Monday was, for us Canberrans anyway, a public holiday (it now feels so long ago!). And it feels slightly wrong to write a Monday Musings piece about the weekends best sporting moments when we are now closer to the weekend coming, if you count Friday night sport anyway.

But alas, there were two sporting events that occurred on the weekend that are not only worthy of but necessitate a quick review.

The dust may have settled but for the Sydney Swans the pain probably still makes them feel numb. The AFL Grand Final on Saturday saw Sydney start as clear favourites against Hawthorn at the MCG.  Sydney had the so-called ‘Bondi Billionaires’ to wreak havoc across the forward line and a midfield full of tough as nails onballers. Thats not to say the match was theirs for the taking. In their way stood a Hawthorn side playing in their third consecutive grand final. The epitomy of consistency. A side who had overcome off-field drama, injuries and loss of one of the best players in the AFL, to Sydney no less, in the off season.

The most disappointing thing about the whole grand final was that there was only ever one team it. Sydney had the better of the opening few minutes but once Hawthorn settled they went from strength to strength. And the anticipated Sydney revival and challenge never materialised. They were forced in to playing a lose man in defence in the second quarter just to stem the tide, they got smashed in the contested ball, couldn’t penetrate the Hawthorn defence and gradually wilted in the face of Hawthorn’s onslaught. Hawthorn played to the level expected of a side playing in a grand final while Sydney feel well short. And the final ten goal margin didn’t flatter the Hawks one bit.

Hawthorn had winners all over the ground. Luke Hodge was a deserving winner of the Norm Smith medal, and a romantic one as club captain and playing in his 250th game. He had 35 possessions, and was one of four Hawks who had more than 30. Jordan Lewis would have been just as deserving, as would Sam Mitchell. Brad Hill may not have the reputation of some of the others, or the possession count, but he broke the lines, created scoring opportunities for teammates and was as influential as anyone in the first half when the game was their to be won. He is one of a number of young players who have emerged for Hawthorn and this is one of the reasons that they and many others will believe that a third consecutive premiership is possible.

Sunday saw the conclusion of the world cycling championships with the mens road race in Ponferrada, Spain. All sorts of riders had proclaimed they had a chance of victory on a circuit that, whilst not easy, was certainly not as difficult as some that have come before it. An early break went away but it only included four riders and even they weren’t household names. The break was doomed, even if the lead did reach 15 minutes.

Poland did a lot of the work on the front, controlling the break and marshalling the peloton. It was a move that, at the time, many people questioned. But it also showed extreme confidence in their leader, Michal Kwiatkowski. Post race reviews have compared the racing pattern to an early season Milan San Remo, with the action condensed in the final ten minutes. And while this isn’t entirely true it is not a completely unfair criticism.

The Italians were the main protagonists but there were others who tried to spice the race up over the last four laps (70 odd kilometres). But while there were plenty of moves no individual or group of riders ever managed to gain more than a minute and each move lacked conviction and cooperation.

Ultimately the winning move came slightly earlier than expected, but still only ten minutes from the finnish. Kwiatkowski may have been isloated after his teammates had spent themselves getting him in position but on the descent of the first of the two climbs he slipped off the front of the main peloton, bridged seemingly effortlessly to the four leaders, sat on them briefly and then attacked. This was when the race was won. As Kwiatkowski ascended the final hurdle behind him was pure mayhem as cyclings one day stars exploded on the final climb. Approaching the top Kwiatkowski looked a spent force. He crested the climb with around five kilometres to go and his gap to the chasers was a mere 7 seconds. Those chasers were some of cyclings elite – Philippe Gilbert, Simon Gerrans, Alejandro Valverde, Greg Van Avermaet, Tony Gallopin and Matti Breschel.

But Kwiatowski had timed his attack perfectly. The technical descent suited him down to the ground and he knew that any gap at the top might well be enough to hold on to victory. The hesitation in the group behind was minimal but the lack of co-operation was costly. Belgium was the only nation with two riders left and it was left to Phillipe Gilbert to do the chasing. The descent allowed Kwiatkowski enough time to recover and he held his advantage on the flatter closing kilometres to complete a memorable win. Behind it was Gerrans who won the sprint for second, ahead of Valverde. Second seconds behind Kwiatkowski the the first of the “sprinters” crossed the line, with Alexander Kristoff leading home the remanants of the peloton.

