromwich Albion in May.
It speaks volumes for the number of standout events that none of them make the cut below, as Sports Mole counts down the top 25 sporting moments of 2021.
25. Ajaz Patel takes 10 wickets in an innings (December 4)
New Zealand's Test tour to face India was not expected to make this list, but Ajaz Patel's exploits in the second Test earned him a place in cricket folklore.
The India-born New Zealand international incredibly took all 10 wickets in a single innings to bowl the hosts out for 325 runs, becoming only the third player in cricket history to achieve that feat.
Patel follows in the footsteps of Jim Laker and Anil Kumble, although his achievement of joining such an exclusive club was ultimately in vain as New Zealand were bowled out for only 62 and lost the deciding contest of the two-match series.
24. Mark Cavendish equals Eddy Merckx Tour de France record (July 9)
In a golden age of British cycling, Mark Cavendish's achievements have not been quite as eye-catching as Olympics golds or Tour de France triumphs, yet his legendary status is without doubt.
The Manx Missile's list of records and honours is a lengthy one, and he added perhaps the most prestigious of all in July by winning his 34th stage of the Tour de France.
In doing so, the sprinter supreme equalled Eddy Merckx's record which had stood for 46 years, putting him in his rightful place alongside one of the greatest names cycling has ever produced.
23. Jason Kenny becomes Britain's most decorated Olympian (August 8)
One half of Great Britain's golden couple added another major achievement to his honours list in August, as Jason Kenny became the nation's most decorated Olympian.
The 33-year-old successfully defended his Olympic keirin title - defying his own expectations in the process - to take his overall tally of golds to seven, moving out on his own ahead of fellow cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy in the all-time list.
Kenny also has two silvers to his name to make it nine Olympic medals in total - another all-time record for Team GB.
22. Age-defying Phil Mickelson wins PGA Championship (May 23)
Phil Mickelson's place in golf history was already secure long before his triumph at this year's PGA Championship, but he wrote another chapter in his legendary career in South Carolina.
Aged 50 years, 11 months and seven days, Mickelson's victory saw him become the oldest player to win a major in golf history, beating the previous mark by more than two-and-a-half years.
21. Wales win Six Nations title (March 26)
A Six Nations tournament like no other fittingly ended like no other in March, with the grand finale delayed until six days later than planned due to an earlier outbreak of COVID-19 within the France squad.
Wales had the chance to wrap up the title and the Grand Slam on March 20 when they faced France in Paris, but a thrilling, last-gasp 32-30 defeat to Les Bleus in their final match saw them face an agonising wait to discover their fate.
France's round three match with Scotland had been postponed until March 26, and the previous weekend's result meant that victory by at least 21 points would hand them the title for the first time since 2010, at Wales' expense.
However, Scotland did the business for their fellow Brits, nicking a 27-23 win in Paris courtesy of an 80th-minute try, despite playing without the red-carded Finn Russell for the final 10 minutes - their first win away to France this century.
While Wales celebrated, it was a tournament to forget for England, who finished fifth with just two wins from their five games.
20. Rachael Blackmore makes history with Grand National win (April 10)
Always a highlight of the horse racing calendar, the 2021 Grand National was particularly notable this year as Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the prestigious event.
As with many events in the first half of the year, the race was forced behind closed doors for the first time ever, robbing Blackmore of what would have been an unforgettable roar as she crossed the finish line on Minella Times.
Nonetheless, it was an historic occasion in a golden year for the Irishwoman as she became the first female to win in the race's 182-year history, while it was also a first Grand National victory for trainer Henry de Bromhead.
19. Australia win T20 World Cup (November 14)
History was certain to be made heading into the 2021 T20 World Cup final, with rivals Australia and New Zealand both competing to lift the trophy for the very first time.
The tournament had initially been due to take place in Australia, only for coronavirus to relocate it to the United Arab Emirates, but Aaron Finch's side more than made up for that by winning the tournament regardless.
New Zealand had set the bar high with the biggest total in a T20 World Cup final, Kane Williamson's 85 off just 48 balls helping them to 172-4.
However, Australia then broke that mark themselves with seven balls to spare as Mitchell Marsh clattered 77 off 50 to lift his side to 173-2.
