Month: November 2014

Review of 2014 in Cycling (part 1): The World Tour top 10

Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 Tour de France winner

This is the first part of my review of the 2014 cycling season. Here I’ll analyse and recap the seasons of the ten best cyclists in 2014, according to the UCI World Tour rankings that take into account the performances on the most important annual cycling events. In the second part, I’ll focus on other riders, underlining some of the most relevant cyclists who missed this list and pointing out the athletes who underperformed expectations this season.

You can see the detailed distribution of points per racer in every World Tour competition here, along with the list of events that are part of the calendar. In the analysis below, I’ll sometimes refer to results achieved in races that are not part of the World Tour calendar, but that are relevant for the evaluation of the yearly performance of the rider.

  1. Jean-Christophe Peraud (France, AG2R La Mondiale), 300 pts

Despite being a respectable 37 year-old, the road career of Peraud is a short one. He was a cross-country specialist until 2009, when he, unexpectedly, won the French Time Trial Championships and signed his first pro contract with Omega-Pharma QuickStep. His first Grand Tour participation came at the 2010 Vuelta and in the following year he made the top 10 in the Tour, his first and only major result in a three weeks race until this year. Thus, the 2nd overall place at the end of the 2014 Tour was a surprise for everyone, even more if we remember that Romain Bardet, one the best young French riders, was the team’s first choice for a good spot on the general classification. However, when decision time arrived, only he could follow Nibali at the Pla d’Adet, on the 17th stage, before sealing his spot on the Champs-Élysées podium on the final time trial.

Outside the Tour, Peraud also added some great results on the season, winning the Critérium International, and finishing two World Tour races in the top 5, with a fourth place at Tirreno-Adriático, only behind Contador, Quintana and Kreuziger, and a podium on the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, another race won by Contador.

  1. Daniel Martin (Ireland, Garmin-Sharp), 316 pts

Daniel Martin took everyone by surprise at the end of Il Lombardia

The Irish’s 2014 season was one of ups and downs. When the first big goals of Martin’s season rolled around, the Ardennes Classics, he was in great shape, and, despite a withdrawal from the Amstel, he performed admirably in the following races. On the Flèche Wallone only a great Alejandro Valverde could beat him and three days later, on the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he was on his way to take the top honours when a crash in the last turn crushed his dreams of repeating last year’s win. Two weeks later, in the inaugural day of the Giro, at his home country, another personal goal was dashed, with a crash on the team time trial leading to his abandon.

After recovering, the lead up to the Vuelta went without incidents, with regular performances at the Tour of Austria and Clasica San Sebastian, and a podium finish at the Tour de L’Ain. On the main Spanish race, Martin performed admirably, delivering his first major Tour Top 10 finish, and the success inspired him for a spectacular end of the season, punctuated with the second win of his career on a Cycling Monument, this time Il Lombardia, and a runner-up classification, plus a stage victory, on the last World Tour race of the season, the Tour of Beijing.

  1. Alexander Kristoff (Norway, Katusha), 321 pts

Alexander Kristoff (center) sprints for the win on the Milan-San Remo

The best year of the Norwegian’s career contributed to alleviate the weight of the unfortunate season delivered by Katusha’s leader Joaquim Rodríguez, who was coming out of two straight wins on the general World Tour classification. Thirteen of Kristoff’s 22 career victories came in 2014 and, even if eight of them arrived on home soil, the 27-year-old sprinter left a big mark on World Tour events too. After a stage win in the Tour of Oman, the Norwegian excelled against an impressive collection of fast racers on the finish line at the Milan-San Remo to gather his first career Cycling Monument.

His presence in Belgium for the local classics wasn’t as impressive, with a single top ten finish, the fifth position on the Tour des Flandres, but he managed to ramp up his form with top performances on the Tour of Norway and the Tour des Fjords, just in time for an outstanding Tour de France, brightened with two stage wins, four other podium finishes and the second place on the final green jersey classification. Another morale-boosting passage for the Artic Race set the table for the triumph in the Vattenfall Cyclassics, with his World Tour tally padded further with the eight place in the GP of Plouay. Kristoff ended the season after discreet presences on the Canadian World Tour races and a top 10 finish at the World Championships.

  1. Christopher Froome (Great Britain, Team Sky), 326 pts

Repeating a memorable 2013 season, in which the British rider won almost every race he participated in until the Tour and the Grand Boucle itself, was always going to be a tough task and the Sky leader wasn’t able to overcome the challenge. He started the season well, repeating the overall classification victory at the Tour of Oman and performing well on a top-notch Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, before withdrawing of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and triumphing for the second straight year on the Tour of Romandie. The problems started in June, when Froome seemed to dominate at the beginning of the Dauphiné, conquering the first two stages, before succumbing due to the effects of a fall on stage 5. The race ended up being far from the best preparation for the title defence at the Tour and the Kenyan-native was already late when he hit the road twice on consecutive days, withdrawing from the Tour de France on the mighty Arenberg stage.

The recovery from the injuries sustained in France took some time, but Froome seemed ready to challenge for the overall classification at the Vuelta. He started slow, losing time for his main rivals, but when the third week arrived, only Contador could keep up with his rhythm. The second position at the podium in Santiago de Compostela and four runner-up finishes in stages weren’t the desired outcome but the Brit was certainly happy to finish the season in good physical and mental conditions.

  1. Nairo Quintana (Colombia, Movistar), 346 pts

Nairo Quintana kisses the trophy of the Giro d’Italia

The diminutive climber was held out of the Tour de France squad as the team opted to focus on Valverde’s chances and instead was tasked with leading Movistar on the other two Grand Tours. The Colombian started the year in style, winning a stage and the overall classification of the Tour of San Luis, in Argentina, and then had his first encounter with some its rivals on the Tirreno-Adriatico, finishing only behind Alberto Contador. A fifth place on the general classification at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, in the end of March, preceded a long training period for the Giro d’Italia spent on the mountains of his native land. The off-competition time may have contributed for a slow start at the Italian competition, as Quintana looked rusty for the first couple of weeks, but the Colombian took control of the race on stage 16, with a polemic attack on the descent of the Stelvio opening a gap for his main competitors that had escalated to over three minutes at the finish line. Another win three days later, on a climbing time-trial, furthered his grip on the pink jersey and he was at the top of the podium on Trieste, at the end of the Giro, to seal his first Grand Tour win.

Another long period off followed, with the return matching a repeat of the triumph on the Vuelta a Burgos, just a week before the start of the Vuelta a España. Entering the Spanish race as the main favourite, the Colombian wore the red jersey after the ninth stage but a fall on an individual time-trial, two days later, proved fatal to his ambitions, with another incident, early on stage 11, sealing the abandon and an early end of the season.