Ultimately Kwiatkowski and Poland were rewarded. Poland had done the bulk of the work during the race. They kept Kwiatowski out of trouble and he completed the job with a daring attack that caught his rivals off guard. The race proved more selective than expected, but only just. The next two editions include far less climbing and a sprint from a large peloton looks the most likely otcome.

Lets start with a quick look back to last year. Rui Costa took the win after a select group of four had gone clear, the others being Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali and Joaquim Rodriguez. Why is this relevant? Last years course was easier to define and always likely to favour the stronger climbers. This years course still has people guessing, with many tipping sprinters and believing it will be a much larger group that comes to the finish. While the climbing might not be quite as difficult as it was last year this years course has more vertical climbing, 4284 compared to 3,600 metres.

The Route:

 

14 laps of an 18.2km circuit totaling 254.8km. There is no doubt that the cumulative climbing and kilometres will take their toll. As the graphic above shows, the circuit features two climbs, the first is a more regular affair, while the second is shorter and steeper. The chance of rain means the roads could be dangerous, and a good descender (such as Fabian Cancellara or Nibali), could escape on the second more technical descent to claim the win. The last kilometer includes a couple of roundabouts, with the final 600 metres straight and flat to the line.

The scenario:

There are a number of strong teams in the race that will seek to control proceedings at different times. Most likely the day’s break will take a while to get established and will include plenty of second tier riders from big countries who’s primary role will be to patrol proceedings at the front. Once the teams of Spain, Italy and maybe Poland and Great Britain come to the front the pace will steadily increase, with each lap being quicker than the last. Australia also send one of the strongest teams, with two of the big pre-race favourites, but they are unlikely to appear at the front until the last lap or two, unless they have missed a break and are chasing. Why? Because both Simon Gerrans and Michael Matthews can sprint to the win from a group. The other countries noted above, especially Spain and Italy, need to make the race hard to have any chance. Neither team brings a designated a sprinter and as such they will look to force the tempo on the climbs and hope that fatigue slowly whittles down the number of contenders.

A number of commentators have talked up the chances of riders like Nacer Bouhanni, John Degenkolb, Alexander Kristoff and even Andre Griepel. The fact that the stronger nations have to force the pace and make the race harder will, I think, mean that the race will be too tough for the pure sprinters. While those mentioned above are certainly not bad climbers, Alexander Kristoff coped well enough with the hills to win Milan San-Remo earlier this year, I just can’t see them being in the mix on the final lap. When the course was released Peter Sagan was immediately installed as the favourite. He has shown he can climb with the best and still possess a quick finish. By his own lofty standards 2014 hasn’t been a great year and he looked out of form, to the point of being disinterested, at the Vuelta. On his day he could certainly win but I don’t think he has the form required. Of the riders generally classified as sprinters the two I think that have the best chance of success are Michael Matthews and Ben Swift. Both have improved their climbing, have won stages in big races featuring plenty of climbing and enter the race on the back of some good recent results.

I think the mix of 250 plus kilometres of racing, plenty of climbing, wet weather and a fast pace will mean that the race is far more selective than many are anticipating. If a group is to come to the finish together I don’t think it will contain more than 15 riders.

So who will win:

Its an open race and most of the worlds best riders will be taking to the start line. As such there are plenty of riders who believe they can win. Looking in detail at all of them will take too long. Instead I’m going to focus on the few I think have the best chances of victory.

Fabian Cancellara has made no secret of his desire to win the rainbow jersey (the jersey that the world champion gets to wear for the following year) and while the course isn’t perfect for him he should be able to handle it. Cancellara’s record in Classics (major one day races) over the last two years is unparalleled and after over 250 kilometres of hard racing he packs a pretty good sprint. Cancellara could win from either a small group or alone and if he is in the front group come the final lap he will have a number of options. One of Cancellara’s main disadvantages is he only has two Swiss teammates. This means that they can’t control the race and Cancellara will have to be very aware and hope to make the right move. Cancellara has set himself for this race and when he does that he usually performs very well.