18. Record-breaking USA dominate Europe to regain Ryder Cup (September 24-26)
The most eagerly-anticipated and vociferously-supported event in golf was one of the many casualties of COVID-19 in 2020, but it was rearranged for this year at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
Europe had dominated the event since the turn of the century, winning seven of the nine meetings, but it was the USA who entered this year's competition as heavy favourites due to the majority of their team boasting much better world rankings than their European counterparts.
The main hope for Europe appeared to be that their team ethos would outshine a team of exceptionally talented American individuals, as has often happened in the past, and a bubbling feud between Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau had the potential to light the fuse for a USA implosion.
However, it was quite the opposite in the end as the USA produced a stunning performance, with every team member pulling his weight and the weekend even ending with Koepka and DeChambeau sharing a celebratory embrace. If any one player stood out it was arguably Dustin Johnson, who became just the third player in Ryder Cup history to win all five of his matches over the course of a weekend.
Europe were blown away, eventually going down 19-9 for the heaviest Ryder Cup defeat of all time, surpassing the 18.5-9.5 scorelines from 1981, 2004 and 2006.
Most worrying for the Europeans is that the USA team is full of young players, most of whom who could quite possibly be together and form a formidable unit for the next 20 years or so.
17. South Africa win British & Irish Lions tour (August 7)
There were numerous suggestions that the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour may not even go ahead due to coronavirus, but the two parties found a way to make it work and what followed was another nail-biting series for rugby's most famous tourists.
The Lions won five of their six warm-up games, although their solitary defeat - to South Africa A - made them underdogs heading into the first Test.
Warren Gatland's side got the upper-hand with a 22-17 triumph in Cape Town, seemingly putting themselves on course for a memorable series victory over the world champions.
However, the Springboks hit back a week later with a convincing 27-9 triumph to send the Lions to a series decider for their third consecutive tour.
The remarkable prospect of a second successive drawn tour was on the table with the two sides level at 16-16 heading into the final two minutes, when Morne Steyn's late penalty broke Lions hearts and sent South Africa into raptures.
16. Milwaukee Bucks win NBA Championship (July 20)
Milwaukee was treated to celebrations the like of which had not been seen in more than a generation as the Bucks won the NBA Championship for the first time in 50 years in July.
Taking on a Phoenix Suns side appearing in the Finals for the first time since 1993 themselves, Milwaukee's hopes of ending their long wait for glory looked to be destined to end in disappointment when they lost the first two games in the seven-match series.
However, led by future Hall of Famer Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks fought back to win four matches on the spin, wrapping the series up with a game to spare and becoming only the fifth team in Finals history to win from 2-0 down.
Antetokounmpo's individual heroics saw him join an exclusive list of players for a number of different feats, while his Finals MVP award saw him become the first in NBA history to win that as well as the Most Improved Player, MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards.
15. Leicester win the FA Cup (May 15)
Having climbed the most unlikely of mountains five years previously to win the Premier League against all the odds, Leicester City were once again celebrating in May as they won the world's oldest football competition for the first time in their history.
Despite another impressive season in which they pushed for Champions League qualification once again, the Foxes were firm underdogs against a Chelsea side that, just weeks later, would go on to be crowned European champions.
A crowd of 20,000 was allowed into Wembley Stadium as English football began to creep closer towards a semblance of normality following the COVID-19 lockdown, and while they were not treated to an all-time classic FA Cup final, they did witness one of the great FA Cup final goals.
Youri Tielemans's long-range strike midway through the second half was enough to hand Leicester the FA Cup for the first time ever, although not without some late drama as VAR disallowed what appeared to have been a last-minute Chelsea equaliser.
14. High jump gold shared at Tokyo Olympics (August 1)
The delayed 2020 Olympics may have lacked some of the household names of years gone by, and been played out behind closed doors due to coronavirus, but they still managed to produce moments the like of which only Olympic Games can.
Perhaps the standout moment of all came in the greatest men's high jump final of all time, as a gold medal was shared between athletes in a track and field event for the first time since 1912.
A dramatic jump-off was expected, but instead Barshim asked the officials whether it was possible to "have two golds", which the official acknowledged could be possible.
The duo did not wait for any further confirmation, immediately peeling off in celebration at the historic event and providing one of the most enduring moments of the Games.
