SunSport’s seven wonders and blunders of 2022 – the year of the GOAT, the Lioness, the cub, the cricket.. and a few rats

    IT was another huge year for sport, with the World Cup the final flourish in an exciting 12 months.

    Here, SunSport runs down the wonders and blunders of 2022.

    Lionel Messi celebrated as he finally won the World Cup he desperately craved

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    Lionel Messi celebrated as he finally won the World Cup he desperately cravedCredit: AP

    ON TOP OF THE WORLD

    IF great individuals make for great World Cups then — in pure footballing terms — Qatar 2022 was one of the best.

    Qatar was a hugely controversial choice of venue, due to Fifa corruption, human rights abuses, the deaths of countless migrant workers and the sheer weirdness of football’s greatest tournament being staged in a tiny nation with no footballing culture.

    Yet Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe — both employed by Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain — lit up the competition all the way to a classic final between Argentina and France.

    There, the greatest footballers of two different generations scored five of the six goals in an epic 3-3 draw before Argentina prevailed on penalties and handed Messi his crowning glory, a first World Cup at the age of 35.

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    Mbappe nabbed the Golden Boot away from Messi with the first World Cup final hat-trick since Geoff Hurst in 1966, taking his tournament tally to eight.

    But the maestro Messi helped himself to seven goals and while four of them were penalties, Harry Kane can agree that scoring spot-kicks at a World Cup is nothing to be sniffed at.

    YOUNG LIONS

    ENGLAND arrived at the World Cup on the back of a six-match winless streak — including a 4-0 drubbing by Hungary at Molineux which represented their worst home defeat in almost a century.

    So it was no mean feat that Gareth Southgate’s side should produce such thrilling displays on their way to a quarter-final defeat to France.

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    There were outstanding performances from younger players — Bukayo Saka’s double in the opening rout of Iran, Marcus Rashford’s brace in the walloping of Wales and Jude Bellingham’s barnstorming showing in the thrashing of Senegal.

    Yet, as so often, England’s fate rested on a penalty — captain Kane skying the most important spot-kick of his life and blowing the chance of taking the defending champions to extra-time.

    Still the mood was positive enough for Southgate to confirm he would remain in charge until Euro 2024 — by which time Saka, Bellingham, Declan Rice and Phil Foden will be nearer their peaks.

    England may have gone out in the World Cup quarter-finals but young guns like Bukayo Saka proved there's plenty to look forward to

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    England may have gone out in the World Cup quarter-finals but young guns like Bukayo Saka proved there’s plenty to look forward toCredit: PA

    HEROIC LIONESSES

    THE images are enduring, a lasting legacy is secured and the joy was unconfined.

    When Chloe Kelly ripped off her England shirt, twirled it around her head and cavorted around Wembley in a sports bra, after scoring the winner in the Euros final, it was the most uplifting moment of the sporting year.

    Kelly’s extra-time strike settled a tense, ultra- competitive final against Germany which not only secured a first major senior trophy for an England team since 1966 but also significantly raised the profile of women’s football in this country.

    For one glorious summer month, Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses were front and centre in the national sporting consciousness.

    From Beth Mead’s hat-trick against Norway to Georgia Stanway’s rocket against Spain to Alessia Russo’s saucy back-heeled goal in the semi-final against Sweden, the Lionesses were game-changers and Jill Scott even became Queen of the Jungle.

    …Not to mention Scott’s magnificent swearing at an opponent in the final — “F*** off, you f***ing p***k”.

    England won the Women's European Championship in the summer as the nation roared on the Lionesses

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    England won the Women’s European Championship in the summer as the nation roared on the LionessesCredit: PA

    REDS MISSED

    THEY came within six days of fulfilling the impossible dream of the Quadruple — yet Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool failed to lift either of the two biggest trophies in a week of drama and turmoil.

    After the Reds had clinched the Carabao and FA Cups — defeating Chelsea on penalties after goalless draws in both finals — they were left heartbroken by an astonishing Manchester City comeback on the final day of the Premier League season.