  1. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy, Astana), 392 pts

After a highly-successful 2013 season, which saw the Sicilian at the top of the classification on the Giro and narrowly missing a second Vuelta title, Nibali set his sights on winning the Tour in 2014 and delivered flawlessly. The season of “The Shark of Messina” started with discreet appearances at the Tour of San Luis, Dubai Tour and Tour of Oman, with the Italian keeping the low profile over March, finishing outside the top 20 overall on the Paris-Nice and failing to reach a top 10 in any of the spring classics he attended. His first good result came at the Tour of Romandie, with a fifth place, two minutes away from winner Chris Froome, and on the beginning of June, at the Critérium du Dauphiné, he was still distant from his elite shape, yielding time to his main rivals on key stages before closing the race ranked seventh.

However, the Tour was still three weeks away and the Italian warned the competition that he was going to show up much better. Still, even after a perfectly timed attack at the end of stage two earned him the win and the yellow jersey, few expected what followed. Nibali, along with his teammates, put on a show on the critical stage 5, saw Froome and Contador withdraw due to injuries, and only relinquished the overall lead for a single day until Paris, exerting a dominance in the race that rivalled the Armstrong years. He closed the Tour with an advantage of more than seven minutes over the closest competition, won three more stages, and almost snatched the mountains jersey too. The Shark was satisfied and he went back to the shadow until the end of the season, appearing only on some small races and the World Championships, where he finished in the 40th position.

  1. Rui Costa (Portugal, Lampre-Merida), 461 pts

Is it possible to finish the season just outside the podium of the World Tour, in the best position of the career, and still have a somewhat disappointing year? The 2013 World Champion carried sky-high hopes entering 2014 but failed to impress in his new colours, fighting to break through the “curse of the rainbow jersey”. Leading his own team for the first time in the career, the Portuguese first goal of the season was the homeland’s Volta ao Algarve, where he started a weird series of second place finishes, ending three stages on that position and the overall classification in third. His first WT event of the year was the Paris-Nice and he barely missed the win in two stages once again, being beaten by Colombian Betancur on the general classification. Following a poor week on the Ardennes Classics, Costa returned to form on a country where he’s usually successful. A third overall place on the Tour of Romandie preceded the third consecutive triumph on the Tour of Suisse, secured after winning the last stage, which would end up being the only victory of his season.

Rui Costa celebrates his only victory as reigning World Champion

The Portuguese entered the Tour de France vying for a top ten overall finish, but he never looked confortable, dropping out of the race due to persistent respiratory problems on the last week. He reappeared in good form on the Canadian WT events, beating everyone but Simon Gerrans at Montreal, and raising expectations for the World Championships, where he lacked the speed to follow the main contenders on the last climb. To end the season, already without the burden of the rainbow jersey, Costa clinched the first podium of his career on a Cycling Monument, at Il Lombardia, and fought for the Tour of Beijing, eventually concluding in fourth.

  1. Simon Gerrans (Australia, Orica GreenEDGE), 478 pts

2014 was an absolutely brilliant season for the Australian veteran. In the first days of January he secured the second Australian championship of his career and kept the pace on the inaugural WT event of the year, the Tour Down Under, collecting top 5 finishes on five of the six race stages, and taking the overall and points classifications. His start on European soil was timid, with abandons in the Paris-Nice and the Volta al Pais Vasco, but he appeared in great shape for the Ardennes Classics, managing a podium in the Amstel Gold Race and winning the second Monument of his career (Milan-San Remo, 2012) in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, benefiting from the last minute disaster of Daniel Martin.

Simon Gerrans completing his double win in Canada

Gerrans then failed to leave his mark at the Critérium du Dauphiné, the Tour de France, where he concluded two stages in fifth before withdrawing, or the Clasica San Sebastian, but apparently he was only getting ready for a blistering end of the season. He finished in third at the Vattenfall Cyclassics and became the first man to win both Canadian World Tour events on the same year, before taking the silver medal on the World Championships, beating the competition on the group that arrived after Kwiatkowski.

  1. Alberto Contador (Spain, Tinkoff-Saxo), 620 pts

After a disappointing 2013 season, Alberto Contador was under pressure at the start of the 2014 season, with his chances of winning another Grand Tour, specially the Tour de France, under dispute. The Spanish cyclist responded exemplarily to the critics right from the beginning, taking the second overall position and the king stage of the Volta ao Algarve, and kick-starting the World Tour season with an impressive general classification win at the Tirreno-Adriatico, carving a two minute difference for Nairo Quintana while collecting two stages victories. His preparation continued in Spain, with the Pinto native narrowly missing the general victory in the Volta a Catalunya, and then conquering his third Vuelta al Pais Vasco. In the tune up for the French Tour, the Spaniard looked like the strongest rider at the Dauphiné, but was let down by his own team, with the victory escaping on the last stage due to the formation of a successful breakaway that involved several high-profile riders.

At the Tour de France, Contador suffered tremendously on the cobbles of Arenberg but seemed to be on his way to the top after a second place classification on stage 8, at Gerardmer, the first mountain finish of the competition. However, two days later, with Nibali holding a 2:30 minutes lead on him, Contador crashed violently and his dreams of winning a third Tour were ruined, at least, until 2015. He then made an almost miraculous recovery to be fit in time for the start of the Vuelta a España, where, given the quality of the field of competitors and the doubts about his physical condition, his real ambitions were unclear. Defying the odds, the 31-year-old inherited the red jersey after the first individual time trial and kept getting better every day, looking in top shape by the final week, when he won two stages and clinched masterfully his third win on the competition (2008, 2012) and sixth Grand Tour. With the World Tour title on the line, Contador also attended Il Lombardia but decided to forego the trip to China, giving up on surpassing the man below.

  1. Alejandro Valverde (Spain, Movistar), 686 pts

For the third straight season, the general classification winner of the World Tour was a Spanish cyclist. Alejandro Valverde succeeded Joaquim Rodríguez and the title landed in deserving hands, since the 34-year-old was extremely regular over the season, adding at least 40 points from every WT event he participated in. Valverde won ten times this season and four of those came in February, at the Vuelta a Andalucia, with three stage wins and the general classification victory. Before the fifth place overall on his first WT event of the year, the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, he also collected the Vuelta a Murcia, the Roma Maxima and the Gran Premio Miguel Indurain. As the end of April arrived, he managed to improve on the excellent results obtained in 2013 on the Ardennes Classics, taking the win on the Flèche Wallone, the second place on the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and a fourth on the Amstel Gold Race.

Valverde alone at the end of the Clasica San Sebastian

He continued to have success in June, finishing as the runner-up on the general classification of the Route du Sud and in the Road Spanish Championships, while becoming the national time-trial champion for the first time. Skipping the participation on the Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse meant the true physical condition of Valverde was unknown entering the Tour de France, and the Spaniard flew under the radar on the first week, before the abandons of Froome and Contador placed him right after Nibali. He managed to hold onto the second place until the climb of the Hautacam, on the 18th stage, where he failed to follow Thibaut Pinot and Jean-Christophe Peraud, thus missing the opportunity to clinch his first Tour de France podium finish. Nevertheless, he rebounded well from the disappointing end and, just a few days later, was smiling again at the finish line of the Clasica San Sebastian.