Michal Kwiatkowski started the year in blistering form, had a slightly disappointing Tour de France and now seems to be returning to form. While he might have preferred a slightly harder course the parcours still seem to suit him. Incredibly powerful, as his Strade Bianchi win earlier this year showed when he dropped Peter Sagan in the final stages, he has a good kick and is incredibly versatile. Simon Gerrans is the bookmakers favourite, he is inform and has the support of a very strong team. Gerrans’s win in Liege-Baston-Liege earlier this year showed he can follow the best one day stage racers on the hilly terrain and he arguably has the quickest finish of all the non-sprinters. His recent wins in GP Quebec and GP Montreal highlighted how effective his quick finish is and, concerningly for everyone else, were dominant. Like Cancellara he has set himself for this race and in recent years when he has targeted a race he has often delivered. Gerrans’s biggest problem is that his form and performances mean he is a marked man, and nobody will want to go to the finish with him.

Ever since his crash on stage 1 of the Giro Dan Martin has had this race marked on his calendar. His performances in the Vuelta finally confirmed his grand tour potential, but even he said during the race he prefers and feels he is a better one day rider. He has been at his best in the Ardennes in recent years and will excel on the short punchy climbs. He could well slip off the front on the final lap but also has a reasonable sprint if it comes down to a small group. Greg Van Avermaet may not be Belgium’s designated leader, they have multiple options depending on how the race evolves, but he is their most likely source of a podium. Van Avermaet has proven to be incredibly consistent without securing a breakthrough win. Maybe his time will come on the biggest stage.

In a race like this there are plenty of outsiders to take the fancy. Ramunas Navardauskas, Daryl Impey and Sep Vanmarcke are the three who, I think, have the best chance of causing a surprise. Impey has only returned to racing recently after proving his doping innocence. His leadouts were a key part of Gerrans’s recent successes and here he gets an opportunity to ride for himself. He is fresh and his enforced layoff may end up being a blessing in disguise. Vanmarcke may be more well known as a cobbles rider but he is incredibly strong and is one of a number of cards the Belgians will look to play in the final few laps.

Tips – Cancellara, Kwiatkowski and Gerrans to fill the podium.

 

 

The last weekend of September means only one thing in Australia. AFL Grand Final weekend.

  1. AFL – Grand Final – Sydney versus Hawthorn – They were the two best sides throughout the year and fittingly will meet in an eagerly anticipated Grand Final. They played off in the 2012 Grand Final, which Sydney won by 10 points, and there is every reason to believe this years edition will be as close if not closer. While Sydney have named an unchanged line-up Hawthorn have made two changes to their preliminary final side, bringing in Cyril Rioli and Ben McEvoy for Jonathon Ceglar and Jonathan Simpkin. It will be a tough week for those dropped. Rioli brings x-factor but also risk, having only returned from a long injury lay-off via the reserves last year. All the pre-match talk is of the Swans forward line, but the Hawks were the higher scoring team during the season. The game is likely to be won in the middle, with the team who can get first possession and deliver to their leading forwards likely to get over the line. But only just.

Tip – Sydney have the star forwards but the Hawks have more depth and are eager to avenge their 2012 defeat and win back-to-back premierships. Hawks by 7.

Norm Smith medal (best afield) – Luke Hodge. Calm under pressure, tough as nails and Hawthorn’s heartbeat.

SUQ – 10 – One of (probably only behind the Melbourne Cup) the biggest days on the Australian sporting calendar. Choose a team and tune in.

 

  1. NRL – Preliminary finals – South Sydney Rabbitohs versus Sydney Roosters and Penrith Panthers versus Canterbury Bulldogs – Sensibly scheduled for Friday and Saturday to avoid conflict with the afore mentioned AFL grand final the NRL’s two preliminary finals have a tough act to follow after last weekend’s epic semi-finals. The Panthers and the Rabbitohs are coming off a week’s rest and should be fresher and better prepared. For some reason punters have made the Bulldogs, a team who has only won four of their last nine matches, favourites. The Bulldogs finals victories have been impressive but the Panthers consistency gives them the edge. The Roosters entered the finals in scintillating form but haven’t been at their best since. The Roosters face a Rabbitohs side keen to overcome years of pain. They haven’t been in a grand final since 1971!

