Weekly sports agenda: Africa Cup of Nations, Australian Open, Six Nations, and the Super Bowl

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The Independent Online

Among major upcoming sporting events: The group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations, tennis in the Australian Open, the Six Nations rugby tournament, and the 44th NFL Super Bowl.

Motor sport: 32nd Dakar Rally, Final Stage
January 16
Buenos Aires, Argentina

The 14th and final stage of the 9,000km 2010 Dakar Rally consists of a 707km (407mi) total drive and a 206km (128mi) special stage, finishing in San Carlos de Bolivar southwest of the capital, and followed by a closing celebration later that day in Buenos Aires itself. Going into Friday's racing, several silver medallists from the 2009 rally looked set to take gold this year, in the motorcycle, quad bike, and truck classes, each over an hour ahead of their closest rivals. The rally car class is a much closer affair, with mere minutes separating a Volkswagen-powered top three, all professional drivers in one capacity or another. The Dakar website features live race tracking and annotated course diagrams.

Soccer: Africa Cup of Nations
January 10-31
Various locations, Angola

Many European teams will have to go without key players as Africa welcomes them back for the Cup of Nations every two years. This time Angola hosts, and four cities including the Lubango stage the 16 African national teams who have made it through a two-year qualification. Group matches continue until January 21, and knockout stages begin on January 24. Tickets are on sale in branches of the national banks BPC (Banco de Poupança e Crédito) and BAI (Banco Africano de Investimentos), broadcasting is covered by a range of companies including Eurosport, Setanta Sports, and Orange Sport, and online specialists MyAfricanFootball.
Tickets: Standard tickets from 250 Kwanzas (€2/$3) to 1040 Kz (€8/$12); hospitality boxes from 35,000 Kz (€273/$392) to 50,000 Kz (€390/$560).

Tennis: Australian Open
January 18-31
Melbourne, Australia

The first tennis Grand Slam tournament of 2010 marks the comeback of former World number one Justine Henin, whilst Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams return to Melbourne in defense of their 2009 titles. The Williams sisters are current women's doubles champions, while their USA compatriots Bob and Mike Bryan hold the men's title. The official website itself is staying up to date with competitors' Twitter feeds and blogs, match analysis, weather updates, latest scores and interactive draws.
Tickets: From AUD $20 (€13/$18) for an evenings-only ground pass to AUD $289 (€180/$260) for the final.

Motor sport: Monte Carlo Rally
January 20-22
Monte Carlo, Monaco

The Monte Carlo Rally is the first in the 2010 season of the 12-round Intercontinental Rally Challenge that takes place in South American and Mediterranean countries, with a few stages in Scotland and Italy in the second half of the year. The Monte Carlo stages were introduced in 2009 after it left the World Rally Championship itinerary but remain as tough as ever. As with many motor rallies, spectators can line the route at supervised points, and those at Monte Carlo have been known to throw extra snow and ice onto the course surface.

Cycling: UCI Track Cycling World Cup Classics
January 22-24
Beijing, China

The Beijing meet is the fourth and final stage of the 2009-10 World Cup tour which started in the United Kingdom on October 30 and since then has visited Australia in November and Colombia in December. After two closely matched opening rounds, the German team arrives in Beijing with a comfortable lead over the rest of the field. Australia and Great Britain are in close contention for second place, the Netherlands and Lithuania look comfortable in fourth and fifth, while the gap between sixth and tenth is extremely tight. The final round is being held on the Siberian white wood track of Laoshan Velodrome, built for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Swimming: World Winter Swimming Championships
January 22-24
Bled, Slovenia

Over 600 participants from 20 nations will be taking part in the WWSCs in Lake Bled, in a series of competitive and non-competitive races. As well as breaststroke, freestyle, and relay races, there is a special endurance swim and a performance category scheduled to round off the championships on Sunday, January 24. As such, the WWSCs serve as a celebration of cold-water swimming and a precursor to the Winter World Masters which take place in Bled the following week.
Entry fee: €30 for individuals, €100 for teams

Athletics: Winter World Masters Games
January 25-31
Bled, Slovenia

The World Masters differ from the Olympics in two major ways. Firstly, anyone can register for participation, as long as they are over 25 years old. Secondly, national representation is not permitted: teams must be multinational. The World Masters pull in athletes of all ages, shapes and sizes, and the Winter World Masters are no exception. Seventy-year-old gymnast Miroslav Cerar, alpine skiers Christian Mayer (38), Jure Košir (37) and Urška Hrovat (34), and pro cyclist Tadej Valjavec (32) are among the Slovenian Olympians supporting the event, joining amateur athletes and fun-lovers alike in a variety of sports such as ice hockey, biathlon, ski-jumping, cross country and alpine skiing.

