The sporting week ahead (01/07/12)

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The Independent Online


Can Spain record an unprecedented third straight trophy? This summer their approach has been even more stifling than ever, spinning a web of passes around their opponents until they suffocate them. However, if there is one man who has the power and gumption to cut through it is Mario Balotelli. The Italian does not wait to be mesmerised, he goes straight for the jugular. Witness his penalty against Joe Hart, or his destruction of Germany in the semi-final. Who better to unhinge the passing carousel?


Wimbledon enters its second week, free from having to compete with the European Championship for attention. But with Rafael Nadal already out, some of the star quality might be missing from the men's singles. And if there is no home favourite to cheer, where will the public turn instead?


The long wait for the return of international football is over. England begin their campaign in the European Under-19 Championship in Estonia against Croatia. There are few more disheartening things than having hopes raised about the next generation of young English talent, before seeing them play the same witless, kick-and-chase game with which the senior team infuriate England fans every other summer.


Seven years ago, the most dramatic morning in cricket history ended with England beating Australia at Edgbaston by two runs. Ashes cricket proved so popular that there is now more of the old enemy, so it means less, but this might still – on its own terms – be a good one-day series. England and Australia are improving at 50-over cricket, and there are few more pleasurable sights than seeing Ian Bell ignore childish sledging and pick through Australian gaps.


The Tour de France will be bubbling away all week long. Today it's the fifth stage, with the riders going from Rouen to Saint-Quentin. This is a fairly flat stage and it's just under 200 kilometres, which means, in the most relative terms, that it is not one of the hardest ones.


Sussex have probably been the best side in cricket's Friends Life t20 so far, and tonight they travel to the Rose Bowl in Southampton to face Hampshire. Luke Wright, still a master of the format, must be hoping that a big knock keeps him in contention for an England place.


Qualifying for the British Grand Prix begins at Silverstone. With talk this week of a race being held in London, who knows how the grand old course will seek to reassert itself?