Tips – The Rabbitohs and Panthers to progress to the grand final. Both games will be close, but not as close as last week.

SUQ – 8 – Four Sydney teams battling for a place in the grand final will be worth watching.

 

  1. Golf – Ryder Cup – The US and Europe will do battle at Gleneagles, Scotland, over the weekend for one of golf’s most prestigious trophies. Europe won in 2012, 14.5 points to 13.5, thanks to a stunning final day in which they overturned a four point deficit and will be confident of holding onto the trophy on home soil. One of the most eagerly awaited of the opening four ball matches will see Rory Mcllroy and Sergio Garcia taking on Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. Both camps have been using the media to try gain an advantage this week, with Mickelson and Mcllroy particularly prominent in the verbal sparring.

Tips – Europe has the in-form players and home advantage and that should get them over the line.

SUQ – 8 – Teams golf, plenty of the best players in the world and multiple formats. What’s not to like.

 

The cycling world championships in Ponferrada, Spain, reach their conclusion on Sunday with the men’s road race. Tony Martin was considered as close to a sure thing as you can get in cycling but he was upset in the men’s time trial on Wednesday by Bradley Wiggins. The women’s road race is on Saturday and Marion Vos will start at similar odds to Tony Martin. She seems unbeatable, but anything can happen. On Sunday I’ll have a closer look at the men’s road race with a full preview.

With no mid-week review I couldn’t finish without a quick mention of the Liverpool versus Middlesbrough League Cup game. 1-1 after normal time, 2-2 after extra time the game proceeded to penalties, which Liverpool, quite incredibly, won 14-13. Of the thirty spot kicks there were only three misses!

 

 

Australian sports:

Two preliminary finals. Two contrasting games. North Melbourne were never in the top four during the regular season and it showed on Friday night as they were completely outclassed by the Sydney Swans in Sydney. The Swans had winners all over the park. Their midfielders picked up possessions at will while up forward Buddy Franklin, Kurt Tippet and Adam Goodes reaped the rewards. It was hardly a proper test before a Grand Final but Sydney will rightly start as favourites next Saturday afternoon.

Their opponents will be Hawthorn. The Hawks withstood a first quarter power surge, as Port Adelaide bombarded the goal but failed to make their chances pay finishing the quarter with 3.9. Hawthorn looked the better side for the next two and a half quarters as they ground their way to a seemingly impregnable position, 28 points clear with ten minutes gone in the last quarter. But Port Adelaide have thrilled fans and neutrals all year with their daring and attack minded approach. They kicked the last four goals of the game and even had a shot, admittedly from the boundary, to win it. Hawthorn held on by 3 points, thanks in no small part to Luke Hodge’s courageous diving smother in the final minute. Luke Hodge’s big game reputation has never been in question and it would be no surprise to see him playing a decisive role against the Swans next week. A captain who truly does lead from the front!

The NRL finals series was ignited with two absolute classics. The Roosters jumped out to a 30-0 lead against the Cowboys and then saw their lead wiped out. They snuck home thanks to a late field goal for a one point win, but the Cowboys will be left ruing (another) controversial video refereeing decision that went the Roosters way in the dying minutes. It was hard to imagine that Saturday’s match could be any closer but Manly and the Bulldogs managed as they played out a 17-17 tie in regular time. Trent Hodkinson’s second field goal of the night was enough to get the Bulldogs over the line in golden point.

 

Football:

As a Manchester United fan writing about football and the EPL in particular is a little tough right now. While referee Mark Clattenburg may have had a shocking match the simple fact is that Manchester United shouldn’t lose 5-3 to Leicester City. And that’s not meant with any disrespect to Leicester, who hung in there when Manchester United’s expensively assembled squad was playing the type of football viewers love to watch and then prayed on their frailties at the back when the opportunities presented themselves. United were cruising at 3-1 when Clattenburg’s most controversial decision arrived as he failed to award Rafael a free-kick for a clear foul and then penalised him for a seemingly innocuous push on his Leicester opponent. The non-decision and then penalty changed the game but to hide behind that as the reason for defeat would be to avoid the problem. Calmness under pressure epitomised United teams of the past and has all but disappeared today. Replacing it carelessness, indecision, poor tactical awareness and a lack of composure have become common place. While it does not affect the whole team, and Angel Di Maria can win games on his own, it is not like only one or two players are guilty either, once fear took hold against Leicester it was there for all to see. Even the previously assured Daley Blind resorted to hoofing the ball clear when under nothing but perceived pressure.