    Liverpool were running out of steam, towards the end of the campaign, continually falling behind and while they mounted a comeback to defeat Wolves 2-1, Pep Guardiola’s City roared back from two-down to defeat Aston Villa with an Ilkay Gundogan brace.

    It was City’s fourth title in five seasons, and a climax almost as memorable as that “Sergio Agueroooooooo!” moment against QPR a decade earlier.

    Liverpool were then beaten by Real Madrid in the Champions League final on a night marred by off-field chaos and dangerous levels of police incompetence at the Stade de France.

    Man City snatched the Premier Lrague title off Liverpool on a dramatic final day

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    Man City snatched the Premier Lrague title off Liverpool on a dramatic final dayCredit: PA

    SAU ABOUT THAT?

    IT was the year when Saudi sportswashing engulfed the sporting landscape like a tsunami.

    Nowhere more so than in golf, riven apart by the rebel LIV Tour, who captured a string of major names and drove the sport into an acrimonious civil war.

    When The Open arrived at St Andrews in July, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy led an impassioned defence of the Royal and Ancient status quo.

    But after Cameron Smith overhauled McIlroy to capture the Claret Jug, the mulleted Aussie soon confirmed that he too was taking Saudi blood money.

    Boxing has already succumbed to Saudi dosh — Anthony Joshua’s rematch defeat by Oleksandr Usyk was staged in the kingdom.

    And the early signs are that the Geordie Arabia revolution will soon see Newcastle winning football’s biggest prizes.

    Oleksandr Usyk's win over Anthony Joshua took place in the Middle East in a year of Saudi sportswashing

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    Oleksandr Usyk’s win over Anthony Joshua took place in the Middle East in a year of Saudi sportswashingCredit: Getty

    HAVIN’ A BAZBALL

    NEVER in sporting history has a change in leadership transformed a team so thoroughly as when captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum seized control of England’s Test cricketers.

    Hammered in the Ashes Down Under under their predecessors Joe Root and Chris Silverwood, England began the year engulfed by gloom.

    What came next was nothing less than revolution, an all-guns-blazing team determined to demolish age-old conventions and save the endangered wonder of Test cricket from extinction.

    This summer, England continually torpedoed records — chasing down mammoth totals in thrilling fashion, at an express run-rate — as New Zealand, India and South Africa were all defeated.

    Jonny Bairstow, England’s brightest star of the summer, then seemed to capture England’s daredevil approach by breaking his leg in three places while playing golf.

    A historic 3-0 series whitewash in Pakistan this month was the greatest achievement of the Stokes-McCullum regime so far.

    England are world champions in two of cricket’s three formats and the most exciting team ever to have played the oldest one. Next year’s Ashes will be unmissable.

    Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum's 'Bazball' has reinvigorated Test cricket and potentially changed the format forever

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    Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum’s ‘Bazball’ has reinvigorated Test cricket and potentially changed the format foreverCredit: Getty

    EDD’S DOWN

    THE controversial seven-year reign of Aussie pitbull Eddie Jones as England’s rugby boss was belatedly ended this month after his team managed just five wins from 13 matches in 2022.

    Jones, charismatic yet divisive, had long outstayed his welcome by the time the axe fell following a miserable Autumn international series.

    The little larrikin presided over a record-breaking winning streak and a magnificent World Cup semi-final victory to dethrone New Zealand in 2019.

    But ever since England failed to show up for the final against South Africa that year, the Jones regime has been on a downward spiral.

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    His successor, Steve Borthwick, has nine months to lift the mood before next autumn’s World Cup in France.

    With domestic rugby in turmoil after Worcester and Wasps plunged into administration and were kicked out of the top flight, our egg-chasing community has little cause for festive cheer.

    Eddie Jones was finally axed as England boss late in 2022

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    Eddie Jones was finally axed as England boss late in 2022Credit: Reuters

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