The short recovery time until the start of the Vuelta did not scare the Spaniard, who usually races both Grand Tours, and Valverde performed admirably well, celebrating victory on the team time trial, winning the sixth stage, and ending the race with eight top four finishes. For the second consecutive year, he beat Joaquim Rodríguez in the battle for the third position overall, and was also a top three on the points and mountains classifications. To cap a truly special season, he led the Spanish National team on the Ponferrada’s World Championships Road Race, terminating, for the third consecutive year, on the lower podium position (sixth podium appearance), and was, once again, in the fight for the win at Il Lombardia, ending in second place for the second consecutive year.

 

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European Tour of Sports – Denmark

The Basics

Population: 5.7 M

Area: 42.9 km2 (excluding Greenland and Faroe Islands)

Capital: Copenhagen

Summer Olympic Medals: 179 (43G-68S-68B)

Winter Olympic Medals: 1 (0G-1S-0B)

Popular sports

Football is the most played sport in Denmark, but the Danish national sport is probably another one, with its popularity being equally spread over both genres. Handball was invented in Denmark more than one hundred years ago and today is the favourite winter sport, with the national teams’ achievements dragging millions to the front of the televisions. The sport has delivered three gold medals in Olympic Games (1996, 2000, 2004), all won by the ladies, who enjoyed the greater success during the 90’s, but in the last few years the Men’s team has performed better, becoming European Champions in 2008 and 2012, and winning the silver medals at the 2011 and 2013 World Championships. A third European title was snagged in January 2014, when Denmark lost with France the final of the competition it hosted. At the club level, the most successful clubs are, at the women’s level, Viborg HK, winner of several European competitions in the last few years, including three Champions League, and KIF Kolding, on the men’s side.

The 1992 European Champions

There are over 300.000 football players in Denmark and both national teams have qualified regularly for European and World Championships. The biggest success in Danish football history was the surprising victory on the 1992 Men’s European Championship played in neighbouring Sweden, a conquest only possible after the exclusion of Yugoslavia from the tournament, the team that had eliminated Denmark in the qualification round. Three years later, Denmark won the Confederations Cup, while the best showing at the World Cup came in 1998, with a quarter-final defeat to Brazil. Legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel is the most capped player in Denmark’s history, while Michael Laudrup is considered the best Danish footballer to ever play. The women’s team won the European Championship in 1979. FC Copenhagen, funded in 1992, is the most successful club in Denmark, with ten National Championships and four appearances on the Champions League group phase, with their rivals Brondby IF leading the way on the women’s side.

Water sports play a big part on Denmark’s sporting landscape, with sailing, rowing, canoeing and swimming being responsible for dozens of Olympic medals. Paul Elvstrom, a sailer who competed in several classes over the years, won a record four Olympic gold medals, while Eskild Ebbesen, a member of the rowing men’s lightweight coxless fours, was able to medal in five consecutive Summer Games, from 1996 to 2012, including taking gold in the first three participations. Racket sports such as badminton, tennis and table tennis are also popular, while cycling, the second sport on the country on number of Olympic medals conquered, is a strong suit of the Danes, both at the road and track levels, with Copenhagen having hosted the 2011 Road World Championships and Bjarne Riis winning the Tour de France in 1996. The last few years have seen an increase in the profile of golf, especially among the older side of the population.

Rowing’s lightweight coxless fours

The only medal collected by Denmark in the Winter Olympics belongs to the 1998 Women’s curling team, a sport where Denmark has enjoyed some international success. The popularity of ice hockey is growing, with Denmark producing increasingly more talented players, a fact substantiated on the near dozen of players already taking part of the NHL.

Star Athletes

Mikkel Hansen (Handball)

Son of Flemming Hansen, who represented the Danish Team at the 1984 Olympics, the 27-year-old Helsingor native started his professional career at GOG Svendborg in 2005, the year the team won the Danish Cup, and became a national champion in 2007, before moving to Spanish giants FC Barcelona in 2008. His debut with the national team came in the same year and, since then, he has been a key member of all its successes, as the left back was nominated to the all-star team of the 2012 European Championship, won by the Danes, and was the overall top scorer (along with an all-star) on the 2011 World Championship, participating also on the 2013 World tournament and on the 2014 European Championship. At the club level, his resume is equally impressive, including two Spanish Cups and two Spanish Super Cups with Barcelona, two more Danish Championships (2011, 2012) and Danish Cups (2010, 2011) from his time at AG Kobenhavn, and a French Championship (2013) and French Cup (2014) won with Paris St. Germain Handball, where he currently plays. Nicknamed “The Hammer”, Hansen was awarded the title of World Handball player of the year in 2011, becoming the first Danish man to be honoured with that distinction.

Mikkel Hansen playing for Denmark

Caroline Wozniacki (Tennis)

The daughter of two Polish immigrants who played professional sports, Wozniacki enjoyed a successful junior career and debuted on the WTA Tour at the young age of 15, at the 2005 Cincinatti Open. However, her breakthrough season came only in 2008, the year she won her first Tour title, in Stockholm, added two more victories, in New Haven and on the Japan Open, and finished ranked 12th in the world, feats that earned her the award of WTA Newcomer of the year.

Caroline Wozniacki waves to the crowd

In 2009, her rise continued, with Wozniacki becoming the first Danish woman to reach a Grand Slam final, at the US Open, and ending the season on the top 5. In 2010 and 2011, by virtue of her six titles in both seasons, she finished the year as the World number 1 player, holding the position for 67 weeks despite failing to grasp another Grand Slam final. Since 2012, her form has declined, even if she played another Grand Slam final at the 2014 US Open. At the age of 24, the Odense native, who plays a game based on solid defensive skills, is by far the most successful Danish tennis player of all-time, currently holding 22 WTA Tour trophies and the 8th place on the WTA rankings.

Lotte Friis (Swimming)

Denmark has three world-class female swimmers and any of them could hold this prominent position. Lotte Friis edged Jeanette Ottesen Gray and Rikke Møller Pedersen in my selection simply because she’s the one with an Olympic Medal. Born in the municipality of Allerød in 1988, Friis is a freestyle swimmer who excels in long distances, having won multiple medals on international competitions. Her biggest accomplishment is the bronze medal on the 800 m freestyle race of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but she has also shined on the sport’s second most important tournament, the long course World Championships, taking the victory on the 2009 Rome 800m freestyle race and at the 2011 Shangai 1500m event, the silver medals from the 2011 800 m and 2009 1500 m races, as well as from both events at the Barcelona 2013 World Championships. Six gold medals in European Championships, both on long and short course competitions, and several other prizes complete her medal record. Friis was considered the Danish Sports Name of the year in 2009.

