It has been a stunning year of sport in 2021, with tears of both joy and pain shed across the globe.
With 2022 looming, the time feels right to celebrate a glorious 12 months and the achievements of those who have triumphed and the grace of those who fell short.
So Near, Yet So Far for England
A year later than planned, Euro 2020 was a festival of football. The controversial decision to hold it across the continent, with over 6000km between the venues in Seville and Baku, was questioned, especially with the ongoing global situation.
However, the different conditions in the host cities only added to the spectacle that was a classic tournament from start to end.
Fittingly, it was Roberto Mancini’s Italy who opened the show with a 3-0 win over Turkey. For all the flair they demonstrated that evening, it was that famous Azzurri edge that saw them crowned champions 31 days later at Wembley.
Roberto Mancini’s men held their nerve after going down to an early Luke Shaw goal in the final, equalising through Leonardo Bonucci and going on to win on penalties.
Having missed out at World Cup 2018, they have still to qualify for Qatar 2022. The Three Lions, though, are there and at 7/1, their near miss may well prove to be a valuable experience.
GB Stars Shine in Tokyo
Another event delayed by a year, the Tokyo Olympics threatened to fizzle out but actually burned bright. The USA led the medal table with 113, with China and the hosts second and third, respectively.
There were also 22 golds, 21 silvers and 22 bronze for Team GB, taking their tally to 65 and matching their haul from London 2012.
In the process, cyclist Jason Kenny became his country’s most successful Olympian by winning his seventh gold, while his wife Laura took her haul to five in the Madison.
It is the turn of the winter Olympians next year, with Beijing 2022 getting underway on February 4.
Start Spreadin’ the News, It’s Raducanu’s Day
The British media can be a fickle bunch, as Emma Raducanu found out after retiring in the second set of her fourth-round match at Wimbledon against Ajla Tomljanovic.
Playing in her first Grand Slam, the 19-year-old admitted to breathing difficulties, prompting the press pack to come charging after her.
How they were made to eat their unkind words when two months later she became Britain’s first female Grand Slam singles champion since Virginia Wade in 1977 at the US Open.
Even more impressive was that she did it as a qualifier and without dropping a set at Flushing Meadows, beating fellow teenager Leylah Fernandez 6-4 6-3 in the final.
Unsurprisingly, Raducanu was later named BBC Sports Personality of the year, a gong she is 8/1 to retain in 2022. With her priced at 6/1 to repeat her Big Apple success, who knows what the future holds for this talented teen.
Blackmore Rides Into Grand National History
Another female force to be reckoned with, jockey Rachael Blackmore enjoyed a stunning 2021.
First, she became the only woman to be crowned the leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival. Her headline success saw her become the first female to take out the Champion Hurdle as she partnered Honeysuckle to glory.
As magnificent as her March was, the rider will still always be remembered for April when she became the first female jockey to win the holy grail of Jump Racing, the Grand National.
The 32-year-old and her mount Minella Times produced a “sensational spin” to win at Aintree ahead of fellow Henry de Bromhead-trained runner Balko Des Flos.
Blackmore admitted afterwards that the performance had made her feel superhuman and another successful spring may beckon in 2022.
Brady Leads the Bucs to Super Bowl Glory
After seeing his glittering 20-year spell with the New England Patriots come to an end, Tom Brady migrated south for the 2020 season to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Joined in Florida by old pal Rob Gronkowski, the GOAT recovered from a losing start against New Orleans to lead the Bucs to an 11-5 season, winning their final four games, before beating Washington, New Orleans and Green Bay to reach Super Bowl LV.
The defending champion Kansas City Chiefs were lying in wait at Raymond James Stadium but on home turf in Tampa, even Patrick Mahomes couldn’t stop Brady.
A fifth Super Bowl MVP award felt almost inevitable and the 44-year-old lived up to the hype, throwing three touchdown passes, two of them to Gronkowski, as Bruce Arians’ side claimed their franchise’s second NFL title.
The 7/1 Bucs could be heading back to the Super Bowl, with their 11-4 record meaning they have already wrapped up the NFC South.
Verstappen Late Show Seals Maiden Crown
The feeling is that 2021 helped put Formula 1 back on the agenda, with diehard fans and neutrals alike absorbed in the title battle between Mercedes’ seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and young pretender Max Verstappen of Red Bull.
With the drivers tied in the standings heading into the final race in Abu Dhabi, drama looked guaranteed and the race didn’t disappoint, with the pair coming together on the opening lap.
After trailing for much of the race, Verstappen took advantage of a late safety car to make a decisive pass on the final lap and claim his maiden world crown.
The pair are set to resume their rivalry in 2022, with the 24-year-old 5/2 to repeat the feat, while Hamilton is 20/21 to win a record-breaking eighth Drivers’ title.
*All odds correct at time of writing.