Thrills, spills and Brazil: We’re in for vintage 2014

 
Frank Dalleres
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Sports editor Frank Dalleres looks forward to a World Cup, Commonwealth Games, Winter Olympics and much more

FOOTBALL
World Cup, 12 June - 13 July
Gold and green, questionable samba references, sweltering temperatures: this year is all about the World Cup in the Beautiful Game’s spiritual home, Brazil. The hosts, Argentina, Germany and Spain are the favourites, while England must negotiate a tough group including Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica if they are to better their 2010 achievement of reaching the last 16. A drab Euro 2012 and laboured qualification have ensured that expectations are low for Roy Hodgson’s men, who begin their tournament against the Azzurri on 14 June. The promising form of Wayne Rooney, despite Manchester United’s struggles in the first half of the season, is the strongest – the less charitable might say only – cause for optimism.

COMMONWEALTH GAMES
23 July – 3 August
Two years on from London’s hugely successful staging of the Olympic Games, Glasgow hosts its smaller sibling, the Commonwealth Games. England will hope to improve on their third place in the medal table from four years ago in India, although Mo Farah, normally the most bankable track hope, has indicated he is unlikely to compete. Instead our cyclists, on the city’s roads and at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, will be fancied to repeat their London heroics, while Olympic gold-winning heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill is set to carry the nation’s hopes in track and field. World’s fastest man Usain Bolt says he wants to win his first Commonwealth titles this summer in Scotland.

WINTER OLYMPICS
7 - 23 February
Skiing, skating and of course curling take centre stage next month when the Winter Olympics rock up in the Russian city of Sochi, on the shores of the Black Sea. Great Britain’s medal hopes are likely to be modest – they finished 19th out of 26 nations in the Calgary 2010 medal table, behind renowned winter specialists such as Australia – but skeleton bob world champion Shelley Rudman, European speed skating champion Elise Christie and the men’s and women’s curling teams all have strong claims. American superstars of the slopes Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn are aiming for more gold in snowboarding and skiing respectively. Controversy lingers over the Games, however, due to Russia’s outlawing of the promotion of homosexuality.

GOLF
Ryder Cup, 26 - 28 September
It will take something special to eclipse the drama of 2012’s Miracle of Medinah, but a return to Gleneagles has all the makings of another classic tussle between Europe and the United States. Four winners from the last six Majors and Tiger Woods’s return to world No1 bode well for American hopes of a first away triumph since 1993, while their captain at the Belfry that weekend, Tom Watson, is back to lead the US again. Paul McGinley’s European side looks sure to feature Major winners Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, as well as veterans of that brilliant final-day comeback at the last event, such as Englishmen Ian Poulter and Luke Donald.

TENNIS
Having broken his grand slam duck in 2012 and gone one better by ending Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s singles champion at Wimbledon in 2013, Andy Murray has his sights trained on more glory over the next 12 months. He has trained through the winter to recover from back surgery in time for January’s Australian Open, followed by a big Davis Cup tie against the United States.

FORMULA ONE
New engine regulations set to take effect this year promise to shake up Formula One’s established order and pose the biggest threat to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s continued dominance. Britain’s Lewis Hamilton and a reshuffled Mercedes paddock have high hopes of dethroning the German, who is aiming to emulate his hero Michael Schumacher’s five consecutive titles.

CRICKET
England look to forget their Ashes catastrophe with a slew of one-day and Twenty20 matches in Australia before heading to the West Indies next month for more limited-overs fare and then, in March, to Bangladesh for the World Twenty20. Their first Test action of the summer comes with two matches against Sri Lanka, at Lord’s and Headingley, followed by a blockbusting five-Test home series against India.

RUGBY UNION
With little over a year until England host the World Cup, head coach Stuart Lancaster is running out of time to gain some silverware-winning experience. Injuries and a mixed autumn have tempered hopes of wresting the Six Nations from Wales but England can lay down a marker in their mouthwatering opening match, against France in Paris, on 1 February.

CYCLING
Chris Froome is aiming to become the first Briton to retain the Tour de France this summer, having fulfilled a lifetime ambition to win the yellow jersey last year. The Kenya-born rider is set to begin his defence in Yorkshire – one of three stages in England – where sprinter Mark Cavendish is targeting a stage win. Whether Sir Bradley Wiggins can rediscover his own Tour-winning form presents an intriguing subplot.