13. Tom Brady-inspired Tampa Bay Buccaneers win Super Bowl LV (February 7)
Tom Brady's exit from the New England Patriots in 2019 appeared to signal an end to the most dominant era in the NFL, but at 43 years old the legendary quarterback ensured that it was the Patriots' spell of success which would end, rather than his own.
In his first season with the Buccaneers, Brady led Tampa Bay to just their second ever Super Bowl appearance - a feat made all the more special by the fact that the showpiece event would be played at their home stadium, the first time that had ever been the case for any Super Bowl participant.
Nonetheless, they still went into the match as underdogs against a Kansas City Chiefs side that had lifted the Vince Lombardi trophy the previous year and gone through the 2020 regular season with the best record in the entire NFL.
Their quarterback Patrick Mahomes has already been tipped as a future Hall of Famer and possible GOAT, but he was utterly outshone and outclassed by the current holder of that crown as Brady threw for three touchdowns and 201 yards on his way to being named the Super Bowl MVP for a scarcely-believable fifth time.
This time he had done it as the oldest player in Super Bowl history, while his 10th Super Bowl appearance, seventh Super Bowl victory and 21st Super Bowl touchdown pass were just three more of the numerous records Brady broke in the latest, and arguably the most remarkable, chapter of his storied career.
A record five of those passes have been to his old Patriots partner in crime Rob Gronkowski, who helped himself to two touchdowns in Tampa Bay's convincing 31-9 win.
12. Australia retain The Ashes against sorry England (December 28)
Just a month-and-a-half after winning the T20 World Cup, Australia's Test side clinched what many in the country still regard as cricket's biggest prize - and they did it in style too.
The Baggy Greens humiliated their greatest rivals England to retain The Ashes after just three Tests, rarely giving England a chance to even dream of victory in one of the most one-sided Ashes series.
Australia won the first Test by nine wickets, the second Test by 275 runs and then wrapped up the series with victory by an innings and 14 runs after just three days of the third Test.
The Aussies bowled England out for a combined two-innings total of just 254 runs in that third Test, a fitting end to a disastrous attempt to reclaim the Urn for the tourists and one which keeps them on course for the possibility of another 5-0 series whitewash Down Under.
11. Christian Eriksen suffers cardiac arrest at Euro 2020 (June 12)
The world watched in horror on just the second day of Euro 2020 as Denmark's Group B clash with Finland was halted in the 43rd minute after Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch.
The former Tottenham Hotspur playmaker - just 29 years of age - suffered a cardiac arrest on the touchline, and it was only the quick thinking of those around him that saved his life.
Paramedics performed CPR on the field in front of live television audiences, while Denmark captain Simon Kjaer formed a protective shield around the stricken player and consoled his devastated wife.
Eriksen was then taken to a local hospital where he was treated, and it was only after he awoke that the Denmark team agreed to complete the match that evening.
Finland ultimately won the game, but the result was of secondary importance and Denmark still managed to recover to make it all the way to the semi-finals of the competition.
Eriksen, meanwhile, is hopeful of resuming his career following the life-saving exploits of those around him, and the actions of those individuals turned what could have been one of the most tragic incidents in international football history into one of the most inspiring ones.
10. Tyson Fury beats Deontay Wilder in classic (October 10)
One of the biggest heavyweight rivalries in a generation came to a head in October, as Tyson Fury ended his trilogy with Deontay Wilder by knocking the American out in the 11th round.
Both fighters weighed in at their career-heaviest and proceeded to produce one of the all-time great heavyweight title bouts which eventually saw Fury claim his second win over Wilder.
The Brit sent his opponent to the canvas in the third round, but Wilder roared back and looked to be on course for a famous victory when he floored Fury twice in the fourth.
The reigning champion showed his remarkable resolve to survive and regain control of the fight, though, and he was dominant again by the time he knocked Wilder down once more in the 10th.
Wilder himself refused to give in and gained huge respect for his resilience, but the referee eventually stepped in in the 11th round after the American was floored once again.
9. Cristiano Ronaldo rejoins Manchester United (August 31)
Arguably the two greatest footballers of all time both on the move in the same window was always going to generate headlines, but the prospect of Ronaldo - a Manchester United legend - joining Manchester City made the news even more of a blockbuster.