In other upsets on the weekend Liverpool lost to West Ham. Liverpool set the Premier league alight last season but this season have been a completely different story. They are struggling to cope with set pieces at the back and lacking the fluidity and potency going forward. Brendan Rodgers has a tough task on his hands as he tries to bed in new players and balance Champions League commitments, all the while maintaining a domestic title challenge. A challenge that has been made harder by opposition teams learning to sit back and negate their counter attacking speed.

The moment Chelsea fans feared more than any other this season duly arrived on Sunday. With their side leading Manchester City away from home and seemingly headed for an 8 point lead at the top after only five games one of their most revered players, Frank Lampard, returned to haunt his old employee’s. It would have been an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. Not that Mangual Pelligirini wanted to be drawn into any comments post-match, he was instead focussing on comparing Chelsea to Stoke for their negative tactics and refusal to actually try and play football. It is not the first time a Jose Mourinho team has been accused of this and it won’t be the last, but at the end of the day Mourinho won’t care and Chelsea and their fans need only console themselves with a look at the table.

These were the most noteworthy results in England but it was a fascinating weekend across Europe. Real Madrid hammered eight past Deportivo, while Barcelona also won convincingly. Both Bayern Munich and PSG were expected to cruise to their domestic titles and while that may still happen neither has quite hit their stride yet and both were held to draws in games they would have expected to win. Juventus and Roma on the other hand continued their perfect starts to the season with a 1-0 win over AC Milan and a 2-0 home win over Cagliari respectively.

 

Cycling:

The 2014 cycling World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain, started with an upset as BMC took home their first team time trial gold medal. The team time trial was introduced to the world champs two years ago to give trade teams an opportunity to shine and it has become one of the most prestigious prizes in the sport, especially for the big budget teams. BMC had the best of the conditions, compared to their main rivals at least, but their margin of victory reflected their dominance. Orica GreenEdge had to settle for silver for the second year in a row, but were more than thirty seconds back. The six teams between second and seventh were separated by only a further thirty seconds. In his post-race interview Tejay Van Garderen, a rider who has finished in the top five at the Tour de France on two occasions, called it the highlight of his career. For Peter Velits, it was a third consecutive win after he was part of the successful Omega team in 2012 and 2013.

 

  1. AFL – Preliminary finals – Sydney versus North Melbourne and Hawthorn versus Port Adelaide – Sydney and Hawthorn are both coming into the preliminary finals after a week off and it will be interesting to see how that has affected their preparations. A week to rest battered and bruised bodies at the end of a long season can be a blessing but any drop in sharpness will be costly. Both North and Port have shown they can start quickly and score multiple goals in a short space of time already this finals series. Sydney and Hawthorn have home ground advantage and will start as favourites, despite losing to their opponents during the regular season.

Tips – Sydney and Hawthorn have been the best teams all year and have the depth and experience to progress to the grand-final.

SUQ – 9 – With a spot in the grand-final on the line the stakes couldn’t be higher.

 

  1. Rugby League – Semi-finals – Sydney Roosters versus North Queensland Cowboys and Manly Sea Eagles versus Canterbury Bulldogs – What a difference a week makes! The Roosters have gone from favourites for the flags to one game away from elimination after last week’s surprise defeat. The Cowboys smashed the Bronco’s in a dominant first half and will be full of confidence. The Bulldogs rediscovered their form last week and take on a depleted Manly side on Saturday night. The question is, which Bulldogs outfit will turn up? If they are switched on the game will be theirs for the taking.

Tips – The Bulldogs and Roosters to stay alive for another week.