Extreme sports: Winter X Games
January 28-31
Aspen, Colorado, USA

The Winter X Games, a 1997 off-shoot from ESPN's 1995, moves into its 14th year with an event that is free entry to the public and adding the Ski SuperPipe High Air and Snowmobile Knock Out events to its roster that includes the now-standard extreme-style snowboarding and skiing events. Defending SuperPipe snowboard champ Torah Bright has already stated her intention of completing a Double Cork trick, turning a full 900° in an off-axis spin. Meanwhile, last year's snowmobile gold medallist Joe Parsons has combined a breathtaking backwards-landed backflip and 180° spin in a bid to retain his title.

Water sports: 14th Annual Polar Bear Plunge
January 30, 12:00 ET
Sandy Point State Park, Annapolis, Maryland

The main event at 'Plungapalooza', a family day out of music and entertainment, the Polar Bear Plunge is an annual charity event supported by the Maryland State Police that sees up to 15,000 participants fling themselves into the cold waters of Sandy Point Bay for the greater good. There are three plunges throughout the afternoon: a noon plunge for school teams, and two further co-ordinated plunges at 1PM and 3PM for teams and individual dippers. Proceeds benefit the Maryland Special Olympics, and there are prizes on offer, not only for reaching fundraising targets from $500 to $3500 and beyond, but there is also a competition for the best plunger costume.
Plunging fee: $50 minimum pledge

American Football: 2010 Pro Bowl
January 31
Miami, Florida

The Pro Bowl is an all-star game, pulling 89 players from 26 teams to make up the American Football Conference and National Football Conference squads. Usually held a week after the Super Bowl game on the second Sunday in February, but in order to avoid a conflict with the Olympic Winter Games this year the titans clash the weekend before. The venue is same as the Super Bowl, the Miami Dolphins' Dolphin Stadium, and tickets are available from $50 (€35) up to $195 (€135) on the sidelines. McDonald's, as one of the event sponsors, is also running a promotional offer for $45 (€30) tickets.

Sailing: Extreme40 Sailing Series Asia Final Stage
February 1-5
Muscat, Oman

The coastal capital of the Emirate of Oman hosts the third and final stage of the Extreme Sailing Series. The Extreme40 sail boats are bigger and faster versions of the Olympic standard multi-hulled catamarans, capable of travelling at speeds of 40 knots (45mph, 75kph, or 20 meters per second), and designed by the Frenchman Yves Loday, a 1992 Olympic gold medallist. Muscat will see 18 6-team races between February 1 and 5, and while home team and European series champions Oman Sail Masirah top the series leaderboard going into the final stage, 6 points for a stage win means that 2nd placed BT and the 3rd placed China Team both have an outside chance of nicking the trophy.

Rugby Union: IRB Sevens World Series, New Zealand
February 5-6
Wellington, New Zealand

New Zealand, having won both previous tournaments in the Sevens World Series, and whose player Sherwin Stowers heads the individual tries table with 15, take the series to their homeland for the fourth in an eight-stop schedule that runs through until the end of May. Despite their home advantage, New Zealand has been grouped up with defending champions South Africa as well as the Welsh team in Group A. The Polynesian island of Niue are one of four guest nations for the New Zealand leg and also find themselves in the same group, while Canada, Papua New Guinea and Tonga are the other guests completing the 16-team round.

Rugby Union: Six Nations Championship
February 6 - March 20
Six European locations: London, England; Paris, France; Dublin, Ireland; Rome, Italy; Edinburgh, Scotland; Cardiff, Wales.

Six nations play to contest the trophy in a 15-match, five-weekend tournament of top-level European rugby. As well as the overall Six Nations trophy, there are several other titles up for grabs. England, Ireland, and Scotland all have special trophies awarded to the winners of their matches, and Wales join them in pursuit of the Triple Crown by winning against each of the four traditional Home Nations. France and Italy contest the Guiseppe Garibaldi Trophy, but of course the ultimate in bragging rights comes from achieving a Grand Slam by beating all five opponents. Tickets are available from each host nation Union, linked from the official website's Championship Info section.

American Football: Super Bowl XLIV
February 7
Miami, Florida

The Super Bowl, a face-off between the champions of USA's American Football Conference and National Football conference, is the biggest event of the National Football League calendar with mass media coverage and many domestic parties in celebration. Over the last few years, the AFC teams have been in the ascendancy. Finalists will not be determined until the playoffs conclude on Sunday, January 24. Taking place at the Dolphin Stadium for the fifth time in the Bowl's history and in Miami for the 10th, British rockers The Who have been booked to play a half-time show, and other concerts have also been arranged for the Friday and Saturday nights beforehand. Ticketmaster has an official ticket exchange where passes are selling for upwards of $1,000 (€695). Hospitality packages start at $2,899 (€2015).