However, just when it looked as though a switch to the Etihad Stadium was in the works, the saga took an unexpected twist and accelerated in remarkable fashion over the space of 24 hours.
Rumoured calls from Sir Alex Ferguson and other former Manchester United players reportedly convinced Ronaldo to snub Man City and instead return to Old Trafford, 12 years after his initial exit.
The Red Devils confirmed the huge news on August 27, but fans were forced to wait until deadline day for the official announcement as the prodigal son returned home.
8. Chelsea win the Champions League (May 29)
Two weeks after suffering the disappointment of an FA Cup final defeat, Chelsea landed an even bigger prize by lifting the Champions League trophy for only the second time in their history.
This time it was Thomas Tuchel's team who went into the match as underdogs against a Manchester City side for whom winning the Champions League had been an obsession ever since being taken over in 2008.
Porto was eventually chosen as the host for only the third-ever Champions League final between two English clubs, and it was ultimately decided by Kai Havertz's solitary goal as Chelsea carved their name into the most prestigious club trophy in world football for the second time.
Just over 14,000 were in attendance to watch the historic moment due to coronavirus restrictions, but millions more Chelsea fans across the world celebrated one of the greatest nights in the club's history.
7. Argentina win Copa America (July 10)
Despite the arguments of those who deny Lionel Messi's claim to GOAT status, the Argentine maestro did not need international glory to cement his credentials, but finally landing a major trophy with his country was nevertheless the only sizeable hole in his otherwise watertight resume.
Numerous near-misses in the past had become more painful each time, with one previous Copa America final defeat prompting Messi to briefly walk away from international duty.
The 2021 tournament - already delayed a year - had a tumultuous build-up as Colombia and Argentina were both removed from their co-hosting duties less than a month before it was due to get underway, with Brazil instead being selected.
Argentina's lack of host duties did not deter them, though, as they went through the entire tournament unbeaten and overcame their bitter rivals Brazil 1-0 in the final at the Maracana.
Incredibly, it was La Albiceleste's first Copa America crown since 1993, but the headline was undoubtedly the end of Messi's international trophy drought rather than his country's.
The talismanic number 10 won the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball for the tournament, which formed the foundation for his seventh Ballon d'Or trophy in November.
6. Lionel Messi leaves Barcelona (August 5)
Less than a month after one of the highlights of his career in winning the Copa America, Lionel Messi suffered one of the low points as the day most football fans thought would never come arrived.
An agreement had been reached between Barcelona and Messi, who arrived at the club to put pen to paper having performed a U-turn on his attempt to leave the previous summer following a change in ownership.
However, in a remarkable turn of events, rather than extending his career-long stay at Camp Nou, Barcelona instead announced that their greatest player ever - one many regard as the greatest of all time - would be leaving the club.
Years of mismanagement had left the Spanish giants unable to afford to keep Messi, and three days later the all-time La Liga top scorer confirmed in a tearful press conference that his time at the club was indeed over.
5. Novak Djokovic equals Grand Slam record at Wimbledon (July 11)
The Serbian drew level with his two great contemporaries in arguably the main statistic in that argument, winning his record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title at this year's Wimbledon.
A straight-sets victory over Italy's Matteo Berrettini in the final on Centre Court gave him his sixth Wimbledon crown - a tally only Federer and Pete Sampras can beat since 1890 - and also saw him become the first person since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon in the same calendar year.
Achieving the almost-mythical Golden Slam - winning all four majors and Olympic gold in the same calendar year - was still on and may well have cemented his status as the GOAT, but he ultimately missed out on a medal in Tokyo and lost in the final of the US Open.
4. The rise and fall of the European Super League (April 18-21)
Football was rocked to its grass roots in April when 12 of Europe's biggest clubs announced their intention to form a European Super League to rival UEFA's Champions League.
Led by Florentino Perez, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan and Atletico Madrid all put their names to the plans, provoking an immediate uproar from fans, players, journalists, managers and just about everyone else involved in football.
At best, the hugely limited options for clubs to break into the league made it an elitist competition which lent little weight to sporting merit, while at worst it threatened to cause the death of football as we knew it.
