Yet again the world has sport has offered us a rollercoaster of emotions, with exhilarating highs matched by deflating lows.
In a week when Arsenal claimed their first piece of silverware in nine years, beating Hull City in the FA Cup final, Saracens and Northampton Saints booked their place in the Premiership final and Miguel Angel Jimenez continues to mature like a vintage wine, getting better with age.
Manchester City’s Premier League celebrations came to a screeching halt as they were hit with a heavy UEFA fine, while cricket has yet again been rocked by allegations of corruption and match-fixing.
While Arsenal were busy ending their nine-year wait for silverware in London, there was a rather more dramatic changing of hands taking place in Spain as the curtain came down on the Barcelona era. Their glamour and gleaming brilliance yielded 14 titles in four years, but Saturday marked the end of era as they were usurped by Atletico Madrid as they claimed their first La Liga title in 18 years.
Diego Simeone’s side could have put the Catalans to the sword long ago, but it all came to a winner-takes-all final day showdown at the Nou Camp, which ended with Barcelona rather meekly surrendering their crown. Few teams can have enjoyed so many last chances, so many helping hands, as Barcelona.
Each and every time Gerardo Martino’s side slipped, Atletico were overcome with nerves, and did the same. However, a stalemate was enough to see Atletico crowned champions as their quest for a domestic and European double rumbled on; they now face city rivals Real in the Champions League final and history favours Simeone’s men, who have triumphed in four of five finals between the sides.
Miguel Angel Jimenez
It has been a record-breaking week for Miguel Angel Jimenez, who claimed victory in a three-man play-off to lift the Open de Espana trophy in front of his adoring home crowd. The Spanish legend held his nerve on a thrilling final day of action in Girona and celebrated in habitual fashion with a cigar on the 18th green.
Jimenez, who has long been the darling of European golf, saw off Thomas Pieters and Richard Green in a tense play-off to claim his first Spanish Open title at the 27th time of asking – a European Tour record. The 50-year-old – already the oldest winner on the European Tour – now sits just outside automatic qualification for the Ryder Cup.
Jimenez is flying at the moment, coming fourth in the Masters before winning on his Champions Tour debut, but he is still very much on the regular Tour, and is pressing his claims for a return to the Ryder Cup team as he continues to defy his advancing years. Outside of Europe, there must also be a nod towards Adam Scott after he became the first Australian to reach the World No 1 ranking, although he usurped Tiger Woods without striking a ball.
There was a double boost for British cycling on Sunday evening as Sir Bradley Wiggins held out to claim the Tour of California crown, while sprint specialist Mark Cavendish raced to victory in the final Thousand Oaks stage. Wiggins amassed a 40-second lead over second-placed Rohan Dennis in the second-stage time trial and never left top spot from thereon in.
Wiggins, who became the first Briton to win the Tour de France in 2012, rolled home in a sizeable front group after Cavendish had edged out John Degenkolb in a flat-out finish. For a man who claimed to feel “a little bit inferior” upon receiving his knighthood, Wiggins was certainly superior on the concluding day as he never looked troubled and could afford to sit back as his compatriot surged to a second stage win.
Manxman Cavendish had been temporarily distanced on the third ascent of the infamous Rock Store climb, but his team-mates worked hard to bring him back into the fold and Cavendish rewarded their efforts by bolting to his ninth success of the season. The British champion timed his sprint to perfection and wrapped up a hard-fought victory by less than a rim-width at the line.
They say revenge is sweet, but things turned sour at Franklin’s Gardens as Northampton Saints overcame Leicester Tigers in a tempestuous Premiership semi-final. An East Midlands derby, between two sides refreshingly open about their rivalry, always promises to be a tasty affair but Friday’s offering went a stage further.
In a repeat of last year’s final, England flanker Tom Wood touched down a late try to give Northampton a 21-20 victory over defending champions Leicester in a dramatic conclusion to a clash that saw three yellow cards and a sending off. Interestingly, although probably not surprisingly, Saints prop Salesi Ma'Afu’s dismissal means there has been a red card in the last 12 meetings between the sides and the subsequent banter between the Samoan and hooker Tom Youngs on Twitter offered a tasty dessert to the main course.
