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2018 sporting highs and lows

2018 sporting highs and lows
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Gareth Southgate's youthful England side won hearts and minds in Russia.

As the highs and lows of the sporting year are considered, for the first time in a generation the exploits of England at football's World Cup can be firmly planted in the former category.

Gareth Southgate's youthful side won hearts and minds in Russia as they played with a newfound joie de vivre that carried them to the semi-finals, even winning a penalty shootout along the way.

Harry Kane enhanced his reputation by claiming the Golden Boot with six goals and England's overall contribution to a compelling tournament reignited some long-lost passion for the national side.

Ultimately Croatia proved a step too far and Belgium also swept them aside in the third place play-off but the prevailing feeling was a new era had begun.

So that proved as, in the autumn, England built on their successes by exacting revenge on Croatia and claiming a memorable win in Spain to reach the inaugural Nations League finals.

The biggest World Cup plaudits went to France, who capped a memorable event with a 4-2 win over Croatia in the final. Kylian Mbappe was outstanding throughout, as was Paul Pogba, in contrast to his Manchester United travails.

Manchester City powered to Premier League title glory
Manchester City powered to Premier League title glory (Martin Rickett/PA)

At club level Manchester City swept almost all before them as they wrapped up the Premier League title with five games to spare, clocking up a record number of points (100), goals (106) and wins (32).

Yet it was not all plain sailing for Pep Guardiola's men as they were knocked out of the FA Cup by bogey side Wigan, then of League One, and Liverpool eliminated them in the Champions League.

Liverpool went on to reach the final but came unstuck against a Gareth Bale-inspired Real Madrid in Kiev. Bale came off the bench to score two goals, the first a stunning overheard kick, but the errors of Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius commanded as much attention.

Lewis Hamilton became a five-time world champion
Lewis Hamilton became a five-time world champion (PA)

In Formula One, Lewis Hamilton celebrated his fifth world title while Britain hailed another Tour de France winner in Welshman Geraint Thomas.

Anthony Joshua continued to reign supreme as holder of three versions of the heavyweight world crown with big-stadium victories over Carlos Takam and Joseph Parker while Tyson Fury made a stunning return to the ring. Back after a three year hiatus, the Mancunian claimed a brilliant draw against WBC title-holder Deontay Wilder.

England's cricketers also had a fine year, bouncing back from a dismal winter in Australia and New Zealand with emphatic Test series wins over India and Sri Lanka. James Anderson became the top wicket-taking seamer in Test cricket and Alastair Cook bowed out in fairytale fashion with a century at The Oval.

In rugby union, Ireland enjoyed a Grand Slam and a memorable autumn win over New Zealand while French side Catalans Dragons caused a stir to become the first non-English winners of rugby league's Challenge Cup.

France's brilliant sporting year continued as Paris hosted a superb Ryder Cup, where team Europe, inspired by Open winner Francesco Molinari, beat the United States 17.5-10.5.

The Americans simply failed to fire and their tournament ended with some unedifying bickering. Brooks Koepka could not replicate the form that won him two majors in 2018 and Tiger Woods, after producing one of sport's greatest comebacks to win the Tour Championship, was jaded. Worst of all was Phil Mickelson, who looked a shadow of his former self. His hapless performance was summed up as he dumped the ball in the water on Sunday to cement his side's defeat.

Mickelson and Woods were also involved in a crass attempt by golf to break into the pay-per-view market dominated by boxing. Their much-hyped head to head, 'The Match', for which 9million US dollars was at stake for the winner, earned widespread derision.

Australian cricket was rocked by a ball-tampering scandal after Cameron Bancroft was filmed hiding sandpaper down his trousers during a Test in South Africa. There was public outrage, leading to humiliating bans for Bancroft, skipper Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner.

Tempers flared in Formula One as Max Verstappen confronted and shoved Esteban Ocon after crashing in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Verstappen had seemingly been on course for victory when Ocon took him out attempting to unlap himself.

In Argentina the Copa Libertadores final had to be postponed after the Boca Juniors team bus was attacked by fans of fierce rivals River Plate. There were also unsavoury scenes outside Anfield in April as Liverpool fans pelted the Manchester City bus with missiles.

Julen Lopetegui was sacked by both Spain and Real Madrid in the space of four months
Julen Lopetegui was sacked by both Spain and Real Madrid in the space of four months (Nick Potts/PA)

A footballing fiasco unfolded in Spain as Julen Lopetegui was sacked as national team boss on the eve of the World Cup. The Spanish FA had been furious to discover Lopetegui had agreed to take over Real Madrid after the tournament. It was a move that did not work out for Lopetegui as he lasted just four months at the Bernabeu.

Not all lowlights are controversial. Sometimes there are moments when competitors just want the earth to open up. For that, Roma's Cengiz Under's stunning open goal miss from six yards in a Champions League clash against Real Madrid takes some beating.

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Rory McIlroy in action during day one of the Ryder Cup on September 28, 2018
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