Looking forward: Sports highlights in 2016

As we wave goodbye to another great year in sport, it’s time to take a quick look at what’s in store for 2016.

So many great sporting moments were created last year, and, if it’s at all possible, an even bigger year lies ahead in 2016. Of course it’s an Olympic year, with the five-ringed circus settling in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from August 5-21.

But if the Olympics aren’t your thing, don’t despair. There are many more tournaments and events to savour.

For fans of football, the World Game, there are the 2016 European Championship in France and the Centennial Copa America in the United States.

Spain are the defending champions for Euro 2016, though they are unlikely to go in as favorites in the 24-team tournament. World champions Germany will likely hold that mantle after their devastating displays in the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

Watch out for perennial underachievers England. They were a perfect 10 wins from 10 matches in the qualifying rounds for Roy Hodgson, who took the reins in 2012 and seemingly has the team perfectly tuned.

Belgium are ranked No.1 by FIFA so must also come into calculations; their best finish at the European Championship is runners-up in 1980. The once-powerful Dutch team, though, will be conspicuous by its absence after failing to make it through qualifying.

The Copa America, an event featuring nations from the federations of South America, North and Central America and the Caribbean, will be played in the United States from June 3-26, the first time it has been held outside South America. This edition is played outside the normal four-year cycle to celebrate the centenary of the event’s inception in 1916.

In cricket, the highlight is arguably the World T20 tournament in the spiritual home of the game, India, from March 8 to April 3. Sri Lanka will defend their crown after their win in the 2014 final against India in Bangladesh in 2014.

But India will go in as favourites on home turf, and could be inspired by the last hurrah of champion captain M.S. Dhoni, who is expected to retire from all international cricket after the tournament, the final of which will be played at Eden Gardens in Kolkata.

Of course, the Games of the XXXI Olympiad will capture the imagination of all sports fans from the opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium on August 5, until its close on August 21.

So many subplots for the first Games hosted in South America.

Can the mighty Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt defy the challenge of controversial US rival Justin Gatlin and win gold in the 100m and 200m again? Will US super-swimmer Michael Phelps have the chance to add to his extraordinary haul of gold medals in the pool? What will happen with the Russian track federation suspended by the IAAF over a doping scandal with its athletes in danger of missing out? How will golf and rugby Sevens be received as new sports among the 28 at the Games?

These great events will throw up their fair share of shocks and fairytales, and given the wall-to-wall coverage of sport these days, there will never be a dull day for fans, especially those who like a wager to spice up their sporting viewing.

Here is the World Gambling List’s at-a-glance guide to the highlights of the 2016 sporting year.

Football

See above, but Euro 2016 (June 10-July 10) and the Copa America (June 3-June 26) are just two of the highlights in another jam-packed year in the world’s most popular game. The domestic leagues of Europe are among the most-watched worldwide and many of these draw to their thrilling conclusions in the opening months of the year.

Throw in the FA Cup final on May 21 plus, of course, the Olympic tournament and there is non-stop action for the billions of football fans.

Cricket

The ICC World Twenty20 (March 8-April 3) in India is eagerly anticipated, with the newest format in the sport soaring in popularity. Early markets make India the favourites to win the title, but the likes of South Africa, Australia, England, Sri Lanka and New Zealand are all rated strong chances of landing the title. The five previous editions of the tournament have thrown up five different winners!

Elsewhere, the Test matches scheduled include: the South Africa v England series which finishes with the Fourth Test at Centurion starting on January 22; Australia’s two-Test tour of New Zealand in February; England’s two-Test and four-Test series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan respectively in the Northern summer.

Olympics

Summer Olympics (August 5-August 21), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. More than 10,000 athletes from almost every country in the world gathered in South America for the world’s biggest sporting event. Golf and Rugby Sevens take their turn in the Olympic spotlight. Gold medal for Tiger Woods? Maybe not. But these Games will be something special. Put in for vacation now. Followed by the Paralympics (September 7-September 18) in the same city.

