A year to remember, a year to forget: The best and the worst of 2006

Our writers pick the highs and lows of the last 12 months - and one to watch in 2007

BEST OF 2006

It was really an illusion, but while it worked you were reminded that football can indeed be the most beautiful game. Argentina's second goal in their defeat of Serbia and Montenegro set a standard in the World Cup that sadly could not be met - neither by Argentina nor the rest of the field. But then the memory of it will always be haunting.


Zinedine Zidane not only betrayed the game he had enhanced so magnificently for so long, but also himself. He had fashioned the most perfect scenario in the World Cup final before his sickeningly atavistic attack on Marco Matterazi, the shoddy provocateur. David Beckham's self-indulgent tears when he was substituted as England's desperate crusade crumbled finally was an offence on an entirely different level of bad taste, but none the less awful for that.


More evidence from Tiger Woods that he can set an example of excellence to the rest of the beleaguered sports world - and provide further ammunition for those who argue that he may be the greatest sportsman we will ever see.

James Lawton


BEST OF 2006

Germany v Italy, World Cup semi-final. They had never been beaten in the gritty little Ruhr city of Dortmund and, as the game edged towards penalties, it was difficult to imagine Germany losing from the spot. So where did Italy find the resilience to knock them out seconds from the bell? Looking back on their night it seems that Italy were always holding something back. They came out for the kill only at the very end. It was, and pardon the national stereotyping, undertaken with the kind of dispassionate precision of a Corleone family-ordered hit. What a game.


"Good Jesus, don't kill Wayne Rooney," Sven Goran Eriksson pleaded the day after defeat to Portugal. That was as much enlightenment as he could give us after five years and three failures of England's golden generation at major tournaments. Asked for a final thought, Eriksson just said enigmatically "penalties". By then, however, few were listening.

It has not yet emerged in public but it seems there were serious issues around Eriksson's team selections, particularly against Ecuador, with one senior player apparently refusing to accept that he change position. The manager gave in and, ultimately, England got what they deserved.


Giles Barnes is only 18 but has established himself as the most sought after attacking player in the Championship and the latest impressive graduate of Derby County's academy.

Don't bet against Gérard Houllier coming back to the Premiership even if a medium-sized club's management job comes up in the summer. If he wins the Champions' League with Lyon in May he shouldn't be short of offers.

Sam Wallace


BEST OF 2006

When England arrived in Bombay for the third Test against India everybody was expecting Andrew Flintoff's side to be walloped. The team had just been beaten in Mohali by nine wickets and England had not won a Test in India for 21 years. Yet England produced an inspired performance under the guidance of Flintoff, crushing India by 212 runs. Andrew Strauss and Owais Shah starred with the bat, scoring 128 and 88 respectively in England's first innings. James Anderson took four good wickets in India's first. With the series on the line and his tired team in need of a lift Flintoff put Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" on the team ghetto blaster and turned up the volume India were blown away in no time at all and England drew the series.


Whenever lawyers are quoted in the sport pages of a newspaper you know that the game is in trouble. And this was the case at the Oval in September when the fourth Test between England and Pakistan was abandoned because of the fallout to allegations of ball-tampering. It was naïve of umpire Darrell Hair to accuse Pakistan of ball-tampering without having any evidence of who committed the crime, yet the way in which Inzamam-ul-Haq's side reacted was totally unacceptable.


England's dreadful run of luck with injuries means that most of the talented young cricketers in England have already had a go in the Test side. Of those who are yet to play at the highest level; Stuart Broad is the most promising. The 20-year-old possesses all the attributes required to become a high quality fast bowler. Broad is tall, gets bounce and has enough pace to keep a batsman honest. He will get stronger, too. He also has a stroppy father, Chris Broad, the former England opener, and some of this has rubbed off on him. It was encouraging to hear him tell coaches to leave him alone when they suggested he change his action. It is good to see a player with his own mind.

Angus Fraser

Rugby Union

BEST OF 2006

The monkey on the back of the Premiership - more of an orang-utan, actually, with its very long arms choking the life out of the tournament - was finally removed when Sale managed to finish top of the table at the end of the regular season and win the much-maligned play-offs by thrashing Leicester in the final at Twickenham in May. At long last, the best team over nine months and 22 matches was acknowledged by the trophy engraver, rather than ignored. It didn't make the play-off system right, but it saved the powers-that-be another dose of acute embarrassment.


There were enough bad moments to persuade the Rugby Football Union to launch its own Samaritans service, but the worst was the drawn-out, shambolically organised, poorly thought-out restructuring of the England coaching team at the conclusion of the Six Nations Championship. If the union did not want Andy Robinson to continue, they should have had the guts to sack him. Instead, he was hung out to dry.


Two Englishmen spring to mind: Tom Rees, the Wasps flanker, and Ryan Lamb, the Gloucester outside-half. Rees has all the skills, Lamb all the attitude. England need plenty of each. It might just be worth watching the Welsh midfielder James Hook , too. The new Barry John? Don't even go there. Just wallow in his brilliance.

Chris Hewett


BEST OF 2006

Playing in his final tournament, the American Andre Agassi needed a cortisone injection in his back simply to make it on court against Marcos Baghdatis in the second round of the US Open. However, over five sets and nearly four hours he wore down the world No 8, 15 years his junior. With Baghdatis suffering from cramp, Agassi secured a thrilling victory well past midnight in front of an ecstatic crowd of more than 23,000.