Others: Jakob Fuglsang (Cycling), Christian Eriksen (Football), Tom Kristensen (Motorsports), Frans Nielsen (Ice Hockey), Rikke Moller Pedersen, Jeanette Ottesen-Gray (Swimming), Nicki Pedersen (Motorcycle speedway)

Venues

The main venue in Denmark is the beautifully-situated Telia Parken in Copenhagen, the country’s national football stadium, with 38,000 seats, and the home ground of FC Copenhagen. The stadium has a retractable roof and has hosted multiple concerts and sport events, including two football European Finals (Cup Winner’s Cup 1994, UEFA Cup 200) and two record-breaking handball matches. The Brondby Stadium, in the Greater Copenhagen area, and the NRGi Stadium, in Aarhus, also hold more than 20.000 people.

Jyske Bank Boxen, Herning

The Jyske Bank Boxen, an arena in Herning with capacity for 15.000 people, is the most important indoor venue in Denmark, having hosted the 2014 Handball Men’s European Championship Final, the corresponding women’s tournament in 2010, and the European Swimming Championships (short course) in 2013. The Ballerup Super Arena, in Ballerup, part of the northern urban region of Copenhagen, holds 7500 people for concerts and is the only indoor velodrome in Denmark, having received several cycling track events, including the World Championships in 2002 and 2010. The Gigantium, in Aalborg, is a modern facility that holds over 5000 people and is used by the city’s handball and ice hockey teams.

Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark and the country’s main port, has welcomed several international sailing events in recent years and will host the 2018 ISAF Sailing World Championships at the Aarhus Yachting Harbour.

Yearly Events

Beyond the football, handball and ice hockey matches disputed almost year-round all over the country, these are the main annual events held in Denmark:

Vojens Speedway Club during the Grand Prix

Made in Denmark European Tour Tournament (Golf)

August, Himmerland Golf & Spa Resort, close to Aalborg

Tour of Denmark (Cycling)

August

Nordic FIM Speedway Grand Prix (Motorcycle Speedway)

September, Vojens Speedway Center, Vojens

BWF Super Series Premier Denmark Open (Badminton)

October, Arena Fyn, Odense

[PT] Destaques do primeiro mês da fase regular da NHL

Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues) a festejar, uma imagem recorrente neste inicio de temporada (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

Numa longa maratona de sete meses como é a fase regular da NHL, um bom começo não é determinante mas costuma fazer muita diferença. De facto, equipas que estão a mais de 4 ou 5 pontos de um lugar nos playoffs no final de Outubro raramente costumam conseguir recuperar na tabela, pelo que importa perceber quais são as tendências que se verificam após o primeiro mês de competição.

Neste artigo começamos por apontar exemplos de equipas que até agora têm surpreendido pela positiva e pela negativa, explorando algumas das principais razões, e indicamos ainda outros destaques do começo de temporada.

(+) Nashville Predators

Pekka Rinne, guardião dos Nashville Predators (Frederick Breedon/Getty Images North America)

Provavelmente a maior surpresa da NHL até agora. Numa divisão que colocou cinco equipas nos playoffs do ano passado, e que este ano parece ainda mais forte, os Predators, agora orientados por Peter Laviolette, lideram depois de 14 jogos disputados, tendo sido a última equipa da liga a sofrer uma derrota em tempo normal, a 25 de Outubro, contra os Pittsburgh Penguins. Para isso, o regresso do guardião Pekka Rinne à melhor forma, após uma época marcada por uma grave lesão, tem sido essencial, com o finlandês a somar já 9 vitórias em 12 jogos e números cintilantes (1.81 GAA, 0.935 SV%). Além da estabilidade providenciada por Rinne e por uma defesa consistente, a equipa montada pelo GM David Poile também tem beneficiado da capacidade mostrada pela sua linha principal de ataque. James Neal tem correspondido às expectativas que a sua chegada provocou, levando já 8 golos, o reabilitado Mike Ribeiro (11 pontos) tem estado à altura do estatuto de central da primeira linha, e o jovem sueco Filip Forsberg começa a mostrar todo o potencial que lhe é reconhecido, liderando todos os rookies da liga com 15 pontos (6 golos) e sendo o melhor jogador de toda a liga na estatística de +/- (calculada pela diferença entre os golos marcados e sofridos pela equipa enquanto o jogador está no gelo, em situações de igualdade ou desvantagem numérica), com um índice positivo de 15.

(-) Dallas Stars/Colorado Avalanche

Se os Predators têm surpreendido pela positiva, os Dallas Stars são, para já, a maior desilusão da temporada. A formação do Texas está em último na Divisão Central (e na Conferência Oeste), e apesar de até ter mais golos marcados que os líderes da divisão não tem conseguido manter o disco fora das suas redes, sendo a pior equipa da sua Conferência em golos sofridos por jogo (3.5 GA/GP). Kari Lehtonen, o titular da equipa, teve um começo de época insatisfatório (2.94 GAA, 0.904 SV%) e quando cedeu a baliza a Anders Lindback o desastre foi ainda maior, com o sueco da receber mais de 4 golos por jogo. No ataque, as estrelas têm correspondido, com Tyler Seguin a situar-se já bem perto do topo da tabela de pontuadores da liga (19 pontos, 10G) e a aquisição Jason Spezza a mover-se perto da marca do ponto por jogo.

Referência ainda para os Colorado Avalanche, que seguem o desastrado começo de temporada que os viu perder todos os jogos de pré-temporada. Com 13 pontos obtidos em 16 jogos (mais um ponto que os Stars, que têm menos dois jogos disputados), a formação de Denver sofreu com a ausência do seu titular Semyon Varlamov, baluarte da boa campanha do ano passado, e não tem conseguido esconder as deficiências defensivas e o desequilíbrio de qualidade no ataque, com algumas das suas estrelas ofensivas, como o melhor rookie do ano passado, Nathan MacKinnon, o capitão Gabriel Landeskog, e Ryan O’Reilly, a passarem demasiado tempo na sua zona a defender em vez de no ataque a criar perigo.

(+) Tampa Bay Lightning/Montreal Canadiens

Numa Divisão do Atlântico onde os favoritos Boston Bruins têm tido um começo algo atribulado, para o qual muito contribuiu a lesão do capitão Zdeno Chara (de fora por mais um mês), Tampa Bay Lightning e Montreal Canadiens têm aproveitado para ganhar alguma vantagem. A formação do Canadá tem recebido contribuições equilibradas do seu ataque, onde, para já, apenas Max Paccioretty e Tomas Plekanec chegam à dezena de pontos, e desempenhos regulares da sua dupla de guardiões, com Carey Price a salvar a equipa quando tem sido preciso. Mais impressionantes têm sido os Lightning, que lideram a Divisão com 23 pontos em 15 jogos, e têm o segundo melhor ataque da NHL (3.8 G/GP) mesmo sem contarem com um começo particularmente inspirado de Steven Stamkos (16 pontos em 15 jogos). Tyler Johnson, um dos melhores rookies da temporada passada, é para já o melhor pontuador da equipa, com 18 pontos, e tem formado uma linha explosiva com Ondrej Palat (10 pontos) e o russo Nikita Kucherov (13 pontos), enquanto Victor Hedman, o principal esteio defensivo da equipa, iniciou a temporada em grande, com 7 pontos em 5 jogos, antes de se lesionar com gravidade a meio de Outubro. Jonathan Drouin, o promissor estreante da equipa, leva 7 pontos em 10 jogos e já teve a oportunidade de experimentar a ligação com Stamkos, um primeiro vislumbre de uma dupla que promete fazer furor na NHL por muitas temporadas.