SUQ – 6 – a week behind the AFL in their finals schedule but also a less popular and well followed sporting code.

 

  1. English Premier League – Round 5 – Manchester City versus Chelsea (Sunday) is the pick of the weekend’s fixtures. A win for Chelsea would put them 8 points clear of the team many expected to be their nearest challenger for the title, a massive lead so early in the season. Both are coming off disappointing mid-week Champions League performances and will be desperate for a win. Other top four hopefuls, Arsenal (Aston Villa), Liverpool (West Ham) and Manchester United (Leicester) are all on the road and face tricky tests but these are games they should win if they hope to make Champions League next year. At the other end of the table, Newcastle have had a disastrous start to the season and a loss at home to Hull will probably see the first managerial casualty of the season.

Tips – QPR, Arsenal, Sunderland, Hull City, Swansea City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham, Everton and Manchester City

SUQ – 8 – It’s only early in the season but the schedule has thrown up some early fixtures that will prove pivotal in shaping the season.

 

Also note that the World Cycling Championships commence in Ponferrada, Spain, with the team time trial on Sunday. Some teams are still to announce their squads so this makes any predictions difficult, but reigning champions Omega, powered by Tony Martin, will start as favourites ahead of the Australian based outfit Orica GreenEdge and Britain’s Team Sky.

It was a big weekend of sport. With heaps to cover it really is difficult to know where to start. In the AFL winning form proved to be good form. Geelong and Fremantle both started as favourites courtesy of finishing higher on the ladder and home ground advantage. But both were coming off losses in the first round of finals and were to be eliminated in straight sets. North Melbourne got the jump on Geelong and despite a last quarter surge from the Cats they held on, just, to win. Over in Perth Femantle dominated Port Adelaide early but failed to make their supremacy show on the scoreboard. Port took control in a dynamic third quarter and then continued on their way in the final quarter as they ran out 23 point winners.

Argentina have struggled to find themselves since joining the annual rugby union championships with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. On Saturday night they came close to causing a major upset against Australia in a disappointgly empty Gold Coast stadium. It was an Australian performance that included a bit of everything, including plenty of missed opportunities, as they showed what is best described as weak dominance against the touring Argentine’s. After looking out of their depth for much of the first half Argentina improved markedly in the second and threatened to snatch the win. Even at the death they were pushing for a converted try to level things up only to by denied a saving tackle and the referee’s whistle.

Whilst in Sydney I took the opportunity to catch some rugby league. I can’t confess to being a fanatic, and much prefer union to league, but the Panthers come from behind win was as good as anything from around the globe on the weekend. With scores level entering the last ten minutes the Roosters, who had finished the regular season top and were the competition favourites, scored a converted try to take the lead. But the Panthers weren’t done, a miraculous try with three minutes to go, as the ball was flicked back into play by an airborn Dallin Watene-Zelezniak when seemingly going into touch, was followed by an exceptional conversion from Jamie Soward. Then with less than ten seconds to go Soward kicked a field goal to secure the most unlikely of triumphs. Elsewhere there were wins for the Rabbitohs, Cowboys and Bulldogs.

On to cycling. Alberto Contador secured a third Vuelta a Espana victory after safely navigating the final time trial. Adam Hansen, competing in his tenth consecutive grand tour, won Friday’s stage with a perfectly timed late attack. Saturday saw the predicted show down between the top two in the general classification. Alberto Contador stayed glued to Chris Froome’s wheel while the other contenders fell by the way side then jumped clear to take the stage and effectively secure the overall win. The final stage saw a win for Adriano Malori, with most of the top 10 forced to focus on staying upright as conditions steadily deteriorated during the day.

Contador entered the race under an injury cloud and was keen to play down his chances before the racing started. But as I noted in the preview, it is hard to imagine he was lining up if he didn’t believe he could win. The departure of Nairo Quintana on stage 11 changed the complexion of the race and robbed viewers of one of the likely challengers to Contador. As a race, it had more intrigue and excitement than either the Tour or the Giro. And while it was a grand tour that had a great mix of stages the fact there was only one big mountain stage in the last week was perhaps to its detriment with few changes in the general classification in the latter part of the race. Meanwhile John Degenkolb was rewarded for reaching the finish as he won the points jersey.