Australian football

Australia’s native code kicks off on Thursday, March 24, with Hawthorn this season chasing an incredible fourth straight premiership. The Hawks start the season as firm favourites, though given their ageing list, there is plenty of money to say the likes of West Coast, Fremantle and Port Adelaide can upstage them. Our Australian spies insist the value lies with Richmond, with Western Bulldogs also on the rise. The grand final will be played on October 1.

Rugby league

Interest in the 13-a-side code largely revolves around the domestic competitions in Australia and New Zealand (the National Rugby League; kick-off: Thursday, March 3; defending champions: North Queensland Cowboys) and England and France (Super League; kick-off: Thursday, February 4; defending champions: Leeds Rhinos).

But outside of that there are several events that will pique the interest of fans. The Auckland Nines is a nine-a-side tournament on February 6-February 7 that has become a popular entrée for the season ahead, while this year’s World Club Challenge features Leeds v North Queensland at Headingley Stadium in England on February 21. It serves this year as the feature of the World Club Series, with three teams from the Super League tackling three teams from the NRL.

Later in the year, the international Four Nations (October-November in England, Scotland) will feature defending champions New Zealand, Australia, England and Scotland, who are taking part for the first time.

Rugby union

It’s back to basics this year for rugby union after the magical World Cup of last year won in such emphatic fashion by New Zealand’s mighty All Blacks.

The highlights of the international calendar this year will be the northern hemisphere’s Six Nations tournament (February 6-March 19, defending champions: Ireland) and the south’s Rugby Championship (August 20-October 8, defending champions: Australia).

The main domestic leagues are Super Rugby (February 26-August 6, defending champions: Highlanders), France’s Top 14 (2015-2016, final on June 24, defending champions: Stade Francais) and England’s Aviva Premiership (2015-2016, final on May 28, defending champions: Saracens). One great point of interest in the Southern Hemisphere’s Super Rugby this season is the addition of teams from Japan (Sunwolves, Tokyo) and Argentina (Jaguares, Buenos Aires).

American football

The NFL season is drawing to a close, with the play-offs due to start on January 9. At least one place is still up for grabs, with the Super Bowl this year played on February 7 at Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California.

There is a strong chance we will see a repeat of last year’s Super Bowl match-up, won in dramatic fashion by New England Patriots 28-24 over the 2013 champions Seattle Seahawks. Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers may have something to say about that though, with impressive form through the season.

The NFL’s all-star game, the Pro Bowl, will be played at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium, Hawaii, on January 31.

Baseball

Major League Baseball returns on April 3 and runs until early October. The Kansas City Royals won the world championship series last year and are among the most fancied teams again, though the bookies have settled on the Chicago Cubs as the team to beat, before a ball is tossed in competition.

Basketball

The NBA finals arrive in June and this season has been all about the Golden State Warriors, the defending champions. The Warriors, led by superstar Steph Curry, started the season with 24 consecutive wins. They are hot favourites to land another title, but their record will count for little come play-offs time.

The LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers will be desperate to turn the tables on their conqerors, while the San Antonio Spurs also look ominous and can never be discounted.

At an international level, the Olympics in Brazil in August will provide another chance to shine for the US Dream Team, but the challengers are closing the gap, led by Spain and the host nation.

In the women’s event, the US will also be hot favorite with their biggest threat Australia.

Boxing

Not too much is set in stone as yet but expect a big-money rematch between the new world heavyweight champion, the singing assassin Tyson Fury from England, and Ukrainian powerhouse Wladimir Klitschko, who held the title for 23 defences and is rated one of the greatest of all heavyweights.

Cycling

As always in professional cycling the highlight of the year is the Tour De France (July 2-24, defending champion: Chris Froome), with the 103rd edition of the race starting in Manche for the first time.