A linha de Nikita Kucherov (#86), Tyler Johnson (#9) e Ondrej Palat (#18) tem sido importante para os Tampa Bay Lightning (Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports)

(-) Buffalo Sabres

Não é surpresa para ninguém a última posição na classificação da NHL que os Buffalo Sabres ocupam, nem sequer o magro total de oitos pontos obtidos em 16 jogos, contudo a futilidade da formação do norte do estado de New York merece uma referência. Apesar da aquisição de veteranos como Gorges, Moulson e Gionta que deviam ajudar ao acompanhamento dos jovens numa temporada que se antevia de muitas derrotas, os Sabres têm desiludido no gelo pela falta de qualidade demonstrada, pela incapacidade para incomodar os adversários na maioria dos jogos, e até por alguma falta de empenho que tem frustrado o treinador Ted Nolan. É certo que de entre as três vitórias alcançadas se conta um triunfo absurdo em San Jose, um dos pavilhões mais complicados da NHL, mas, no geral, a equipa marcou apenas 18 golos (1.12G/GP), sofreu 53, e já somou partidas em que apenas conseguiu uns patéticos 10 e 12 remates efetuados à baliza do adversário. Certamente que este não é o cenário ideal para o crescimento de talentos como Rasmus Ristolainen (-11), mas a prossecução do objetivo “Draft Connor McDavid” vai pelo menos bem encaminhado.

 (+) New York Islanders

Johnny Boychuk (esquerda. #55) tem sido um reforço importante para os NY Islanders de John Tavares (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Aproveitando a irregularidade de New York Rangers e Philadelphia Flyers, a fase de adaptação dos Washington Capitals ao novo sistema de jogo, e a incapacidade dos New Jersey Devils para matar uma penalidade (65.5 PK%, 20 golos sofridos), a formação capitaneada pelo luso-canadiano John Tavares segue na segunda posição da Divisão Metropolitana, atrás dos Pittsburgh Penguins. O par de reforços da equipa para a baliza não tem estado brilhante (Jaroslav Halak, 0.905 SV%, e Chad Johnson, 0.899 SV%), mas as restantes aquisições têm correspondido, nomeadamente Johnny Boychuk (9 pontos), que por esta altura daria um jeito enorme aos Bruins. John Tavares (15 pontos) e Kyle Okposo (14) iniciaram a temporada no ponto onde tinham terminado a anterior, a produzir profusamente na linha principal, e o resto da equipa tem seguido o exemplo, com destaque para Brock Nelson, que somou metade dos seus 14 pontos nos primeiros três jogos da temporada.

(-) Columbus Blue Jackets

Depois da presença nos playoffs do ano passado, os Jackets têm tido um péssimo começo de temporada, tendo obtido apenas 9 pontos em 14 jogos, e estando no último lugar da Divisão Metropolitana, um cenário que pode ser explicado em parte por uma série incrível de lesões. O guardião Sergei Bobrovsky apenas esteve presente em oito dos 14 jogos disputados pela formação do Ohio e Curtis McElhinney não tem sido capaz de substituir o russo, como mostra a média de 3.64 golos sofridos por jogo da equipa (pior de toda a NHL), mas à sua frente também se fazem sentir as ausências, com os defesas Jack Johnson, James Wisnievski e Ryan Murray a terem que se haver com problemas físicos. No ataque o cenário não é melhor, já que Brandon Dubinsky ainda não se estreou, Nathan Horton continua de fora e tem inclusive a carreira em risco devido a uma complicada lesão nas costas, e Artem Anisimov também já falhou um par de semanas. No meio disto, Ryan Johansen, que nem fez a pré-temporada, tem-se destacado, somando já 16 pontos, sendo bem coadjuvado por Nick Foligno (15 pontos em 13 jogos) e pelo reforço Scott Hartnell (14 pontos).

Continuar a ler em http://modalidades.com.pt/noticias/c92-nhl/destaques-do-primeiro-mes-da-fase-regular-da-nhl

Ranking this week’s Champions League games

Watching properly every round of the Champions League can be a daunting task. There are so many interesting games every week and, despite the fact that everyone has their own preferences, some are just better than others. This article hopes to rank this week’s batch and it is destined, mainly, for neutral fans who want to know which one are the most interesting. But I also invite all the others, since after suffering with your team’s performance you can choose where to spend the rest of your time, watching highlights or delayed transmissions.

I won’t try to trick you into thinking that I used here some kind of fancy methodology to come up with these rankings. They are as subjective as they come, but I tried to do my best to balance the different criteria in order to reach an unbiased list. Star power, relevancy for the group’s final classification, uncertainty about the match winner, expected stadium atmosphere and pure football quality were part of my evaluation and most of you won’t agree with my assessment. And that’s great, because I invite you to comment below and share your thoughts.

Oh, and I also highlighted one player to watch in every match, because focusing on individual performances its part of the fun too.

1. Juventus (ITA) – Olympiacos (GRE)

Kasami and Mitroglou (Olympiacos) celebrating a goal in Athens

Eleven years ago, on the last time these two teams met in Turin, the Greeks left under the weight of a seven goal defeat and they probably haven’t forgot it, since that was the biggest European loss in their history. The Champions of Greece, despite the triumph against this opposition, at home, have been irregular this season, especially on the domestic league, where they stand on an unusual second place because of their struggles to win away from home. Although, If they can, somehow, get away from the Juventus Stadium with points, a place in the last 16 is just around the corner and their opponents will be in danger of falling in the group stage for the second consecutive season. This promises to be a tense, hotly contested match on a packed stadium, and that deserves a bright spot on this list.

Player to watch: Roberto (Olympiacos). The Spanish goalkeeper was the star of his team’s win in Athens and will have to be equally impressive if the Greeks hope to take a decisive step towards the qualification.

2. Ajax Amsterdam (NED) – FC Barcelona (ESP)

For the second consecutive year these two European giants were drawn in the same group and, after Barcelona’s win in the last round, the Dutch are hoping to repeat last season’s outcome, when they were able to beat the Blaugrana at home after losing in the Catalan capital. If they can’t, they will, once again, head to Europa League, a competition better suited for their revolving squad of young players. But while they’re still here, their skill and speed will create problems on a weakened Barça defence that jeopardized the team on their last two games.

Player to watch: Luis Suárez (Barcelona). The Uruguayan’s European debut for Barcelona arrives after two La Liga games that ended in defeats and a chorus of critics directed at the team. A great game by an angry Luisito, still bitter after being left out of the list of contenders for the Golden Globe, and an improved connection with Neymar and Messi on the team’s attack will go a long way towards Barça’s success on this competition and the rest of season.

