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Ten sporting tips for 2014
1. Great Britain to win three or more Winter Olympics medals (3-1)
The year’s first big global sporting event is next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, and Team GB’s winter Olympians are capable of building on the success of the home athletes at London 2012.
Britain claimed just the one medal at Vancouver 2010, albeit a gold, but the team will travel to Russia with realistic hopes of tripling that tally.
Skeleton slider Shelley Rudman is a reigning world champion, short-track speed skater Elise Christie is a World Cup champion and freestyle skier James Woods is an X Games medallist. With further medal hopes in bobsleigh and curling, this could be Britain’s most successful Winter Games yet.
2. Wales to win the Six Nations (15-8)
While it is always dangerous to write off France, this year’s Six Nations Championship looks like being a head-to-head between a proven Wales and a resurgent England.
Stuart Lancaster’s side are building some useful momentum ahead of the 2015 World Cup, but back-to-back away games in Paris and Edinburgh could mean their championship prospects are shattered in the opening two weekends.
Wales have a much kinder start with matches against Italy and Ireland, and while they have to travel to Twickenham for their penultimate game, the presence of the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies, George North and Sam Warburton means they boast a strong enough squad to retain their crown.
3. Dodging Bullets to win the Arkle Challenge Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival (8-1)
This year’s Cheltenham Festival is shaping up to be a cracker, with the Champion Hurdle likely to be the race of the year as the likes of My Tent Or Yours, The New One and Jezki attempt to dethrone reigning champion Hurricane Fly.
As a betting medium, however, it looks extremely tough to call, so the best ante-post investment is to side with Paul Nicholls’ Dodging Bullets in the Arkle Chase on the Festival’s opening day.
Just below top class as a hurdler, Dodging Bullets is unbeaten since switching to fences, and the emphatic nature of his Christmas victory over Grandouet suggests he hasn’t stopped improving yet.
4. Real Madrid to win the Champions League (9-2)
Last year’s winners, Bayern Munich, are probably the most talented team left in the Champions League, but that’s reflected in their price, and there is a suspicion that some people have been much too quick to write of La Liga in the face of the rise of the Bundesliga.
Real Madrid and Barcelona remain as dominant as ever domestically, and their performances in the Champions League group stage were as good as anything posted by any of their opponents.
Barcelona have a tough game against Manchester City coming up, so with the remarkable Cristiano Ronaldo to inspire them, Real Madrid should be backed to see off Schalke before going on to lift the trophy in Lisbon in May.
5. South Africa to win cricket’s World Twenty20 (11-2)
The World Twenty20 will take place in Bangladesh during March and April, and the usual group of sides find themselves at the head of the market.
India will start as favourites as they look to become the first nation to claim two World Twenty20 crowns, but despite the huge success of the IPL, their record in recent tournaments is poor.
Neither England nor Australia look strong enough to claim the trophy, so it might pay to side with a South African side that does not look to have any major weaknesses. Packed with big-hitting all-rounders, this could well be the Proteas’ year.
6. Uruguay to win Group D at the World Cup finals (9-4)
They might have needed a play-off to qualify for this summer’s World Cup finals, but Uruguay will head to Brazil as many people’s choice of dark horses for the tournament.
That might be pushing things a bit, but any squad containing the attacking firepower of Diego Forlan, Edinson Cavani and the inspirational Luis Suarez has to be respected.
Given they will be playing on South American soil, Uruguay look capable of winning a group that also features Italy and England, and the presence of the latter two sides means their price is a fair bit bigger than it should be.
7. Andy Murray not to win a Grand Slam (7-4)
Having created history by winning at Wimbledon last summer, the theory is that this will be the year when Andy Murray adds at least another one or two Grand Slam titles to his CV.
In reality, however, it is going to be as tough as ever for the Scot, and having battled for the best part of a decade to break his Grand Slam duck, it is fanciful to imagine he is suddenly going to start sweeping all before him.
His recent injury problems could make life difficult at the Australian Open, and with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal looking as good as ever, things are unlikely to get much easier as the year progresses.
8. Adam Scott to win at least one of the year’s golf Majors (4-1)
Having come extremely close to winning a Major in previous years, Adam Scott finally broke his duck when he romped to victory in last year’s US Masters.
He followed up his Augusta success with a third-placed finish at the Open and a fifth-placed finish at the USPGA, and he has now finished in the top eight at five of the last eight Majors.
Having transformed himself into a serial contender, there is no reason why Scott should not be as successful in 2014, and without the pressure of searching for his first Major victory, the Australian should be capable of getting across the winning line again.
9. England to top the Commonwealth Games medal table (5-2)
While Great Britain comfortably outshone Australia at the 2012 Olympics, the fact that the home nations all compete separately at the Commonwealth Games means the Aussies are favourites to turn the tables this summer.
However, while England’s team will not quite be enjoying home advantage with the Games taking place in Glasgow, they will be assured of plenty of support and a number of 2012’s gold medallists will be out to claim another crown.
A lot could depend on the extent of Australia’s dominance in the pool, but with a strong hand to play in other disciplines, England are capable of topping the medal table.
10. Europe to win the Ryder Cup (10-11)
One of the year’s final big sporting events will see Europe’s golfers taking on the United States at the Ryder Cup in Gleneagles.
Two years ago, Europe staged a remarkable final-day fightback to triumph against the odds at Medinah, but with home advantage, their task should be a little bit easier this time around.
The likes of Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose are playing some of the best golf of their career, while Ryder Cup specialists Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood will be back to torment their US opponents.
How did the tips for 2013 fare?
CORRECT: Bayern Munich to win the Champions League (13-2), England to win the Ashes (4-6), Mo Farah to win two World Championship crowns (5-4)
INCORRECT: South Africa to win the Africa Cup of Nations, France to win the Six Nations, My Tent Or Yours to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Mark Selby to win the World Snooker Championships, Luke Donald to win a Major, Serena Williams to win Wimbledon, Bradley Wiggins to win the Tour de France.
* Those of you that follow me on Twitter will know that every Saturday, I post a Bet of the Weekend for the day’s racing.
There have been some notable successes, as well as a fair few failures, and for 2014 The Northern Echo has decided to place a £1 bet on each of my selections. At the end of the year, we will donate all winnings to charity.
So follow at @scottwilsonecho or log on to The Northern Echo website on a Saturday morning to see what the weekly selection is, and the tally of winners will be updated in the column each week.
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