Outside of that and the other grand tours (Giro d’Italia, May 6-May 29, defending champion: Alberto Contador; and the Vuelta a Espana, August 20, defending champion: Fabio Aru), there are the World Track Championships (March 2-6, London) and the UCI Road World Championship (October 9-16), Doha, Qatar.

Plus, of course, most of the world’s best cyclists will make their way to Brazil for the Olympics.

Tennis

Among the biggest questions in tennis this year is: can Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic dominate as thoroughly as they did in 2015, when they both collected three more grand slams for their collections?

Djokovic missed out on a grand slam, falling in the final at Roland Garros to supercharged Swiss Stan Wawrinka.

Williams missed out at her home event, the US Open, which she has won six times. Her semi-final loss to Italian Roberta Vinci (then ranked 43) was one of the greatest upsets in tennis history.

Anyway, the grand slams commence with the Australian Open (January 18-31, defending champions: Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams). Then come the French Open (May 22-June 5, defending champions: Wawrinka, Serena Williams); Wimbledon (June 29-July 12, defending champions: Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams) and the US Open (August 29-September 11, defending champions: Novak Djokovic, Flavia Pennetta).

In Rio, Andy Murray and Serena Williams are the reigning singles gold medallists.

Table tennis

Any Olympic year is a big year in table tennis and Rio will be the focus for the world’s best, many of whom hail from China.

The Chinese won all four gold medals on offer in this sport at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and will be strongly favoured to do so again. They have four of the top five players in the men’s ranking as at January 2016 (Long Ma, Zhendong Fan, Xin Xu and Jike Zhang) and the top three women (Shiwen Liu, Yuling Zhu and Ning Ding, the silver medallist in London 2012).

Golf

The stage is set for an outstanding year of golf action from the fairways, rough and greens of the world.

Last year, the battle lines were drawn in the battle of the next generation of dominant players. American Jordan Spieth and Australian Jason Day emerged as superstars of the game to challenge North Irishman Rory McIlroy at the summit.

Who will emerge in 2016 to challenge this trio of relative youngsters. Tiger Woods has struggled to shrug off injury concerns and seems unlikely to regain his former status.

The first major of the year is the Masters (April 7-10, Augusta, defending champion: Jordan Spieth) followed by the United States Open (June 16-19, Oakmont, Pennyslvania, defending champion: Jordan Spieth), the British Open (July 14-July 17, Royal Troon, Ayrshire, Scotland, defending champion: Zach Johnson and the US PGA Championship (July 28-31, Baltusrol, Springfield, New Jersey, defending champion Jason Day).

Another great highlight is the Ryder Cup (September 30-October 2, Hazeltine National, Chaska, Minnesota, defending champions: Europe). The teams will be captained by Davis Love (US) and Darren Clarke (Europe). US have not won the biennial event since 2008.

On the women’s tour, there are five majors: ANA Inspiration (March 31-April 3, Mission Hill Country Club, Rancho Mirage, California, defending champion: Brittany Lincicome); Women’s PGA Championship (June 9-12, Sahalee Country Club, Seattle, Washington, defending champion: Inbee Park); US Women’s Open (July 7-10, CordeValle Golf Club, San Martin, California, defending champion: Chun In-Gee); Women’s British Open (July 28-31, Woburn Golf Club, Milton Keynes, England, defending champion: Inbee Park); and, the Evian Championship (September 8-11, Evian Resort Golf Club, Evian-Les-Bains, France, defending champion: Lydia Ko).

Throw in the game’s inclusion at the Olympics (played at Reserva de Marapendi, Rio) and you have enough to keep even the greatest golf nut sated.

Ice hockey

The Stanley Cup finals of North America’s National Hockey League roll around in June, with the Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals leading the charge for the title.

But there will also be great interest in the World Championship (May 6-22, Russia, defending champions: Canada).

Motor sport

The Formula One season begins in earnest with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 20. Lewis Hamilton is the defending world drivers’ champion and his greatest threat this year seems to be Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

The MotoGP season roars off with the GP of Qatar on March 20, with Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo the defending champion.

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