Canada played host to two one day classics, with GP Quebec on Friday and GP Montreal on Sunday. The two races are relatively new on the calendar but are quickly becoming key lead up races for the World Championships, which take place two weeks after. Siman Gerrans became the first rider to win both races in the same season as he sprinted to victory in both. His sprint on Quebec was particularly impressive as he closed down the inform Tom Doumolin in the final few hundred meters and had just enough left in the tank to come round him in sight of the line. The win was also Orica GreenEdge’s 100th. Ramunas Navardauskas was another to impress in both races as he finished third and fourth.

In the basketball World Cup Serbia fell at the final hurdle of what would have been one of the great underdog stories. Serbia disposed of France in the semi-finals, 90-85, but despit their improbable run few commentators gave them a chance in the final. Playing without pressure they jumped out to an early lead but after the United States went on a 15-0 run they were never threatened as they went on to complete back-to-back world cup wins.

Straight into it this week.

  1. AFL Finals – They’ll feature all of September, and the stakes will only get higher, and the number of teams left that can win the flag will continue to dwindle. This week sees last week’s qualifying finals losers hosting the elimination finals winners. On Friday night Geelong host North Melbourne. Geelong go in as favourites but many commentators are tipping North. The general feeling is that Geelong are vulnerable and aren’t as good as some of the recent Geelong vintages. The second match sees Fremantle playing host to Port Adelaide. Port Adelaide are coming off one of the most convincing performances of the season and despite losing to Fremantle in Perth only two weeks ago will enter the match full of confidence. Fremantle will look to lock the ball down and play ferocious football, avoiding a shoot-out against a fast, attacking minded, Port Adelaide outfit.

 

Tips – Geelong, they just know how to win, and Port Adelaide.

SUQ – 8.5 and trending up. Definitely worth knowing who is playing.

 

  1. Cycling – Vuelta a Espana – It’s Alberto Contador’s race to lose with only three stages to go but there is still time for that to change. The first of the final three stages is a relatively flat stage that looks ideally suited to a breakaway. Orica will have different ideas as they try to set up Michael Matthews for a second stage win, while John Degenkolb will be looking to score points in the race for the points jersey however he can. The penultimate stage finishes with a long climb. Contador leads Chris Froome by more than a minute and Alejandro Valverde is close behind. The podium is unlikely to change but the order might. Froome continues to improve and if he can win the stage and take another thirty seconds on Contador he might just think he can finish the job in the final time trial. The final stage is a short time trial where the time gaps will most likely only be small. Many of those who would have been favourites have already left the Vuelta and once again Froome and Contador are likely to be at the top of the standings.

 

Tips – Matthews or Alessandro De Marchi from a breakaway in tonight’s stage. Froome to win the final two stages but Contador to hold on and win overall.

SUQ – 8.5 – Three different stages but they may not be that decisive, with few changes amongst the top 10 likely.

TV coverage – all three stages are live on SBS.

 

  1. Basketball – World Cup – Not something I would have expected to follow quite as closely as I have but with the final this weekend it has worked its way into a deserving slot here. The United States (though you might not recognise some names with many stars missing) defeated Lithuania comfortably in the first semi-final to progress to the final where they will play the winner of France and Serbia. France upset hosts Spain in their quarter-final, while the Serbians have become the fairy tale story of the World Cup. Serbia started as underdogs in both knock-out matches but has stayed alive with wins over Greece and Turkey.

 

Tips – France to just edge Serbia but to come up well short against the US.

SUQ – 5 – A World Cup but not one that is watched by many and its unlikely to be a topic of conversation either at home or in the office.

TV coverage – The semi-final is live on ABC from 6am on Saturday. No idea about the final, but same time Monday I’m guessing.

 

After the international break the European football leagues are all back in action this weekend. England’s only two sides with perfect records, Chelsea and Swansea City, play each other. The other match worth keeping an eye would have to be Arsenal versus Manchester City. Over in Spain the highlight of the weekends fixtures is the Madrid derby, with Real Madrid hosting Athletico Madrid in a repeat of last season’s Champions League final.