It was a pulsating affair played before a raucous crowd and Leicester looked set to inflict more heartache on Northampton as Manu Tuilagi and Tom Youngs touched down first half tries. However, when Welsh flyer George North crossed Saints’ hope was renewed before Wood won it two minutes from to avenge their final defeat and prevent Leicester from appearing at Twickenham for a 10th successive year.
As the dusted settled on their second Premier League triumph in three years, Manchester City’s celebrations were humbled as UEFA dished out hefty sanctions following their Financial Fair Play breach. Just a week after they had snatched the domestic crown, City were hit with a £49 million fine and had their Champions League squad capped at 21 players.
The club owned by Sheikh Mansour snatched the Premier League title last weekend but will have to curb their spending in the transfer market for the next two seasons and freeze their wage structure in order to escape further punishment. French champions Paris St Germain, who were charged with similar breaches, have been hit with the same punishment.
Despite being restricted, City are said to be prepared to press ahead with their summer transfer plans regardless. Meanwhile, the club is also set for a summer clearout with a number of English players including James Milner, Micah Richards, Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair, Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott set to leave the Etihad Stadium.
It is fair to say the gentlemen’s sport of cricket has endured a torturous few years when it comes to allegations of corruption and the latest bout of match-fixing allegations leaves another dark cloud hanging over the sport. The International Cricket Council announced they will be sending anti-corruption unit representative to investigate matches played by New Zealand franchise Auckland Aces, prompting fears of a more widespread problem.
In 2011, Pakistan captain Salman Butt, bowler Mohammad Amir and agent Mazhar Majeed were handed prison sentences for their involvement in spot-fixing. Now the sport has once again been rocked by fresh evidence brought to light by New Zealand batsman Lou Vincent and the ICC’s anti-corruption arm is now set to launch their most detailed investigation yet.
Ahead of Friday’s NatWest T20 Blast launch, the new domestic short-form for English counties, the England and Wales Cricket announced they would also be sending anti-corruption officers to every televised match as they step up their efforts to prevent corruption. Such scandals could significantly taint the reputation of the sport, yet cricket lovers worldwide will hope for an instant cure for what Ian Bell described as a “cancer” to the game.
Leeds Rhinos made the trip across the M62 to the Etihad Stadium for a Super League’s Magic Weekend as league leaders and unbeaten in five. Although they came up against reigning champions Wigan, Rhinos looked clear favourites with the Warriors left depleted by a raft of injuries.
However, the wounded Warriors repelled a second-half Leeds fightback to clinch an 18-14 victory and cut their league deficit to just three. Rhinos retained top spot courtesy of St Helens suffering defeat, but both Wigan and local rivals Castleford Tigers – level on points in third and fourth respectively - remain hot on their heels after Magic Weekend wins.
Wigan were without seven first-team regulars but still managed to take an eight-point lead into the break, after a first half marred by a 26-man brawl which resulted in three yellow cards. Brian McDermott would have hoped to see his side take advantage of a bereft Wigan line-up and extend their advantage at the summit, as it is; the race for the League Leaders’ shield has been blown wide open.
While Miguel Angel Jimenez was being crowned king of Spain, another member of Spanish sporting royalty was being dethroned as Novak Djokovic ousted Rafael Nadal to clinch the Rome Masters title. The world No 2 came from a set behind to beat the defending champion and claim his third Rome crown at Foro Italico.
Nadal, revered by many as the ‘King of Clay’, had been looking to stretch his record to eight victories in the Italian capital. Instead, defeat has prompted many to ask serious questions about the world No 1’s form ahead of the French Open, which begins next Sunday.
It was a third claycourt defeat for Nadal this season and for the first time in a decade, the Spaniard is showing signs of weakness ahead of Roland Garros. Despite being dominant in the first set, Nadal allowed unforced errors to creep in as Djokovic launched a valiant comeback to place himself in pole position for the upcoming major.