Waiting in vain for new British talent to emerge. Andy Murray soared up the rankings and Tim Henman staged a mini-revival, but at the end of the year they were the only Britons in the world's top 100, compared with 14 men and 10 women in France.


There is a queue of youngsters waiting to break into the men's top 10, led by Andy Murray, Richard Gasquet, Novak Djokovic, Marcos Baghdatis and Tomas Berdych. The women's top 10 appears more settled, but look out for Anna Chakvetadze , a 19-year-old Russian who climbed 20 places in 2006 to finish at No 13 in the world.

Paul Newman

Rugby League

BEST OF 2006

Leon Pryce's try just before half-time in the most atmospheric of Grand Finals at Old Trafford put St Helens on their way to victory and a clean sweep of the major honours. Well though Hull played, Saints romped away to win 26-4 and underlined their dominance in a year that ended with them voted the BBC Sports Team of the Year, ahead of Europe's winning Ryder Cup golfers. In Paul Wellens, Saints also had the most consistently outstanding player in Super League.


After flattering to deceive yet again by beating Australia in Sydney, Great Britain crashed out of the Tri-Nations on a night when they never got started in Brisbane. After conceding two tries in the first six minutes, the Lions lost 33-10. There was no shortage of effort from the likes of the captain, Jamie Peacock, but it left Great Britain adrift as a poor third in the international pecking order. Sean Long had gone home early and the gap in skill proved unbridgeable.


The Tri-Nations tournament proved that one thing the British game needs badly is the emergence of a truly outstanding young half-back. At Hull, they believe that the 18-year-old Tommy Lee could be the one and he is likely to get enough game time next season to show whether those high hopes are well-founded.

Dave Hadfield


BEST OF 2006

Tiger Woods' victory at Hoylake. If ever a crowd deserved a command performance it was the Wirral and the world No 1's restatement of his wonder. Still grieving over the passing of his father, Woods overcame a long absence with a victory that proved that his cunning matches his power. He used his driver just four times in four rounds as he picked his way around Liverpool. But he was not the only winner. It was 39 years since Hoylake last hosted an Open. They will not have to wait so nearly as long for the next one.


Darren Clarke's comeback at the Madrid Open. No grieving husband should have to answer the sort of questions that Clarke did, just five weeks after the death of his wife, Heather. It all seemed too much as he choked back the tears at an undistinguished little course on the edge of the Spanish capital. Clarke did recover to give the journalists everything they wanted and, of course, the next week at the Ryder Cup he gave Ireland and Europe everything they wanted. But those moments in Madrid were grim indeed.


The resurgence of Justin Rose. His new coach, Nick Bradley, claims that by the end of year Rose will be the British No 1 and have challenged for a major. Ever since Rose burst on to the scene by finishing fourth in the 1998 Open as a 17-year-old amateur it has been obvious that he had the talent. Now that promise should be fulfilled.

James Corrigan

Motor racing

BEST OF 2006

Ultimately, it has to be the retirement of Michael Schumacher, statistically the greatest driver in history. First there was the inevitable will he, won't he hoopla, followed by the did-he-fall-or-was-he-pushed speculation after the Ferrari chief, Luca di Montezemolo, made it clear that Kimi Raikkonen was coming regardless. Schumacher leaves a massive void for his sport to fill, but it was right for him to quit at the top of his game while he could still give the young lions a hard time.


Red Bull's shameful treatment of its young star Tonio Liuzzi, who was also messed about by the team in 2005 when it cut his cockpit sharing with Christian Klien (whom they dumped during 2006). Everyone who understands racing knows Liuzzi should be leading Red Bull's team in 2007 (remember him overtaking Schumacher in Australia, or blowing off the Red Bull driver's newer car?); instead he is a helpless pawn in Gerhard Berger's ridiculous political shenanigans at Toro Rosso.


The man to look out for is undoubtedly Lewis Hamilton , one of the most exciting and urbane young chargers to come out of Britain. He's smart, fast and, at McLaren, he will get all the help and support that a young driver should get. Plus some free lessons on how to win world titles from his partner, Fernando Alonso.

David Tremayne


BEST OF 2006

It was a vintage year for the British Classics - races with a venerable past and a vulnerable present. They produced a theatrical champion in George Washington (2,000 Guineas) and also old-fashioned romance: Speciosa (1,000 Guineas) was christened "the monster from the Fens" by Pam Sly, who trains obscure jumpers on her farm in Cambridgeshire. And while George Washington was the most expensive European yearling of his generation, at 1.15m guineas, the Derby itself was won by Sir Percy, who cost just 16,000 guineas.


The Turf was plunged into trauma in July when Kieren Fallon was charged by the police with conspiracy to defraud punters. The six-times champion jockey's licence was immediately suspended by the British racing authorities, even though he would have to wait over a year for the chance to clear his name. He was allowed to continue riding elsewhere, and his treatment created a painful schism. Two other riders, Fergal Lynch and Darren Williams, are among those facing trial in September.


As recently as 1999, Henry Cecil's horses came within a neck of winning the first four Classics. But his disappearance since makes his feisty recovery potentially the biggest story on the track in 2007. The 10-times champion trainer has been almost universally written off. But in the autumn he introduced several promising prospects - including an Oaks candidate in Passage Of Time, whose Group One success in Paris last month was his first in six years.

Chris McGrath

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