FC Barcelona fell in Amsterdam last year

3. Bayern Munich (GER) – AS Roma (ITA)

The dismantling suffered by the Giallorossi against the Germans was an outlier, as was the 5-1 Roma’s trashing of CSKA in the first round. Nevertheless, the Italians have to show a different face in the Bavarian capital in order to keep the second place on the group, a classification in jeopardy if Man City defeats CSKA as expected. The Romanians were defeated in the weekend, at the San Paolo, in Napoli, while Bayern won against rivals Dortmund, having the chance to qualify and guarantee the first place in the group with a victory on Wednesday.

Player to watch: Frank Ribery (Bayern Munich). The French winger is having a difficult start of the season after missing the World Cup with an injury. His first game was in mid-September, but since then he hasn’t been able to regain the spot in the starting line-up, with a single full game appearance in the German Cup. However, Ribery was decisive coming in as a substitute in the comeback victory against Dortmund this weekend, and the position in the group facilitates Guardiola’s decision to rest some of his main offensive options. Will he take advantage of the opportunity and displace Mario Gotze?

4. Real Madrid (ESP) – Liverpool (ENG)

The number of European Championships won by these two teams adds up to 15, but that isn’t enough to vault this game to the top of this list. And whoever saw the game at Anfield, two weeks ago, will understand the reason. The title holders are at least two steps ahead of the English vice-champions and it is difficult to believe the Merseyside Reds can close that gap at the Bernabéu. The Spaniards will qualify with a win and their offense looks more than ready to devour a Liverpool defence, who, despite the expensive reinforcements, has been underwhelming in the Premier League. Couple that with the loss of the two star strikers of last year’s team and they can’t score goals either. I’m betting on another multi-goal differential victory for Real Madrid and a late consolation strike by the visitors.

Player to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid). You know I tried to stay away from him, but until he bests Raul’s record, the spotlight keeps shining. He needs one goal to tie, two to surpass and I believe he will score once more against “his” Man United rivals. I’m just not sure he will finish the week as the only record holder…

Liverpool was not up to the task of stopping Real Madrid at Anfield

5. Borussia Dortmund (GER) – Galatasaray (TUR)

Believe it or not, the Germans are tied for the last place in the Bundesliga after ten games and, at the same time, lead Group D of the Champions League with 9 points and a 9-0 goal differential. We know the players prepare for domestic and European affairs in different ways, but how can you explain this discrepancy? Meanwhile, the Turks top their domestic league but have been a disaster in Europe, suffering two four goal defeats on the two games that followed a compromising home draw against Anderlecht. On one of the world’s best places to see a football match, the BVB Stadium, Galatasaray will have the support of thousands of Turkish emigrants and will test an impressive historical record playing in Germany (5W-5L-3D). With Dortmund trying to forget another painful domestic loss and Galatasaray fighting for the Europa League spot, this is one of the most interesting matches of the week.

Ilkay Gündogan is back for Dortmund

Player to watch: Ilkay Gundogan. The German international of Turkish descent returned from injury recently, after almost a year away from the fields, and played twenty minutes in the Istanbul match, setting up the final goal of Dortmund’s win. With the team in control of the group, seems like a good time to start the smart midfielder. His superb passing skills are key for the success of the fast, attacking style implemented by Jurgen Klöpp and he will surely help the team in the task of getting back to the regular top performances.

6. Manchester City (ENG) – CSKA Moscow (RUS)

A battle between two teams searching for their first wins of the campaign and hoping to leap over AS Roma in the Group E standings. The English Champions failed to maintain a two goal lead in the game disputed on an empty stadium in Moscow and could come to regret the loss of those two points, badly needed after the draw with Roma in their own stadium. If we factor in that City has won only two of their last eight home games in the Champions League, and have had an irregular season so far, the Russians can certainly hope to leave Manchester with something.

Player to watch: Sergio Agüero (Manchester City). The Argentinian has been on fire in the last weeks, scoring twice in Champions League matches, achieving a poker against Tottenham, and adding the decisive goal to defeat rivals Man United last Sunday. He also has seven goals in four games against Russian sides in European competitions. With City at risk of missing the boat to the next phase for the third time in four seasons, they need the 26-year-old more than ever.

7. Athletic Bilbao (ESP) – FC Porto (POR)

Bilbao is one of the best cities in Europe to see a football match and the New San Mamés is still waiting to celebrate its first real Champions League goal, after the home team drew 0-0 with Shakhtar in the first round. Hosting the leader of the group and in dire need of a win to keep the hopes of progressing, it’s safe to say that the atmosphere will be raucous. The opposition is the odd Portuguese side (argh!) whose been taking care of business, and Porto also has enough experience to cope with the hostile environment. An intriguing matchup that can go either way.

Player to watch: Iker Munian (Athletic). The 21-year-old Spanish international is an old acquaintance of Porto’s coach Julen Lopetegui, who coached him in the squad that took the 2013 Under-21 European Championship, and he was probably relieved to see the diminutive midfielder start the first game on the bench. However, the Pamplona native came on at the half and contributed to a much better exhibition by the Basques, who were unlucky to leave empty-handed. It’s safe to say Ernesto Valverde won’t repeat the jest and the little magician will be counted on to provide much-needed creativity.

Athletic Bilbao players celebrating the Champions League qualification at San Mamés

8. Sporting CP (POR) – Schalke 04 (GER)

A stunning domestic defeat on the weekend was a less than ideal preparation for a Sporting team desperate for a win. Back at the competition after a seven-year absence, the Portuguese have battled bad luck, inexperience-related errors and controversial referee decisions to sum a single point after three games, holding their backs against the wall before trying to extract revenge from their German opponents. On the other side, Schalke has endured a season of ups and downs coupled recently with the loss of the gifted Julian Draxler for the rest of 2014, but can qualify with a win in Lisbon. Both teams have players capable of excelling in a passionate match contested inside a nervous and anxious Alvalade Stadium.

Nani scored in Gelsenkirchen

Player to watch: Nani (Sporting). The player loaned by Man United has enjoyed a fantastic season back at his youth club, totalling already two goals in this competition, and figures to be, once again, the main weapon at the disposal of coach Marco Silva. The Portuguese winger is key on every aspect of Sporting’s attack and can decide a match in a matter of seconds, either by one of his trademark power shots or with a masterful assist. If the visitors hope to return to Gelsenkirchen unscathed, they should supervise him tightly.

9. Zenit (RUS) – Bayer Leverkusen (GER)

The multimillionaire Russian side started this year’s campaign in style, scoring twice inside the first twenty minutes of their game at Lisbon, but haven’t been able to find the back of the net since then, with their form dipping on the domestic competitions too. At the turn, they have four points and are in third on group C, thus in dire need of a home victory to restart the proceedings. The visitors racked up six points from two impressive home wins against the post-draw favourites of the group, and can almost guarantee a spot in the next phase with a win in St. Petersburg. There are condiments for an interesting match on the icy cultural capital of the Russian Federation.