The outrage and backlash in England especially was so severe that the dominos began to fall within 48 hours of a long-planned but disastrously-produced mutiny, with Chelsea the first to signal their intent to withdraw.
The rest of the English clubs soon followed suit, closely followed by Atletico and the Milan clubs on April 21. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus have still not formally withdrawn from the plans, and remain committed to trying to make it work.
Such a prospect now appears much less likely after this attempt was so violently and viscerally rejected, as a scheme which threatened to divide football instead united it and showed just how powerful fans can be when they come together.
3. Italy beat England to win Euro 2020 (July 11)
One day after Argentina were crowned champions of their continent, Italy enjoyed the same glory at Euro 2020 with a penalty shootout victory over England at Wembley.
The Three Lions had enjoyed a dream summer, largely in front of their own fans, with unforgettable wins over Germany, Ukraine and Denmark in the knockout rounds taking them to a first major final since 1966.
Hopes of finally ending their long wait for an international trophy were just 90 minutes away from becoming a reality as Gareth Southgate's class of 2021 tried to join the 1966 immortals, and they got off to a perfect start in the final too as Luke Shaw gave them the lead after only two minutes.
However, England failed to capitalise on such a dream opening and Italy, who themselves had overcome Belgium and Spain en route to the final, fought their way back into the contest.
An equaliser from Leonardo Bonucci with less than 25 minutes remaining forced penalties, and costly misses from Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka saw England's wait for glory continue in the most agonising fashion.
2. Max Verstappen ends Lewis Hamilton dominance (December 12)
Even the most ardent F1 fan would acknowledge that Lewis Hamilton's and Mercedes' recent dominance of the competition has limited the excitement of a season, which made Max Verstappen's challenge in 2021 all the more engrossing.
The 24-year-old - the fearless, bullish new kid on the world title scene - was coming up against the seven-time champion and a man who had earned his place in the conversation of the greatest of all time.
Clashes between the pair and their respective teams both on and off the track had added to the allure of the season, and an unlikely comeback from Hamilton in the final weeks of the campaign set up a script no-one would have dared predict.
Victory in Saudi Arabia for Hamilton saw the two drivers go into the final race of the season exactly level on points for the first time since 1974 and only the second time in F1 history, although Verstappen held a slight advantage having won more races over the course of the season, meaning that if neither finished in Abu Dhabi, the Dutchman would be crowned world champion.
Suggestions that the aggressive Verstappen could look to take Hamilton out of the race proved unfounded, although they did touch in the opening laps as Verstappen forced Hamilton off the track after Hamilton's superior start had seen him snatch first place from his rival.
Hamilton was controversially allowed to keep hold of first place after that incident and looked to be cruising to an unprecedented eighth crown, until the real drama began to unfold in the closing stages.
Nicholas Latifi's crash on lap 53 of 58 brought out the safety car, bringing Verstappen back into the fold, and race director Michael Masi then controversially ruled that the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen would be allowed to pass the safety car and unlap themselves.
That left Verstappen immediately behind Hamilton and on the fresher tyres, and the Dutchman subsequently passed the reigning champion to win the title on the final lap in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Mercedes lodged complaints against the ruling, but those were rejected and Verstappen was left to celebrate his first world title.
1. Emma Raducanu wins Women's US Open in the Fairytale of New York (September 11)
On a 20th anniversary which saw New York pay tribute to the past, it was also treated to a glimpse of the future of women's tennis when 18-year-old Brit Emma Raducanu took on 19-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez in the US Open final.
Featuring two women who were not even born when the 9/11 tragedy struck, the showpiece was already an historic occasion before a ball was hit, and the match more than lived up to its considerable hype.
Raducanu-mania had swept Great Britain and a superstar was well and truly born as the younger of the two won the match 6-4 6-3.
In doing so, Raducanu became the first player in tennis history - male or female - to go through qualifying at a Grand Slam and proceed to lift the trophy, with her journey to glory lasting three weeks rather than the customary two.
Even more remarkably, she did it without dropping a single set along the way - a monumental achievement which was hailed by some as the greatest ever seen in British sport.
Raducanu's success saw her become the first British woman to win a Grand Slam since Virginia Wade 44 years earlier and leap from 150th in the world to 23rd, becoming the British number one in the process.