Player to watch: Hakan Çalhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen). The Turkish maestro became one of the most expensive purchases on the history of the German club, but has proved to be worth the 14.5 M€ spent on his signature. The 20-year-old has one of those enlightened right foot that are rare due to the capacity to lay the ball wherever one desires, and those attributes make him responsible for converting all the set pieces on the team. He has already accrued one goal and two assists in the competition, and seems capable of much more.

10. SL Benfica (POR) – AS Monaco (FRA)

The Portuguese champions have been one of the biggest disappointments in this year’s edition, and are already in a do or die situation heading into the 4th round, staring at the prospect of missing the chance for a new run at their “beloved” Europa League, a truly embarrassing outcome for one of the top seeded teams in the competition. Conversely, the hard-working French side that lost much of their firepower in the summer has scrapped points in every game till now, and has managed to keep his net inviolate. After the 0-0 draw at the Principality, the home side will have to come out flying in order to secure an important win that cuts the difference for their opponent, while the visitors will try to defend well and created havoc on a depleted Benfica’s defence using their speedy forwards.

Talisca (Benfica) and Kondogbia (Monaco)

Player to watch: Bernardo Silva Anderson Talisca (Benfica). The 20-year-old Brazilian has been the sensation of the Portuguese League so far, with an astonishing eight goals scored in nine appearances, but failed to impress on the Champions League, where he has successively been the first player taken off by his manager. On a Benfica team that has scored a single goal in 270 minutes, it would help if the lanky midfielder could prolong his ability to fill the net to the middle of the week.

11. Malmö FF (SWE) – Atlético Madrid (ESP)

The Spanish Champions recovered quickly from their initial defeat in Group A and are already leading with 6 points, hoping to make it 3 straight wins on their trip to Sweden. Two weeks agora, at the Vicente Calderon, the Swedes held the 0-0 until half-time, but the magic of Koke opened the floodgates shortly after, and the hosts never looked back. The two-time Champions of Sweden will probably opt for the same defensive strategy on a stadium where they have yet to concede a goal in four Champions League home matches (including preliminary rounds). Malmö was able to defeat Olympiacos early on, and with a bit of luck maybe they can do it again.

Player to watch: Markus Rosenberg (Malmö). The experienced Swedish striker returned in January to his hometown team, after almost a decade touring the Dutch, German, Spanish and English Leagues, and has been essential for this year’s success. In the last three European home games he always managed to put his name on the board twice, and Malmö fans surely hope that their most qualified player can carry the load once again.

12. Arsenal (ENG) – Anderlecht (BEL)

Late turnaround for Arsenal in Brussels

This year’s Champions League season started for Arsenal with a clear defeat at Dortmund, but Arsène Wenger’s men have managed to turn it around with wins against Anderlecht and Galatasaray, putting the team on the brink of qualification. A win at the Emirates on Tuesday is all they need and their fans expect a less dramatic game than the one two weeks ago, when the English side only secured victory with two late goals. Conversely, the Belgian champions seem to be on their way out of the competition, on the group stage, for the third consecutive season, and are relegated to a battle for the third spot with the Turks, an encounter scheduled for the next round, at Brussels.

Player to watch: Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal). The former Barcelona man started the season slowly, but has been on a tear over the last weeks, scoring nine times on the same number of matches. On a team missing the injured Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck, the dynamic Chilean international can’t afford to have a night off.

13. Paris SG (FRA) – APOEL FC (CYP)

The Parisians lead the group and will qualify for the knockout phase with a victory against the diligent Cyprian side. A late strike by Edinson Cavani in the game at Nicosia, two weeks ago, kept the French Champions in control of the group, and they shouldn’t run into trouble closing the deal on home ground, where they are unbeaten in European competitions since 2006. APOEL will not repeat the fairy tale campaign of 2011-12, when they reached the quarter-finals of this competition, but they have earned respect in a tough group, suffering a single goal in every game, playing good football, and keeping the end results in doubt.

Player to watch: Lucas (PSG).The talented 22-year-old Brazilian midfielder arrived in Paris at the beginning of 2013 and had to wait for the chance to crack the starting eleven on a stacked French squad. However, this season, he managed to do it and has been one of the main dynamos on an attack missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, tallying five goals and 2 assists on the French Ligue 1. He surely would like to extend his goal exploits to the Champions League, where he has never scored before.

14. Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)- BATE Borisov (BLR)

Shakhtar’s record-breaking 7-0 away victory two weeks ago was shocking, and elevated the total of goals suffered by the Belarusians to 14 in three games, with an odd win against Bilbao struck in the middle. Experience seems to suggest that BATE will respond well in the return game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they can leave Lviv with points. Still, Shakhtar is a much better team and the Ukrainians need a win to take another decisive step towards the qualification, making up for the two points foolishly lost on their round two clash against Porto.

How many, Luiz?

Player to watch: Luiz Adriano (Shakhtar Donetsk). The five goals scored on the first leg trashing of BATE vaulted the Brazilian to the top of the goal scoring table on this year’s Champions League, and he would certainly like to stay there, at least, until the end of the group phase. His six goals are two in front of Benzema, and three ahead of a group of players headed by Ronaldo, therefore the Shakhtar striker might want to continue padding up his stats against lowly opposition.

15. Maribor (SUI) – Chelsea (ENG)

The draw conceded at home on the first round of the group phase seems to have been nothing more than a slip up for the London side, and Chelsea is already in control of group G. After the 6-0 thumping victory at Stamford Bridge, a new win will qualify the Blues for the last 16, but the game in Slovenia might not be the cakewalk some expect. Maribor won last year, at home, against an English side, Wigan, and actually fared quite well in their first two games in this year’s Champions League, drawing with Schalke and Sporting, therefore it is possible that Mourinho’s men will have to work hard to leave with a win.

Player to watch: Agim Ibrahimi. The Macedonian midfielder was essential on Maribor’s run through the qualifying rounds and impressed also on his team’s first games on the group stage, creating chances using is above-average technical skills and delivering powerful and dangerous shots. After failing to convert on a penalty in London, the 26-year-old will try to redeem himself and showcase his talents against a Premier League side, hoping to captivate enough to prompt a dream transfer to the wealthiest league in the World.

16. FC Basel (SWI) – PFC Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL)

Xhaka and Derlis (Basel) have a new opportunity to beat Ludogorets

On match day three, a last-minute strike by Yordan Minev delivered the first ever Bulgarian win in the Champions’ League group phase, and put the mostly unknown Champions of Bulgaria on an unexpected second position in Group B, tied with Basel and Liverpool. While it is still difficult to believe that the Razgrad outfit can actually go further in the competition, they have shown their resiliency multiple times, losing by a single goal against the Spanish and English giants. On the other side, the Swiss team is usually strong at home, losing only once on their last nine games as a host in the competition, and they need the three points to leapfrog to a qualification spot. This matchup surely lacks glow but the equilibrium is guaranteed.

Player to watch: Derlis González (Basel). The 20-year-old Paraguayan forward is one the brightest prospects of his country’s football and is already a regular fixture on the main National team squad. Serving in his first season at Europe, after two years on loan, by Benfica, to Paraguayan clubs, the young Derlis has impressed with his speed and technical attributes and found a way to secure a spot on his team’s starting line-up. After the goal scored on his Champions League debut at the Santiago Bernabéu, he has another good chance to improve his profile.

 

European Tour of Sports: Latvia

The Basics

Population: 2M

Area: 64.6 km2

Capital: Riga

Summer Olympic Medals: 19 (3G-11S-5B)

Winter Olympic Medals: 7 (0G-4S-3B)

Popular sports

As a former member of the Soviet Union, the achievements of Latvian athletes have to be put in contest for the period between 1940 and 1990, with twenty Latvian born athletes taking part in team and individual Olympic successes representing the former URSS on the Olympic stage. Thus, the numbers transcribed above only include the medals obtained from 1924 to 1940, and after the independence of the country, in 1991.

Latvia Ice Hockey National Team

The sporting landscape on this Baltic country is dominated by three team sports. As in most of Europe, football ranks quite high among Latvians preferences, despite the relative obscurity of both his national team and the main clubs. The qualification of the national team for the 2004 UEFA European Championships is by far the biggest achievement in the country’s football history. Conversely, the relative importance of Latvian ice hockey on the world’s scale is much bigger. Dinamo Riga, the country’s most important team, was part of the sport’s establishment on the Soviet Union in the 1940’s, and was a runner-up for the championship title in 1988. Today, the club is the Latvian representative on the second most important league in the world, the KHL, while some of the country’s best all-time players, like Sandis Ozolins and Arturs Irbe, started their careers at Dinamo before moving to the NHL. The national team took part on the last four Olympic tournaments, and the country organized the 2006 World Championships.

Basketball is the third main sport in Latvia, with the country’s tradition expressed on the men’s European title of 1935 and the 2nd place in 1939. Several Latvian players were part of URSS teams that became European and Olympic Champions, while at the club level, teams from Riga won multiple domestic and European titles in both genders. Actually, the ladies of the TTT Riga team of the 70’s and 80’s won the European Cup an astonishing 18 times. Today, both national teams are regular participants in international competitions.

Latvia Women’s Basketball National Team

On athletics, the country has always produced excellent javelin throwers, with Janis Lusis listed as one of the best of all time in the discipline, while tennis has seen his popularity grow in the last decade due to the successes of Ernests Gulbis. Beyond ice hockey, other winter sports like luge, bobsleigh and skeleton are also recognized, with several Latvian athletes excelling at the international level. With 500 km of beaches, Latvia also produces good beach volleyballers, while names like Piotr Ugrumov and Roman Vainsteins have shined on the biggest cycling races.

Star Athletes

Ernests Gulbis (Tennis)

Named after Ernest Hemingway, the best Latvian tennis player of all-time comes from a wealthy family and this detail has been part of his career results’ analysis since the beginning. In fact, besides being one of the funniest and more charismatic players on the ATP Tour, the uber-talented Gulbis has been accused of having too much interest in partying and not a lot in practicing, with this circumstance taking a toll on his in-court performances. Despite this, the 26-year-old has built a nice résumé since he turned professional in 2006. His first ATP title came on doubles at the 2008 Houston tournament, and two years later he collected the ATP singles tournament of Delray Beach. Today, the 26-year old Latvian holds six career ATP titles and seems to be on the verge of breaking definitely into the top 10, with the 10th position, reached in June 2014, being his all-time best ranking. A gifted offensive player with consistency problems, Gulbis reached the semi-finals at the 2014 Roland Garros tournament, attaining his best result yet on the Grand Slam stage.

Maris Strombergs (Cycling, BMX racing)

Maris Strombergs, Double Olympic Champion

The Republic of Latvia has gained only three Olympic gold medals on his history and this man is responsible for two of them. Maris Strombergs was born in 1987 and didn’t take long to display his talent on a bike, winning his first World Championship (on his class) at the age of 9. In 2008, the cyclist achieved the pinnacle of his sport when he gathered the European, World and Olympic titles in the same season. Nicknamed “The Machine”, the Valmiera native already has his name on two World Championships and three European Championships, while also holding the honour of being the only racer with Olympic Gold medals on the sport, since he won in 2012 too. A two-time Latvian sportsperson of the year, Strombergs is one of the most popular athletes in Latvia.

Martins Dukurs (Skeleton)

Deemed the best athlete in Latvia on three separate occasions (2010, 2011 and 2013), Martins Dukurs boasts an impressive collection of accolades: five consecutive World Cup titles (2009-2014), five consecutive European titles (2010-2014), and two World Championships (2011 and 2012). However, one thing is missing: the Olympic gold medal on the Winter Olympics, something Latvia never had a chance to celebrate. Despite his domination on the skeleton over the last half decade, Dukurs was not able to surpass the home favourites in Vancouver (John Montgomery) and Sochi (Alexander Tretiakov), having to settle for silver on both occasions. Strangely, his older brother, Tomass, finished both times in…fourth place, making it seem that the Olympics are somewhat cursed for the Dukurs family. In 2018, the 30-year old has a new chance for glory and Latvia will be watching anxiously.

Martins Dukurs celebrating

Others: Andris Biedrins (Basketball), Martins Plavins/Janis Smedins (Beach Volleyball), Ainars Kovals (Athletics), Andris Sics/Juris Sics (Luge)

Venues

The Arena Riga is the most important sports venue in Latvia. With a capacity of up to 12.500 spectators for basketball games, and 10.300 for ice hockey, the building was constructed in 2006 to be used as the main venue in the 2006 Ice Hockey World Championships. The arena hosts the games of the KHL’s Dinamo Riga, where the atmosphere is widely regarded as one of the best in Europe, and the basketball games of VEF Riga, the main basketball team in the city. The Skonto Hall, also in Riga, is the second biggest arena in the country, with capacity for 6500, and hosted the most important concerts and sports exhibitions in the country until the opening of the new Arena Riga.

The Skonto Stadium, in Riga, is the biggest stadium in Latvia, holding 9500 spectators. The venue is used by Skonto FC and the football National Team. FK Ventspils, the most successful Latvian club of the last decade, plays in the Ventspils Olympiskais Stadions, which holds 3200 people.

Yearly Events

Beyond the numerous basketball and ice hockey games, both at the national and international level, occurring around the country from September to May, these are the most relevant events held annually in Latvia.

Start of the Riga Marathon

Riga Marathon (May)

FIA European Autocross Championship Event

National Motorsports Centre Musa, Bauska (May)

Speedway FIM World Championships Grand Prix

Lokomotiv Stadium, Daugavpils (August)

Luge World Cup Event

Luge and Bobsleigh Track, Sigulda (January)